Sunday, April 15, 2007

Answer the Questions You're Asked

I thought I made it pretty easy.

On Friday I put an ad on Craiglist looking for web help. I was relatively specific; I explained that I had a small, primarily informational B2B site. I explained that I was very happy with the site design and content, though I had some ideas about changes and additions in the future; my concern was that the small web company that built it and is now maintaining it had become very unresponsive to issues like site outages and broken forms, and so I was interested in finding someone who, going forward, I could work with on site changes. I said that I wanted someone who could also identify a new host for the site and handle that for me.

I explained that the site was only updated every month or so, and that the only thing on it besides informational pages was a few forms for people to request information or download PDFs.

And I explained what I wanted in a response from someone interested in the work: those who thought they could help me should tell me a bit about who they were, give me links to some sites they've worked on, and tell me a bit about how they operate and charge. (I didn't include a link to the my site; I didn't want to get spammed, and so I told people that if they sounded like a fit, I would forward on that information so we could get specific.)

I got a lot of responses, of course, and what's striking about them is how many people didn't tell me what I asked.

I got emails from people talking about their ability as Java developers. I got obviously-canned emails from people telling me that they would build me a new site (something I specifically said I didn't need.) I got emails with people's resumes attached to them in Word format. I got emails about people's ability to do SEO.

When the first few were coming in, I had some vague thoughts of sending a polite response to everyone, but those have passed. Honestly, the majority of them don't even sound like the person even read anything in my request other than the words "web site."

Here's the other piece of it, not in the ad. I'd really like to find somebody not just for this small project, but whom I can use for client work. That means that they have to be smart and responsive, so I don't have a vendor making me look bad to my clients.

Most of these folks have disqualified themselves based on that. Moreover, they are wasting my time; now I have all these emails tucked into a folder so that I can sit down and do a first pass (delete, delete, delete) to eliminate the people who not only don't appear to match my needs, but haven't even tried to tell me why I should bother with them.

It can be hard to figure out what customers want. But it's not very hard when a customer tells you explicitly, the way I did.

If you can't answer questions when you're asked them directly, why should a customer bother with you? If you wasted their time when they needed service A and you offered B, why should they try again with you when they actually need B? The folks who gave them A probably can give them B too, or point to somebody else who can.

What's especially irritating about it is that these are the people smart enough to be scanning Craigslist for potential customers who are raising their hands to say, "I need some help!" And then they're blowing it by ignoring what they are being asked.

And I have about 70 emails to sort through.

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