21

I don't know why it would be bad to approach a business per se, but there are times I am incredibly frustrated with sites I know are easily fixable. For example, a small Mom-and-Pop business whose site isn't responsive - at all. I'm frustrated because I cannot use it across my devices and simple media calls would fix it.

Is it somehow unprofessional or just a bad idea to contact the the owners and tell them what is wrong (and right) with their site, and that you are capable of fixing it and "Would you like to talk?" This is "cold sales" isn't it?

I would certainly be professional. I wouldn't simply call or write and say "Your site is bad." or immediately send an SOW. Just talk to them and see what they say, what they need and so on. There could be more than technical problems, but for this question, I'd like to start there.

Edit: This is similar, but I am not sure it answers my question. Cold calls and corporations

  • 1
    Simple fixed width site is better than lousy responsiveness... I actually enjoy if I can see the full site and then zoom wherever and however i want instead of site adjusting itself to my screen size. – Džuris Sep 5 '17 at 0:57
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    This is how many successful businesses get started. – Strawberry Sep 5 '17 at 14:53
  • @Strawberry That was what I thought too. I get cold calls, so I figured it couldn't be that wrong. – johnny Sep 5 '17 at 18:06
11

I think there are some factors to consider.

  1. The general "aggressiveness" of your marketing strategy: As Scott pointed out in his answer, you might offend or insult people with your offer. This is however no general excuse not to try it. Of course, there may be vaild/commonly accepted reasons for being upset, but people could also dislike your offer because of your surname or your hair cut. Generally, they won't tell you why. So you have to decide for yourself how much of the risk you want to take. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. You can choose the eggs, however.

  2. Minimizing the risk of being seen as unprofessional. There is a wide variety of approaches you can try in your case. You should use some common sense and some "stakeholder analysis" to avoid bad feelings.

I think that you need a (truly) honest story that the person you contact can relate to in order for your approach to work. For example like the block quote below:

Disclaimer

  • English is not my native language, so the wording might not be idiomatic.
  • People might still think this an "obvious ploy" despite your actual intentions. This is why you should not, for example, send this to every business in town—because that would not be honest.
  • You will have to adjust and improve the text depending on your situation; it is meant as an illustrative example.

Hello, I'm from $nearby and came across your website searching for a local dealer of $x. Unfortunately, I had trouble $doing_y on my mobile device and could not find the information I needed. I wanted to mention this because I am web designer myself and I care about user experience; it's important to the success of a website, so take this as a friendly hint. If you see eye to eye about this, I suggest you contact whoever you have in charge of maintaining your website; they should be able to handle fixing this. Hope this is helpful to you.

Sincerely, John Doe Web Designer

The messages that are meant be sent are:

  • I visited your site out of interest for your business, not because I am searching for new clients.
  • As a professional I feel obliged to tell you about an issue on your website.
  • I trust that you already have another professional taking care of your website. Mistakes happen. Tell him if you want, I trust your judgement.
  • If you found this hint useful, remember me at some time in the future.
  • If you are unsatisfied with your "professional" or you already fired him/her, feel free to contact me. I can fix it for you.

Some thougts regarding Wildcards' comment:

  • Of course, an implicit offer is made, as you may have noticed (its the point of the entire discussion). But by telling the contacted person that you have no expectation of an assigment, you are building a golden bridge for him/her not to be offended by your unsolicited contact. If they are otherwise pleased with their website maintainer, they will probably not switch to you. If not, they might contact you anyway, because you pointed them to a relevant problem and you are qualified to fix it (this is the actual business opportunity).
  • If this is all to subtle for your taste and you think the receiver won't get the message, my paragraph about "agressiveness" applies.
  • If you tell people that story despite other intentions (i.e. you are indeed searching for bugs in websites to get new customers) you are manipulating them straight away. The OP mentions that he was genuinely frustrated when visiting a website in question, so this dos not apply to him.
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    But you are offering your own services. And it is not unprofessional to do so. You've gone out of your way to make it clear that they should not contact you, even if they have no one currently handling their IT (which is likely). I don't have the rep to downvote this; wish I did. – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 3:33
  • There is a chance that somebody interpretes the message in another way than it was intended. The implication, that they should not contact you is actually not part of it. It says should contact the maintainer and not expecting contact in return. If the receiver ignores both suggestions, he didn't do anything you objected to. Please see my edits. – code_onkel Sep 6 '17 at 6:26
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    Exaggerated version of your statement: "Don't take this as an offer for help. I have no expectation of you ever desiring or needing to talk to me. If you want help, talk to somebody who already works for you." Can you really not see how clearly implicit it is that the recipient should not contact you? – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 6:32
  • I do not see it as clearly implicit. But any message is interpreted by the receiver, so this Is (as I added to my answer) another thing to consider when you decide to contact the website owner. – code_onkel Sep 6 '17 at 6:52
  • I've suggested an edit for you based on our discussion in the comments. When you combine "please don't see this as me offering my services" with "I have no expectation of you contacting me in return" you've doubly reinforced that they shouldn't contact you, so I adjusted that part. The other thing is that if the letter is well-written according to the real situation, it would never occur to them that you're just "touting your wares" so you're better off not bringing that idea up, not even to explicitly deny it. You don't create a positive impression by explicit denial of a negative. :) – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 8:42
15

Imagine you're walking down the street... some stranger walks up to you....

"Hi. I'm Johnny. I am a professional stylist. I would like to point out that your haircut is not the correct cut for your head shape. That shirt is outdated by about 20 years and your shoes don't match the rest of your outfit. I can help you with this if you hire me."

So, the best approach is to generalize things where ever possible.

"Hi. I'm Johnny. I am a professional stylist. I was curious if you'd be interested in services that may help you better define hairstyles and clothing choices to fit your overall image? I have xxx years experience and a proven track record.... etc. I think my services may greatly benefit you in your professional pursuits."

In short, it's bad to insult people with your initial contact. Expressing that you can improve on what they already have may still be slightly insulting, but it's never seen as anywhere near as "personal" as pointing out specific flaws can be.

It has to be handled with "kid gloves" to be effective. You never want to flat out express what's "wrong" with anything. The owners may have done the work themselves, or had a friend/family member do it and may see you pointing out flaws as nothing more than an unsolicited attack. You don't want that. If your contact is perceived this way you'll only generate bad word of mouth.. nothing more.

Focus on "I can improve" rather than "you need to fix".

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    While I mostly agree with the point you are making, I think your example is a bit off. Of course people might be insulted for the reasons you mention. But opposed to a hair cut, which is a matter of personal taste, pointing someone to technical issues in their website has another quality (i.e. with a lower chance of insulting someone). And not every small business owner does have a relative taking care of their website. – code_onkel Sep 4 '17 at 19:05
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    @code_onkel My point is you won't know if the owner had a friend/family member work on things. So you can't start from a premise that they didn't. Some people take their web site very, very personally. It is a matter of personal taste for many small business owners. Remember you may deal with this stuff all day long, but many people don't. – Scott Sep 5 '17 at 2:54
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    Your point is valid. But the possibility to insult people is just one thing to consider. And often you can tell whether a web designer/agency was involved because it is advertised on the site ("This site was created by..."). Imho, there is still a difference between. "Your hair is ugly" and "Hey Buddy, I tried to visit your site on my mobile device and had some trouble." – code_onkel Sep 5 '17 at 5:10
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    The problem with the first phrasing is indeed that it can be insulting, but the problem with the second phrasing is that it's too vague and general - why would anyone be interested in "better" if they don't know there's a problem in the first place? For some problems you just need to be upfront about it to even get them interested in your services, for others you can focus on the improvements you can make without focusing on the negative, e.g. "I can make your website X times faster" instead of "your website is so horrible slow. I can fix it". – NotThatGuy Sep 5 '17 at 13:57
  • You know, I choose my hairstyle for its economy of time and money - it's a buzz cut I can do in my own bathroom in about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how tired I am. It takes virtually no additional time to wash and is very fast to dry, so I spend much less time and money than most of my peers. If someone told me they could give me a haircut that saved me either more time or money, I would switch. Instantly - tell me how much I can save and what I can do to save it. The same is true for the website - if the website's problems cost me money, give me a CBA and we'll get it fixed. – corsiKa Sep 5 '17 at 20:30
6

I would say to go ahead, offering fixes for problems, even if they don't realize they have problems. I wrote about this as well with another answer, about SPIN selling.

You created the Situation - Web site usability is not as good as it could be across enough devices. The Problem is that it can cause people to not use their website - that they pay for. The Implication is that users will not think their business is new-age or 21-st century. The Needs-Payoff is that by fixing it with your help, they'll attract more customers.

Obviously, paraphrase to sound better than what I posted here. Point is, you found an issue, and know of a great solution to offer them. If the owners see value in improving the site with the "problems" you found, then you can continue. If they don't believe it's an issue, then they feel the Need Payout is not high enough to use a freelancer.

Either way, you can start making a name for yourself as the problem solver, but do not over do it. If they reject you 3 times in a 2-minute speech, then take the hint. If they want to hire you, make sure you have an estimate ready to go, or at least you can create one quickly.

2

Be honest and completely communicative. This is in no way unprofessional.

One keynote here is that you're not some random cold caller. You are a user of their website and their service. Or at least you are a user of their website and potentially of their service.

Be open about it. Example text:

Hi, I came across your website looking for local appliance repair—I live in the such and so area. I want you to know that your website's "schedule a visit" feature is broken, and just gives a blank screen. This is more than a little bit frustrating.

I ended up getting my appliance fixed another way, but I wanted to tell you about the broken feature on your website; it might be costing you a lot of business. (I happen to work in web design and may be able to help you with fixing the website, if you don't already have someone to do that.)

Hope you get it fixed okay.

Or, if you are actually a customer of theirs and just impeded by their website rather than totally stopped, something like:

Hi, I've been a customer of yours for a while now but I hadn't tried using your website until today. It's very difficult to navigate. I'm glad I'd already been to your store and love your products; if this website had been my first impression I don't think I would have discovered the quality you provide. (I love my xyz product that I got last year.)

I wanted to bring it to your attention so you can take it up with your IT person and get the website streamlined.

Thanks for the work you do; please keep it up!

(Please let me know if you don't have an IT person currently—I'm not looking for work particularly, but I'm experienced in web design and perhaps we could do business together in other roles. :) Or if not, just know you have a happy customer who thinks your website poorly represents you.)

The keynote is honesty and reality. Don't say something if it isn't true. This is not unprofessional at all; rather the opposite.


If your concept of "professional" is "impersonal; cold; uncaring; unfeeling; robotic phone trees" then I suggest you clear up the word fully. This is the opposite of its true meaning.

  • Amazingly, I wrote this entire answer without realizing what site it was on. I thought this was "Interpersonal Skills." :D I think it applies nonetheless, so I'm leaving it in place. – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 6:59
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    I like your answer because it clarifies what it means to approach people with honesty and integrity. The less I understand why you dislike my answer so much that you want to downvote it. Essentially, I am trying to express the very same thing. – code_onkel Sep 6 '17 at 7:45
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    @code_onkel, thanks for that; I appreciate it! :) I think your disclaimer about non-native tongue is the key; "expectation" in the context you use it comes across a bit different than what I now understand you meant to convey (though you used it correctly for its literal meaning). I think saying "please do not see this as me offering services" is likewise offbeat. I'll suggest an edit to your answer and see if I can make the meaning come through clearly; feel free to accept or reject it. – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 8:31
  • @code_onkel I knew what you meant. Thanks. It was the most constructive. I probably would have given an edge to Wildcard, but you beat him/her to it. – johnny Sep 6 '17 at 12:32
1

Be prepared for various personalities of site owners. Some would appreciate your offer where solid fix/change for reasonable price can introduce you to further business with them. Others (sometimes considering themselves to be "practical") will suggest that you are attempting to waste energy on nonsense, because "who cares about the details".

The more unique your skills are, the more interesting your offer can sound. Extreme case are freelance security experts, able to approach a bank with "sample of extracted data of few of their clients" and offer to fix vulnerabilities they used to get the data. I know about such a man, who finds and solves one or two such cases per year to enjoy above-average living standard and solid reputation.

So if you see things that other don't and there is a way to solve them so both parties would be happy, this can be called your open door – despite some offers turned down.

0

Fatal flaw: Your progression of events soon leads to "I need the password to your web site". At this point

You cannot be distinguished from an attacker

Bad guys do a lot of bad things when they get into a website. What they're after is the website's PageRank and other trust factors. They'll hide content in a nondescript directory like /.images/ (the dot makes it hidden to routine checks). They typically use the trust factors to slip bad content into social media, ad networks or organic web search with keyword-laden spew. Once the user lands, they are hit with the payload - malware, affiliate marketing, improper ad displays that cheat the ad networks, you name it.

It's up to you whether you want to do business in a way that can't be distinguished from phishing... but you end up with fools for customers, IMO, as well as the risk of someone else phishing them and undoing all your work. Even worse, the "bad" could get pinned on you.

It would be a great deal better if this was a local shop and you could walk in the door and talk to the owner personally. Far better if you had a preexisting relationship and he knew you as a customer.

  • 1
    I don't know. I can be pretty convincing. – johnny Sep 5 '17 at 18:07
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    I don't know if I'd consider this a fatal flaw. If the problem is as obvious as OP claims, it should be easy to give them reproduction steps and they can see for themselves that there's something that needs to be fixed. – corsiKa Sep 5 '17 at 20:32
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    This answer addresses (in a round-about way) the need to carefully build and maintain a public professional presence, and a healthy relationship with a client, without actually answering the question at all. – brichins Sep 5 '17 at 21:00
  • This is true of any sysadmin. So it's not really a "fatal flaw." It's like the "fatal flaw" that a surgeon is "indistinguishable" from some guy cutting you up to sell your liver. Also see "7 Things Your Sysadmin Probably Won't Tell You" – Wildcard Sep 6 '17 at 10:57

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