Monthly Archives: August 2009

Frustration Extraordinare – HughesNet and WildBlue

This is the average process I go through lately to edit a page for a client.

  1. Type in the URL.
  2. Wait for 30 to 45 seconds for the page to load on average. Often this may take as long as 2 full minutes.
  3. About 3 out of 5 times, the page will fail to load completely. About half of the page load failures are incomplete loads, and about half are “Failure to Connect” notices.
  4. Make changes when the page finally loads, click Save. Go through the frustrating page load process again, hoping the changes are not lost.

This is a daily aggravation. We have two satellite dishes on the site of our house. One from Wild Blue that costs us $69 per month. One from HughesNet that costs us $79 per month. Each is so unreliable that we have to have a backup – that is more than $150 per month for internet once taxes are figured in.

WildBlue was adequate when we first got it – but we outgrew it fairly rapidly. And they have no options for growth beyond a certain point. When you hit the ceiling, they simply shut you down until your usage comes back in range – and that can take 3 weeks or more.

We got HughesNet in an emergency, and it was good at first. Their limits work differently than WB, so we’re never shut down for long if we exceed bandwidth. But lately, we’re having to be really careful what we do, because we’ve outgrown them too. We can get faster speeds, but we cannot get more bandwidth. When we first signed up with them, they had a higher bandwidth option. But they’ve since decreased the available options, and we have no place left to grow.

And the worst is that both companies have degraded seriously in performance. WildBlue is now behaving like they’ve throttled us, when we have NOT exceeded bandwidth. The performance is hideous – pages don’t load at all, and email takes forever to download. It is completely unacceptable, we are not getting anywhere near what we pay for, we aren’t even getting USABLE internet most of the time now.

HughesNet is also apalling lately. If you call them, they will run you through diagnostics, tell you you have to be reporting the wrong numbers (which are so slow their own techs cannot even believe they are real), and then wander off – they do follow up a few days later in hopes that the problem has miraculously solved itself. It never does. Our friends who also use HN have called about the slow speeds, and have been told they exceeded their bandwidth, when they have not even USED the internet in the last 48 hours! (HN has a 24 hour revolving limit.)

I ran some diagnosics recently, and they returned latency speeds that were 5 times longer than dialup speeds. This isn’t the speed of the upload or download data, rather this is the delay between the request from my computer, and the response from the other end. Often there simply is no response at all, so the browser returns a failure to connect error.

It is clear that both have vastly overloaded their satellites, and no longer care about usability for their clients. We are losing money on both – if we had an alternative, we’d be gone in a shot. I believe they make their money from people who accept it because they have no choice. The dumb thing is, many people would pay more for decent service – we would if we had the option, because our business is entirely dependent on good internet access. It is very frustrating to have no choices at all. It hurts our business, and there is nothing we can do about it.

It looks like an alternative is coming. We have two companies which will be bringing in high speed internet options soon. We’ll test them, and assuming performance is even a little better, HN and WB will be dropped. Sadly, a year ago, we’d have known we’d drop WB first, and keep HN as a backup. At this point, there is nothing to choose between the two, they are both so bad that neither is even good enough for a backup!

I don’t expect this post to change anything. The net is littered with negative comments on both of these companies. They do not listen when you contact customer support, so I doubt they are concerned with a negative reputation online either. They should be – internet options are growing for small towns across the US, and if they do not get their act together, they will simply fade out of existence.

I don’t have time to waste on CraigsList

I hear friends of mine recommend CraigsList to get business by advertising there. Frankly, I don’t have the time to waste. I’ve had several experiences with it, none of them good. The problems were enough that I find the entire venue to be a collosal waste of time.

First, I posted a business ad – nothing but spam came back from it.

Next, I posted several separate ads, for similar things, but distinctly different. In Canada, they were all allowed to remain active. In the US, all but one were flagged as duplicates, even though they were not. I got some spam from the ads, but nothing else.

I recently posted ads for three different laptops – Three different brands and model numbers, three sets of specs. One was allowed to stay, the other two were flagged as duplicates. An HP Pavilion laptop for $500 was flagged as being a duplicate of a Dell Inspiron for $300, and apparently so was the Dell Inspiron (different model number) for $200. No terms of use were violated in any way.

Oh, but before the items were flagged, I did have time to receive a total of six scam emails – CLEARLY scam emails, regarding the postings.

I don’t have time to wrestle with a careless company that can’t even determine when something is genuinely a duplicate post and when it is not. And I don’t have time for the spam.

One of my biggest gripes about it is that you can ONLY do local. Ummm…. Local for me is 300 people. My business is national. There is no way you can effectively use CraigsList if you have a national business. Let’s see… Pick one city in the US to advertise to. Just one. And you can’t advertise to another with anything remotely similar for another 30 days.

Who has time for that?

As a rule, I don’t usually post ads that expire in 30 days. I just don’t have time. Online ads are rarely effective anyway, and classifieds are some of the least effective.

And even if your ad DOES last for 30 days, nobody looks at it after the first three days. It takes time to write a good ad, time to get in there and post it, and then people see it for three days. Hardly worth the bother.

If you are in a small town, marketing nationally, or if you are selling something that people are not fighting over due to high popularity, CraigsList isn’t going to be an effective venue.

I never liked the idea of being thrown in with the prostitutes anyway.

UPDATE: I got half a dozen more responses from the remaining listing – all of them scams. Sloppy writing, incorrect English, and requests for a lot of information from me and promise of a cashier’s check if I ship it – not one mention of asking for more details, request for photo, or anything a real buyer would do. Classic for scams.

I am not an inexperienced seller – I have sold dozens of computer items on eBay and have an excellent feedback rating there. We bought and refurbished, then resold laptops for several years, so I know how to do so successfully. A complete lack of legitimate responses, and being flooded with scam responses is not typical for other venues where I have sold such items.

The Ethics of Education and Promotion

If you have an educational site, is it ethical to promote items on the site that you profit from, or is that a compromise of your informational integrity?

I have a business educational site. The purpose of the site is to promote scam awareness, educate people about what helps them really earn, and how to spot a good program or a bad one, the advantages of independent business endeavors, etc.

I have two clients that offer multi-level distributorship programs. There is no charge for either one. Both are ethical and have a good chance of returning a profit if someone works them.

I’ve toyed with the idea of joining both just for signups and sponsorships. One of them would require that I purchase items at least for my own use. They are items I am likely to use anyway. The other would not require purchases, and would allow me to function purely as a recruiter.

One consideration is TIME. Do I want to invest the time to really make them work. Since I have outlets that would allow me to plug in information to existing channels, I think it could work without undue effort.

The major consideration though, is ethics. Is it ethical for me to promote specific programs and profit for them on a site that purports to be unbiased?

The thing I’ve learned is that this is what people WANT. When they come to a “build a business” site, they want to be told, “Here are some honest choices.”

But I still wrestle with it. Still unsure of whether it lowers my credibility and makes me just another “work at home” site that exists to promote a program instead of to benefit the end user.

Don’t Be a “Harry”

That isn’t his real name. But we’ll call him “Harry” (no offense to anyone named “Harry”).

He seemed like a nice guy. Eager to get started with the project. We proceeded to install the site and work on the design. “I like this style” he said. We created that style. “Change that.” We changed it. This is normal. Harry liked to email every morning, demanding a status update for the day. This isn’t normal, but we replied anyway.

Harry also liked browsing the web, looking at his competitor’s websites and at other service provider websites. And it gave him ideas. Soon he began saying things like, “This site has THAT. I want it too.” Never mind that that business owner paid tens of thousands for their site, and his was a budget site. I made changes to the design when possible – some were deep coding changes, very difficult to do. One month into the project, the time was already over what we normally spend on a flat rate project. He added in another saying, “This site has THAT, and it will look great on my site!”. I’m sure it would, if he had the budget to afford it. When I protested, he said, “But you said satisfaction guaranteed, you have to do it!” I said, “I also said there were limits, and I’d tell you when you hit them, and this is one.”

With flat rate projects, setting limits is always subjective. If we have a motive for being willing to try something (so we can learn how to do it if it is new), or if we think the results may be terrific and look good in our portfolio, we may go beyond what is typically reasonable, and make exceptions. Project creep has a different meaning here, and it is always hard to know where to draw lines. If they are small things, we usually just shrug and do them.

With this client though, small things never STAYED small things. Harry liked to change his mind. And he wasn’t very good at making decisions either. “Let me see it this way.” “No, I guess I liked it better the first way.” “Change that color.” “Change it some more.” “Ok, that’s good.” “No, wait, I guess I don’t like it after all.” A simple thing would take DAYS to get exactly how he wanted it. He fussed over 1 pixel differences, the length of gradients, the precise angle of things, the thickness, the shade of the colors in a bevel, the depth of the shadow. EVERY single aspect of every single element was subjected to minute examination and criticism.

We really do try to please our clients. But Harry’s demands never ended. When he was informed that his home page content was part of Phase 2, and not part of Phase 1, he complained that if the content was not in, how could he tell the design was good? He demanded more and more, refused to pay the second Phase fee, and kept changing his mind. We have never, in more than 10 years of web design, EVER had a pickier, more demanding, more indecisive client. He didn’t just set a new record, he was so far beyond any other client demands that I doubt we’ll ever see his equal.

Our graphic designer created a logo for him. A painstaking process that took a week before he was satisfied – understand, he started by telling her EXACTLY what he wanted. She created EXACTLY that, and he still fussed, and agonized over the placement, shape, size, and edging on every single item, even becoming crude at one point. He finally declared it finished. One week later, he went back to her and told he he wanted something else instead – no mention to us that he was doing so, no mention to her of any kind of compensation for doing so. I think he thought we’d pay for it. When things finally fell apart (a month later) he was still picking and fussing over the second logo.

Two months into the project he began to complain. Why weren’t we done yet? How much longer was it going to take? I told him that as long as he had additional things for us to do, and as long as they were technically complex, it would take time. He began demanding a deadline. I told him that unless he could tell me definitively when he’d be satisfied, I could not tell him when we’d be done.

His demands begin to get silly – “I don’t have a link to my blog, just put in a dummy so I can see what it looks like.”, and “Don’t put the image on the site, email it to me so I can see it first.” That, even though the site isn’t live yet so there is NO reason not to put it up, and if I DID email it to him, he’d just say, “I don’t know, let me see it on the site.” On a frugal contract, every bit of wasted time counts, and he loved wasting time. He’d often say, “I don’t know which I like, make both and let me see.”

By now, I’m feeling dread each time I check my email. I’m waking up feeling dread over working because of him. I’m behind on my other clients because of the time he is taking. There were many reasons why we let it go on that long – partly because I gained some valuable reusable code from his requests, partly because it always seemed each was the last. I still sort of felt he was basically a nice guy, just indecisive and a penny pincher because of the industry he was in.

Then one morning he demanded a deadline, said that I WOULD give him one, and that I’d finish it up within this amount of time.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, business is good, and by now I’m thinking a refund will be a relief. I no longer care whether I please this client or not. I just want it to end, one way or another. I emailed back and said that there were three things left to finish. I would do them, and then I was DONE with Phase 1. Nothing more. That he could pay for Phase 2, or not. If he did pay for Phase 2, I would limit the time available. He replied that I could not do that, that the contract stated that satisfaction was guaranteed and that I had to do what he said.

Up until that point, I still thought he was just basically an indecisive, but decent person. At this point, it became clear to me that he was a manipulator, who had intended from the outset to try to push a low budget contract into a high end service by being demanding. I don’t like to believe bad of people. But his actions since then have left me little other conclusion.

Primarily the fact that he takes no responsibility for his own actions. He made choices, and those choices had consequences. When the consequences were not what he wanted, it was someone else’s fault. That is classic for manipulators.

This is NOT a typical response for our clients. We have VERY few clients who request refunds. If we had a lot – or if we had a lot of clients who complained of the things he was complaining of, I’d know we had something to fix.

He now informed me that I could not change the contract in the middle. I pointed to the termination clause, and said, “Yes, I can.” The contract allows me to terminate the contract in writing – he has the same right. He then has three choices – he can renegotiate for another phase, or he can go elsewhere and take it with him, or he can request a refund and have no rights to any of the items created so far. After sending that email, he disappeared for several weeks. I finished what I said I’d finish, and moved on with life. He has since requested a refund, demanding more than what is covered in the contract. We will issue what IS covered in the contract. His stated reasons for requesting the refund are unreasonable delays, lack of communication (daily emails weren’t enough), and failure to deliver a satisfactory result. Ummmmm Yeah…..

This client was the all time most difficult to deal with for us. So much so that his behavior has become an example in our training classes (name withheld), for spotting and dealing with difficult clients. His inability to make a choice, his unwillingness to be satisfied, and his inability to accept the consequences of his own choices caused problems that we, as service providers, dislike having to deal with – they are costly and emotionally difficult to deal with. Among our subcontractors, his name is legendary – they all know him by his first name, and when someone is being difficult, they will say, “I hope this isn’t another Harry.”, or if they are picky but not unmanageable, “At least this isn’t a Harry.” Sad, really.

The moral? When things are breaking down around you, and you are looking for someone to blame, look to yourself first. See what your part was in contributing to the problem – I recognize that I gave in at times when I should have set a limit early on with this client, but I also know there was little else I could have done to avoid things getting ugly. If things keep breaking down on you, and “People” keep failing to meet your expectations, it may be your expectations that are the issue. Own your part of the problem, and do something about it.

It is pretty sad to become the bad example, to have your name known and remembered with a shudder.

Don’t be a Harry.

Competition and the Wal-Mart Equation

I’ve heard people complain that “Wal-Mart comes into a town and drives small businesses out.” I do not think this is true. There are those who resent me for saying this. But I think it is simply a matter of competition.

People buy from Wal-Mart because they sell things people want. Any business can do that. Any business that fails to do that should not BE in business.

A town near here refuses to let Wal-Mart in, though the company has made multiple attempts to do so. The town has one grocery store that maintains a monopoly, and two variety stores with bad service and poorly maintained stock. There is a sense of entitlement in the town, and a fear of competition. The residents dislike being held hostage by these businesses, and people who live in outlying areas drive up to a hundred miles out of their way to avoid shopping in this town. The businesses in town succeed not because they are good, but because the residents have no choice. That hurts the town by driving away other potential business.

I have always maintained that any business that does their job right has no need to fear the competition. You can’t always do the job cheaper, but you can usually do the job better than a company that is focusing on doing it “cheaper”. For every person who will doggedly go to Wal-Mart to buy, there is one who refuses to, and another who will go where they feel best about buying. Wal-Mart can’t put any business under that is paying attention to the market, and really giving the customer what they want.

A town in the opposite direction from the first one has three major grocery stores – one of which is Wal-Mart – and a K-Mart, and many other thriving businesses that overlap into those businesses. The service level through the town is much better, businesses are better maintained, and most are thriving. The two other grocery stores have specialized – offering variety that Wal-Mart does not offer (they spotted that Wal-Mart only carries what is most popular, in volume). They simply adapted, and went on doing what they did best – creating an environment where their customers feel good about shopping. Two other grocery stores went under when Wal-Mart brought in the grocery department. They had been struggling to begin with, and their corporate model was too similar to Wal-Mart’s. Wal-Mart simply did it better, and the others could not compete (in fact, one of them went under and was sold out as a corporation around that time).

My competition isn’t Wal-Mart, it is GoDaddy. The big, inconsiderate, cheap and shoddy company that outguns every small web service provider on marketing. I can’t compete with them on their terms, and I don’t even try. I just do the job better, offer better value, and give my clients personal attention that a big corporation can’t begin to compete with.

Any business can do that. They often get caught up in price wars though, which puts them in a losing position to begin with. You can’t compete with big business on their terms. You can’t fight fire with fire in this instance. You have to figure out how to fight fire with water – do it differently than they do it. Do it better where they CANNOT do it better. Corporations operate within a set of strict limitations. They have their course, their methods, their policies. Changing them is like trying to turn a ship under full steam – it doesn’t happen very fast, and it can only happen in small degrees. If they try to compete with you on terms other than their existing corporate policies, they will capsize and undermine their entire success model. So it is pretty simple for you to adapt and maneuver into a position of successful competition, just by doing what they CANNOT do.

When businesses blame Wal-Mart for driving them under, they’ve misplaced the blame. They didn’t go under due to the presence of another business in town. They went under because they did not respond in an effective way, and chances are, their business model was flawed to begin with. When people have no choice, they’ll settle for mediocre. When they have a choice, they won’t. High quality and truly good service DO win out even in a highly competitive market. A good business model will succeed in spite of competition, a bad or shaky one can only succeed when there are no other options.

Look to yourself, and stop blaming the competition.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.