The Art of Conning Grandma: 5 Scams Website Agencies Use
I’m sure you must be thinking, Madelaine darling, you work in PR. Surely you’ve seen every illusion or trick on the planet? Yes, yes I have. But nothing even comes close to the utter, blatant fraud that is Website Agencies. But, because I’m not a total monster, I’m going to share the many extraordinary and lucrative ways they try and get money out of elderly clients. (Or just those who aren’t technophiles).
1. “We actually need *more* money to build the CMS and back end coding”
I’ll bet my bonnet they almost definitely don’t. For one, every agency has templates to build sites. Any web developer worth their salt can change text or pictures in a matter of minutes, ‘back end coding’ or not. If it’s literally your job, day in day out, you aren’t going to be googling the right HTML to change a font in a template.
Unless you’ve asked for a very complicated graphic, NEVER just accept this as a given. They are testing the waters to see whether they can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Respond with ‘Can you explain to me what code you need to rebuild and give me an estimated breakdown on the hours it will take, so I can share it with my grandson to check’. They’ll suddenly realize they can do it anyway.
2. “It’ll take us 5 days to replace that section of text”
Like hell it will! It takes between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on the amount they have to copy and paste from your word document. This just means they don’t have enough staff to cover your project or can’t be bothered. If you’re paying by the day, this is an easy way to inflate their invoice.
Let Mama show you how. You go to the page where you want to edit, delete the text that was there, and paste the text you want. Provided you aren’t asking them to put War and Peace up, that’s a 5 minute job.
If they burst into tears and insist they aren’t using a template (lol ok hun), they’re coding the back-end CMS or HTML, just remember that they aren’t toddlers looking at code for the first time, and it really isn’t rocket science. An hour tops. So y’all know how incredibly easy it is, this is how you do it:
- Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste).
2. Then add replacement text into the correct area of code (it’ll look like this: <h6> Lydia is my favourite cat. She loves long naps and cuddles.<h/6>).
If I could teach myself how to do it as a 25 year old girl who did an anthropology degree, your womble of a web developer can work it out without it taking him 5 days.
3. We’ll need another $3,000 to cover the costs of updating the header image”
Lol ok Damian. Any standard image or text replacement takes literally minutes to do, log in included. It’s literally ‘upload into a template.’ Even if you’re fancy and doing it from scratch, it’s a $5 job max.
I don’t even charge for minor edits, because I’m not a blood sucking con-woman.
4. “The earliest we can update your blog post/ header/ profile picture is next Thursday, it takes time”
I’ll bet my second bonnet that the answer is they don’t have anyone covering your project until then. If you can, always work with one freelancer instead of an agency to avoid this crap. There is no conceivable reason that an agency will take over a day to change a picture, section of text or header, beyond the fact they’ve not got someone covering your project development.
This is just bad service, there’s no other word for it. Even the most stretched agency is able to get an intern to sit down and upload a cat picture in a matter of minutes. If your agency isn’t even worth a basic courtesy like this, walk. I update things for clients straight away, or within the hour, for free, and I’m spectacularly disorganized.
5. “The CMS got broken!” “It caught a Fimble virus!”
Always take it as a given that a web agency thinks you are spectacularly, alarmingly stupid. They’ll use big words, jargon and straight up lie to convince you that you have to pay for all sorts of rubbish and put up with increasingly absurd delays.
CMS = Content Management System. Back end coding = code to make the site do stuff. I’ve even seen people make up words, viruses and problems. The bottom line is: if they are a web agency, they know exactly how to work with HTML. They know exactly how to fix a glitch, or how to work around a platform incompatibility. That’s their job. Never, ever just accept ‘oh, it broke somehow and now I need to be paid more’. As a contractor building your website, they are obliged to look into it and fix it. They are obliged to complete the project, irrespective of whether they did something stupid with the CRM. And they definitely shouldn’t charge you for it.
If you were building a house, would you accept a builder saying he wanted to be paid all over to redo the roof because he accidentally used superglue instead of cement? Of course you wouldn’t. Incompetencies are in the hands of the tradesperson, always and without exception.
6. “Your video/image is too big so I can’t do nuffin’”
Yes you can kittens, shrink the MP4 size and get hot on it. They shouldn’t even be bothering you with things like this. It’s their job to get around problems.
7. “We weren’t expecting you not to like our first draft so that’s another $50,000 quid plus delays!”
Nope. It’s a given that clients are almost definitely not going to love your first concept. If they can’t work that into their deadline and work schedule, that’s on them, not you.
8. “Wahh, I had to spend all day redoing that section!”
Doubt it. If you can’t make a stock graphic a different colour, add a subheading or change sectional copy layout in under an hour you’re a total idiot and shouldn’t be charging your services.
9. “It’s not working for some reason. Not my problem”
You are paying them to understand it. They can inform you of a problem, but it should only ever be that they are working hard to fix it. It’s not on you to accept delays or answer what’s gone wrong.
10. “I figured I’d wait until our meeting next week to ask”
This is hands down the one that gets my blood boiling! If the delay is that they didn’t ask you a yes/no question seven days ago, no way should you be paying for seven days of them sitting dribbling in front of Netflix. If it can fit in an email, they should communicate with you efficiently. If it doesn’t, they can call. The apathy is just criminal.
In short, don’t let them see you coming. They are in business because you think coding is something smart people do, something you could never understand. You will be immediately read as an idiot to defraud if you’re a woman, elderly, or someone estranged from the tech world. I was in a project where a web agency didn’t even bother to speak to the woman managing the project, they just warbled CRM jargon to a random man because they just presumed she’d be reassured by the fact he understood it, and not question their delays (it backfired hilariously because she’s a digital specialist). Charities, in particular, often fall victim to this sort of thing because they don’t know what they are getting into.
I’m not here to victim blame you: it’s always nasty to manipulate people into accepting shoddy service or extortionate fees. If you have to work with a web agency, make sure you have all correspondence in writing (so they can’t claim they called to explain, and you agreed), never work on a pay-by-the-day agreement, and ask for a full cost breakdown of all hours spent working on alleged ‘code’ ‘CRM’ ‘CMS’ or ‘back-end adjustments’, along with copy of the code they are allegedly editing. If this sounds paranoid, now is probably a good time to remind you that most web agencies charge $5,000-$10,000 per site, despite using a template.
I can build a portfolio website in two hours, and I’m a total idiot who NEVER took classes in web design and can just about use a saucepan.
If you can, always work with a freelancer.
They will want a good review from you because they’ll have a smaller potential clientele, they will want to give you more time to you and your project, they will want your product to look good in the end so they can put it in their portfolio, and they will have time to go through what you want without over delegating to an intern who hasn’t ever done website building in their life. You can also pick up a phone to a freelancer at any time without scheduling a meeting a week in advance with a snotty misogynist and his smirking team of overpaid wombles. My experience with freelancers has been overwhelmingly better than agencies, and I’ve overseen website development for scores of clients.
Final Note: (I don’t normally recommend freelancers, but I strongly recommend Eva: she’s very, very friendly, efficient, won’t charge you the earth and tells it like it is! https://evahumphrey.com/)