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 http://www.whois.net/
If you enter theirdomainname.com 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.