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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finessing: Is it for real?

Many businesses and consultants put on a big show on the web -- but their credibility is tested when you dig deeper. Conversely, some great AEC businesses have truly limited -- sometimes incompetent -- websites. And of course some 'one person bands' really are worth working with -- they don't have the overhead and excessive costs of the bigger players, and they can really get the work done.

Nevertheless, credential and competence-inflating websites happen. Are there cures for this ailment? Yes.

  • WOMRR -- Word of Mouth Recommendations and References: If you come across new or unsolicited marketing materials, you can check out the person/organization by asking friends who may know the person -- or if the person solicits your business, ask for references, and call them. Sure, people can give friends and colleagues, but you'll read between the lines and learn a lot.
  • Deep web searching -- I really enjoy this technique, and have had a lot of fun with it. You can find all kinds of things about people with imaginative and resourceful web searches. In one case, an Internet Service Provider offered "anonymous hosting" to organizations with a dubious reputation. Knowing the ISP's home town, I checked the municipal library's website and found a business license listing including the business owner's registered address -- his home. Then assessment roll data led to detailed information about the house -- and Google Maps provided an Ariel view of the modest residence. The site owner had been putting on a show far greater than his substance.
  • Intuition and common sense: The basic rules of business always apply. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is; if someone talks big but fails to provide concrete and immediately verifiable examples, the talk is more than the substance; after a while, if you have any experience in business, you can smell something fishy.
  • Go beyond the web: Phone, and visit. See for yourself. An offer to visit -- to travel to the site of the person you are communicating with -- will really show things for what they are. If they have been implying they are running a bigger business than they are; they won't want you near them. And you'll know that the story isn't what it seems to be.
These observations should not suggest that little guys don't deserve their moments in the sun; and finessing things so you look bigger and better than you actually are is wrong. It is part of business. You'll simply want to know who you are dealing with, and their character, before committing significant time and resources to the relationship.

Disclosure: The business behind this blog is small; we have five full time employees, and a modest office in a low-rent building in an Ottawa industrial area.

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