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Old 01-17-2006   #1
vayapues
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Are we obligated to tell the client

I have heard it said that a website is like a rear-end. Everyone has one, but no one wants to see yours.

As a programmer, I often feel that my projects are like children. I have emotional attachments to them, and want to see them grow and prosper. It is frustrating when, due to lack of interest, they die.

I have, more then a couple times, been involved with high-end projects where the client spends many tens of thousands of dollars to build what they think will be the next ebay, or the next Amazon, only to have the sites go offline within a year or two.

Here is my question:
Do we have an obligation to tell the client their website is a bad idea?

Example:
I had a 25 year old hire me to build him an ebay like auction site. He did not want to use scripts from hotscripts.com, or others. He spent what was probably an inheritance to have it built. I knew his project would fail, and really struggled with it. I mentioned it to him a few times, but he was determined. Ultimatly, I decided that if he didn't hire me, he would hire my competition. At least I could insure his site was really good, that it was SE friendly, even if it was bound to fail.

Hey, and who knows, maybe he would succeed, and be the next Internet billionaire, who am I to stop him.

Another Example:
Another guy hired me to build his meloluca(spelling) downline site. Meloluca is an MLM company similiar to Amway. He was convinced that he was going to make a lot of money, even though he had not made any for the last two years. Again, I knew his site was a big waist of his money. Am I obligated to tell him. Well, I did, but he wouldn't listen, so I built the site, and it to is now offline.

My philosphy is that who am I to stand in the way of their dreams, even if there dreams are far-fetched. What if they do make it, right? Who am I to stop them. And if they do fail, at least I can make sure their site is SEO optimized so that it has the greatest chance of success.

Last edited by vayapues : 01-17-2006 at 09:42 AM. Reason: more descriptive title
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Old 01-17-2006   #2
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I feel the same way. The web developer is simply providing a vehicle by which the person's dream "may" happen. Unless you are profit sharing, it is really not up to you to pre-determine if they will be successful or not IMO. There have been many who have had what seemed like ridiculous ideas which ended up becoming a success.
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Old 01-17-2006   #3
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Would like to share an experience quite opposite to the ones above.
Where we built a website 2 years back for a travel business unit of a large conglomerate.
The site's target audience is a niche in the safari industry and is actually successfull - great qualified traffic - BUT due to some change of shareholding etc during the past year the site does not have any owner right now.
So we have a successful website which is unfortunately orphan - no owner - and we are now trying to convince the new major shareholder to take ownership - really crazy some times.
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Old 01-17-2006   #4
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IMO it's an issue of balance.

After all, how much does anybody understand any particular business vertical or consumer market?

Personally I thought the million-dollar-homepage idea would never get anywhere...

It used to be the case that I would kill sales leads by telling them my opinion of what they should do, and completely over-step what the client was telling me they wanted.

More recently, I've learned that what I need to do most is listen to what the client wants, and try and find a third way that will try and address their wants.

Sounds simple enough, but often someone will make an approach with aims that outstrip their abilities and budget. My job is to then inform them of my perceived limitations, and instead offer something more multi-stage, where clear aims and objectives can be met sequentially.

Even if my perceptions may sometimes be at odds with the business making the enquiry, it needs underlining that all business is risk. There's no way for me to personally tell if a particular business model will beat the risk or fall to it - simply to do my part to provide the right guidance and services to help that business and beat short-term risks.

You know, that auction site may just have worked with a better marketing plan...

2c.
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Old 01-18-2006   #5
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We know that a nice percentage of new business fails within the year. Is this much different then a business?

I too, often worry about it.

And I have told people in the past, that their idea will fail. Sometimes it works and some times it does not.

Great topic.

But seriously, how is this different then starting a coffee shop?
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Old 01-18-2006   #6
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It depends..

I guess as service providers we have the obligation to be as honest as the client is paying us to. If a prospect comes with a bad idea but only hires me to do the technical aspect of it, I have no right to mess with his business plan. On the other hand, if the prospect comes and ask for the whole package as a technology consultor, I have every reason (and an obligation) to be honest and help him out to better shape the project.

Being honest is a wonderfull thing, but too much honesty can be bad to some people.
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Old 01-18-2006   #7
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I think that if you are hired as a service provider, then your obligation is to provide the service to the best of your ability, period.

But if you are hired as a consultant, then you have an obligation to inform your client about things you feel they need to know in order to make a rational and fully informed decision.

I didn't say *convince* your client, just inform them. You should give them enough information that they can make a rational, well-informed decision. You should give them enough information on both sides of the arguement that, if they see fit, they can go against your recommendation.

After all, not everyone has to agree with you. What if you are the one that's wrong?

Once you have informed them, and believe that they know what they need to know, I think that you should let the client make the decision. After all, if you knew everything, you'd be a retired multi-billionaire instead of working with clients for a living, so you have to keep in mind that the client may know something that you don't, and perhaps isn't telling you (they certainly have no obligation to tell you anything other than what you need to know to do your job).

A consultant has an obligation to inform, but no obligation to convince or enforce, in my opinion. The only time I can think of where there might be an exception to this when when a human life may be a stake, or where there is a specific law that applies to you. This is usually not an issue for SEO or web design.

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Old 01-18-2006   #8
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I think you're mixing up the roles of web developer and business advisor. When I'm hiring a web developer, I don't really expect to hear business advice from them. Yes, I'm sure you're correct that your client isn't going to build the next ebay, but depending on how you handle it, it might be just rude for you to tell them your feelings on the topic.

The kind of advice you should be giving him is how to make the site itself better. Perhaps you could give him some good advice that will increase his chances of success. What could you build into the site that would make it better than its competition?

Anyway, my point is to save the commentary on the person's business model. If you're developing a website for them, great, do the best job you can do with it. Of course, if the customer asks for your opinion on their business plan, by all means be honest (but gentile) with them. Offering unsolicited advice, particularly when it's negative, just doesn't seem like a good thing.
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Old 01-18-2006   #9
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Quote:
When I'm hiring a web developer, I don't really expect to hear business advice from them.
Exactly! If it's someone's job to do what they are told (service provider) then they should do that. If you develope a relationship outside of that role with the client, then of course you would act within that role.

I've hired lots of people who, honestly, knew their job well but very little else. They would obviously not be qualified to give me advice on anything they were not hired to do.

But consultants have a different role - their role is to advise, and they should do that. To not do so would be to not be doing their job.

It really depends on the role you are in. Today, I'm hired to market websites successfully and profitably, therefore it's my job to advise the client on any matter that would prevent that. But if I was being hired to only build links, then that's what I should do.

For the record, though, a good search marketer is a business advisor, just like a lawyer, accountant, etc. They should give advice within their specialty.

Once again, it depends on the role.

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Old 01-19-2006   #10
vayapues
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You know, I have to admit that reading everyone's replies on this topic is a bit like taking a deep breath. I am glad to know that everyone feels the same way.

Quote:
I guess as service providers we have the obligation to be as honest as the client is paying us to. If a prospect comes with a bad idea but only hires me to do the technical aspect of it, I have no right to mess with his business plan. On the other hand, if the prospect comes and ask for the whole package as a technology consultor, I have every reason (and an obligation) to be honest and help him out to better shape the project.
Great way to put it.

I have struggled a bit with it, because of the feast or famine nature of business at times. Sometimes when a client comes to me in the midst of a famine, with what to me looks like a stinker of an idea, I have worried that perhaps I am too much in need of the work to care if their idea is bad. So, I guess I have felt a bit like a pick pocket at times.

But in truth, even in times of feast, I don't turn down work, so I guess it is just a perception thing.
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Old 01-19-2006   #11
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Quote:
due to some change of shareholding etc during the past year the site does not have any owner right now.
So we have a successful website which is unfortunately orphan - no owner -
I have a site that I built for a client, who then would not pay me the remaining 50%. I worked for over a year to try to get the funds from him. What was frustrating, is that his company is a fairly successful outfit. Instead of taking him to court, I decided to become his biggest competitor, well, biggest online competitor anyway.

I had never given him the files to the website, and online flash apps. I changed the names and logos on the site, and now I pursue his leads, take a cut, and send them to a local competitor of his.

If your client does not take ownership of it, is there a possibility for you to make money by selling them the leads, on a lead by lead basis? In a niche market, there may not be competitors to sell to. Just a thought. It would be a shame to let a successful site die. Of course, if they are a good ethical client treating you fairly, you would not want to do anything that would sour the relationship with them. But if they are not interested in the site, it might be something worth considering.
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