Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

Last week I had an acquaintance ask me for a small favour – they had a friend who had just started an online shop to compliment their physical store.  The idea that they had was that they could sell stuff on their website and ship it from their retail store.  This person figured they could slightly increase the inventory of the stuff in the shop that sold well online and it would help increase their volume and margins.

It’s a good idea and one that from my experience, not enough small retail store owners do enough of.  I know of one small hair salon that started selling their own shampoo formula this way and ended up growing a substantial side business that actually eclipsed their retail revenues and margins in under two years.

The problem this person who my friend was telling me about was having was that they were getting fleeced on their e-commerce store build-out and getting terrible results.

Let me just start by saying that this is, unfortunately, more common than it should be.  When people that aren’t experienced with building out commercial websites hire web developers sometimes things go haywire.  There are occasions where the business owner gets taken advantage of by an unscrupulous developer, but the truth is, most times the problems lie in the fact that the web developer may not be very good or the business owner has no idea about their requirements and the costs blow out.

In the example of this person my friend was telling me about, the feeling was that the business owner had no idea about the cost of customizations and the developer they chose was someone that was recommended because they “worked cheap.”

That’s a recipe for disaster right there.

Anyway, my friend asked if I’d have a quick Skype call with this business owner and see if there was anything I could do to help get them back on track.

I agreed and got in touch with the person a day or two later.  The first ten minutes of the conversation was taken up entirely with how their web developer was charging too much and how nothing worked the way they wanted it to work.  I asked if they could share their screen and show me around the website as it stood right now.

The developer had set up a test site and the front-end loaded pretty quickly.  Visually the site looked pretty good and then I had the business owner log me into the backend to have a poke around.  It was WooCommerce and almost immediately, it was obvious that there had been some serious custom code added.  Several simple features that just work look like they had been butchered.

While the business owner was showing me around, she was getting more and more agitated about how some of the things she wanted didn’t work the way she wanted and how the developer “totally screwed everything up.”  I asked a couple questions about some of the modifications that were made and she told me that she needed the changes made because “that’s not how my brain works.”

Obviously, the poor developer had tried to hack together something that was close to what this lady wanted, but really stood no chance of succeeding.  Her process as she was describing it to me was frankly pretty stupid and there was no logic to it from a workflow perspective.

I decided to cut her off and explain to her that she made a mistake, she took off the shelf software that worked a certain way and tried to get someone to shoehorn in her particular way of doing things and it was a failure.  I explained that the reason the price blew out was probably that her requirements changed.

She got really angry now and said I sounded just like her web developer and that the only thing she wanted was for someone to make her site work the way she wanted it to work for her business.

I decided it was time for some tough love.  I explained to her that she couldn’t have what she wanted because she couldn’t afford to get those types of changes made.  I also told her that as far as I could tell, she had two choices: one, get the developer back on board, pay him what she owed him and let him try and sort out the mess she made; or two, re-install a fresh copy of WooCommerce and change her processes to suit the out of the box product.

She said neither solution was what she wanted and she had a minor meltdown.  I figured by this point, I’d spent a half hour on this favour for my friend and was pretty much done trying to offer advice to someone who clearly wasn’t smart enough to take it.  I decided to be excruciatingly blunt with her and said, “Look, beggars can’t be choosers.  You can’t afford what you want, so you should take what you can get and be happy with it.”

A day or so later my friend sent me an email telling me that this other person thought I was dismissive and didn’t really want to help her.

The reality is, she was beyond help.  She had screwed up her requirements and in an effort to cut costs she hired a developer on a fixed price quotation for a variable set of deliverables.  It was never going to go the way she wanted – the blame and the outbursts were just a further manifestation of the underlying problem.

When you’re just starting out or you’re having problems in your business you often have to take help wherever it’s offered and make the best of the situation.  We often don’t have the luxury of being picky about things that help us get unstuck or moving forward when times are tough.

The secret is knowing when the problem is external or when you yourself are actually the problem!

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