Category Archives: Professionalism

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.

Penny pinching can drive your customers away

Cost cutting
Schemes that cut your costs could also cost you customers

One of our busy local restaurants has been implementing a number of cost saving measures in order to eliminate what they perceive as dispensable expenses. Their latest idea has seen all EFTPOS and credit card facilities removed, requiring customers to pay cash only, thus saving them fees on the EFTPOS terminal and their credit card merchant facilities.  If you don’t have enough spare cash on hand to pay your food bill, they have a non-bank ATM outside their door which you can use for a $2 fee.

In the grand scheme of things, a busy restaurant like this is not going to save a huge amount of money with this cost cutting idea, especially when you compare the savings to their good income levels. However, this scheme may in fact cost them business in the long run.

What is starting to happen is that people are thinking twice about eating there, particularly if they don’t carry enough cash on them or they are paying for a family or group. Not only are they then inconvenienced with using the ATM outside the door to get money to pay their bill, but they are being slugged $2 to do so.

The actions of this restaurant might save a small amount of money in the short term, but it is unlikely to off-set the business they lose by imposing such a restrictive scheme that is guaranteed to alienate some of their customers.

The are many examples of other businesses adopting harsh cost-cutting schemes. You only need to look at some budget airlines that charge you fees well in excess of their actual expenses if you pay your fare by credit card. Then there are those airlines that make you pay a hefty surcharge to select your seat at booking time rather than when checking in at the airport, which surely can’t make any more work for them, but is simply used as a method of raising additional revenue at no cost.

When you look at our website advertising rates, you could well be forgiven for thinking that Travel Victoria is also a low-cost, penny-pinching operation, intent on slashing to the bone any expenses and trying to extract the most money out of our clients. In fact, we are quite the opposite, as we know that the best way to alienate your clients is to hit them with additional fees and charges on top of what they expect to pay.

  • We do not charge fees to pay accounts by credit card.
  • We do not charge a fee to have renewal invoices printed and posted out rather than emailed.
  • We do not charge fees to update any advertisement with us. We make updates for our clients as often as they like, at no cost.
  • We use one of Australia’s fastest and most reliable web hosting providers on their highest level of service plan, thus paying a premium cost to ensure any business listed with us has the best web presence possible.
  • We do not outsource any work related to running Travel Victoria to people or organisations outside of Australia in order to cut costs. Everything is done locally.

It can be quite easy to identify areas where your business can save money. However, it is very important to keep in mind that the effect of implementing such savings could actually drive customers away, thus costing you significantly more than the actual savings you make in the long run.

Be cautious of those offers to get your website to the top of Google

marketing
Marketing your website

If you have a website, you will no doubt be a regular recipient of offers via email from website marketers who promise that their large company of professionals will make your website feature highly in Google.  However, before you take up an offer like that, carefully analyse the contents of their email and think about who they are and what they are offering.

Consider this recent email we received:

email
A typical mass email offer by a marketing company to get your website to the top of Google

There are some issues with this email which indicate that we’re probably not dealing with the large, well-known and internationally-respected organisation they portray themselves to be.

  1. The business development manager of this large company is using a free Gmail address to contact people rather than using something more official and directly linked to the company.
  2. Would you trust this company with the sensitive task of marketing your website when the business development manager writes emails which consist of grammatically incorrect sentences and have words incorrectly capitalised?
  3. Unless this company is Google itself, it cannot claim to get your website to the top of Google.  That’s because Google controls how websites are ranked using hundreds of factors that it alone determines. While a website marketer can exert some influence on Google rankings by boosting your website’s standing in some of those areas that Google looks at when analysing your site, they cannot guarantee to have the power to give you the exact ranking you request. Also, Google regularly changes its ranking algorithms, so even if this marketing company did manage to achieve the position you wanted with your website, it could all change tomorrow. The only way to guarantee a spot in Google’s search results is to take out a paid (sponsored) listing with them, and then throw lots of money at the search keywords of your choice.

So be careful with trusting your website’s marketing to an organisation that can’t organise its own email addresses, can’t write proper English and to those that promise to deliver the impossible.  You might be disappointed.

Monitor the results of outsourcing of your website promotion

outsource
Be careful with outsourcing your web promotion.

Outsourcing the job of promoting your website is becoming an attractive option for business owners who either don’t have the time or know-how to do this promotion themselves. However, you really need to keep a careful eye on what your promoter is doing, as if they are not professional about it, their work could end up damaging your business’s reputation rather than enhancing it.

The people at Jensen Windows & Doors (www.jensenqld.com.au) appear to have employed someone from overseas to promote their website in what appears to be a less than professional way. How do we know? Someone based in the Philippines (as determined by looking up the submitter’s IP address) filled in our free listing form for tours and activities in Victoria in order to get their business and website displayed on the Travel Victoria website.  They specified that Jensen Windows & Doors, who are manufacturers of doors and windows in Queensland, conduct tours and activities around the Great Ocean Road coastal town of Aireys Inlet in order to trick us into approving the listing and displaying the website link. With their link published, they would have gained exposure by people clicking on the link and viewing their website.  Also, web search engines like Google would notice the link and treat it as a vote of popularity for Jensen Windows & Doors, thus possibly boosting their website’s ranking when people conduct searches for window and door manufacturers.

While we obviously didn’t publish the free listing as requested by the person from the Philippines that Jensen have hired, it has however left us with a negative view of this Queensland-based manufacturing company that resorts to hiring people from Asia to get their business listed in inappropriate places.

Promoting your business and website is serious stuff.  If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, ensure the person or organisation you outsource this task to is of a reputable nature.  Also ensure that the methods they use to promote your website are appropriate.  They should not spam and they should definitely not try to trick others into listing your website by misrepresenting your business.

Does your writing reflect your level of professionalism?

Writing correctly
Is your writing a reflection of your professionalism?

Over the years, accommodation providers who list their properties on our Travel Victoria website have regularly said they want the facility to edit the wording within their advertisement themselves, rather than telling us what they want changed and waiting for that to be done. The fact we don’t offer that facility has many thinking it’s because we’re simply too lazy to set up such a self-serve editing system like what Stayz and Wotif offer to their clients.

So why don’t we offer a self-editing system? It’s because some people write things riddled with spelling errors, inappropriate punctuation, errors with grammar and construct sentences that simply make no sense. We attempt to fix most of those things before the wording hits the web, so as to produce a more professional portrayal of the property being rented out.

It’s surprising in this day and age with so much help from computers and the internet that people still commit many basic writing errors.

  1. Improper use of apostrophe for pluralisation. It’s amazing how many people believe that the plural of photo must be written as photo’s and that the last decade of the 20th century, the 1990s, should be written as 1990’s.
  2. Improper capitalisation of words. There is a tendency for people to capitalise words that shouldn’t be capitalised. Unless those words begin a sentence or are used as a specific title for something, the following should not be capitalised:
    • Seasons of the year (eg: summer, winter)
    • Common names of animal or plant species (eg: magpie, gum tree)
    • Compass directions used in a general sense (eg: north, south)
    • Titles of people used in a general sense (eg: prime minister, dentist)
  3. Wrong spelling of contracted words. Despite pronouncing “you’re” and “your” identically, some people still write “your correct” rather than “you’re correct” or its full expansion “you are correct”. Another common error is using “its” and “it’s” interchangeably when they actually mean completely different things.

While not errors, we also try to weed out:

  1. Over-use of semi-obscure abbreviations. For example, some may use QS and SB to denote queen size bed and single bed in their accommodation description, but what they stand for may not be immediately obvious to some people.
  2. Writing lengthy sentences all in capitals. This may come across as “shouting” to some readers. A better way we use to try and emphasise sentences is to adjust the font, colour, size or weight of the text.
  3. Over-use of exclamation marks. While you may try to be creating an exciting scenario, ending every sentence in an exclamation mark loses its effectiveness after repeated use.
  4. Over-use of ampersand signs. It’s common to use the ampersand (&) in titles for space saving and to put more emphasis on other important words, but using an ampersand to replace every occurrence of the word “and” within regular paragraphs of sentences is over the top.
  5. Lack of paragraphs. Particularly if you’re in a hurry, there’s nothing more intimidating than to be confronted by huge slabs of sentences with no separating paragraphs to break up the flow into logical topics.

The main reason we don’t have a self-editing system for accommodation advertisements is so that we can try and correct (the best we can) errors and confusing wording so that a potential guest reading it can more easily understand the message being conveyed. To some people, it can be very distracting to read something that has many basic writing errors, and that may negatively impact upon the impression of the property or its manager to potential guests.