1. The first thing on the 2014 No B.S. Business Blacklist? Putting up an auto-responder that tells all of your customers that “in the name of productivity” you’re only checking your email at 7am, 12pm and 4pm.
Can everybody that’s doing this go fuck themselves, please? I don’t care about your personal time tables, and you’re wasting my time sending me back an email about it. What’s really happening is you can’t stand the fact that you actually have no idea how to manage your email, or your business communications, or your time, or maybe even your life, so you get wildly overwhelmed every single day of the week, before deciding to “set boundaries” with your customers & clients—and maybe even yourself, since you can’t seem to stay out of the shit. But then, you feel GUILTY AS SIN, because now you’re obsessing whether everyone’s thinking you’re an unprofessional, no-good, rotten fraud because you’re not responding THE SECOND AFTER THEY SENT YOU THE EMAIL. So you pull the autoresponder move so you can stop feeling so guilty, because now you’ve given people expectations, right? You’ve set boundaries.
But you know what you really did? You let every single person who emailed you know that, behind that autoresponder, you’re actually a floundering, chaotic, unhinged mess—hence the need to overcompensate. Bonus? You also made the people you depend on to give you their money feel unimportant, tossed aside, and dismissed. If you want to make money like a real company, treat your customers like real customers. How much money would you continue to spend with Amazon if you called them with a question and they were all, “Oops! Sorry. We actually only answer the phones three times per day.” It’s an arrogant, poor business move. As your customer or client, your personal overwhelm does not concern me, nor is it my problem. Learn how to run your business–or it will run you.
2. Telling your clients and customers that if they pay you with Paypal or a credit card “they need to add the fee percentage to the invoice.”
Are you kidding me? THIS IS A COST OF DOING BUSINESS. Your cost of doing business. Running a business costs money. Why not also tell your customer they’re responsible for paying a percentage of your electricity bill? And the food you ate while you were doing their work? And the portion of shampoo you used this morning to wash your hair? (Pro-rated, of course!) Newsflash, guys: Your cost of doing business should already be calculated INTO your hourly rate. And if you really feel the pressure to nickel and dime your customers to death, THEN YOUR HOURLY RATE ISN’T HIGH ENOUGH. Whatever you do? Don’t make me feel like I’m being punished for doing business with you. Because I won’t.
It’s assumed that since Paypal is so big, and their name is reputable, that their Buy Now buttons will make you look reputable, too, right? Wrong, Jack. These buttons are the mark of an amateur who doesn’t have a professional web designer, and they’re ruining your credibility. And while I sincerely love Paypal for its capabilities…HEY PAYPAL: Step it up in 2014 with some more modern button selections for the poor souls who don’t have the Brandgasm 101 DIY kit and need to rely on you to save their
4. If you have a standard business practice you know your clients won’t be thrilled about, don’t hide it in the contract and hope they don’t notice, or innocently forget to mention it unless it comes up.
It’s your responsibility to outline the major details up front. If you wait until later to drop the bomb, it will be much more unpleasant. If you’re a graphic designer and you only give your clients their deliverables in PDF format, or you don’t actually give them the rights to use the artwork you’ve created for them—make sure that’s understood when you begin the work arrangement. Because later when they come to you asking for the raw files, and you tell them no and that they don’t actually own what they thought they did? You look like the jerk. Not your client.
(If you’re on the other side of this and you’re working with a designer? Make sure you know up front whether the cost includes the raw files (the files you’ll need if you ever want to edit things yourself, or your designer ever gets hit by a bus and you need to hire somebody else to make edits). You’re paying a lot of money, and you should know up front whether you actually own the asset you think you’re creating—or surprise!—your designer does.)
5. Asking anyone to “sign up for your newsletter.”
COME ON YOU GUYS. I talked about this last year, but I still see it all over the place. Nobody cares about your newsletter! What they do care about? What the hell is in it. Advertise that. And if you can’t think of anything compelling that’s inside? That’s a big, giant, ugly neon, flashing red warning sign you need to CHANGE WHAT’S INSIDE.
6. Stop being a lazy marketer.
You want my attention? You want anyone’s attention? Stop expecting it, and start earning it. This is particularly relevant to emails you send out via your “newsletter.” Every business owner should respect the time of the people opening their emails, and demonstrate it by going out of their way to earn their customer’s attention—not just assume that since the data said if you include this keyword, then your heathen creature customers will open it.
The data also says that if I put a pop up in front of people’s faces as soon as they land on my site, I will get more opt-ins. However, I don’t do that because it’s disrespectful to their experience, and furthermore, counteracts the real goal. Because even if a few more people do convert as an opt-in, it doesn’t matter because they aren’t the kinds of opt-ins I want. I want quality opt-ins. (And you should, too.) The kind that are doing so because they’re raising their own hands to say they want more. Those are the kind that don’t just become an opt-in, but a reader, a community member, a customer. And isn’t that what the goal really is?
That said, I do appreciate data, and I know that smart decisions can be driven by data. I know data is wildly useful. But you must strive for a balance between using data intelligently, and treating people like humans—not numbers. You’re still betting on a human on the other end of the screen.
There is nothing novel in online marketing anymore— consumers expect everything that you’re throwing at them. It’s become the norm to personalize your email subject lines. It’s become the norm to ask for an opt-in. It’s no longer delightful, or surprising, or even effective. The only thing that we, as business owners and, by default, marketers, can bet on? Is our shared humanness. Our personalities. Our ability to connect on that human level. It’s all that’s left.
And it’s the only thing that, over all, will give you a leg up on everyone else who is still hoping their website visitors are dumb enough to be disrespected…and still donate their attention for free.
What things have you seen going down in the business world that you wish would be blacklisted this year? Tell me in the comments. You can be much sweeter about it than me. -Ash
She's the creator of Brandgasm 101, a DIY kit for design & copywriting your website, THE Small Business Bodyguard, the world's most entertaining legal resource for online business, & Life Hooky Worldwide , a worldwide retreat company for overworked business owners, and, gained notable attention in 2011 for her 97 in ‘11 experiment, designed to demonstrate week-by-week how the everyday service provider could go from $0 to $97,000+ in revenue in a year or less using nothing more than a blog as a marketing tool. (It worked and the experiment closed out at $103,000.)