Saturday, March 13, 2010

Never Do Business With Friends!

Yesterday I lost a friend and who was my dentist as well. No he didn't die, but to me it is the same since I will no longer speak to him for what he did to me.

Here is some back information and history with him and his wife.

A couple of years ago his wife asked me to help her out with a video project she wanted to do for one of her client companies. They were paying and she needed a videographer and someone to help her work out some concepts. We did the project and had some rough spots because the original concept for the video wasn't strong enough to work in a video.

She had a second idea that we also shot at the same time, one that would become a YouTube video that was actually a commercial for her client. The first idea didn't pan out but the second video, a short 4 minute one did and has now received over 100,000 views on YouTube.

I had fun working with her and she had a creative mind and was very easy to work with. I ended getting paid more then expected and she couldn't thank me enough. Working with her was a pleasure.

A few weeks ago my friend the dentist (her husband) came to me and told me he wanted to hire me to help him relaunch his dental web site. The one he had was well, old and horrible and looked like a high school kid did it ten years ago. He said, Len, I don't want this to come between our friendship so lets figure out the costs so we are both on the same page. This is business.

I asked a few questions about what he had in mind and we looked at some dental web sites and saw some of those horrid dental sites that were produced by companies like and others and after pointing out how all these web based dental sites looked exactly the same, decided that they really were only puff sites that looked pretty but really didn't have content personalized for the individual dentists.  Although the dentists would have some of the ability to change the content, in many cases we noticed they simply used the canned stuff offered by the template company.  We decided that we should look at other options on the net, find some dental sites we really liked and see if we could create one that we could be proud of.

I pointed out that these web based website companies are basically meant for dentists or doctors that have no knowledge of the web and wanted a no brainer. For many these sites are ideal because they all look identical (see their sample sites), are web based and all a dentist needs to do is go to their web site, login to his account, select the theme or skin for the site and then choose pages he wants on his site. He then fills in the copy in the boxes on the form, selects the color of his font, size, style and it flows into the finished pages from their database. All of these sites use the same basic templates and the text simple flows into the predefined boxes of spaces on those pages. You can see a sample of one of their sites here.  It is like purchasing a book and having them engrave your name as the author in the book.  I don't know, I am from the old school and have always done my own original work.

You can see that this particular sample site has a black theme. It is just one of their showcase sites, that means one of their best sites. But what you don't realize is that they have worked on this site to make it look as good as it possibly can with their system. But what happens when a dentist with no artistic talent or understanding of working with typography goes in and picks the wrong size font or selects bold on body copy, or simply selects their default text? Well you end up with a page that looks more like this one on my ex-friends site:

Not being a custom site, and feeding the copy from a database means they are basically text sites, a few paragraphs on each page and if you look at one site or the next from the company, they all look the same. Now the problem with these sites is that they are what they are. Low cost, template driven sites that don't allow the owner the freedom to be creative or deviate from the template.

Now to be fair, some of their skins or themes look good and they do allow the Dentist or Doctor the ability to switch the "skins" or "themes" when ever they want to so they can experiment and find one that suits their taste.

I noticed my ex, found a nicer template then the black one and frankly, it looks quite good, although it lacks the ability to introduce your own images, graphics, etc. on these pages and you can't deviate in any way from their template form.  Almost all of the pages are strictly text, which I find a bit boring and in some cases either hard to read or lacking any substance.  I know some believe that on a web site, you need to keep it concise and in most cases this is true.

I don't believe in using premade templates all with the same text (on every dentists site)  and all of them looking exactly the same with the exception of the color scheme of skins. Yes, you have the ability to use your own copy on many of these pages, but if you want their premade ones like their FAQ's, FYI, or many others, they come complete with the text in place.  For him, I am sure this was a good decision, but as they say hindsight is always 20/20.  Meaning if I knew what I do now, I would have told him to simply go there and deal with them and not with me.

Now templates can be quite effective and are a handy and inexpensive way to create a site.  You can either purchase the template as we did and customize it or if you don't have that ability, you can purchase one like the Prosites templates or even the ones sold by Intuit or many other companies on the web that are premade.

I am not knocking any of these companies and my son owns a company that produces very high end sites with very complex back end capability for the Hedge Fund community.  Anyone that purchases one of their sites has full control over every function of that site and it is done in a simple and easy to use admin. He deals with companies and the sites are all SEC compliant sites.  Their client company can update their performance figures each month and on the fly the site will create a PDF document with the results, charts, graphs, etc.

Their sites are so complex in terms of what they can do that it would cost $100,000 plus to create a site similar to the ones they offer for a fraction of that number.  It took them years to develop all the programming that goes into these sites and looking at how clean they are and understanding the complex things they do is truly a marvel.  I am a very proud dad. You can visit his web site construction company and see samples of their sites here. Once there you will see samples of sites, logo creation and even a link to see a demo site, but this is only available to registered site visitors.

So again, I understand this business model, but that is not the reason for this blog post.  It is all about trying to help a friend and being disappointed in the way they have dealt with you.

In the case of ProSites, they offer, template sites at a cost of $2,000 start up and $55 per month to host the site. They deal with dentists and doctors, a group of individuals that are not noted for their creative abilities, a group that usually has the money to spend and some seem to be smarter then the rest of us (so they think). Please note, I am simply generalizing in my depiction here, but from my experience, many I have met fit this pattern.

My friend and I talked about these sites and decided we could probably purchase a nicer stand alone template web site from a company that designs template sites for dentists and other professions. Although it would require a webmaster to put it together, we felt it would be far better then anything the other sites could offer and would look custom.

 If Prosites sells thousands of this single template site with various skins of themes, anyone going to one of their sites would realize that it is a standard template using the same before and after photos and videos on all these sites. As a patient, I think I deserve to see the dentists actual work and read his descriptions of his services and his talents, not a canned site that only has his name on the top of the page.

My friend, asked what it might cost to go in this direction. I said over the phone, that if we did a simple 8 page site, using a custom template, and a few head shots of his staff, it might cost around $1,000, but until I saw the template it was only a guess. A simple template site that I only needed to flow some copy into would only take a couple of hours per page then the time to shoot and process the images and incorporate then into the site and maybe it would take 20-25 hours tops.

 It would still come in at half of what ProSites would charge and he would own his site, not rent one. If he ever wanted to change his hosting company he could do so. At Prosites, you can't, you are married to them at $55 per month, every month and over 5 years that actual cost of your template site would be around $5,000.

My dentist friend agreed that some of the nice templates we could purchase for as little as $64 was a good idea and after narrowing it down to three that we all liked selected one.  We got the site in both a static XHTML version with style sheets (CSS) and a flash driven version. This would give us the option to use either version or even combine some of the flash with the static pages.

As I began to work on the project, my friend continued to add things he wanted and from an 8-10 page site, it was looking like a 20 page site with lots of extra's including custom titles that had to be created in Photoshop, stock photos that we could use and reading the copy from other dental sites that would give us some direction in what we would like to include on this site. The consultation and time spent before actually starting the real work took over 15 hours.

Once I began to work on the site, I found it was harder then I thought because all the page layouts had to be followed exactly as the template and style sheets dictated. Now this is not his fault, it was mine, so I chalked up the extra time I had to spend understanding their code as part of my education.  Anyone working on these template sites will find it a challenge because you need to figure out how their CSS or style sheet works.

As I tried to modify the amount of text on a column, it would throw off the entire layout of the page. So it took longer to overcome these obstacles. I also found out that, since I didn't create the site, I had no idea what some of the styles actually did or looked like on a page. So looking at a style in the style sheet that said, col 1 or col 2 didn't mean anything to me and was hard to work with.

I spent a total of 40-50 hours working on this site, late into the night and one day my friend came down to actually sit with me and go over what he wanted. We went in and changed the art work I did for the Heading and sub head banners, we looked at each template page to see which ones we wanted to use for each section. We decided what the main pages would be, I suggested we link to a blog that he could go to and update each week as others do. We spent 5 or 6 hours that day and I was to meet him the next day again since his offices were closed to basically get the additional copy we needed for these pages and hopefully get the bulk of the site wrapped up.

He thanked me on Monday and understood why it had taken so much time to get the site to where it was already and said hopefully on Tuesday we could get most of the site finished. I worked on cleaning it up, creating the additional form he wanted on the site and at around midnight, I finally decided I was ready for the next day and could simply insert the copy needed to finish most of the job.

Please look at the website I created for him now, remember it was never completed, so you are only looking at a work-in-progress.  You can also view the original template with the flash banners and original template pages here.

Now during this process I kept reminding him to keep focused on what we needed on the site. Not to expand it out with pages of copy that would not be necessary. After all anyone that wants details on how to fight cavities, can find it on thousands of web sites and doesn't really need to go to the local dentists web site.

 He thought that the $1,000 fee, that was a rough estimate on my part, included all the work I was doing. He said it also included shooting his 13 person staff, exterior shots of his office, group shots, cleaning them up, resizing them and inserting them on the site. Wow, what a deal that would be, don't you think?  Even so, I was willing to do it, after all he was my friend and their is nothing I won't do for a friend.

After a few days of conversation and work on this project, I told him I would send a written proposal just to confirm my understanding and what the job included and this would be what I called Phase One of the project. I could see that if I didn't have him focus on what he really needed it would become a huge monster of a site.

 Custom work on a template site, custom graphics, copy creation, forms that had to be tied into his hosting companies system and so much more and all for $1,000. So with a written proposal, we would both know what was included and he would end up with a great custom site that he could add onto in the future.  Side note, we continued to work on this project and he never signed off on the proposal or even mentioned it after I had sent it to him.

I have been working on my own sites and some for friends for about 14 years now.  I am the president of International Press Association and my job every day is to write articles for our site, publish reviews, edit our members works and create the new sections of pages of the site that I built years ago. I also do lots of research before writing articles, understand how to optimize my site for search engines and have years of sales and marketing experience. I worked for years with programmers and designers on this site and we also have a fully functional admin section that feeds into a database and makes many of the functions of the site work properly.

Now remember, I told you my son owns a website production company  and employes a staff of graphic designers and programmers to work on these sites, so I know what I am doing, but my friend, the dentist still would not take my advice. If I was smarter, I would have stopped the project before too much time was spent and told him that we differ in our opinions and that he might be happier doing it himself with a company like Prosites, but I didn't.

Every suggestion I would make he would disagree with. New logo design from the one he had 14 years ago, shot down. New tag line that makes sense, shot down. The necessary information on the site, copy that made sense, shot down. How to make the site search engine friendly, shot down. I realized I wasn't working with his wife who is a creative professional but rather a dentist with his own ideas of what looks nice and a person that simply resisted change.

He wanted to be hands on, even asked me if he could do the web pages himself. I explained that learning HTML or going through the learning phase of a simpler web edit program would probably not be worth his time. Even sites built by Intuit that would cost $1,000 or more for a custom site, requires some knowledge and they offer an hour of training, but even these sites have their limits.

Now here is why I no longer consider this man a friend and pulled out from this job...He actually fired me...but didn't have the guts to tell me, I had to find out myself.

On the Tuesday we were going to meet again, he called and told me he was looking into Prosites again just to get some idea of what they offered. After all my site was $1,000 including photography and there sites are $2,000 plus $55 per month, with nothing custom and no photography. I told him if he decided to kill our project and go with them his cost would now be $3,000 plus the monthly because I still expected to be paid for the work I did.

Tuesday, he never showed up for our meeting at my place. He made an excuse that he hadn't done all the needed copy yet. On Wednesday he was busy shopping with his wife. I reminded him when we spoke, that if he stopped the project and only wanted me to shoot the photos, it would be a half day and the cost would be $500 and if he didn't like my work on the site, I would forgo those fees, even though I spent 40+ hours and hours of consultation and planning with him before actually starting on the site. I spent hours explaining how the internet works and did extensive research looking at tons of other dental sites and grabbing ideas from the best of them.

Later on Wednesday I had an auto accident, I was at a stop light and someone didn't realize that me and the 4 cars in front of me at the light were stopped and rammed me from behind. I sent an email to my friend, to ask him where we were on this project and advised him that I had an accident. Not once did he respond to me regarding my accident, but he told me he was playing on the Prosite free trail site, they give you a 30 day free trial to see how their system works, and never mentioned he already decided to kill my site and go with them. I can only assume he wasn't even reading my emails by then and only working on his web site on Prosite.

Still no emails on Thursday from the dentist and I decided to take another look at the site I was working on and discovered it was now gone from the net. I knew that this meant, he had started the process to move his domain over to Prosites. I couldn't login to his original account now it was gone from his previous hosting company, but I did login to his Prosites account to see he had chosen their black theme for his site that looked more like wedding photographers site with photos of smiling bride and groom. The pages are so difficult to read, pages are clunky and there is nothing custom about the site. Each page is simply a page of text, and in many cases the same copy on every dentists site that uses Prosites.

Certainly it is easier to use their pages then spend the time to do your own. Prosites FAQ's address the issue of their popular templates showing up all over town. They claim that although there are many thousands of the exact sites out there, the chances of two dentists in the same town having their sites is small.

 Can you imagine spending $2,000 for a web site that has been sold to thousands upon thousands of dentists all over the country? Wouldn't any smart dentist ask himself, is that what I really want to show my patients. A web site with the same text, photos, FAQ's and videos as so many others?  Maybe it is just me, but I suppose for many, that is exactly what they want to do.

He had paid them the $2,000 for the entry fee, had transferred the domain to Prosites and not once called or emailed me that he had made the decision to do so and abandon the one I had worked on. I am not sure if I was insulted, hurt, frustrated or disappointed
but I am sure it was all of these things.

So after discovery of my friend deception, I sent him this email.

I see you have made your decision to go with Prosites, I think based on what I have observed, for you, this is probably the best decision, unfortunately you made that choice after I invested over 40 hours on the other site and all the hours of consultations we had. We looked at Prosites originally and you chose to go in another direction, but once you realized the complexity of the project and potential additional costs to keep adding to the base site, you decided to cancel the project that you hired me to do even though we both agreed to it and it is almost completed now.

I have to tell you, I am very disappointed in you and the way you have gone about this entire deal. I went way out of my way to help you because of our friendship and spent many hour rushing to get this done for you because you kept asking me to do so. You sat with me last Monday and I thought you were satisfied with the project and our progress and understood the hours of time I had invested. By Tuesday when we were going to meet again you had already signed onto Prosites and decided it suited your purposes and then you Back Peddled on me, not the other way around.

They say it is not wise to do business with friends and I now understand the wisdom in that saying. As a friend, I considered you one of my best, but frankly, you have now shown me another side, that frankly I don't like. You could have been more honest with me. I see you already began the process to move your domain over to Prosites without saying a word to me about your final decision.

I looked at the site and see you have completed what you feel you may need on this site and that is fine if you are satisfied with it the way it is.

I will not have anything further to do with this project or frankly you as a friend or as my dentist. This was a sneaky and underhanded move and I am frankly disgusted with what you did to me.

Have a great life and don't even bother to contact me again.

He called me Friday afternoon when he received my email.
Hi Len, he said, I got your email. I asked him if he read it, he said no he just saw the subject line. I advised him to read it and if he still wanted to talk he could call me.

We hung up and I never heard from him again....

Here is the definition of what Buyers Remorse means. In this case, I feel my dentist, after making the commitment to me suffered from Buyers Remorse and has now backed out of our original deal.

Buyer's remorse is the term given to the feeling a person often gets after making a large purchase. Although excited at the time of the purchase, once they've spent a lot of money, many people feel a deep regret and concern that they made the wrong decision, referred to as buyer's remorse.

So that is the long story and the reason I decided to post it because it confirms my belief that you just can't do business with friends or in many cases family either. When you are going to do business with a friend, even if you both state this is a business deal and you don't want it to effect your friendship, it will.

If you are providing the service, you will never charge as much as you would to a stranger and as a friend will go the extra mile to do more, and work harder on the project. Unfortunately, the party that hired you, will never appreciate your efforts because they feel it is expected that you should work for less and give them more. In many cases like mine, they may not respect or listen to the advice you have given them, because you are their friend.

This was one of the most frustrating situations I have experienced in awhile and one that has hopefully taught me a valuable lesson. I have written this to one, get it off my chest and two to warn others not to do the same as I have done.


I just received this message from the CEO of Prosites and wanted to respond, but unfortunately deleted his comment in error, so here it is as it should have appeared:


As an expert in website design, surely you must know you cannot copy and paste text from other sites and call it your own.

The statory fines for copyright infringement can run as high as $150,000 per violation, so I recommend you pull down that website before we contact our attorney.

Your rant perfectly illustrates an important point -- many doctors don't mind having a website that saves them money by avoiding the cost of creating a fully custom site. Our sites are very easy to use, and thus our doctors (who according to you "are not known for their creative abilities") have little problem making any changes they wish to their ProSites website. This again, saves them a lot of money. They can even change their entire website design anytime they want, free of charge (you on the other hand, would have to charge them for a brand new website).

Our website look great, and that's why we are so popular. You're just sour that your friend chose a website solution that is affordable, easy to use, and wasn't created by YOU.


Lance McCollough
Founder & CEO
Prosites, Inc.


My response to Mr. McCollough


With respect to copyright violations, the text you claim to be your copyrighted text should be specifically pointed out to me so it can be replaced with other "dummy text". The site under construction which was never published and is only files on our server and not listed anywhere other then in this blog was just that dummy text that would have been replaced by the dentist with his own. Anyone looking at this site in progress can see this and the story also confirms this.

I am very aware of copyright law and have been a journalist and president of IPA for 20 years, so your threats mean nothing to me. If you point out the specific lines and text I have no problem replacing them.

As far as your comments about your company and its mission, I have no personal ill will to you and your product, other then my statements of fact about how they work, the cost, and the overall appearance, which is my right to state my opinion of your product vs. a custom web site. If you visit the IPA web site you will see this is what I do for a living, I write reviews of products and services and we are supported by some of the largest companies in the software and photographic industry including Adobe, Nikon, RCL and many other companies.

Now as far as sour grapes go, apparently you never bothered to read or you didn't understand this post. It wasn't about your company specifically, it was about doing a favor for a friend and how it backfired. I do not create web sites for anyone other then my own or work on IPA. If you read the copy, you would see my son owns a major company called Hedgeco Networks with offices in both West Palm Beach, Florida and New York City. His company produces beautiful web sites for the Hedge Fund industry and offers many other support services to this market. They also own their own brokerage firm. That said, I did my friend a favor and was creating a custom site as a gift. The thousand dollars was simply a very low fee so that this would be a business arrangement and not a favor.

As you can see, it didn't turn out that way. Now for those dentists that don't have a friend in the business nor the ability to do it themselves, well Prosites is probably a good choice, but given the option of a well made site, with original copy (not lifted copy from your sites or anyone elses) the choice should be clear.

In this case, he contracted me to do the job and after completing about 80% of the job, without any thought to me or how I would feel, decided to sign up with Prosites. Frankly, I wouldn't have minded from the start if that is what he wanted to do. But you have to admit, that after he hired me to do his site, sitting with me for two days working on it, getting educated by me and then without any conversation with me that he was going to pull the plug, did so.

Now it is not sour grapes, I am relieved I am off the hook, but how would you feel if someone did this to you, a friend who you were trying to help? Screw the money, I wouldn't even ask him for any at this point even though I wasted a week of my time. I bill $200 per hour for consulting, I couldn't break even on this job if he paid me $4,000.

Enough said, if you want to send me an email with the copy you claim is your copyrighted copy I will remove it from the "Dummy, Under Construction Web Site"

By the way, this blog and illustration was meant for educational and instruction and as such would fall under the webs fair use doctrine regarding copyrighted materials. I also provided the appropriate links to your web site as well. I am a journalist and this would be covered under the Fair Use Doctrine. If you are not familiar with this doctrine, please read below and follow the link for further information.

Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. The term "fair use" originated in the United States. A similar principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright.

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