screwedIf you’re into blogging or online business in any serious way, there will likely come a time when you will need an online service provider of some sort. Choosing to do business with someone online has some inherent risks that can end up biting you in the rear end if you’re not careful. Anyone can hang out their shingle online, show some work, and market their services and you have no idea if they’re really a reputable service provider. I regularly get emails from people saying they paid a designer to do their site, and gave them their money, and got much less than they were promised in return.  These “designers” then just move on to the next victim and operate with virtual impunity.  How do you protect yourself from something like that?  3 ways…

Get it in writing

If you are contracting for any service, online or otherwise, your best protection is to get exactly what is being promised to you in writing. What specifically are they going to do for you?  What time frame will they complete it in? How much will it cost and will you be paying for part of the service up front? How long do you have to work the kinks out?  If you have a WordPress theme designed, for example, most designers will set a given time frame after project completion for problems with the theme to be fixed at no charge.

Also, often as part of the quote or contract process, the service provider should give you their address and phone number. Check the address- is it real?  How would you contact them if they stopped responding to your emails? If you needed to sue them for breach of contract, would you even be able to find them?

Check their references

When a company hires an employee, they invariably request and check references. In the same way, you are hiring someone to work for you and unless someone has referred them to you, you have no idea what they’re like to work with and if they’ll deliver on their promises.  Any reputable designer, developer, or other online service provider will be happy to give you the contact information for several past customers.  This is extremely important, and yet almost no one asks me for references.

Educate yourself

It can be difficult for those who are less technical to work in this online environment. Often, bloggers are great writers, but get a sort of “deer in the headlights” look when it comes to the more technical aspects of a blogging platform or web site, which is totally understandable. These people are particularly easy for these disreputable serivce providers to prey upon. It’s like a woman who doesn’t know much about cars going to Jiffy Lube to get an oil change and they tell her she needs a new air filter and some hose replaced. How is she to know if they’re telling the truth or just trying to take her money? If you know virtually nothing about the service you’re purchasing you are particularly vulnerable.  Read WordPress For Dummies, ask a friend who is more knowledgeable than you to give some input, and learn all you can about the service you’re paying for so you’ll know when something is “off”.

Another part of educating yourself is to get several quotes for the service. Find several designers you like, who are accepting new clients, and ask each for a quote. A standard number of quotes is usually 3-4 to get a good feel for what a good price is for the service you’re contracting for.  Remember though, you often get what you pay for. The best people are in high demand – remember that stuff you learned about supply and demand in high school?

Has this happened to you?

Have you ever been screwed by an online service provider? If so, what would you do differently if you got a “do over”?