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This post is based on a couple of real world experiences along with conversations with others in the marketing industry and should serve as a warning to all marketers, web designers and programmers the globe over.

Since we’re all in tight times financially, scams are running rampant no matter what industry you’re in, and they happen in marketing just like any other industry.


For the second time in about three years I’ve been exposed to a scam in the making that is camouflaged innocently for unsuspecting types. Luckily, my BS radar has gone off, and I have gotten some timely (sage) advice both times so the personal harm was relatively light.  For others, it hasn’t been so painless.

As you undoubtedly know, there’s a section of our population that will scam and scheme their way to riches no matter how many bridges they burn … that’s no surprise to anybody. What is a surprise is that there are entrepreneurs and business owners out there that pull worse crap on hard working people that are just trying to do a good job and earn an honest living.

I’m going to outline exactly how they try to scam hard working marketers like us in this article.

Innocent Beginnings

Typically, these scam artists operate a little like this:

Person A (we’ll call him Brad) has a good idea to create a website that’ll match a service provider (we’ll call them plumbers in this example) with a prospect seeking those services. Simple enough, right?

Brad wants to take data from plumbers such as their bio, city, state, zip code, services offered, and pricing to offer to visitors of his website to search for potential providers.

In order to make money, Brad may charge the service provider to be listed in their database or for access to the leads along with running ads on the site to generate revenue.

Nothing wrong with this scenario at all … it’s got the potential to be a very profitable business especially if Brad can attract enough traffic from relevant prospects.

The problems seep in shortly after the initial exploration phase however, and here’s how they go …

Find a Marketer or Web Designer with SOME of the Skills

What people like Brad will do at this stage is find an eager to please marketer or web designer to engage in a couple of “exploratory” talks about their project. Brad briefly discusses his project and hypes it as “this shouldn’t be that hard to pull of, right?”

Frequently, the unsuspecting marketer or web designer will agree that it shouldn’t be that hard provided there is someone that can help with the database and programming if it proves to be too complicated. Even if the marketer or web designer freely admits they don’t possess the complete expertise to complete the entire project by themselves, Brad won’t pay that any mind because he ultimately wants to jam somebody up.

Beginnings of an Outright Scam

The scam begins when Brad suggests “I’d like to see a prototype developed so I can check it out before moving forward. We have a ‘done deal’ if you can demonstrate a simple and functioning prototype.” Since the marketer aims to please, he starts working on the prototype.

The prototype will often be given an unrealistic (i.e. quick) deadline, and Brad will bitch, belly ache, and complain about anything shown to him because he’s looking to get over on you. It’s what guys like Brad do to keep their costs down while feeling more “in charge” and self-important.

Brad will also suggest “it would be great if we could get the search to stay within a certain radius of the zip code or city to make the results more relevant. That shouldn’t be too hard either because I saw the same thing on whatchamacallit.com, right?” That’s a good feature and a valid request, but that’s where things get more complex and will take more time to implement.

All the while, Brad will choose to focus on the fact that you agreed in the exploratory talks that it should be easy. He’s pitting your own words against you to plant the seed that maybe you shouldn’t charge fair market value for this project … it’s a common practice in every industry, but most people don’t realize it’s being done to them because they’re too deeply involved.

That’s What Contracts Are For, Right?

I can hear you saying, “that’s why you get a contract drawn up and outline a mutually agreed upon scope of work,” right? Even if a contract is drawn up, signed and an initial deposit is made, the scam is already on!

The web designer or marketer will design a rough prototype to show Brad, but he will always bitch, moan and complain about everything in an effort to drive down pricing because he knows the price tag to pull off everything will likely be in the tens of thousands when all is said and done if it’s to be done his “liking or to spec.”

This Doesn’t Meet My Specifications!

That’s the key phrase above … “done to his liking or spec” because nothing will ever be done to match the ever moving target even with a contract executed.

Brad believes that once work commences and there’s a deal in place, he can bitch his way into getting more and more done for the project as long as the demands don’t change the overall scope of work too much. More often than not, he’ll get his way because the marketer doesn’t want to lose his business especially now.

Then, if the project ever gets completed, the finished product won’t be remotely close enough to suit Brad or match the exact scope outlined in the contract. He’ll then threaten to sue because what was delivered wasn’t what he wanted and doesn’t match the scope in the contract so the designer will offer to find someone to complete the job on his dime to avoid the embarrassment and anguish of an upset client.

Once the designer finds someone that can complete the job, they end up taking a bath on the entire project. Brad wins, designer loses, but nobody is truly happy. Brad goes on to live happily ever after while the designer is left holding a very heavy bag of crap.

Let’s Stick Together!

I sincerely hope this hasn’t happened to you. Like I mentioned above, I’ve come across this exact scenario twice in the past three years yet I avoided getting involved in either project beyond the exploratory phase so I have no deep scars.  Others haven’t been so fortunate however.

As marketers, we need to stick together to help one another avoid the “Brads” of the world … they’re bad clients no matter how much they pay us. They typically present themselves as very knowledgeable overall, frequently boast about how wonderfully successful they are (that always seems to trigger my BS meter), will claim to be a “straight shooter” yet they act incredibly naive about their project. Don’t be fooled … they know it’s a much bigger project than they’re letting on. It’s all part of the scam.

Anybody who is looking to stick it to you from the outset is a bad seed, and they will gobble up your resources with their incessant demands and requests for “status updates” that usually involve useless conference calls or face-to-face meetings. At some point, you’ll find yourself having meetings about meetings that serve as nothing but hot air spewing from Brad to build himself up and try to make you feel guilty for not meeting his misguided expectations.

In many cases, rotten eggs like Brad get a lot of work done on the front end for free because they want to see the “prototype” developed before they agree to pay the first penny, and hard working web designers like you want to land projects like this because there’s hope for a bigger payday.  That’s where the trouble begins … don’t fall for this shell game!

What’s Your Take?

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, I’d love to hear your story.  Drop me a line or leave a comment below.