Terminology, trust, and getting what you pay for

ConfusionHave you ever felt like you got “rooked” in a business transaction, especially when you didn’t understand the terminology?

I have.

When I was younger, my car died on me one evening. After the standard shouting and swearing, I had it towed to a local dealership. The next morning, the phone rang.

“Ah, yes, Mr. Kirby? This is so-and-so from the dealership… we took a look at your car, and I’m afraid it’s not good news. The manifold flange is corroded, your anti-horsepower sprocket has to be replaced, and the absorber strut o-rings are rotted through. They’ll all have to be replaced, and you might as well have us do a transmission massage while we’re in there. It’ll save you some money in the long run.”

“Ah,” I said knowingly, not wanting to seem like an idiot, even though I didn’t have the slightest clue what the man was talking about. So I agreed to the man’s terms.

Three days and $1,100 later, I had my car back. For about a week, when it died again. I took it to a different repair shop, where I learned that the alternator was going bad… which was the same problem the week before.

It was an expensive but valuable lesson. When you don’t know the language, it can be easy for people to take advantage of you.

I saw two such instances this week related to website development and maintenance.

In one case, I had a meeting with a prospect whose current website had some broken images on one of their pages. I did some rooting around before the meeting and saw that the broken images were being called from a different domain than the others; it looked like they were being hosted on an in-house development site. As such, only people who had access to the in-house network would be able to see the images; anyone outside that particular office would see blank spots.

When I met with the prospect, I mentioned the broken images, and he seemed surprised. The images were displaying correctly on the computers in his office. His in-house I.T. guy joined the meeting, and tried to explain the issue. It was my browser, he said, or a network issue with my router, and he started throwing out acronyms and tech-speak right and left — all of which went over his boss’ head.

In short, someone (probably the I.T. guy) made a simple mistake when taking the site live; they didn’t update the image links in the code from the development server to the public site. It’s an easy mistake to make, and a simple, five-minute fix. Of course, as this was a prospect visit, I didn’t want to call out the I.T. guy in front of his boss, but this was a clear case of someone covering their butt because they made a mistake — and getting away with it because the boss, although a sharp guy, didn’t speak tech-ease.

In another case, I was speaking to a friend who was unhappy with her website. She was working with a large, well-known company that designed and developed her website more than two years ago. She was interested in converting her site from a static site to WordPress.

“It was crazy,” she said. “I paid ten grand two years ago for the site, and they want $7,000 more to convert it. And this is on top of the $150 I pay them every month as a maintenance fee!”

My interested was piqued, so I asked her what she got in return for that monthly fee.

“I don’t know, and that’s the problem,” she said. “I guess it’s hosting or something, but they haven’t touched the site since it first launched.”

The web and internet industry provides great potential for taking¬†advantage of people — whether clients or their employers — because the developers know the language, and the people on the other end don’t. When developers start talking about code, hosting, PHP, MySQL, HTML5, FTP, and so forth and so on, eyes start glazing and heads begin to nod — and rarely, if ever, is much of anything completely understood, especially for people who didn’t grow up as digital natives.

I suppose my point is this: When you’re working with a web developer, make sure that you know exactly what you’ll be getting and what you’re paying for — and get it in writing. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask for an explanation that you will understand or get the advise of a trusted friend who can interpret for you.¬†If the answer isn’t to your liking, look elsewhere.

A good web developer should be a partner with you and your company — and should be someone you trust. Your website is an investment in your company, so invest wisely.

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