Webmaster? No thank you!

Sack the webmaster

Sack the webmaster

One of the reasons I started this business was to save people from the tyranny of webmasters.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand how useful they can be for big businesses – they can afford a whole IT department! I just don’t think that a small business or a one-man-band should have to rely on an outside contractor to update your website.

A girlfriend of mine (we’ll call her Isabel to protect her identity and that of her business) is the poster child for a bad webmaster experience. She’s a sole proprietor who runs her very successful corporate training business from home.

In 2009 Isabel wanted to rebuild and update her website, so she laid out $5,000 to have it revamped by a local designer who was recommended to her.

The designer (we’ll call him $5K Guy) wanted to sell Isabel the sort of website he thought she should have. He told Isabel he was willing to collaborate, but instead of brainstorming he insisted that Isabel send him all the text for her website and then only presented her with one design that he had laboriously applied to whole website. Isabel told me:

In the design business, the protocol is to provide three rough designs on just the home page to get a feel for where the client wants to go. I felt pressured into saying yes because he had done so much work on the one design; it was a “fine” design but I wanted to explore other choices. For $5,000 I should get more than one choice!

Isabel is not particularly technically skilled although she knows her way around desktop applications and Facebook. $5K Guy was not willing to discuss ways to make the site do what she wanted it to do. He mystified the process and was impatient when it came to helping her to understand how the site would work. She told me:

I realize now, after the fact, that his knowledge of the technology was limited, so his strategy was to guide me away from (or just ignore) requests that were outside his capabilities. Sneaky bugger. I’m not saying all webmasters use this strategy but it exists. When they say “it can’t be done,” the client should ask “Do you mean NO ONE can do it, or just YOU can’t do it because you don’t have the expertise?”

The final straw came when Isabel wanted to make some changes to her site. Unlike the sites I build with WordPress, Isabel’s site doesn’t have an easily accessed content management system she can use – so she had to go to the webmaster.

I sent him an e-mail with three small changes. In two cases he had to substitute a sentence with a new one I provided (simple cut and paste) and in one case he had to add a new bullet point containing one word. I expected a minimum charge of one hour, which is $150 — already a big hit for three lines.

$5K Guy tried to charge her $300 to make the changes. Isabel is philosophical about her experience:

I have learned from my $5,000 lesson. I’m not going to paint all webmasters with the same brush (that’s unfair) but I’ll say what I suspect about the “dodgy” ones.

  1. They tell you everything is mysterious and difficult so you’ll pay the big bucks for their expertise. In some cases, this is true. In many cases, it is not. They’re taking advantage of your lack of knowledge!
  2. If you get a static site thinking you won’t ever want to change it, you are probably fantasizing. As soon as something in your world changes, you’ll want to go into your website and update it. If you have a static site, you’ll start paying the expense called “author’s changes”. You can get pages that are “content managed” which means you can make changes but this feature is just as easily achieved on WordPress without all the fuss and expense.
  3. My biggest mistake is that I over-bought. My website didn’t need the kind of features that $5K buys. It’s just an online brochure. I thought I was buying $5K worth of design talent and technical expertise. I could have gotten what I got for a lot less somewhere else. I just didn’t have the time or energy to shop around. So, voilà, I got screwed.

All in all, if I had known earlier what I know now, I would have hired Marilla for 500 bucks (WordPress could have worked for me) and taken myself on a nice vacation with the other $4.5K.

It’s ironic to have to use a close friend as an example. I hadn’t started my business until after Isabel started the process of redoing her site with $5K Guy. But she is an unfortunate example of why I feel very strongly that it shouldn’t cost $5,000 to get a nice looking website that does exactly what you want it to do and that you can update yourself quite easily.

If you have a story to tell please comment below or go to my contact page and I’ll share it with my readers.

Marilla Wex is the founder and owner of Wex Sites.