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“As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.”
– CAPTAIN SPOCK, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
I bet Captain Spock had no idea that his words would be used to talk about websites, but the geek in me found it fitting for today’s topic.
Building a website is a lot of work.
Let me rephrase… building a website is pretty simple. It’s the rest of what goes into creating a website that’s a lot of work – understanding your audience, writing compelling marketing copy in a way that sells your products and services and expresses your humanity, designing a structure that works for humans and search engines, choosing colors, photos, graphics, layout.
Even the simplest of sites can take weeks of dedicated effort and even then the creation process never really ends. You’ll forever be perfecting and learning, adding and growing.
But to destroy a website and take a business’s lifeblood with it? Well, as one of our newest clients learned, that only takes a few hours in between firing an unethical developer one night and waking up the next morning to scorched earth.
In two recent episodes of the Web.Search.Social Marketing Podcast we talked about this very topic. In episode 41 we talked about how to create a business continuity plan to protect yourself from this type of disaster and in episode 46 we talked about what to do if it’s too late and you find yourself in such an unfortunate position.
In this episode we talk with Mike Ash, the business owner who lived through this scenario, and we get his take on the experience, from hiring to firing his developer and how he dealt with the aftermath.
Sadly, we see this a lot. Way, way more often than is reasonable. It baffles and angers me every time I hear about it.
I get it: there are some unethical people in the world. That’s true in every industry. But it seems like there is such an outrageous number of unethical web developers who don’t just do a bad job or “take your money and run” but who do proactively harmful things for reasons that defy every standard of humanity.
Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a rant. These are some of the things that came up during our conversation and some things for you to think about before you hire someone to work with you on your website or any marketing.
Get It In Writing
I can’t stress this enough. Without a written agreement, it’s anybody’s guess what you’ll be getting. Even if you work with the most ethical person on the planet, there’s still a pretty good chance that you’re not sharing the same brain space. That means there’s always potential for misunderstandings, even with the best of intentions.
Now make that the not so best of intentions and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.
A good contract doesn’t have to be complicated legalese. The legalese is only going to be useful if things have already gone way, way south, and take it from my personal experience – once that happens, it’s all about lawyers, thousands of dollars in fees and a ton of time that is usually a luxury in cases of crisis.
When you hire someone, you should expect a plain English contract that does one very specific thing: tells you what to expect.
That includes what you’re getting, what you’re not getting, how much it costs, when the money is due, who owns what and “what happens if…”
Have you started working with someone without a contract? Get one now. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t have one in the past. Sit down with your marketing or web person right now and come to an agreement on those things. Make it official.
A contract won’t stop someone from being unethical but an unethical person isn’t likely to want to put anything in writing. If someone refuses you that fundamental right, close your wallet and walk away.
“But I Googled Him”
If you listen to the podcast, you’ll get to the part where I’m stunned by the fact that there wasn’t a single negative review of this developer online. But that’s not the stunning part – the stunning part is that we discovered he’s done this to a lot of people.
As soon as someone tried to take their business elsewhere… BOOM. Total destruction.
So how does this happen? How does someone screw people over again and again and fail to accumulate a single bad review?
I don’t have a good answer for that and it irritates the crap out of me that I can’t point to a red flag and warn everyone to pay attention.
In hindsight, however, there is one thing that struck me, and that’s the fact that not only weren’t there any bad reviews… there weren’t any good ones either.
This guy almost didn’t exist.
In fact, his company had multiple websites under multiple names with no clear reason why or what the difference was.
He’d managed to accumulate a slew of LinkedIn connections (which judging by how many daily requests I get from the internet marketer du jour, probably isn’t as hard as it sounds) and a couple of endorsements that nobody had bothered to retract. Otherwise? Nothing. No address, no info, just a couple of websites as different business entities.
It’s something to think about if you’re looking to hire someone, and that’s whether or not you can find out something meaningful about them online. Real phone number? Address? Active social networks attached to real people? Photos? Reviews good or bad?
And there’s always the good old fashioned way: start calling people. And consider that “no bad news” isn’t the same thing as good news.
Ask For Insurance
Ralph discussed this recently so I won’t belabor the point but before you hire a marketing company, SEO company, social media manager or web developer, ask for a certificate of insurance.
Why? It’s a sign that the person you’re about to hire takes protecting everyone’s business seriously. Look at it this way: if you were going to hire a contractor to install a new kitchen or bathroom in your house, wouldn’t you want to know that contractor was insured? Same idea for marketing.
And business insurance isn’t expensive so even a small solo shop can maintain coverage for less than it would cost to insure your car.
Channel Your Inner Child
One of the best things you can do to protect your business is to ask a lot of questions. And I mean a lot.
Don’t settle for just knowing how much something will cost. Or having an idea of what you’re paying for. Or sort of getting the point of what your web guy said but leaving the tech stuff to him.
When it comes to your website, ask important questions like: who owns it? And what does “ownership” mean? Do you own the written content? How about the design, logo and other graphics? Do you own the images?
If someone is writing the content for you, make sure it’s original and not “borrowed” from another website.
If someone is choosing photos on your behalf, be darn sure that those images aren’t coming “free” from a Google image search. Unless you purchased a stock photo license, took the photo yourself or are 100% certain that the photo is freely available to use without a license or attribution then don’t use it. More than just your credibility is on the line here. You could find yourself at the wrong end of a very costly legal battle for using a photo without permission.
And here’s a question you can ask before you hand over a single cent or sign any contract: what happens if I fire you?
That may sound like an awkward question to ask as you’re shaking hands over a cup of coffee but consider a moment of awkwardness now fair trade for protecting yourself from a total meltdown later.
Now, you could be polite and ask your prospective developer what happens if she wins the lottery and disappears to Barcelona. Or you could ask the “what happens if you get hit by a bus” question. But personally I’d ask the tough one – what happens if I fire you – because the reaction you get to that will probably be as telling as the answer itself.
Anyone you hire should be able to tell you what your exit plan is. And it shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s just a normal matter of doing business.
Which leads to my final point here which is that when you ask questions, listen not only for the kind of answers you get but read between the lines and listen to how you get answers.
Is the person you’re thinking of hiring forthcoming? Clear? Or is he getting defensive or hedging or giving you all the reasons why he doesn’t have insurance or you don’t need a contract?
Sometimes you need to “listen between the lines”.
You Can’t Always Prevent The Bad Stuff
Even the best planning in the world can’t prevent a disaster. You could find yourself in a tough spot for myriad reasons.
But knowing that gives you the ammunition you need to prepare as best you can so that if something does go awry, the impact on you and your business will be minimized.
That means having a business continuity plan. We’ve put together a worksheet you can use to collect some of your most important online data. Sign up for the Marketing Game Changer Kit and download it now.
Get a handle on your online properties, accounts and logins. Yes, you need to know and understand all those pieces. You do not get to offload them to your web guy or deem them too tech-y to understand.
You must own our domain name. You must know where it’s registered and how to access it. You can’t be the least bit unclear on that point.
You must know where your site is hosted, how it’s being backed up and how to access it if you need to. You can’t be the least bit unclear on that point.
You must have ownership of and administrative access to your Google Analytics account. You can’t be the least bit unclear on that point.
You must know where your email is hosted, how to create and delete accounts and how to access the master account if you need to. You can’t be the least bit unclear on that point.
I bet you see a trend.
If you are unclear, pull our your inner child again and start asking questions.
Your business may very well depend on it.
Disaster doesn’t strike when you’re ready and sometimes it comes with no warning signs at all. But that doesn’t mean you have to meet it blind and unprepared. If you take some steps to strengthen the foundation of your online business, you can breathe easier and take charge confidently if something does go wrong.
Get busy. The time to prepare is yesterday so don’t put it off another second.