If you do any kind of freelance work you’ve probably been contacted by someone wanting to start an online business or who has a small business and they want to move it to the web. Unfortunately, most of these people are very unaware of what it takes to be successful online. They don’t understand how it works, how much it costs and how much work it actually can take.
Being a web designer your job isn’t to hold a clients hand but sometimes it is necessary. Ultimately you have to decide if you need to refuse to take the project because the client just isn’t realistic or too clueless to help. Or you may decide to take on more of a consultory role and mentor them through the process.
Here are some of the biggest misconceptions hopeful business owners have:
Web Businesses Cost Nothing to Start
One of the first things people with not enough money to start a business do, instead of raising money… is try to start their business online. The temptation is definitely there. It only take about $100 to get your domain and hosting for the year. Grab a free template or a premium one for $25. Get a $25 logo and your up and running. Seriously, you can find dozens of blogs about making money online who say this pretty much exactly. If you get a person who just read 4 Hour Workweek or one of the numberous money making blogs and they want to hire you to do this work for them, you might as well fire them now, they are too far gone to help.
These people don’t understand that doing business online is far more competitive than even in the brick and mortar world. You have to fight to be found, have excellent customer service, great prices, an easy checkout option if selling products, and look and be trustworthy. All of which takes both time and money. If you want to sell your little craft on Etsy that’s one thing but if you want to create a legitimate business you can make a living from, it takes a whole bunch of work.
They Can Grow Their Business From Sales Profits
The same people who don’t have enough money to start their business think that they can expand their business by using the profits they hope they will be making at the start. Just like a brick and mortar may not make a profit the first year, your web business may be the same. The cost of advertising, maintanense, shipping costs, customer service as well as any hidden costs or emergency expenses that arise may render a business unprofitable for a long time. It is good to be optomistic but if your client plans on rolling out half of their business now and the rest when they get paid, you might want to let them know it won’t work out that way. Also, make sure to get paid beforehand cause they probably won’t be around in a year.
People can often be impatient and expect to get rich in the first six months. It may take six months before you get your traffic up to a reasonable level.
Web Businesses Are Easy To Run and Don’t Take as Much Time
The same people who don’t want to pay for anything, also don’t want to do any work. A web business can have very low costs, but that means you have to do a ton of work, paying yourself nothing, in order to keep the cost down. One of many common misconceptions involves social media. That it can be a free replacement for advertising. Just make a Facebook page and that is all you need to do. Build it, tell your friends and sales will role in. In reality, you can spend 40 hours a day on social media and still never get anywhere. Social media takes time and has to be done right. SEO takes time and has to be done right. Customer service takes time and has to be done right. Writing content for your site takes time and has to be done right. And if they client is creating the product themselves throw the time investment involved with that in on top of everything.
Clients who want to do everything themselves to save money first have to learn how to do it and then spend the time making it happen. A tall order that most people never accomplish.
There is No Overhead
There are a number of costs associated with doing business online. Here are a few of them:
- Email Campaigns
- Domain Registration
- SSL Certificate
- Shipping and packaging material
- Returns and Damage Goods
- Web design and maintanense costs
- Photography costs
People Will Find Them Online
Even if a client understands how much work is involved and how much it costs, they may seriously underestimate how hard it is to get your products in front of potential customers. Even us web designers fall into this trap. We build a website to sell a product or service then spend no money promoting it. And just having an advertising budget isn’t enough. Finding the right places to advertise is key. There may be plenty of places where people may be interested in your products or services but are they looking to buy anything? Search engine optimization is sort of a dirty word and some web designers feel it is unnecessary but there is no disputing the effect of being first for a Google search term. And in a crowded niche you aren’t going to get there without a whole lot of hard work.
What Works for Them Offline Will Work Online
People’s shopping habits are very different online. For example a store might be able to get away with selling products at a higher price because of the atmosphere inside and the friendly and knowledge staff but online most people simply look at one thing, price. Trust is also very important along with the easy of making a purchase. Online shoppers need to trust the retailer, get the best price and want the checkout process to be as fast as possible.
You Will Be Profitable Right Away
This is a problem with a lot of startups. You need to think about how long you can go without making a profit and how long you can financially keep going. There are money pits when you start, like building a website, paying for hosting, but there will be other costs along the way. A lot of the qualities that make for a good brick and mortar store don’t work online.
People Will Choose You Over the Competition
Stores with physical locations can have geographic advantages. You spend a little more at the corner store but are willing to do so because it is down the block from your house compared to across town for the super market. Physical locations also have a certain ambiance and actual people, customers build relationships with. Guys may come in and buy things simply to flirt with the hot girl at the counter. When you have a relationship, the customer is more willing to come back again and again. Online, people do not create relationships with the websites they purchase products from. They do build habits and go back again over and over but there is no relationship holding them there. If they find a product cheaper elsewhere they aren’t going to feel bad about taking their business elsewhere.
So How Do You Deal with the Insanity?
To me these are all really good reason not to take on a client but everyone has varying degrees of patience or a need to get paid. The best thing to do is be completely honest and upfront from the start. You may lose the client but it is better to happen now instead of two months down the road when all number of problems arise. If they are just clueless about how to run their business perhaps recommend a business coach for them to visit first, and they can come back to you when they’ve got it figured out.
Ultimately, just like any and every project you do, the contract is of utmost importance. You aren’t a charity. You work hard for a living and your clients should respect your time and expertise. Always ask for at least fifty percent up front with any new client. Set a strict timeline and have monetary punishments for deviating from the path. Before starting anything find out exactly what they need and explain that there is no additional changes down the road without increased costs.