Category Archives: Business

Trademark registration scam from WOTRA – World Organization for Trademarks

Businesses in Australia who have registered a trademark are currently being hit by a scam that originates from a company that calls themselves WOTRA – World Organization for Trademarks.  Their website is located at wotra-register.com.

An example of one of their letters, which strongly resembles an invoice that requires payment, is shown below.

WOTRA - World Organization for Trademarks

Registering a trademark is not an instant process. The registration is done through the government agency IP Australia.  After lodging an application and paying the appropriate fees, it can take up to 3 months before the trademark can be formally examined and accepted.  If accepted, it will then be advertised in the Australian Official Journal of Trade Marks. There will then be a period of 2 months during which anyone can oppose the registration. If there are no objections after 2 months, IP Australia will then shortly register the trademark for you.

As registering a trademark is usually a very infrequent process people go through, and as trademarks are renewed every 10 years, a number of organisations have sprung up that attempt to take advantage of this and potentially defraud trademark owners of significant sums of money.

One common type of scam occurs when an organisation contacts you before your trademark renewal is sent out to you by IP Australia, offering to conduct the very simple renewal process at cost typically many times more than the cost of doing this yourself.  An example of this is PTMO – Patent & Trademark Organisation.

Another type scam, as perpetrated by WOTRA – World Organization for Trademarks, involves contacting owners of new trademarks during that 2 month period where people can object to your trademark, just before it is formally registered.

How this scam works is that trademark owners are posted a letter which has this sender listed on the envelope:

WOTRA
World Organization for Patents and Trademarks
Budapest 1005
Hungary

Inside this envelope is a single page letter with the heading “Important Notification Regarding Your Trademark“.  The letter looks very official, listing the trademark owner’s name and address, a colour picture (if applicable) of the actual trademark, the correct trademark number and the correct date that the application was lodged.

The letter strongly resembles an invoice, with a “balance due” and detailed payment instructions.  One could be forgiven for thinking this is a payment required for a trademark to be recognised world-wide, given that it is sent out by the very official sounding “World Organization for Trademarks”.

The particular sample here has an amount due of $2,719, with a note that if it is not paid by the due date, it will be regarded as being “late”, thus a $60 late fee applies, taking the amount due to an eye-watering grand total of $2,779.

In small print on the page is a sequence of very long sentences that includes this:

“…the publishing of the public registration of your trademark is the basis of our offer…we offer the registration of your trademark dates in our private database…the contract is irrevocable and legally binding for one year…this private registration hasn’t any connection with the publication of official registrations, and is not a registration by a government organisation…(this) is not an invoice but a solicitation without obligation to pay…”

So basically you are paying WOTRA – World Organization for Trademarks the very significant sum of $2,719 just to list your trademark’s registration date in their private database which has no benefit other than allowing people to see it on the website wotra-register.com.  Also worrying is the fact this so-called contract is only for one year, so if you do end up paying, you may end up being billed $2,719 every year.

While WOTRA do say the letter is not an invoice, it does strongly resemble one. There is a “balance due” section, a “due date” listed, and a section devoted to the penalties incurred if payment is late.

Two payment options are listed.  One is by cheque, which is to be sent to:

WOTRA Kft.
P.O. Box 221
9002 Gyor 2
Hungary

Or you can pay by bank transfer:

Beneficiary:  WOTRA Kft.
Bank name:    NHB Bank
IBAN:         HU55 1140 0040 0300 3292 4210 0013
BIC / SWIFT:  KULBHUHB
Bank address: 1118 Budapest

If you receive a letter from WOTRA, it is strongly advised that you do not pay the $2,719 they request, as they have nothing to do with your trademark registration.  Having a listing with WOTRA does not in any way mean your trademark is registered for world-wide use.

If you have received an unsolicited letter from WOTRA requesting payment, you are encouraged report it via the ACCC’s ScamWatch page.

For any general questions about trademarks in Australia, refer to IP Australiawww.ipaustralia.gov.au.

Warning: trademark renewal from PTMO – Patent & Trademark Organisation

A number of trademark owners in Australia, particularly those in the high profile travel and tourism sector, have recently received an official looking letter from PTMO (Patent & Trademark Organisation) advising that their trademark is expiring and the steps that need to be taken to renew it.

Trademarks, or brands, are used to uniquely identify your goods and services from those supplied by others. IP Australia administers intellectual property relating to trademarks and patents in Australia.  The process of registering or renewing a trademark is either done directly with IP Australia or through an intermediary that you can pay extra to do the work for you, which is typically a legal firm.

The letters that are currently being sent out by PTMO are unsolicited requests to renew your trademark at a significant extra cost.  IP Australia charges $400 for a single class trademark renewal, while PTMO charge more than 3 times that amount – $1,395.

Upon receiving one of these trademark renewal notices, many people may assume this is the official process that must be undertaken to renew their trademark.  Trademark renewals occur every 10 years, so it is an extremely infrequent process.  After 10 years, recipients of those renewals from PTMO may have little recollection of the process they undertook 10 years ago.

Below is a copy of an invoice from PTMO – Patent & Trademark Organisation, with the personal details of the business that sent it to us blanked out to protect their privacy.

PTMO - Patent & Trademark Organisation

There are a number of distinguishing features of this renewal notice.

  1. The letter is sent from an address in Canberra, the capital of Australia, which some people may interpret as thus originating from a federal government organisation.
  2. The letter is written in American English, rather than Australian English, thus some words are not spelt correctly. This is not something you would expect from an Australian government organisation.
  3. A strong warning that “if not renewed, your trademark will expire“, thus implying a sense of urgency in dealing with this renewal letter.
  4. An easy way of commencing the renewal process – simply date and sign the letter, and return it in the pre-paid envelope enclosed.

In order make the expensive renewal process through this third party legal, there is small print buried on the letter which says:

  1. PTMO Limited is not associated with the official IP Australian office.
  2. PTMO Limited is an independent renewal processing company.
  3. This is is an optional offer.
  4. This is not an invoice or bill.
  5. You can also contact your legal representative to perform the renewal for you.

The trademark renewal notice has their phone number listed as (02) 6140 3414 and their address listed as:

Patent and Trademark Organisation
2 Endeavour House
Captain Cook Crescent
Griffith ACT 2603

On the return pre-paid envelope is this address:

PTMO Ltd
Renewals Department
Reply Paid 83277
Griffith ACT 2603

In the small print on the back of the renewal notice, their address is listed as:

PTMO Ltd
5 Secretary's Lane
PO Box 931
Gibraltar GX11 1AA
Gibraltar

IP Australia is aware of many types of unsolicited renewal offers sent to trademark owners.  See their dedicated page on unsolicited invoices.

If you have inadvertently signed up to allow PTMO to renew your trademark, thinking you were dealing with IP Australia, you are encouraged report it via the ACCC’s ScamWatch page.

Update for May 2017

If you don’t authorise PTMO (Patent & Trademark Organisation) to renew your trademark, you may receive a follow-up a letter a few months later from them with “reminder” in big letters at the top, and a further warning that “your trademark is about to expire”.  Refer to the example below:

Patent & Trademark Organisation Pty Ltd

Note that PTMO, who wants to be trusted with the very important task of renewing a trademark at a premium cost, are happy to send a letter out which features a spelling mistake – refer to the heading on the first column of the second table.

The urgency of this trademark expiry is curious, given that the reminder is sent out a year and a half before the actual expiry date.  In reality, they want you to renew your registration with them before IP Australia sends out an official renewal notice.

Anyone receiving this reminder notice will be surprised to see that the original renewal fee of $1,395 for one class has been reduced to $1,285.  However, the fee for additional classes has risen from $485 to $550 each.  Keep in mind that renewing your trademark online directly with IP Australia will cost just $400 for one class, which is $885 cheaper than letting PTMO do it for you.

Strangely, the renewal reminder from PTMO is sent from a completely different address than the original renewal.  The original trademark renewal offer was sent from Canberra, but this reminder letter comes from a Sydney address, with a Melbourne address listed on the reply-paid envelope which is really odd.  To further add to this tangled web, the Canberra phone number on the original renewal letter has been replaced by a Brisbane number of (07) 3067 8915 plus a Melbourne FAX number of (03) 9923 6363.  How confusing is that!

Patent and Trademark Organisation Pty Ltd
Level 17
9 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000

On the return pre-paid envelope is this address:

Trademark Service
Reply Paid 88875
Melbourne VIC 3000

This delivery address is also listed on the return pre-paid envelope:

585 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

So with the pricing on the reminder notice all over the place compared to the original letter from PTMO, and a confusing mix of Sydney and Melbourne addresses replacing the Canberra address, plus a contact phone number that has changed from Canberra to Brisbane, all this really doesn’t inspire any confidence in this organisation or its stability.

Our advice – treat any correspondence from Patent & Trademark Organisation Pty Ltd with caution and seek legal advice if you need help.  For any general questions about trademarks in Australia, IP Australia (see www.ipaustralia.gov.au) should be your first port of call, as PTMO is not Australia’s official intellectual property agency.

The background behind the major online accommodation websites

When searching on the internet for accommodation, it can be quite a daunting task with many options available, particularly in large towns and cities. So a quick way to get an overview of these many options is to use an online travel website. They can display availability and pricing for many hotels at once, so at a glance you may be able to find something suitable without individually going to each hotel’s website.

There are many online travel websites which feature listings for accommodation in Australia and throughout the world, but most belong to either one of two large groups.

Online hotel booking brandsThe Priceline Group runs a number of websites including:

Expedia Inc is the owner of these popular websites:

It is important to realise that searching for accommodation within a specific accommodation group will yield the same results. So, for example, search for somewhere to stay on wotif.com, and you will get exactly the same results as if you had searched on expedia.com. What may be different is the layout of the website, the search mechanism, loyalty reward schemes, and the ways guests can get customer support.

Between the two major groups listed above, there may be price differences between individual accommodation properties. However, in general, they are limited to special offers or campaign sales. For example, we did a search for a one night stay at a specific hotel in the popular Melbourne inner northern suburb of Brunswick on several websites within these two major groups. For most room types, the tariffs were identical. But within the Expedia group, they were promoting a sale at the hotel of our choice on deluxe queen rooms, which resulted in the nightly pricing dropping from the standard $145 down to $108 on all the websites within that group.

Based on that, one could conclude that best way to get the lowest pricing when using online travel websites is to pick one from each of the two major groups and search those.

Another option is to use what is known as a meta search engine website. These gather pricing for accommodation through a large number of booking websites and present the combined results.

Meta hotel searchSome major meta search engines for hotel bookings are:

A few years ago, using meta search engines was really the way to go. That was because many of today’s popular online travel booking sites were actually independantly owned and managed, with their own arrangements between suppliers of accommodation. This meant there were many instances of wide variability in pricing and the presence of some hotels across those sites. But in the last few years, many popular online travel booking sites have been bought out by big groups, including Australia’s Wotif which was acquired by Expedia in late 2014. What exists now is basically a duopoly between the websites that are part of Priceline Group and those that Expedia Inc runs.

Is this the end for hotel meta search engines? Yes and no.

While Priceline and Expedia control many of the world’s most popular accommodation booking sites, there are a few smaller ones out there which are still independant and do offer unique deals, so using a hotel meta search engines can easily sniff these out for you.

Australian-based HotelsCombined is an interesting meta search engine. Like Trivago and Kayak, it searches websites belonging to the major online travel groups and combines the results. However, it also has arrangements in place with some hotel chains, like Best Western for example, such that it can get pricing directly from the hotel, rather than through the major online travel websites that the hotel has listed itself on. While this sounds good in practice, it may not actually mean you get a room cheaper when booking direct.  There is usually a rate parity arrangement in place which prohibits a hotel from advertising a cheaper rate on its own website than through the major online travel groups that it distributes room availability through.

Some accommodation owners in denial about the internet

Internet
The internet has changed the world

We received an interesting phone call a few weeks ago from a motel in Lakes Entrance, in Victoria’s beautiful Gippsland Lakes area.

This motel had been advertising  on our website for the last 5 years.  In fact, when their annual renewal was due last year, they paid their subscription and sent us an email thanking us, including this comment:

“Travel Victoria is excellent value”

It’s always nice to receive positive feedback from clients, particularly when they feel the return on their small investment with us is good. After all, how many times do you hear people instead complaining that fees are too high!

Anyway, the caller from that motel announced that he had recently taken over ownership of the property.  He said that he was unhappy with how the former owners were paying for all this advertising with multiple websites on the internet, and that he was going to change all that.  While he said our $70 annual fee was not large, he said all these small internet advertising expenses do add up.  Therefore we were told that our services, along with a number of others, were no longer required.

Today we did a search for that motel on Google, and found that the new owner had pulled it off virtually every single website that the motel used to have paid advertising on.  Some of the search results Google currently shows are to websites the motel has been removed from, but those those pages are now non-existent, so Google will eventually stop showing those listings.  So all that is really left is the motel’s own dedicated website, a range of free listings on low quality directory websites, and of course it can be found on TripAdvisor.

If potential guests wanted to do further investigation on the internet about that motel, they could be easily forgiven for thinking it had closed down.  The last review on TripAdvisor was 6 months ago, and so the only thing of any significance left for that motel on the internet is its own website, which people may assume hasn’t been updated for a long time.

One possible theory we have is that the new owner is someone that has little faith in the usefulness of the internet.  Perhaps one of those old school of motel owners who always placed advertising within magazines or in brochures that you see at a local visitor information centre, and still believes that’s the only useful way to promote accommodation.  The world has changed, and these days people of all ages, from all over the world, use the internet as their preferred method of planning travel and browsing accommodation to stay in.  Sure, there is a place for advertising in print media, but accommodation owners are living in the past if they think the internet can simply be ignored as a fad or purely an entertainment medium.

Another theory we have is that the new owner may have knowledge and appreciation of the internet, but not about internet marketing.  So they may simply assume is all they need for their motel is a website to cater for those people using the internet. The problem with this way of thinking is that unless someone does a specific search for this motel by its exact name, its website will not be found.  People will tend to do more general Google searches, like Lakes Entrance accommodation or motels in Lakes Entrance, and thus it is extremely unlikely the motel’s small website is going to feature anywhere near the top of the search results returned.  In fact, the Google results for those search terms will be dominated by some of websites which this motel has specifically withdrawn from advertising on!

Another point to consider is that more and more accommodation providers are offering potential guests the convenience of instant, real-time online booking facilities, either via their own website or through a third party agent.  A motel owner, such as our former client from Lakes Entrance, who is actively reducing their internet presence, is bucking the trend of consumer demand for online information and booking facilities.

When it comes to promoting an accommodation business, the internet should be embraced, not dismissed. We live in a changing world, and businesses need to keep up with the times.

 

 

Increasing business exposure through Facebook

With the high proliferation of social media usage these days, any business that wishes to increase their market share needs a visible social media presence.

Facebook is currently the world’s largest social network, having been first launched in 2004. For most businesses, Facebook should be at the top of the list when looking to increase exposure through social media.

A business page on Facebook prominently displays the number of “likes” by people visiting the actual page or its embedded feed on other websites.

Some business owners treat the number of Facebook likes as a status symbol whereby a large figure is a clear statement that not only is the business well-known, but that it is also much loved by the public. They also believe that an increasingly large number of likes will create snow-ball effect in terms of popularity, as visitors to the Facebook page will be impressed by the significant number of likes and feel that they too must join the masses and also like the page.

In order to increase the number of like on a business Facebook page, business owners may employ a number of methods. In terms of gaining popularity through use of the internet, owners can:

  1. Include links to their Facebook page on their own website, thus providing an easy way for website visitors to also add to the tally of Facebook likes. This method is particularly effective for websites that receive a good number and diverse range of visitors.
  2. Highlight their Facebook page through email postings, blog postings, or comments by their Facebook page on other Facebook pages.
  3. Promote their Facebook page through Facebook’s promotional services. If provided with a daily advertising budget, Facebook can target Facebook users whom it thinks might find a business page interesting, as well as allowing the business owner to restrict the promotion to a certain demographic. A “suggested page” box promoting the page will appear on Facebook for designated people, encouraging them to view and/or like that page.
  4. Buy Facebook likes. There is a whole industry that is devoted to selling businesses Facebook “likes” in bulk for an insanely small amount of money. For example, one such service we came across promises to deliver 10,000 page likes for just $200. Using Facebook’s official promotional services could typically cost 20 times that amount, or $4,000.

While buying Facebook likes from third parties may seem to be a great cost-effective solution to build up a business profile, it can either be a waste of money or cause a business credibility issues. This is because those bulk bought likes usually come from a massive pool of fake Facebook profiles that promoters have at their disposal. The actions of these fake Facebook accounts look even more dodgy when many are of a completely different demographic that would typically like a particular page. Would you really expect that a 70 year old grandmother from Iceland is going to like the Facebook page of a skateboard shop in Mildura?

The consequences for businesses buying artificial likes are:

  • It can put genuine people off liking that page. Since all these profiles are fake, there will be no further interaction on that business’s page other than the initial like. Interested people visiting a Facebook page may be very suspicious of liking it if they see it has something like a staggering 50,000 likes with virtually no one liking or interacting with specific posts.
  • It does nothing for brand exposure. After all, exposing a business to tens of thousands of people who don’t exist is pointless. They can’t even tell their Facebook friends about it as they are fake too!
  • It won’t generate any engagement with a target audience. A business may have some amazing photos or information to share on Facebook, but with no genuine people listening, what’s the point?
  • No generation of leads or sales. Fake people don’t buy things nor do they visit websites linked within Facebook postings. So if the ultimate aim of the business is to generate income, then marketing to fake people is not going to generate any return.
  • Many likes that were paid for may disappear overnight. Facebook regularly runs checks to weed out and remove likes by what it deems to be fake people. Businesses may be wasting money buying what ends up being very short term likes.

You can easily identify a business Facebook page that has built up most of its likes by purchasing likes in bulk from people that don’t really exist.

Compare these two examples of Australian travel Facebook pages, illustrated below. They are business pages with a similar number of likes and regular daily postings. The big difference between those pages is the “people talking about this” figure which refers to the number of people actually engaged with that page and its postings.

In general, a page with a good level of engagement gets a figure of between 5% to 10% of the total number of likes. Anything beyond 10% is outstanding. In this first example, the engagement figure is 9.5% which is quite good. It appears to be a Facebook page which has been built up from a genuine and real user base with an ongoing interest, so the number of likes is a good representation of its popularity. In the second example, the ratio of engagements to likes is an appalling 0.2%.  You can be almost guaranteed that most of those likes are generated from fake profiles which have no interaction with the page other than the initial like.

Facebook business page
A Facebook business page with likes by real people that interact with the page.

 

Facebook business page
A Facebook business page which appears to have most of its likes bought in bulk using fake Facebook profiles that obviously don’t interact with the page.

 

For businesses who want to increase their exposure on Facebook, don’t bother with fake people and likes – after all, they cannot buy anything, they won’t interact, nor can they spread the word to their friends. Facebook pages that are mainly made up with fake likes can be easily identified and may create a negative impression of that business. Businesses who want to build up a good Facebook profile should therefore only seek real likes by real people.

Website domain registration scam by Domain Name Group

Last week, we reported the domain registration scam by DomainRegister.  Now, a week later, another one has popped up, this time by Domain Name Group.

It’s very similar to the DomainRegister scam – you are sent an official looking document which resembles an invoice that needs to be paid.  The document comes from:

Domain Name Group Pty Ltd
Level 1, 530 Little Collins Street
GPO Box 4111
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Phone: 1300 255 144
Website: www.domainnamegroup.com.au
ACN: 135 462 305
Bank deposit details: Bank of Cyprus (Delphi Bank)

An example of their letter with payment options is included below.  It looks extremely similar to the one from DomainRegister.

Domain Name Group
Domain Name Group with their unsolicited invitation to register a domain name at a high price, which very closely resembles a bill for a service that you should pay.

 

They attempt to get you to register an additional domain which is quite similar to one of your existing domain names. For example, it may be a .com or .net.au version of a .com.au domain you already own. The offer to register is aimed at either convincing you that you are simply renewing your existing domain, or that you should register the similar name to protect your internet identity. They push the legal boundaries of billing you for something you didn’t order by the use of wording that says “this is an invitation to register – if you are not the proprietor or do not wish to register, disregard this letter”. The registration fee is very excessive, typically several hundreds of dollars, which is up to 10 times the amount of an equivalent service provided by a reputable provider. The offer of free web or email forwarding does not offset the large total of the bill.

Before deciding to renew your existing domain, or registering a similar domain to one you already own, you should definitely look around for the best deal.  But most importantly, ensure that your selected domain registrar has been accredited by auDA – the Australian domain name administrator. See the official list of accredited domain registrars and then visit each registrar’s website to compare their domain name pricing.

auDA posted out a warning two years ago about the ongoing unsolicited letters to businesses from Domain Name Group and Domain Register.

Website domain registration scam by DomainRegister

If you have registered an internet domain for your website, you may be the target of scams by other domain registrars who may employ a number of procedures to trick you into registering additional similar domains at inflated prices.

These organisations are able to find out your contact details, as the registered domain owner, by consulting the Whois Database. They then post you out an official looking letter in the mail which may closely resemble an invoice to be paid.

A recent perpetrator of such a scheme is “DomainRegister”. Their contact details are:

Domain Register Pty Ltd
Level 3, 480 Collins Street
PO Box 37 Collins Street West
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Phone: 1300 855 811
Website: www.domainregister.com.au
ACN: 127 506 807
Bank details: ANZ, Cloverdale, Western Australia

An example of a letter they may post out to you is included below:

DomainRegister
Domain Register Pty Ltd with their unsolicited invitation to register a domain at a very inflated price, which closely resembles a bill for a service that you should pay.

 

They are trying to get you to register an additional domain which is very similar to one of your existing domain names. For example, it may be a .com or .net.au version of a .com.au domain. The offer to register is aimed at either convincing you that you are in fact renewing your existing domain, or that you should register the similar name to protect your internet identity. They push the legal boundaries of billing you for something you didn’t order by the use of headers and wording that includes “domain name available” and “this is an invitation to register”. The registration prices are very excessive, typically several hundreds of dollars or up to 10 times the amount of an equivalent service provided by a reputable provider. Any offers for free gifts or bundled in services do not offset the large total of the bill.

Before deciding to renew your existing domain, or registering a similar domain to one you already own, you should shop around for the best deal and ensure that your selected domain registrar has been accredited by auDA – the Australian domain name administrator. See the official list of accredited domain registrars and visit each registrar’s website to compare domain name pricing.

Two years ago, auDA posted out a warning about the ongoing unsolicited letters being sent out by Domain Name Group and Domain Register.

Trademark publication scam now hitting Australian travel & tourism businesses

scam
Scams – targeting individuals, businesses and companies.

Australian travel and tourism businesses are regularly the target of scams that are designed to defraud them.

Recently, there’s been a wave of scams directed at those businesses who have registered a trademark. What you get is an unsolicited letter in the post that features an image of your trademark, your personal contact details and a few words about your trademark in an international database. Included with this letter is a remittance slip, effectively convincing you this a bill that you must pay to support your trademark registration.

If you read the small print, the only thing you’ll actually get out of all this, after you pay the exorbitant publication fee which is usually around the $1,000 mark, is having your trademark published on some overseas low profile website.

What these scammers hope is that you’re so busy that you’ll simply pay the invoice without giving too much thought to it. Or that the invoice goes to the accounts department of your organisation, who will be under instruction to ensure the trademark remains registered. After all, if they have your personal name, address and trademark details, it must be a legitimate bill, right? Wrong…all those details can be viewed by any member of the public on the web via the federal government’s official Australian Trade Marks Online Search System (ATMOSS).

The latest flood of trademark invoice scams is coming from IDRTM – International Database of Registered Trade Marks which has a website at www.trademarkpublisher.info.  You are then asked to send your payment to this address in Sydney:

TM Publisher
Suite 65 Seabridge House
377 Kent Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000

Technically, they are probably not breaking any laws by using terms like “we recommend” and “if you want” and not stamping a “due by” date on the invoice.  However, they are hoping that out of the thousands of these they send out, a few people will simply pay without a second thought.

Below is a letter/invoice from IDRTM or TM Publisher, so you can be aware of what’s going on if you receive one of these.

trademark scam
Scammers at work, requesting money for your trademark to be listed in an unknown international database.

Tips on dealing with freelance web designers or developers

asleep
Is your freelancer asleep at the job again?

When you’re in the travel business, having a good website is very important as most people use the internet to research and arrange their holidays. Therefore travel businesses find they will require the services of a web designer or developer to create their website initially, then in the future to extend, enhance or completely redevelop it.

Web design or development can be an expensive business. If you choose an organisation with a street office and reception desk, you will certainly feel comfortable about dealing with an organisation that has a solid presence and reputation.  However, a significant part of the fees you are charged will have to pay the rent of the premises, the wages of support staff, and of course the upkeep of that colourful tropical fish tank and fancy espresso coffee machine in the foyer.

A significant amount of money can be saved by getting the work done by a skilled freelancer. They typically work from home, and thus don’t need to rent an office or pay wages to support staff. You would generally interact with a freelancer via the internet or phone, perhaps meeting in a public place if there needs to be face to face contact.

Like with all industries, there’s good and bad, and the freelancers of the world are no different.  You’ll find some really responsive, talented, hard-working people, and equally, you’ll find some lazy ones whose sole aim is to get as much money out of you as possible, and deliver as little as possible.

It is highly recommended that if you hire a freelancer, you do so through a respected freelance online employment platform such as Elance, Odesk or Freelancer. These systems allow you to track a freelancer’s progress and only pay when the job is completed to your satisfaction. There is also a comprehensive dispute resolution system in place to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone should walk away happy with the job outcome.

Another option is to deal with a freelancer directly. You’ll typically find them by searching on Google and ending up on their website.

When selecting a freelance web designer using the internet, ensure that you:

  1. Look at their website.  If they can’t design their own website, what hope do they have of doing yours?
  2. View their portfolio. See if you like their style of work. Take particular note of the dates of the items in their portfolio to ensure you aren’t dealing with someone that’s not done much work for a long time.
  3. Check the web designer’s social profiles. Look at their Facebook and Twitter streams to gauge their character.
  4. Do an internet  search of the web designer’s business name, personal name, website address and ABN. Then re-do the search followed by negative words such as “problem”, “scam”, “fraud”, “untrustworthy”, etc. This may uncover any unfavourable dealings people have had with this person.
  5. Check if the web designer is an active contributor to popular technical forums. Someone who regularly contributes to such a forum will typically value their reputation in public and will be likely to do the right thing by their clients.

If you’ve taken the plunge and chosen a freelance web designer from the internet, here are some important tips on dealing with them.

  1. Only do business with freelancers from your own country. It makes things easier if you’re both in the same or similar time zone when it comes to communications. Also, if something does go wrong, it is much easier to resolve disputes when you’re both operating under the laws of the same country.
  2. Never, EVER, pay up front for the work. After all, what stops the freelancer then disappearing with your money, never to be seen again? If the freelancer does insist on a payment to kick-start the project, ensure that the payment is done in such a way that you can reverse it. For example, pay with a credit card, so that you have the option of disputing the transaction if the services you’d paid for aren’t provided. Alternatively, use an escrow service such as Australian-based Escrow Angel so that your funds are held by an independent third party and only released to the freelancer once everyone is in agreement over the work completed.
  3. Draw up a clear contract for the project. This contact must stipulate exactly what work needs to be done, any intermediate milestones, and a final delivery date. A clause should also be included to specify that you (and not the web designer) own the intellectual property created for the website. The contract should also state what is to happen if milestones or the delivery date is not met. Do NOT treat an invoice from the freelancer as a contract. Invoices for services are generally vague, lack delivery dates, and are non-binding.
  4. Keep in regular contact with your freelancer. Don’t be afraid to phone, text or email them, requesting details of their progress. After all, you are employing them, so you have every right to know how they are spending the time you pay them for.

There are a number of warning signs to watch out for that can indicate you are dealing with an unreliable freelancer.

  1. Unrealistic promises. The freelancer promises the impossible when taking on the project.  Telling you that their work will be so good that you’re bound to win awards galore for their stunning website design may simply be nothing more than hot air to secure your business which they wouldn’t normally have any hope of getting otherwise.
  2. You caught them in between large jobs. The freelancer tells you that normally they are so busy, but by pure chance you’ve approached them at the exact instant that they’ve completed a massive project for a high-profile client. Are you really that lucky? More likely it’s a freelancer that’s been out of work for a while, and they are just trying to create an impression that they are in high demand and that you’re extremely lucky to hire them.
  3. The “too good to be true” quote. You may think that you’ve been very fortunate in receiving an unbelievably cheap quote for your project. However, this may be part of a freelancer’s plan to lock in as many jobs as possible so they have a steady source of work and income during quiet times. There are some freelancers who have serious issues with time and money management. So if they have bills to immediately pay, then any work that has been pre-paid or not due to earn them income for a while, will simply be put on hold. You will be given a smorgasbord of excuses for the delay in your project in order to string it along into the future when they do eventually find they have the time and financial freedom to do some work on it. Keep in mind that if you think your project has been under-quoted, then it will be first in line for being put on the back-burner indefinitely.
  4. Lack of communication. While the project is underway, the freelancer keeps losing your emails or never receives your text messages. If this is happening on a regular basis, it may indicate that they are just stringing your project along while they are doing other things that are earning them more money. Depending on the circumstance, a project that should only take a few weeks to complete may end up taking months or even a year if the freelancer manages to dodge most of your communication.
  5. Requests for progress payments in advance. Progress payments are exactly that – payment after a certain amount of work has been completed. Be very cautious of a freelancer that not only wants a hefty deposit up front before they even start their work, but also demands progress payments in advance for work they are yet to complete. Would you really pay someone that you’ve not met before for something they haven’t supplied yet?
  6. Fake discounts. Watch out for those so-called “discounts” offered by a freelancer during the course of the project if they’ve failed to reach a milestone or project delivery date. While it may seem like generous compensation, you need to keep in mind this is not the same as handing you a cash gift. They are simply offering to take a little less of your money for the project in order to cover up their incompetence. Everyone would much prefer their project to be completed on time rather than receiving a slight discount if the work is delivered months or even a year late. This could all be part of their ploy to string your project along while they attend to more profitable work.
  7. Would you like a free set of steak knives with that? If your freelancer isn’t offering you a “discount” in order to compensate for missing deadlines, another trick is to offer a bonus package of services that you didn’t order and probably don’t want. Be prepared to be showered with offers of free SEO (search engine optimisation) and other services to enhance your website, which you’ll be told are worth thousands of dollars, but which you’ll receive for free. All this is simply part of their plan to string the project along and keep you happy for a bit, without them having to do any work in the short term.
  8. The “I’m a perfectionist” excuse. It’s reverse psychology at work here. Instead of the freelancer confessing they have fallen way behind in their work, they buy almost infinite more time by telling you they are a perfectionist and are putting in so much extra effort to produce something so awesome and amazing for you. In cases like this, you’re made to feel that you should be apologising to the freelancer for pressuring them over the delay, rather than them apologising to you.
  9. Playing the sympathy card. Like most people, a freelancer may have personal problems or situations they have to deal with that can impact on their work. Because you’re employing just one person, any problem a freelancer has will cause the whole project to grind to a halt as there’s no one else to take over. As human beings, we naturally sympathise with others that are enduring personal hardships. However, if the freelancer says they are an only child and have to care for their sick mother this week, how do you know they aren’t in fact down at the beach every day as the weather forecast promised ideal surf conditions?

Using a freelancer can potentially save you a lot of money when it comes to website projects. However, like with all industries, there are a few incompetent freelancers out there, so choose one carefully.

Data limits on your website can affect your travel business

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Your web hosting data limit – is it killing your business?

In this day and age, the number one source of travel information is the internet, yet some businesses just don’t get it.  They pour thousands of dollars into making sure their brochures and other print promotional material are 100% perfect, yet they skimp on the reliability of their website.

We recently discussed website monitoring, to ensure website owners are notified almost immediately if their website becomes unavailable.

An issue which affects some websites during busy high-traffic times of year, such as the summer and Christmas holiday period in Australia, is data transfer limits. Many website hosting plans have limits on how much data a website can send and receive. This data includes uploads people make to a website and any downloads they make, including viewing web pages.

So what happens if a website gets really busy and exceeds its allocated data transfer quota?  Some hosting companies ensure a website’s service is not compromised and automatically bill the owner an excess data fee. This is similar to the excess data usage that users of mobile phones may encounter after browsing or downloading in excess of their allocated monthly allowance. Other web hosting companies simply block access to websites which consume data beyond the limits of their plan, taking the site off-line until the next data allowance cycle arrives. This is similar to pre-paid mobile phone plans – if your credit runs out, your service stops.

An example of such a website being blocked has happened today with a popular caravan and holiday park on Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, whom we won’t name to protect their privacy.

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Bandwidth Limit Exceeded – your website is now off-line right in the middle of the busy travel season

Summer in Victoria is all about warm weather, long days and of course the beach. For those managing a caravan park overlooking one of Victoria’s most famous coastal areas, you simply cannot have your website off-line just before Christmas.

Having your website go off-line periodically due to data transfer limits is detrimental on your business. Ensure that:

  1. Your hosting plan includes a generous data limit, well in excess of what you’d ever expect to be used. Some plans even have unlimited data allowances.
  2. Your hosting plan has automatic provisions for your website to continue running even if you exceed your data limit. Never allow it to go off-line or your business will suffer, usually at the worst possible time.
  3. Regularly monitor your website’s data usage to ensure you haven’t out-grown your existing web hosting plan.