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Advocate VII

The Fleecing

Hi Everyone!


Here's a quick topic for discussion, and it comes from a real situation!  Suppose you have a client who comes to you to "take care of his/her site."  They are more than a bit angry with their current developer/host/designer.  During the course of the conversation I learn they've paid some significant dollars (mid 4 figures) for their site. 


Upon gaining access to do my review I discover a way-outdated WordPress theme, a couple of free plugins, and no support licenses for paid plugins.  They've now asked me to document what I found. 


How does one write a report for a situation like this?


I'm going to write a fair evaluation, but I thought this might make a good topic for discussion.





Not Just Pretty Sites, Pretty Doggone Smart Sites
Advocate IV

I'm responding to this from the client's perspective, just FYI.


I think you should be honest and tell them what you're looking at. You won't have to tell them they got fleeced. They'll realize it. Just give them the facts. They may want to use your documentation to go back to the previous designer and try to negotiate a reduced fee, which would be justifiable, sounds like.



Erika Kerekes, Founder & Condiment QueenNot Ketchup Gourmet Grilling Sauces

I have been in this situation. @D3 is right -- you don't want to imply in any way that the client got duped or made a bad decision going with someone of lesser skills/abilities.

My approach is to make a list of observations, and then point out how I would approach it differently, going point by point. 

For example, if the plug-ins have not been updated, tell them why this is an issue (security, etc.) and how I typically handle that for clients. 

You don't have to say "this is wrong" -- just say "this is how I typically handle this aspect, to be sure clients have the most secure and functional website possible."

To my knowledge, none of my clients has gone back to someone to get a partial refund based on my documentation of their poor or incomplete work. More like "well, water under the bridge, now I'm moving forward."


Here's an interesting fleecing story... someone came to me a year ago because they were unhappy with their designer, so I was going to redesign their site (actually 3 sites). Turns out they owned 80 domains (yes, 80, that's another story for another day). This previous designer had purchased them on his own GoDaddy account (so he was listed as the owner), was renewing them, and then charging the client $35 per year per domain. Sheesh!

I pointed out that they were being overcharged, and that he had the opportunity to hold them hostage since he was listed as the owner. In the end, since their new hosting was through my reseller account, all of the domains were transferred there. They got a much better renewal price, they were now listed as the owner of record, and I pocketed a bit of a commission. Everyone wins!!!!


Advocate V Advocate V
Advocate V

People like this make my blood boil.  They give us all a bad name and make it harder to develop trust in our relationships.  Usually, when I take over a site I keep an open mind.  Sometimes it's a problem client, sometimes an id10t programmer and sometimes just a mismatch.  If it's just a case of a mismatched personalities, it's usually due to bad communication.  I'll give the programmer the benefit of the doubt and quietly shore up any weak coding as I do my work.  

That said, sometimes I look at other people's programming and don't understand why they did things a certain way with the realization that it might be me who has a lot to learn from them.  Again, I tread softly in the hopes that one of us learns what the heck they're doing.

A situation like yours, though, I would prefer that person got a job at Mickey D's or the BK lounge rather than giving me a nightmare site to whip into shape and a customer with a chip on their shoulder.

I recently had a situation much like this and what I did was, without rancor or aspersions (all too often I find people in our line of work talk others down to make themselves look better.  That I will not do.), detail what I found and what the industry standard is for each situation where it was clearly poor programming.  Where I thought it could be done better, I outlined the possible pitfalls using phrases like "in my experience" and "prevailing thought on this".  I wrote how sorry I was that someone in my field had such sub-standard work and offered to fix the issues bringing the site down at peer to peer rates.

A rapacious programmer got a 1 star review on and I got a few dollars and some appreciation.  Best thing is the client is not left with a permanently bad opinion of programmers in general.  Just one in particular.  If you get a call from them, they'll be open-minded and cautious, not openly hostile.

Do me a favor.  Treat them right and charge what you're worth.

Keep on Coding!
Mark Cicchetti - There are 10 kinds of people... those who understand binary and those who don't.
Super User II Super User II
Super User II

I might go with the "Not my circus, not my monkeys" approach? I don't see myself as a rebound-dev, web hero or standard bearer for other "design people". The one thing you could not expect me to do is be a snitch in that situation. If I didn't think that I could fix it I wouldn't even touch it because I wouldn't want the name of my firm associated with such a thing. I wouldn't even accept login credentials to go in there and take a peek. Whatever I saw from the outside I would base my decision on and I would give the client my opinion based on that and no more. From the outside you can see what plugins are used, WordPress version...

Let's say I'm a hairstylist and someone walks into my shop with a bad color job. Bad color jobs and hard to fix, they have just been colored, you don't know the chemicals that were used, you can't tell the natural texture of the hair... I decide to be a nice guy, take the client and fix the color job. In using my expertise it comes out great, they say I am a savior and leave ecstatic.  Two weeks later all of "my client's" hair falls out. Who do they blame? I know that it might very well had fallen out anyway but from their perspective it didn't fall out until I touched it.

I have seen nulled plugins, cracked premium templates, generated licenses... and my fear is always if the client would blame me. Keep in mind if you are dealing with the kind of developer that would use "no support licenses for paid plugins" so it would be nothing for them to throw you under the bus? What if you get the "current developer/host/designer" saying "@JMPepper is the one trying to fleece you. Seems like he went in and took all of your licenses out, he is probably using them for other clients? You know some developers do that." Now we know that's not true but will the client know that? The client already has an investment with the current developer/host/designer but is just meeting you. That just seems like trouble to me and I would stay away short of creating a whole new website and migrating the content from the current one.

@webdiva $35 is too much for a domain? That seems inline to me depending on what that money gets you. Certainly some domains can fall under that price but we often get domains, plus SSL, plus privacy much higher than that. I am a fan of the client owning and controlling their own domain and listing my company as the admin contract but that is not always what the client wants or the best fit. I suppose that is an entirely different discussion?

...turns out that my two cents is worth less or more depending on the current exchange rate.

roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head

@rd, $35 for doing NOTHING other than paying the bills is crazy. It's only that much at Network Solutions. At GoDaddy and just about everywhere else, it's less, almost always under $15. And this guy was doing it for 80 domains. So for paying that bill and holding the domains hostage, he made about $1600/year that they should not have been paying. 

Those domains had nothing associated with them -- no privacy, no hosting, etc. It's a long story, but the client bought all sorts of related domain names, thinking that they might be useful. I have a feeling that the previous web guy told them they would help SEO but that's not the case. So they have been paying for them every year "just in case" (and also to keep someone else from using them).

I always recommend that the client own the domain and pay that bill on their own. And same for hosting. There's no value in having someone else pay those bills, when it's easy to do on their own. Of course if someone's business model is to provide hosting, and people are paying for it, then they can charge whatever they want. But I don't want to be in the hosting business and be the person who gets called at 2am when the server is down. I sleep better knowing that it's handled elsewhere (preferably at GoDaddy!)


BTW, your hairstylist analogy is perfect. I'm definitely going to re-use that when I explain this exact situation to someone else. And I agree, I rarely take on a site designed by someone else. If it's got problems, I'd rather redesign it myself with the right tools, licenses, and so on. And then I know exactly which assumptions were made. I just don't want the headache of maintenance on something I did not design, and therefore which probably does not use the tools I know the most about. 

Excellent discussion all the way 'round!  Before I start any work I write an evaluation.  I don't slam another programmer because there are always 2 sides to a story.  Like a good police report (used to be one) I report the facts and make observations.  The client has to come to their own conclusion, and it doesn't do any good to stay in the middle of client/programmer conflict.  I see my job as solving the current problem and going forward.  One thing I did was make a total backup of the site, and store it on a temporary domain.  This provides documentation for a starting point and keeps any finger pointing away from me. 


In this case, I do think this programming company reflects poorly on web companies.  However, poor programming and services often has a way of catching up. 


This exchange of ideas and thoughts rock!  Glad to be a member of this community!




Not Just Pretty Sites, Pretty Doggone Smart Sites

The thing about domains for me is my time is the same. Since time is thought to be absolute I bill the same if I am coding, speaking, blogging... or more precisely since I don't always charge my time is always worth the same. If someone wants to pay my hourly rate and have me mow their grass that is fine but short of me donating my time it is billed at my regular rate. Now that you say the domain had nothing else added (keeping in mind that smaller firms should charge a bit more) that much of a markup may be excessive but I don't know their costs. I have met some "web developers" who were buying expensive domains (from companies other than GoDaddy) and marking them up for profit. Typically, despite who registers a domain in arbitration you will probably find that the domain belongs to the listed company/person and not the person who registered it?

If I felt the need to throw on my cape everytime I noted that someone was being treated poorly or overcharged, I would have much more business than I could ever take. I have companies in my area and when I hear someone say "Acme XYZ is my web company!" I kindly excuse myself because I am tired of hearing horror stories. My preferred client is an educated client and unfortunately I don't always have the time or will to throw on the cape and educate. I find often that telling someone news about the developer/host/designer they are in bed with to be much like telling them news about the mate they are in bed with. I tend to stay away from that is both cases. Please also note that I don't see some "we build your website FREE, then you pay monthly, we do hosting and SEO" companies as any better value for most.

...turns out that my two cents is worth less or more depending on the current exchange rate.

roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head

Can't agree more with @rd.  I prefer to find customers who can tell me what they want out of their site and give me some measurable goals. When I hear "I need a good, cheap website" then I will quickly turn this client down in most cases.  I have a fairly complete "interview" document that often weeds out what could be a problem client.  If they won't take the time to go through the document, they probably won't take the time to fully inform you of key factors you need.




Not Just Pretty Sites, Pretty Doggone Smart Sites
Helper IV

I would ask the question of your customer:


"Why do you want me to document what I've found?"


Are they going to go after the developer and try to get their money back? It seems like they are asking you to essentially be a "dev lawyer" and get a second opinion.


Personally I stay away from giving opinions of why something should be done a certain way.


Instead if it is so you can fix and make it better, then the initial discovery process and report can be useful as a way to move forward. The why is more important than the what.

Alex Sirota, PMP - NewPath Consulting - Schedule some time with Alex
"At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Hi @Alex-NewPath,


I agree on the staying out of getting the money back, etc.  The key in my documentation is noting my starting point.  I do not know, nor do I really want to know exactly what the details were before they brought the site to me.  I look at it as the only thing that I can do is take the good of what is already there and then use it to achieve the goals that we set in this project.


There's really no upside to me looking backward and trying to recoup.  Time to go forward and make progress!


Thanks for your insight!


Not Just Pretty Sites, Pretty Doggone Smart Sites
Helper I

I'm going to take a completely opposite point of view here.

It's not "fleecing." The service provider valued themselves at that level, and the customer agreed because they paid it.


Now did the provider get paid, but in exchange didn't do the work they were supposed to? I would call that a "rip-off."


A rip-off is different from fleecing because your comfort zone and money tolerance has nothing to do with that of the previous provider, or the customer.


In fact, I would encourage you to watch yourself, so that you don't become "Bad Developer We Hired And Fired #2." (Or #3, #4, or don't know if this has happened with this customer before, unless you ask and they tell you the truth.)


Since you posted in March, I'm figuring you've already taken care of this issue. I agree with the idea of simply documenting the facts as they are.


But your price for the solution is up to your money tolerance, your comfort zone, what you will accept. And that has zero to do with the customer, or the past developer.


Do you think Lowes (hardware) or Walmart would trust a mid-4-figures web designer with their website?


Your price point is not their price point. Price and competency and deliverables are not related. A customer may hire a developer to do a small job at a high rate--not for them to do the work, precisely, but to have the knowledge, trust, security, and satisfaction that THIS developer is doing the work.