Are you a target for amateur web developers and online marketers?
By DEREK NEUTS, MS
It’s always a gamble to hire web developers and social media specialists when you’re unsure about how the industry works and how to tell if you’re indeed making the right decision to hire or award a contract. You may have a limited budget and time-frame, and if you make the wrong choice, you won’t have the funds to try again for a while and your project may fail. During this time, you may also be asking yourself many questions, such as: (a) Are they going to be in-house employees or contractors? (b) Am I okay with them working off-site or not? (c) Is this a long or short-term commitment? and (d) Will our goals be met by going in this direction? Hard to say at first, but one thing is clear: if you’re unsure, you’ll attract those who are sure to advantage of you and your business. While this is a huge topic with far-reaching ramifications, and those who play these games will undoubtedly be upset that the cat is out of the bag on this one, it’s important for you, as an owner or manager, to be aware of what’s happening with solicitation, contracts, and securing good help in this industry.
Also, before we get started, I want to make a distinction when I describe those who are considered amateur web developers and online marketers from those who are just starting out. There’s a difference. Those who are just starting out on their own are expected to already have formalized experience and training in their professional niche. That is, they’ve already completed an internship somewhere, worked as an entry-level or junior for a period of time, and then grew into competency while experiencing personal and profesional growth. Amateurs, however, are something quite different. Amateur web developers, for instance, took a handful of courses, have very little experience, and then decide it’s a good idea to branch out on their own because they want to work for themselves, and to hell with the rest of what I just described. They cause the most trouble in the industry and are the reason why some business owners have an expectation that web developers are “cheap” because of their dealings with this group. The same goes for online marketers, those who may be presenting themselves as “digital marketers” or “social media managers” who don’t have the background or experience to do the work. Now that we have these clarifications made, let’s get on with it.
Is there a way to define professional during the hiring process?
Not everything in this field is what it seems to be. Right now, we’re seeing a major surplus of amateur developers, social media managers, and marketers who want nothing more than your money for a fast turnaround. Those appearing as professionals may not be, and that’s a disturbing fact for those who take information on face value. Things look good on paper, maybe they even have a website, but without digging a little deeper and asking additional details to parse out prescribed industry jargon from actual knowledge, you may never be able to properly vet these individuals and agencies.
For example, on some good ends of the spectrum, there are those who enter this field through the collegiate route, either as a major, minor, or certificate program through an accredited university. There are also those who choose to get their credentials in this field after formal education in business, marketing, or media-related disciplines, such as post-undergraduate or post-graduate vocational and continuing education courses (one of my situations). Some are eligible for special programs in tech, or through veterans’ training programs, which are usually reserved for those who have prior experience, but need skill updates (also my situation). Any of these routes are perfectly okay, as there’s structure to the learning process (typically), but classroom experience and real-world experience will differ greatly based on the individual. There are some who feel that taking courses qualifies them to be professional developers and freelancers, while the truth is that education should back up experience and competency, something that should be worked on for several years.
On the flip side of this, the darker side, there are those who want the “easy bake” approach, and they have neither the experience, education, or competency to call themselves professional developers. These are individuals who I call “pretenders”, or “amateurs”, while others I call “scammers”. They’re after your money, they want to churn your project out quickly, and they care less about quality. More specifically, they are the individuals I will classify as amateur web developers and online marketers who broke into this field with very little education or experience, who romanticize the notion of what this work is all about, but instead stumble around like a bull in a fine China shop with their approach. It’s all about how many projects they can get done in a month to pay the bills, that’s it. They’ll brag about that openly, too. These are folks who have no aligned academic background in business, marketing, computer science, or even media, and who either go to “coding bootcamps” or “code schools” as their only source of education, and even those enrollment periods are extremely short ones.
There’s nothing stopping amateur web developers and online marketers from advertising “professional” services.
For some odd reason, probably due to the hype generated by code schools and social media training “academies”, no matter what your background, apparently everyone can code or become a social media ninja. These schools prey upon those who are struggling with their lifestyle and finances, promising them wages and riches beyond their wildest dreams, and that they are professionals after taking a series of courses that are nothing more than cursory learning. This is nothing more than the “hope” game that those fly-by-night “trade schools” practice, and it works well. This is an abomination of all things rational and professional, and while the old-school model of thought surrounding universities will still convey competency and knowledge on the bestowal of a degree, in web design and social media roles, this is not necessarily the case (but it helps).
Recruiters, companies, and clients want to know that you can actually perform the tasks you are being paid for. I’ve actually taken web-focused business management courses that absolutely terrified me, as the majority of those who were commenting in the student forums were those who had little to no experience and were adamant about starting either a web development or social media marketing business immediately after the course was over. It’s illogical, dangerous, and unethical to advertise professional-level services with this ruse, unless they legitimately have prior experience and are just updating skills and pushing on with a new path in life.
What I have a problem with, and what I’m sure you as an owner or manager would have a problem with, is paying for expertise and experience that simply doesn’t exist, or just started merely a month or so ago under the guise of a much longer period of time. This field is running rampant with these issues with hundreds, if not thousands of amateurs, wanting to leave their day jobs with a romanticized notion that being a web developer or online marketer is trendy, that you’ll have money, freedom, and a great lifestyle. That is, until it gets real, when the reality of it all sets in, and it gets really hard and then they dump the job by the wayside. Amateur web developers and online marketers are not willing to pay their dues and put their time in, hoping to skate by and specifically targeting businesses like yours who need help and may even be seeking help “on the cheap”. In fact, they seek out businesses with little to no budget, because they know you’ll say yes.
I’ve seen this a lot in my own vocational retraining program here in Oregon, and students have an idealized perspective of what it’s like to be a developer or something similar, but wane in interest when things get truly difficult and learning curves need to be overcome. With a few classes under their belt and under six months of training, they’re all of sudden software developers. Some of these schools, and their instructors, are part of a serious problem and specifically market their services to amateurs. The majority never accomplish their goals, much less finish the programs to be placed. Those who complete programs may be so ego-pumped due to what the schools tell them may actually reject reality (i.e., needing to gain experience first) and attempt to head out on the their own, only to make lives miserable for unsuspecting small businesses. Or for people like me who have to fix the problems that get created by them.
In short, your small business may be an easy target for amateur web developers and online marketers posing as professionals. They’ll say the right things, do the right things, but there are ways to flush them out. We’ll discuss more of this amateur contracting trend in future articles, exposing some additional ways you may be taken advantage of. If you’re looking to hire web developers or online marketers in the future, take your time, request a CV, see some work samples, and conduct due diligence surrounding your candidates. Talk with them at length, or have someone knowledgeable speak to them on your behalf to screen them, so you don’t get stuck with amateurs posing as professionals.