How to check your online suppliers are up to the job

Prime Minister David Cameron must be rather upset with his own security services. It seems they informed President Barack Obama within five minutes of discovering a suspect package at East Midlands airport, yet they took 11 hours to let Mr Cameron know. Apparently, “Whitehall sources” have said that “lessons can be learned”. I bet they can…! Perhaps one lesson Mr Cameron will learn is that he needs better staff in Downing Street. It rather looks as though he is relying on people who are either not up to the job, or who do not understand the importance of some things that cross their desk. Either way. it isn’t good news.

Is this the kind of web supplier you want?

It is an example of the way in which we rely on our staff or our suppliers. We trust them, but never really know how good they are until something goes wrong. Literally, in the case of the laser cartridge bomb from Al-Qaeda it could have been a fatal error on the part of Whitehall. Only luck, perhaps, meant it wasn’t. It strangely reminds me of a new financial services website which I discovered last week, where the owner clearly did not have suppliers who were up to the job.

The website is a social network for independent financial advisers (IFAs), apparently “under wraps” and in “beta testing” at the moment. I was told about the site by Philip Calvert who runs the highly successful IFALife – Britain’s Number One social network for IFAs with almost 6,000 members. My articles sometimes appear on IFALife and one of them had been stolen. The new IFA website had literally copied my article from IFALife, word for word and claimed it was written by somebody else. It also looked to me as though this new site was trying to copy much of what IFALife was doing. Imitation may be flattery but this new site looks rather too similar to IFALife for my liking.

So I wrote to the owner asking him to remove my article – or change the author’s name to mine and add a link back to my website. A day or so later he replied saying it was an “error” made by his web developer suppliers and that the article had been removed. The next day I checked. The article had not been removed, it was still there. And besides what kind of “error” is it when someone deliberately steals an article and then claims it is their own? That’s a rather tough “mistake” to make I reckon.

I contacted the owner of the site again to complain in more “vocal terms” this time…! Apparently, the web developers had deleted the link to the article within the site’s index. But as anyone with half an ounce of Internet sense knows, deleting the link does not remove the content. I pointed out to the owner of the new IFA website that his suppliers were not up to the job for which he was employing them. For a start, they were prepared to break the law in developing his site by stealing copyright material from other websites and they were prepared to lie to their customer claiming they had deleted something from the site, when they had done no such thing. Would you like a supplier who is both a thief and liar?

It seems to me that the website owner had not chosen his supplier carefully enough. Indeed, so crass at their job were they, that they largely copied the most successful IFA social networking site. How they imagined that would not be noticed, I have no idea. The word “dumb” comes to mind. So that begs another question, would you like a supplier that is dumb?

Perhaps this has been a blessing in disguise for the website owner; he has discovered his suppliers are rather poor before his site goes out of beta. Rather like David Cameron and the Al-Qaeda packages, he may have “learned lessons”. But too late perhaps; after all I’m unlikely to recommend his site (notice the lack of links or even the name of the site here?). And I suspect that Philip Calvert’s legal folk will be keeping a close eye on things too. In other words, poor choice of suppliers has not won this new website some fans – and between us Philip Calvert and I could have provided this new website with much advice, help, support and traffic. Gone; thanks to the selection of bad suppliers.

It is a salutary tale. Don’t let your website down by choosing poor suppliers. So how can you make sure you get good ones? Well apart from all the usual checks and asking for references, looking them up on the web and so on, there is one thing you can do to make sure your supplier is a good one. Ask them this personal question:

“If I were to look at your personal Facebook profile, would I find anything out about you that you would rather I did not know?”

You don’t actually need an answer to this question because you can check out a supplier’s (or their staff’s) profile on Facebook yourself. But what you are looking for here is the reaction to the question. A good supplier will not obfuscate. A good supplier will be honest and their body language or vocal tone will immediately tell you this. A good supplier will not become embarrassed, hesitant or withdrawn at this question. Even if they have stuff on their Facebook page talking about their drunken behaviour, a good supplier will admit it to you because they know you can find out and they want to have a good relationship with you. A bad supplier will pretend, try to cover up and will laugh in an embarrassed way at your question.

What you want from a good supplier is total honesty; that’s all. They will be honest if they cannot help or do not understand. They will be honest if they muck up. They will be honest if they need more help. A bad supplier will lie about these issues. A simple test of the potential for lying is all you need to check out the likely capability of your selected supplier.

Which begs the question – how often does David Cameron check out the Facebook pages of Downing Street staff? Remember that President Obama won his election largely off the back of social media. Maybe that’s why he found out about the laser cartridge bomb first.

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