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

John Tabita

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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