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The cowboy brigade will be the death of us

In our area new small businesses are one of the biggest single threats to survival of other small businesses. We are our own worst enemy.

I have seen the same thing repeat itself over and over again. It works as follows: Someone uses his hard earned talent and experience to set up a small business offering a highly skilled service. Once the idea has proved itself as a successful venture others sit up and take note. Then the copycats pop up and the industry is ruined for those that offer real craftsmanship.

I used to be a web designer, building websites for local companies, utilising skills and experience gained over many years. Then came the cowboys who read a web design for dummies book and did a two day course. They offer a website for the fraction of the cost. The poor customer has no clue how to compare apples with oranges, and only see a quote of R5, 000 vs. R900. Obviously the customer goes with the cheap quote, because he thinks the other one is way overpriced, and sadly the customer gets what he pays for.

What makes me mad is not that the customer chooses the other guy. What makes me mad is that the other guy gets away with selling a vastly inferior service and that the customer can even think it is the same thing as what I offer. As it is virtually impossible to educate a potential customer the only choice for those with real talent and passion is to find another service to supply.

This pattern repeats itself in many industries where talent is involved, like photography, woodwork, writing, training, painting, etc. Everyone thinks they are an expert at whatever they do, whether it is wedding photography with a camera phone, painting with a roller brush, gardening with a pitchfork, etc.

Now the cowboy brigade has descended on the social media bandwagon. Everyone is obviously an expert, and the customers are simply being dazzled by all the promises on offer. The phrase the blind leading the blind comes to mind, as these experts knows virtually nothing about social media, as can be seen by how they go about their work. Unfortunately the poor consumer is none the wiser, due to ignorance.

How do small companies with real talent survive and complete in this marketplace? The one obvious choice is to adapt, and choose a new line of business that is simply too complicated for the cowboy brigade. In my case I switched to offering mobile app development, as it takes more than a dummies guide and a weekend course to begin writing mobile apps. Sadly nothing is sacred forever, and the time will come (sooner than I would like) when the cowboys will get their hands on tools that will create something that looks like a poorly written and designed mobile app. And they will flog these to unsuspecting consumers on the cheap for a quick buck.

Why are we in this position? Why do these cowboys get away with peddling inferior services? Consumers know that they need to evaluate quotes not only based on cost, but on track record, referrals and insight, but they don’t. How do we break the vicious cycle?

I propose we begin an annual industry specific excellence award system, where quality products and craftsmanship are rewarded. Peer recognition is not easy to clone, and speaks volumes when included with a quote.

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  1. June 20th, 2013 at 13:30 | #1

    It’s been a problem in many fields for a long time. At least in some fields you can get some sort of professional accreditation to say you know your stuff. These days it should be possible to have on-line services to show your reputation from customer reviews. The ‘Which’ organisation in the UK are doing this for various trades. There will always be ‘cowboys’ (apologies to any real cowboys), but we should have ways to find out who will do a better job.

  2. June 20th, 2013 at 15:08 | #2

    Yes, I agree, but it is a never-ending battle of wits to stay ahead of the curve.
    I have compiled a “portfolio” of sorts to at least showcase real skills

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