Don’t be a lollipop: advice for non-geeks

Don’t be a lollipop: advice for non-geeks

I see a lollipopI enjoy watching Warner Brothers cartoons circa 1938-1945, especially those where Bugs completely baffles Daffy Duck or Elmer Fudd. A relevant image conjured from those bygone days is when Bugs has pulled a fast one on Daffy or Elmer and they morph in to a full sized lollipop emblazoned with “SUCKER.” Unfortunately this is also how many in the Internet industry may see you. My mental image of this type of individual is that of the wolf with big flashing dollar-sign eyes as the human sized lollipop walks in his office door.

The average consumer (you) apparently believes that the IT professional (me) is similar to the alchemist of the dark ages. Someone sequestered in a dimly lit room surrounded by mysterious tomes of lore and strange baubles and bottles…a person with secretive knowledge only available to those that have dedicated their lives to an study most people would find impossible to comprehend.

I do have a crystal ball, an inside joke gift from a division VP when I was a Senior Forecaster with General Motors C.A.R.S. at the Ren Cen in Detroit. Other than that, clients that visit our office are surprised to see a brightly lit, ordered work space with white boards and workstations. We don’t have any mysterious tomes and not one tallow dribbled candle stuck on the top of a skull.

Some IT professionals appear to nurture this “alchemist” belief; what the consumer does not understand they are most likely to pay more for. It has been three years since I presented similar information at a Chamber luncheon in September 2007, and based on several conversations in the last few weeks our membership needs an update on the pratfalls of an online presence.

Beware the Bundle

We derive a significant amount of business from clients escaping the Bundle. The bundle is a package offered by major online marketing organizations like Dex, Domain.com, Execusite, GoDaddy, Intuit, Yahoo Small Business, YellowBook, and ect.

While the first glance appeal of having your business backed up by the “easy to manage website,” “search tools,” and “search listings,” offered by these bundled services can be powerful, in the long run they do not provide the return on investment you were hoping for. The significant downsides to the bundle are additional charges and the lack of manageability and ownership inherent in a managed service. When you register a domain name (yourbusiness.com) you own that name for the registration period. No other entity can utilize that name. When you purchase a hosting package from a web host you have 100% ownership of the name and 100% ability to manage that name, your online business portal, the way you want. Bundled packages remove that ability and place the ownership and management with the provider.

With a bundled package you choose your website from one of their pre-designed cookie cutter templates. The cookie cutter templates provide almost no ability to modify the format to suit your specific business without expensive upgrade fees. Moreover with these types of packages you do not own your domain name. Should you find (as most businesses eventually do) that the bundled website is not delivering an ROI you are charged an exorbitant fee to purchase the domain from the provider. Where you could have purchased the domain on your own for between $10 and $15 it will cost you between $100 and $300 to purchase it way from a bundled provider. The costs of the bundle are significant in both the short and long term. Bundled websites cost between $50 and $300 to set up, then an additional $50 and $300 each month. The average monthly cost is around $100. That’s about $1,200 annually for a cookie cutter template with limited ability to customize. These bundled sites require you to pay additional charges for everything beyond the basic template and does not include email…that’s another $30-$50 a month on top of everything else.

Using one of our clients, a CPA from California, as an example of bundle vs. non-bundle: Before changing to a turnkey solution this client was using Execusite bundled services. Unfortunately a majority of CPAs also use the same service. During one development meeting a Google search revealed that over 500 CPA firms were using the exact same template (website) as my new client. In our local market a three Vancouver CPAs had the same website as my client right down to the tag line of “Your success is our business.”

Cookie Cutter Website

Bundled Solution (Before): Cookie cutter template that looks like 500+ other CPA office websites.

Turnkey Solution

Turnkey Solution (After): Uniquely fit to, and managed by, client with no additional up-charging.

The non-bundled turnkey solution this client chose allows elsinorecpa.com to own, completely customize and real time manage the content for their business with no additional charges for email, administration, content updates, ties to social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, web performance metric statistical reports, or other services. All at about a third of the annual cost of the average $1,200 bundled website template. While bundles may appear to be a cost effective way to deliver ROI be sure to research the service providers offerings in depth. Lack of due diligence will cost you.

While the bundle is appealing when viewing at the overall advertising packages available from directory services be sure to research both custom and turnkey design and deployment costs with the web design firms in SW Washington. You’re business stays local raising both accountability and support, and you will most likely find a better return on investment.

Wolf Warning: don’t fall for the social networking fees

Whether you have a bundled, custom, or turnkey website, beware the Social Network connection fee. During a conversation at the August After Hours I heard from a dissatisfied chamber member that their provider was charging upwards of $300 to ‘tie’ their bundled website to Facebook. This is another example of lack of information costing your business. Social Networking websites have pre-built tools that allow you to connect your website to their website. By pre-built I mean free. Let me repeat that: FREE.

A designer may need to create branded content to bring your corporate identity to your Facebook or Twitter profile, but the hard bits of coding to tie between your website and the social networking sites are available FOR FREE to everyone.

Again, there may be some cost for the designer to brand and set up the profile; if you have an IT professional advising you that there will be a significant cost to connect your website to any social networking portal you should run, not walk, from their office.

They are a wolf with big dollar signs for eyes, and you look like a human sized lollipop to them…