No Risk, No Reward—or Why Web Marketing is Like Building a House

John Tabita
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I knew someone who made good money building custom homes in Missouri. He’d buy a plot of land, hire a construction crew, build five or six houses, and put them on the market. With a portion of the profit he’d make, he’d buy another piece of property and do it all over again.

As the builder, he was ultimately responsible for the end result, so it was in his best interest to make sure that the individual sub-contractors all did their jobs correctly. The sub-contractors, however, only had a limited amount of liability. The foundation contractors were not responsible if the framers did a poor job and the house collapsed. The framers were not to blame if the roof leaked, nor were the roofers at fault if the pipes burst.

Marketing—especially web marketing—is much like building a house, because a successful outcome depends on many disciplines, much more than a single person possesses. And this is becoming even truer as web marketing fragments and becomes more social and more mobile. I recall a business card I designed for a client in the pre-Internet days. I almost felt guilty designing it for him, because I knew the poor sap had no clue how to market his business. On some level, I felt I’d done him a disservice.

When I began designing for the web, it became even worse. At least the poor sap could hand his business card out to everyone he met, but how do you hand out a website? Oh, I knew the standard fare: “Be sure to put your website address on all your marketing materials …” But if that was going to be the extent of his web marketing—having his URL on his print material—he might as well have just printed a brochure to hand out. It may sound strange, but to build a website, knowing that it would be lost in the vast sea of what had become the Internet, left me feeling like I had not done my job. I wanted to build the entire house, not just lay the foundation.

Because my house builder friend took the greater risk, he reaped the greater reward. As his crew labored in the humid Missouri heat, he was able to spend the day with us at an amusement park (occasionally checking in with his foreman on his cell phone). He also fared better financially, because he took responsibility for the end result, not just a few pieces of the puzzle.

What about you? Unlike the construction industry, there are many more pieces in the web marketing puzzle than a few short years ago. Not everyone wants to be a business owner, nor should they be. Becoming one might mean hiring employees, outsourcing or forming strategic partnerships with others who possess different skills. It also means taking responsibility for outcome—successful or otherwise.

Are you content with building your part of the puzzle? Or do you feel the need to build the whole house? Post your comments below.

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  • http://www.netcentrics.co.uk Pete Wright

    I want my clients to be successful, but I don’t pretend that this is my responsibility. I’ll build and maintain their web property, and make suggestions where I think they’ll help, but ultimately their business model and how they manage it is their responsibility On the other hand, I don’t charge for ‘suggestions,’ because I think paid consultants should be domain experts, and my clients need to be the experts in their domain, not me. Advice that is freely given can be freely assessed, and freely ignored – and if they actually ask for in-depth marketing advice, my advice is to pay a marketing specialist.

  • http://goldhat.ca Joel Milne

    From the agency perspective, somebody needs to be in charge of a digital marketing strategy from A-Z, from website to search marketing to social media. And that person, or team, should have full separation from the delivery of distinct component services such as graphic design, programming, seo. This separation of strategy (from production/delivery) allows for better oversight, quality assurance and focus. In other words, strategy and management, standards enforcement, that is our way of specializing at being generalists. We can do everything, because don’t actually “do” anything.

    Specialization of work is also important. Not only basic specialization in terms of having a qualified graphic designer to do graphic design, or a programmer to do programming, but also advanced specialization in terms of hiring specific types of contractors to complete work that fits their specific skills. For example some designers excel at logos or icons, while others are better at layouts.

    Here is an interesting Seth post I found on the topic: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/05/we-specialize-i.html

  • http://www.onlineiq.biz Urszula Richards

    I started off with just providing the web building services. But then I felt a real need to educate myself about seo and marketing, in order to make sure the build incorporates this from the beginning. This then led into wanting to learn the next steps in online marketing and now I feel confident in providing these services.

  • http://www.arborcomputers.com arborcomputer

    i am trying lot of link building technique for my website. like one way link building, two way link building, link wheel etc. but i can not understand how much time it can take effect for the ranking. i read your blog first for is link building is good for me. you provides good information for me. thank you

  • http://www.SirBudProductions.com/ Mike Becvar

    A home builder can work two ways. They can buy a piece of land, build a house, and sell it to a new home buyer. A new home buyer can buy that home or they can find a builder to build the house they want. As web developers, we work for companies who hire us, more like the second example of the home buyer who find the builder he chooses. From your analogy, we should build websites and then try to sell the completed website to an interested buyer. That would be taking all of the risk and getting all of the reward. How can we get the same level of rewards when we are working for our customers and not just for ourselves?

    It is true that a lot of people/businesses know they need a website, but they often don’t know how to fully leverage their website for the benefit of their business. I was talking with a friend who wanted a new website. He created a website for one of his businesses as part of a class he was taking and realized that he needed someone to help him with his new website. My friend is a musician and composer. He wants to create jingles and theme songs for his customers. When he first approached me, he said he needed a place to post samples of his work for his customers to review. His idea was that a potential customer would come to him and he would direct them to his website. He was not at all thinking about how he would attract potential customers or that his website might be an important tool in that process. I could build him a website, but I would be helping him out even more if I discussed how he could use his website, social media, and other sources together for the benefit of his business. I consider this more of an up-sell or add-ons instead of my taking more risks.

  • http://www.pricklypearmedia.com Angelos

    Companies generally don’t want to pay for an entire house, they much prefer paying for just the carpets or doors. Having said this they all want the “house”, many TRY to do this internally.

    As most companies I deal with place somebody internal in-charge of certain design, programming, IT issues. The majority have literally little to NO experience in dealing with the professional world, and much of what they do looks like it was done by themselves.

    To add insult to injury these “lesser” people would be the ones who would scrutinising your work, somehow convincing themselves that they could have done a better job, trying to pump their way up the corporate ladder. The very people who need this strong advertising campaign are the very people that won’t put their hands in their pockets to get what they so badly need.

    To sum things up, they all want the mansions, they all want the Ferraris and the wonderful Rolex watches, but such luxuries cost money and even though I might build you a wonderful website, it’s still not going to do much for your on your SEO or social media campaign if you want to compete with the big dogs.

  • http://mycitydial.com mycitydial.com

    In contrast to the stark industrial chic of the street-level canteen, Roti Chai’s downstairs dining room is a more intimate space, attractively tricked out with mirrors, latticework & warm exotic lighting. The effect is understated rather than try-too-hard, fixing the spotlight firmly on the menu – a model of exuberant but focused spicing & unfussy presentation