A Cautionary Tale About Small Business Web Sites

Many of my clients do not enjoy using the internet. They think Facebook is a “brag sheet,” or a waste of time, or worse, just a way to gossip and cause trouble. They generally know how to use email, but would prefer to talk on the phone, or best of all, face to face. They realize that having a web site is necessary, but generally have no idea how to build one, or even how to go about hiring someone to do it for them. Several times, prospects have said, “I don’t care what you do. I just want it to work.”

Those of us who do enjoy having a world of knowledge at our fingertips often forget that there is this huge class of very smart people out there who don’t understand why anyone would want to use a service like Twitter, what a backlink is, or how one might go about attracting business with Google. People who find that they are comfortable online, enjoy the constant change and development of new technology, and who have skills within a particular industry often find themselves in high demand.

Have you ever thought about how difficult it is for a person who knows very little about technology to establish a presence on the internet? When I need to shop around for anything technology related, I turn to the internet. I read reviews, ask my networks for recommendations, and visit lots of business web sites. I needed to see what made other websites successful and how I would be able to follow in their footsteps. Whilst also doing my research, I found that I needed to have a look at sites and reviews found on places similar to indexsy to see which web hosts would be able to cater to the needs of my website as I wanted to gain as much traffic as possible. Using the internet to do this was quite simply a lifesaver. If I could not use the internet in that way, I’m not sure what I would do – and the people who are not comfortable with the internet are in that boat, exactly. The phone book is not what it used to be. The number of people who have been in your shoes that you can call is probably limited, say for example you need a vulnerability scanner for your businesses network, but the only IT competent people are your IT staff, are you going to trust them to get you a good price deal with the best service you can get? The process of finding the right service provider for you is made so much easier with the use of the internet.

Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit with the IT guy? Unfortunately, there is a reason for that stereotype. It’s bad enough when the crabby IT guy works for a company. It’s much worse when you hire him to provide some service for your company. It’s even worse when crabby becomes scammy. I’ve met so many people who have either been blatantly ripped off and have no idea, or who have been burned so many times they think that anyone who does anything concerning the internet for a living is a thief. Right now, I am working with a client who has one of the stranger stories I’ve heard:

This person had owned several businesses throughout his life, and several years ago decided to start a new one. He is excellent at in-person networking, at managing, planning, delegating, and all of the other areas one must master in order to run a business successfully. But he needed a web site.

He found himself in need of a service, with no idea of even what kind of professional he should hire, which is understandable. I’ve asked technology professionals how to refer to what they do and they didn’t even know what to call themselves. On top that, the pricing just seemed crazy. He was hearing numbers all over the place, and had no clue at all what kind of price would be fair, or average, or exorbitant.

Although I am a copywriter, I’ve had several clients who have asked me to find someone who could either build or fix their web sites because they simply have no clue whether there will be any difference in the site that results from a fee of $1000 and a fee of $10,000. I’ve heard, “Can you just explain it so I will understand?” more than once.

Besides the hard, cold numbers involved in trying to find someone you trust to do something insanely important for your business that you do not understand at all, there is the way it feels. No one likes to feel dumb, especially established, successful businesspeople. But when you are talking to someone and you only understand approximately one-fifth of what they are saying, you might feel a little dumb.

Finding himself in this uncomfortable situation, my client did what any smart businessman would do: he turned to his colleagues. He started asking questions, and telling a few people his conundrum. Eventually – probably because he is a super nice guy – one of his connections gave him a phone number and said something like, “This is my tech guy. Give him a call and tell him what you need and he’ll fix you up.” This kind colleague owned a company large enough that the “tech guy” was actually an employee in his IT department, so it wasn’t a referral, it was a favor.

Within a short time, my client had a site that did what he wanted it to do, and, at that time, all he really wanted it to do was show up when someone searched a couple of keyword phrases. Fast-forward four or five years: he calls me and needs some help creating and managing a Facebook Page for his company, and is interested in other types of content marketing. After talking to him for a little while, I suggest that he add a few articles to his site, or even start a blog. And that’s when he tells me that he has no clue how to change anything on his site, that the “tech guy” no longer works for his friend, and that he doesn’t pay for hosting and has no idea what any passwords to anything might be…

Without even knowing it, my client locked himself out, and handed the virtual keys to his business to a total stranger, then watched him disappear into the mists of cyberspace. In this case, nothing terrible happened, but what if the “tech guy” got mad at his former employer and decided to wreak a little havoc? My client didn’t even remember purchasing his domain name, so wasn’t even sure if he owned it or not. If the “tech guy” had decided to start posting pornographic images and links to x-rated websites like www.nu-bay.com to my client’s site, there wouldn’t have been a way to stop him.

Eventually, we figured it all out, and I referred him to Ego Systems, here in Chattanooga, and got everything straightened out and secured. I am now working to re-write and update the copy on his site, and will be training him on how to make simple changes in the near future. The thing is, I know that this business is one of hundreds in the same situation – just in Chattanooga. There seems to be a giant gulf between business owners and the technology community, but it would be to everyone’s benefit if there were a solid and easy to find bridge across that gulf.

I don’t have any words of wisdom to offer in this post. Instead, I’m asking you: How can we fix this? How can we connect tech-savvy service providers to business owners? What needs to happen for business owners to trust those service providers? Please feel free to share your suggestions, or personal stories, in the comments.

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