Friday, October 26, 2007

Who are you hiring on the web? Web traps and anonymity

I'm a website designer & programmer. I can work with anyone, anywhere in the world. I chose to be different and do most of my work in the local region. But like I said, that's different. Many of my colleagues think more is better, and try to price low and gain money on quantity rather than quality, both of their clients and of their services.

When searching for a service online, I don't care if you're looking for website hosting, website design, logo design, custom graphics, or an alarm company (the only item in this list that I'm not providing), you probably want -- or need -- to know where the person is.

So how do you figure it out?

I wanted to use a specific set of examples in this post. Top-of-the-search engine results with fantastic prices, and absolutely no phone number or address to be seen on their website. Sites that ended up being in other countries. Websites with blatant grammatical errors that obviously still rake in enough cash to get to the top of Google search results on pay-per-click hot topics that are highly competitive.

But they asked me nicely to remove their website address and information from my blog. So I'm removing it. Not exactly sure what offended them about the post, as they were only a live example and it was true that they were in a foreign country, but I'll remove it to keep the peace.

Some cliches exist for a reason. "You get what you pay for" is one of them. In a vast sea of choices and no education, people choose the products by lowest price. There's either too much information, or not enough, to educate the consumer into making informed choices.

There are real dangers in sending your money to a foreign corporation. They can be of the most stellar reputation, 100% honest, hard-working people, but you are still never afforded the same protections and conveniences you have working with someone in the same town or at least the same state. It is much less convenient to do business out-of-state, or out-of-the-country. If it's out-of-state you have the additional complications of figuring out which state/jurisdiction to interpret your contract in, and where you have to travel to in order to arbitrate disputes. In foreign matters, unless you have the type of money it takes to go to International court, you don't have legal protections no matter what the contract says.

If you are going to a local company, you can check their mailing address, their reputation, get a real referral from someone you know to someone you know you can trust. You can track their professional affiliations, check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against them. And more.

So how do you figure out who people really are? There is a database that stores their legal domain registration information. There is real consideration to abolishing this information on the web, but in the meantime the more of us who are using it for legitimate reasons (to check on the idenitity of a service before purchase) the better. This database is accessible at

If you enter into Whois you can see their registration record. Enter "theirdomainname" in the field for looking up domain registration data. Make sure the right suffix is selected (".com") and click GO!

Not all domains show legal registration information online. The domain owner can hide that information by paying their domain registrar a few extra bucks to make even that anonymous.... Then you need to get into some website gymnastics to figure out who these people are, and I am not sure it's worthwhile. If they're hiding, maybe they have something to hide. More often, though, people are banking on ignorance. This blog post is to help some people wake up and smell the scandal. The flip side of this idea: If you run a legitimate business, you should not be anonymous on the web, and prospective clients shouldn't need to resort to the "whois database" method above, just to figure out where you're located. I get a few junk mails and a junk fax or 3 for having my information up -- the worst is the domain-registration related spam, but that's a hazard of doing legit business on the web.

I suggest you look at people's Contact Us page and check that their information matches their WhoIs registration -- check their professional affiliations and their memberships in local chambers of commerce. Ask if there have been any complaints against them.

If you're in the local region, you could ask for a face-to-face with the person you're doing business with. The only way to see eye-to-eye on any project is to actually be able to look someone in the face.

Moral: You pay for what you get.

Good luck!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Organizing Contacts & Clients

Here's my low-tech tip for how to organize all those business cards you (should!) have been getting at all the networking events you have been going to (you HAVE been networking, right????!?). I have an address book in my computer, I have a Palm, I have considered whether or not to enter "ALL" business cards I collect into an electronic medium, but so far I've found an easier (for me) way to keep business cards at my fingertips.

It involves several 1.5 & 2 inch 3-ring binders, and Avery (or similar) business card sheets -- these sheets hold 10-up -- putting cards back-to-back to display on 2 sides makes it 20 cards per page... There also are tabbed business card sheets so you can use some of the sheets as dividers. I also get 100% post-consumer recycled college-ruled 3-ring binder paper, which I keep in clipboards on my desk, normal section dividers, and a set of A-Z section dividers I had laying around for years.

Here's how I set them up:

One binder (about 1.5 inch right now) is the "Business Cards" binder and that has a section for the Orange County Chamber, Sullivan County Chamber, Orange Networking Alliance, each BNI chapter I visited, Toastmasters, etc. When I meet someone at an event by a specific group, their card goes into that group's section. Later, when I'm trying to connect people together, all I have to do is remember which group I met someone at to find their card. Within sections, I'm not terribly picky about the order I put them in: most of those groups don't have enough people/cards in them to get too anal about how to organize the section.

I keep a 2" binder for warm/hot prospects, a 2" ring binder for current clients, and a 1.5" binder for clients "in support."

Prospect book: I set up the book with a few business card sheets, a plain piece of filler paper for an index, then the A-Z dividers. When a prospect calls, I grab a clipboard and start taking notes on the filler paper (or on 1-sided scrap, more on that later). Then it's time to file their information. If I have their business card, I slip it into the business card sheet in the front of the book. I write their name & business name, perhaps how they were referred to me, on the index in pencil, underline the letter in their name or business name that I'm filing them under, and file them in the binder in that section. Now when I need to touch base with that prospect, I can easily take the binder off the shelf, start dialing or emailing them just from their card, then turn to the divider section and have my hand-written notes at my fingertips.

If that person becomes a client, their information gets moved to my client book, and their name gets erased from the index in the prospect book. Their business card goes in the front of the client book, and I now use a complete divider section for the client. I still use an index in pencil for the front of the book, but these sections are numbered. I file notes on phone calls, timesheets, contracts, and other documentation in their section. Once the client's job is finished, they migrate to the In Support book.

All the books are labeled and sit in the hutch of my desk.

This works best for people who aren't trying to cold-call every business they've ever contacted -- and people who can remember where they met someone but not their name or business name, although some electronic systems allow you to track when and where you met someone. However, if you are going to cold-call everyone, I'd recommend adding small post-its to your collection. Why add people to an electronic database if they're not interested, and probably will never be interested, in your product? Keep a notepad nearby, a small post-it pad, make the initial call off the business card, and if they're not interested now, put the post-it on the card with the date you called and that they weren't interested. ... or a date they said to call back. You might only manage 10 business cards per sheet, but you could take some notes on paper, fold them up and stick them behind the card in question. Now you can try them again later, but don't have to spend much time on someone who is not making you money.

Another person I know writes the event & date on the cards when she brings them home. She's going to start using my binder system, rather than have the cards in piles, but I like the idea of putting a date on them. I'm not going to, but I like it :)

Even if I had a business card scanner, I would want to hold on to the business cards themselves. I find they give me important clues to who the person is -- the style of card often helps me remember who the person behind the card was. If I only had the information, I might not remember the person. Also it's easier to pass along a business card if you have it than if you scanned it. I have been known to bring the whole business card binder with me to speed networking events.

Now, there are some cards you should not have in this system. These are your preferred vendors, other members of your own referral group, cards from terrific places to bring a client for lunch or dinner, and the people you feel most comfortable referring to others. If you're in a larger organization you might include your colleagues in this category. For these types of cards, I have a small portable business card book, because I'm most likely to need these cards on-hand at any event. I can leave the big binder at the office and bring along my smaller binder.

When buying your supplies, shop local! Please find the nearest mom & pop stationery store and open a business account with them. I use Charles B. Merrill Office Products in Newburgh, NY -- they deliver the next day.

Another thing I do is keep a stack of half-used paper, usually Chamber flyers that were printed only on one side, folded in half. These make great notepaper that I grab when I get a phone call and start taking notes on. Until I know someone is going into a binder, why use the virgin paper? They still fit in the book with 2 holes from a 3-hole-punch. It's a great way to re-use before recycling. With a stick of re-stickable glue, I can quickly make any note into a post-it.

Phew. Good luck!! :)