They're waiting for you, and they're going to ruin your day

Succeeding online is a veritable minefield nowadays. Gone are the good old days of registering a free domain and email address with your ISP, uploading a badly pixelated picture of your product and putting your phone number is 34 point Comic Sans.

No, now you need to look professional, sound professional and smell professional. And that means that you’ll need to hire the professionals.

Unfortunately though, it’s all too easy to find the wrong people. And once you’ve met them, you’ll rue the day you took out your chequebook – because nothing’s quite as dispiriting to the internet entrepreneur as the five people you meet in online marketing hell.

Dramatis Personae – The Mad, The Bad and the Just Plain Irritating

Your thought processes will be simple when you’re looking to succeed. First of all, you need a website. So you ask around to see if anyone knows a good designer. And that’s when things will take a turn for the worse, because there’s always one person who’ll recommend their college-age nephew, who’s doing an NVQ in internet studies…

The Teenage Designer

Distinguishing Features: Acne, WWE Wrestling t-shirt, pirated copy of Photoshop

You don't like it? That's so unfair!

Haunts: MySpace (formerly GeoCities), Google Image Search and WWE Wrestling forums

Oh dear. The Teenage Designer may be enthusiastic (and cheap), but he’s unreliable. Fitting your design around running his wrestling fansite, the project’s going to take much longer than the half hour he originally quoted. And for what?
Sure, his design looks “cool” to the average ADD-riddled pubescent MySpace user, but is that glittery animated text and unstoppable theme song really going to help you sell golf shoes to the recently retired?

Still, at least he was cheap – and, even better, the cousin that helped him code up a website for his favourite band is available to help with making his crayon-sketched animated GIFs a reality…

The Half-arsed Developer

Distinguishing Features: Ennui
Haunts: the internet like a tortured soul

It’s a shame really. The half-arsed developer never really wanted to do this, but since he bought that book on PHP everyone seems to ask him for help. Admittedly, it’s usually help with setting up a wireless printer, but sometimes he’ll be offered a few quid to help code a website. But when he sees his cut of the £50 you paid the teenage designer, he’s not going to be filled with enthusiasm.

Luckily though, by cutting corners and ‘borrowing’ code from other sites, he might just make minimum wage on this job. Just don’t ask him why the contact form doesn’t work.

But don’t worry – he’s got one more trick up his sleeve. This guy he was chatting to over a game of StarCraft last night can help with your copy. And he only charges a penny a word!

The Overseas Content Deployment Specialist

Distinguishing Features: Exists only as an email address, tenuous grasp of English grammar
Haunts: Babel Fish, Thesaurus.com

Well, this fellow is cheap! A few pounds and he’s written the copy for your website. And it looks alright. You’re proud of it – and rightly so! Who wouldn’t want to be known as “the Uniting Kingdom’s premiere supplier of sporting foot wear solutions, primarily for the market of golf“?

Alright, it could be punchier, but nobody reads websites. All they need to do is look at the picture of a golf shoe, click on the spinning gif that the designer said should lead to a contact form (note to self, email the developer) and get in touch! They don’t really need to know anything – the text is just filler! You hope!

You could be right though – someone’s just sent you a Tweet about your website, and you’re one step closer to success!

The Guru

Distinguishing Features: Plastic grin, iPhone, crazed wild-eyed psychopathy
Haunts: Twitter, Facebook, SEOMoz (as a lurker)

You’ve seen the emails before. Vague promises about untold riches, a sinister alchemy that’ll turn followers into gold, and an avatar with a suit so sharp you could cut your eyes just looking at it.

Yes, on the surface, The Guru is going to take the disparate strands of your website nightmare and weave it into crisp, cool cash. But dig a little deeper. His only testimonial comes from himself, and the marketing strategy he’s planned for you is based on social media + followers + ??? = £££. And, unfortunately, all of the £££s are for him, because your target audience spends more time on the green than on Twitter.

And before you know it, The Guru’s taken your cash, delivered no returns and swanned off into the darkness. And you’re left with no other options but to try and find an expert. So you make your final mistake and head to a forum.

The Know-it-All

Distinguishing Features: Smug superior smirk, monstrous ego, condescending tone

"297 posts today? I'm slacking off..."

Haunts: Digital Point, UK Business Forum, anywhere worth is measured in posts-per-day

When gurus reach critical mass, they collapse in on themselves under the weight of their own self-righteous smugness. And then they become forum regulars.

They have an answer for every question. Quite literally.

No matter what your issue is, the Know-it-All will sneeringly explain that you’ve been a moron, and you should’ve come to him. But, alas, he can’t help you now. He’s too busy to take on any paid work, as it’s a full time job keeping his posts-per-day average above 300.

But you know what? He’ll throw you a line. He’s got this college-age neice you see, and she’s doing an NVQ in internet studies…

So, What To Do?

You don’t have to go to online marketing hell. You don’t need to doom yourself to the vagaries of the young, the half-arsed, the unintelligible and the egotistical.

What you need to do is approach things with a critical eye, and a preparedness to pay decent money. So before you work alongside any professional, you need to ask these five questions:

  • Are they experienced? You need someone who knows what they’re doing.
  • Is there proof of their skills? Ask for testimonials, examples, portfolios. You wouldn’t hire a new staff member without knowing they were up to the job.
  • Are there any people they regularly work with? If you find a designer who can recommend a good developer and a good copywriter, you’re on the right track.
  • How much do they charge? You’re right to worry about being over-charged, but very low prices should ring a warning bell. After all, if you pay peanuts…
  • Do they come across as professional? Trust your instincts. If someone seems like they’re not up to the job, then look elsewhere.

If you’re canny and cautious, you’ll avoid meeting our five internet demons. Because you’ll never be anywhere near your own online marketing hell.

Share your horror stories in the comments section below.

If you’re wondering who the Sixth person you’ll meet is, take a look at the Unmemorable Title Facebook Page for an exclusive extra…


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