Buyer Beware During Pandemic Altruism from Web Developers

This is probably going to be a controversial post from within the web developer community, but this is something that needs to be communicated to storefronts weighing their online options to keep their business afloat. This post was somewhat inspired by a great conversation I had with Kris Trudeau at HPX Media about the business strategy implications of the technology we build for our clients. Across the Comox Valley and Vancouver Island design, tech, and marketing communities that I’m a part of, I’m seeing people come together to find ways to solve problems for the local businesses in their community. While this well-natured act is exactly the kind of thing we need during this pandemic, it is ultimately going to cause frustration for the store owners who take advantage of these free services. Why? I will explain by speaking directly to the design, tech, and marketing professionals in our industry.

Offering to help for free is going to hurt the businesses you seek to help. When you build a website, especially an eCommerce website, you are also building a commitment to the business and customers that this website serves. Yes, you are excited and full of energy and want to use your powers for good. But, what happens when you start getting busy? What happens when Betty at Mom & Pop Co. needs to call you 4 times a week to figure out her new eCommerce shop? What happens when you’ve helped 5 Bettys? How about 10? What happens when Betty has a problem that needs to be solved right now but you didn’t get around to helping her until 6 o’clock at night because you’re still working your day job? What happens 6 months from now when your altruistic vigour has faded but Betty still needs help?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We get excited about building something. Creating a fresh design, and building an amazing thing that’s going to solve so many problems. But eventually, we lose interest. It’s inevitable. I’ve seen it over and over with myself and my competition. This is why a financial commitment from clients is absolutely necessary. And it’s not to serve your personal gain. It’s not to profit from a tragedy. It’s to serve your client’s long term interests. Without financial compensation, you do not have an obligation to serve your clients needs. And your client will be stuck with you and will have to go through the pain of finding another developer to pick up the pieces. And they will feel awkward going to someone else because you were so kind to give them a free website in the first place. It won’t be fun for them at all, and by the time they find someone else, you’ll be saying thank god that they’re not siphoning all that free labor from you.

This scenario happens all the time, and worse yet, it happens even when there is a financial obligation. I have seen so many scenarios play out all the time with even lucrative contracts where the web developer neglects their client to the point of their client starting over in a stressful, costly, and unnecessary way. That risk, in my opinion, is at least ten times more likely to occur when the service provided is free.

If you must use your skills in an altruistic way, do what we’re doing at Objektiv Digital. We are offering 80% off the design, development, and launching of eCommerce websites for storefront businesses. Creating a tool isn’t just about creating a tool. It’s also about considering the long-term business implications that tool has on both your clients and your business needs.