|Ethics of designing competing web sites|
Am I asking for trouble?
I'm an Architect as well as a Web Designer and I often provide both services to a client, particularly retail clients. I have designed a couple of physical stores for one particular client in the past year, and they are now ready to open a full e-commerce site as well. (Teaching myself PHP/MySql, but that is another subject all together) Anyway, I was recently contacted by another potential client who sells the EXACT same line of merchandise. Building thier physical store is no problem, as it is 100 miles away from my existing client, but what about their web site? Essentially, they will be direct competitors on the web. My gut tells me I should decline the second web job, as my loyalty should lie with my existing client. My wallet on the other hand tells me differently. Any of you ever been in this kind of situation? If so, how did you handle it? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!
That is extremely difficult. I'd say avoid the second job if at all possible financially. Maybe you could contact another firm and give them the referral if they would be willing to reciprocate sometime.
It would otherwise become difficult to give your best efforts for both companies at the same time.
If you do take the other job then do it to the best of your ability. After all that is what the customer is paying for. Dont give preference to either customer, just do your best.
Some companies that do marketing only take on 3 of any one realated contract. Last night I got a call from a potential lead that said a guy is going to take on 8 different websites for all the same terms. Well if he is any good he might get the top 8, you can only get so many at a time. Well my company, now I have the contract, has dominated the category for 3 years so I dont think anything will change.
Personally i'd do it - this just might be your niche. Of course i would not build one site as an exact copy of another, i'd make them appear different to the visitor, but the basic functions could very well be the same and just appear different.
As to exact the same level of merchandise, well, take any sporting event and any supplier, eg. those making bicycles or race cars or whatever - they simply try to supply the best equipment, their customers compete.
I would think the answer would depend on at least four factors.
First, what you are expected to do for each client's web site? Are you doing active site development for the first site -- or just some maintenence on a monthly fee basis? Does the first client pay you per hour for specific task, like link getting and page authoring?
If so, why couldn't you sell some hours to one client and some hours to another client, as long as you didn't charge the second client for the same work you did for the first client that's specific to the first client's site? The other points below bear on this one, of course. Lawyers figuring out how many hours to bill their clients, please disregard this paragraph for the sake of your career. ;-)
Second, how much do the two client's unique selling proposition or differencial advantages overlap? This should point to the nature, focus and content of each site...and thus shed light on your answer.
Third, what are the legal factors? Do you have a no-compete contract (or verbal promise) with *either* client? Who owns copyright on what you did for the first client...or any client for that matter based on your engagement contract or agreement? Bet this paragraph will bring to mind a couple of worthwhile points to include in one's standard contract for service for site work.
Fourth, what will you feel OK with conscience wise? It's important (at least to me) to feel good about oneself and what one does. I wouldn't want to feel like I was being a schmuck by what I was doing for money every morning when I look in the mirror to shave. Nor would most want to rob themselves of the creative energy and satisfaction that comes from being enthusiastic and proud about the work one does.
In short, the ethics depends on the specifics of the situation of course -- which are determined in part on how a service provider presents themselves and what they are and are not offering and promising to a client for the fee received. I think client "education" and "expectations management" come into play here, and are often easy to forgo; a mistake, IMO.
Indeed, lots of folks are "givers" and benefit greatly by keeping this last point in mind lest they give away too many "intangibles" just to be a good person or be nice and helpful to someone. After all, where would Bill Gates be today if, during his negotiations with IBM to provide them with an operating system for their yet to be released IBM PC, he hadn't reserved the right to also sell the OS he promised to provide to IBM to others, too? Probably not at the top of the Forbes 400, that's for sure.
I spent 18 months working solely for one client for reasons on 'my' ethics, then they dropped me.........
I would advise explaining to the first client your situation and offering them the chance to buy your loyalty. If they decline, then offer your loyalty to the other. If they both decline, then work for them both.......
My 10 centimos ;)
<edit>bad speling :)</edit>
I've been an advertising photographer for decades, and have often worked on competing accounts. As long as I gave each account the best work that I could produce, everyone seemed satisfied.
Of course, your interest in client #1 as an architect complicates matters.
this is an ethics question.
not a business one.
Or is it?
business wise it appears clearly that one should try to get all the clients one can.
ethics wise, well it is clear there is at least a certain amount of grey rather than black or white.
But my personal opinion is that you stay away from the second until the first is a satified and ex client. Good ethical pratise will lead to a good reputacion. Thats what I do anyways, and its working for me.
A website is a marketing tool. A television commercial or magazine Ad is a marketing tool. The day you see a major television network, or print publication refuse to show ads of a competitor of an existing customer is the day you should consider this question.
Until then.....provide the tool...how well each customer utilizes it shouldn't really be a concern of yours. You should be the tool provider, the customers need to fight it out between themselves IMHO.
Google and Overture encourage competition for competitive advertising of websites......they make $$$$ based upon that bidding process. No reason why you need to bring any greater level of loyality into this equation.
If you are successful it is only natural for your current client's competitors to want a piece of the pie....and unless you have signed exclusivity contracts then allowing them to share should not be an issue for you.
ok but pepsi and coke do NOT allow the same agency to work for them ..
the channel is not the point, the agency is ...
Hi balinor the ethical side is the issue here in my humble opinion.
In discussing the intricacies of your shared plans for the website of company1 you may well learn (should learn I think) intimate details about their business, pricing, profitability on various items, target customers, sales models / methods target keywords ideal customer profiles etc.
When client1's site is running you will almost certainly then be party to much more confidential detail about their business and in particular its effectiveness on the net.
When / if you started to work for client2 who is a direct competitor would you be still able to enter into discussions with them without discloding any of the inside information that you learnt from client1?
Would you even let client1 know that you were to start working with client2? Do you expect that they would still discuss their intimate strategy with you if they knew that you were off to see their competitor 2 days later for the same sort of heart to heart.
My thinking balinor is that if they are direct competitors after the same customers with the same products / offerings you cannot take them both unless you have two seperate teams one on each and they each sign suitable confidentiality agreements.
BTW I am talking about you being a web developer and ongoing internet marketer for each company. In this role you will be party to lots of inside confidential information.
The situation is very different if you were to develop a software product optimised for their industry which they manage and which you then went about selling to them.
I can't help wondering if this ia a case of paralysis by analysis... where something that was never a problem to start with is imagined into a blocker that halts further development.
If you have a skill, use it. Client A cannot possibly object if Client B also recognises your skills and wishes to enlist your services.
In my own case I work with a lot of holiday apartment blocks and resorts. It is a very competitive field, the websites are not significantly different from each other and in some cases my clients are across the road from each other.
I have never ever heard any comment passed about client loyalty issues.... there is a total acceptance that the marketplace is free to choose whichever service provider it desires and will make up its own mind on the calibre and integrity of the completed product.
austr if you mean "paralysis by analysis" in relation to my post I think each actual situation is unique.
I make a distinction between selling a product which it is often the objective to sell to all and providing a detailed service including confidential business consultancy.
I just think these are different things.
If you are designing to spec, I do not think there would be a problem. If you are doing any serious SEO, then there is a conflict.
If two clients came to you asking for building designs, with clear specs of what they wanted for the buildings form and function, would there be a conflict? Why should there be a conflict with the construction of two websites? While the function may be the same, the form will not necessarily be duplicated.
willybfriendly I agree with your view.