Web: A Needle in a Haystack Industry

The web is a truly unstoppable industry, growing exponentially and completely unaffected (in my opinion) by the economy like other tangible industries, construction and real estate for example.

It’s a global community with little to no overhead. It’s never mattered how any specific city, state, country, or even continent is doing, because I’ve reached them all, working with people in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, India, China, and so on.

However, the very same benefits of this industry are also the cause of its difficulties. Because of the intangible nature of things, there’s no accountability. Anyone with an internet connection can start a website and call themselves a “professional”, and they do.

Anyone who’s ever hired off craigslist, Authentic Jobs, or any other job boards will know that you have to weed through about 90% unprofessional, illiterate, incompetent, spammy, suffocating applicants before one will stand out. And unfortunately, half the time still, once you’ve found that person, it turns out that they were just very clever and savvy communicators, but end up providing shoddy or sloppy work.

Filtering people is difficult at first, but you can learn to spot people that are worth further consideration, especially after enough bad experiences, you’ll learn fairly quickly. A few example filters you can use:

Example Filter #1

The email itself. If it’s all colored text (usually blue), delete it. If it’s illiterate, delete it. If it has any attachments, delete it. If it contains an exhaustive laundry list of skills and websites they’ve worked on instead of linking to a professional online portfolio, delete it.

Surprisingly, canned responses are not up for an automatic deletion. Because of the “needle in a haystack” issue, a lot of legitimate pros still need to use canned responses because it’s efficient, it’s a numbers game, and there are simply too many competitors not to use this method. So, even if it is a canned email, if it’s literate, in normal font, and you like their portfolio, it’s worth vetting them further.

Example Filter #2

Their portfolio. As a web designer myself, it’s easy to differentiate, good custom work from cookie-cutter projects. A lot of “pros” simply use a WordPress theme (that was really designed by someone else) and swap out the credits and customize it a bit.

One trick is to check the source code and see if there’s a child theme and if the name of the theme matches the name of the site, usually meaning a custom job. If it’s simply some popular theme and the design isn’t far off from the original, disregard the rest of their portfolio.

Real pros know to share only projects they’ve actually contributed a large percentage of custom work to, in order to demonstrate their skills, in their portfolio. If they’re just padding their portfolio, I would consider them untrustworthy.

There are certainly many other filters and techniques to hiring, but that’s not what this article is about primarily. Back to the overall issue at hand, the industry as a whole overall.

One of the biggest issues is pricing. Web professionals choose what they should be paid. Unfortunately, many think too highly of themselves. I’ve gotten better work out of programmers that charge $50/hour than ones that charge $100/hour so it’s really hit or miss. While I understand that this is a bit scary for some, don’t be afraid to pay good money for a web professional. Do not choose to go with bottom of the barrel “pros” to save a buck, you’ll regret it.

I’ve seen it over and over, people go with the lowest bidder instead of carefully vetting the most appropriate pro for the project. When they inevitably end up with shoddy work, they end up having to go with the higher end pro to get it done right anyway. This wastes more time and money than if they wouldn’t have been so cheap in the first place.

If you manage to find a good web pro, hold onto them and treat them well, because it’s only going to get worse out there. It might be a needle in a haystack now, but over the next few years it’s going to be more like a grain of sand on a beach to find a good web pro, that is, with skills and a strong work ethic and that isn’t already picked up full-time by a company.

I managed to get picked up by CyberChimps full-time a few years back, and haven’t had to rely on client work since. I know others that have joined the team since feel the same way. It’s rough out there.

How’s everyone else been faring out there on the wild web among the masses of fakes?