On the internet, you are guilty until proven innocent. Or rather, if you have a company website and are trying to convince a web visitor to part with their money in exchange for your services, you are not who you say you are until you can present enough evidence to convince your visitor otherwise. Unless I can see decent evidence to the contrary, I suspect that every website is set up by someone who is completely incompetent or an outright scammer. Both want to take my money and financial details and send photocopies of my social security number to everyone in continental Europe.
I’ve been hunting around for a Joomla developer with experience in eCommerce solutions for a few months now. I have a project that I think will be profitable for the company I’m starting and I’m hoping to financially bootstrap my dream of hosted services with it. Joomla has a massive community with tons of development companies and freelancers, and as such I’ve waded through close to a hundred potential developers and firms.
I have two main fears:
- The person that I eventually contract will have grossly overstated their competence and will not be able to design the elements that I need with skill and elegance.
- The person I contract will not have great English communication skills and, while they may be technically brilliant, will not be able to understand my thorough list of tasks or be able to communicate effectively with me in some areas where I need guidance for decision making.
To alleviate these justified fears, I want to know about a company and their workers. What’s a person to do? Check out the company’s “About Us” page, of course. That is, if one even exists.
There are three types of About Us pages that I’ve found so far:
- The nonexistent one. Really? It’s too hard for you to even toss up a bit of marketing spiel? Pshaw. You fail.
- The “blah blah blah” one. This one is marketing spiel at its most obnoxious. “We bring together best of breed technologies to bring you a rich, vibrant, Web 2.0 eCommerce solution. We know you’re time is valuable so we’ll blah blah to maximize your ROI and blah all over your TCO earnings reports. With blah, your blah will be more blah!” There’s nothing personal about it. No company profile. I have no idea where they are located and how many people work there. I have even less information to do some background sleuthing on the company.
- The personal one. This one has a picture of real people. Not stock photos. Real employees of the company. It lists some of the primary workers’ names, their professional experience and, ideally, something personal about them. No, not their teacup poodle’s middle name. Rather, some prose written directly by the person or people that speak to who they are as a professional.
When evaluating development companies or freelancers, if the about us page is not in the third category, I am going to remove them from consideration 9 times out of 10. This habit is not just limited to freelancers or developers. This is my habit when I have my SysAdmin hat on looking for software, hardware, services – anything. Heck, I do that no matter what hat I’m wearing. Even if it’s helping my mom buy hot sauce online. No “About Us” page? No purchase. You don’t want to tell me who you really are? That means you’re a spam gangster who punches kittens and hates the sound of children laughing.
If you have a business or attempt to do any kind of marketing of yourself, your products or your services online, please make a worthwhile “About Us” page. Tell your potential customers who’s behind the business and where you’re located. Even if it’s just a general “We’re located in Queensland Australia!” I don’t necessarily need to know that you work on the west wall of your third floor apartment on Walker St in Townsville.
That brings me to another point. Sometimes transparency can bring its own set of problems. If you openly confess that your business consists of only one or two people and yet your list of services offered would make Rackspace scramble, you’re still in trouble. That means that your knowledge is an inch deep and a mile wide or that you subcontract much of your work. The latter is preferable to the former. There’s no problem with subcontracting, but I’d suggest being transparent on exactly what services you typically subcontract. That way people know that you’re not spreading yourself too thin and it encourages folks with your forthrightness.
A great example of this in the Joomla development community that I found is The Dev Department. Their About Us page has some legit marketing speak to appease the executives as well as a more personalized page that gives the names and competencies of the core workers. They’re also transparent about who they use for subcontracting. Not only did I give them bonus points for that forthrightness, they also won extra points for using A Small Orange as their hosting company. Those are points that would never have been awarded if they merely stated “We can host your website!” and never mentioned how or with whom.
I’m not saying that it’s always appropriate or necessary to include a detailed personal profile on your “About Us” page. However, at least include some kind of information indicating who you are, where you are and if you subcontract anything. Not just raw marketing-droid language.
Could those suggestions lose you some customers? Certainly, but it could gain you a few as well. You could always A/B test your site and marketing to see what performs best. However, consider that doing the Right Thing is better than doing the best performing thing. Be up front. Be honest. Be open. Be good.
P.S. If anyone out there is a Joomla developer with eCommerce (osCommerce, VirtueMart, etc.) and email marketing knowledge (Joomla email marketing plugins, iContact, Campaign Monitor, etc.) contact me at [email protected]. JSYK, if you’re in America I’ll need you to fill out a complete W-9 form for my company. I have a registered LLC in the state of Arizona with a certificate of good standing. I work above the table at all times. It would be even better if you had an eLance, oDesk, Freelancer or Guru.com account.
P.P.S. Thanks to Jason “Obfuscurity” Dixon for prodding me to write this post.