The fact that this was also just when the U.S. economy was taking a big crap in its pants was just a fun coincidence. Here I was walking away from a paycheck when thousands of people a day were finding their own stripped away.
A lot of people asked me whether I had another job lined up. When I told them I didn’t they also crapped their pants.
What the hell was I thinking?
It’s been about 17 months – plenty of time to reflect on that decision, and the following decisions to turn down well-paying jobs at other agencies.
I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing.
But I have a better idea of why I’m doing it.
I don’t enjoy the knowledge that I’m burning up someone else’s time and money and calling it macaroni.
In my time in the agency world I saw a lot of work that should have never been sold. A SEO project would end up on my desk, and I’d find myself looking at the website in question and thinking, “they don’t need SEO. They need a message. They need a marketing overhaul. They might even need to be slapped around a bit first. SEO isn’t going to help them.” And don’t tell me a marketing overhaul is part of a complete SEO breakfast or I’ll hit you.
I still marvel at the ability of some salespeople to blow smoke up the asses of people who trust them, see the business hurt as a result and still drop by next year with a smile and a new Rolex.
Of course that’s an extreme image – most salespeople don’t own luxury watches, and if they don’t understand what they’re selling they might not know when it’s bogus. Thin excuse, if you ask me.
For me, doing unjustified, uninspired and frequently pointless work that was literally draining the pockets of business owners, who were entering the worst economy since the Great Depression, started to take a toll. My left eye developed a twitch. I had nightmares. I was angry constantly.
So I walked away. I had a few freelance clients (the agency I worked for was nice enough to let me work on the side). I had a trickle of income and some money in the bank. I could survive until I built momentum.
Today there’s not much in the bank. Some. Enough that I’m not worried about my bills. Not enough to buy a Rolex. And I’m still not sure when that momentum thing kicks in.
But aside from when something big goes wrong with a project or a client doesn’t pay (both rare) I sleep pretty well these days.
Knowing your own ethics
Years ago I was talking with a salesman I worked with who’d been out shaking the trees for new SEO clients. We were discussing a project he wanted to pitch. It turned into an argument.
I didn’t think SEO was the answer. I thought the client’s problems were much bigger, and that presenting them with SEO as a “solution” was a mistake (and dishonest).
He wanted to bring in business. And the conversation stopped abruptly when he said this:
“The important thing is that we’re working.”
There was nowhere to go from there. His ethic was wrapped up in that sentence, and I knew it didn’t click with mine.
What I wanted to say is, “no, the important thing is that we’re helping our clients.” But I don’t think it would have made a difference.
But ethical debates are somewhat pointless in commerce. Markets decide. Nobody likes to be swindled, but that’s nothing new. “It’s bad to cheat people” isn’t exactly a profound statement.
And the time and effort you can spend pointing out the dishonesties of others, dragging the ugly little man out from behind the curtain, is usually better spent in other endeavors.
It ain’t all bad
There are good people in this industry. And by “good” I don’t just mean upstanding citizens; they’re good at what they do. They generate a positive return for their clients. They pull their weight and then some.
But if we’re taking Internet marketing as a whole we have to accept that there’s no barrier to entry – anybody with a laptop and wi-fi access can hang their shingle online. They can solicit clients, publish any content and push any product they want. They can lie and screw people over (whether they’re aware they’re doing it or not).
On a long enough timeline the dishonest will find themselves spending money and time turned backward scrubbing their muddy footprints. But there will be dishonest companies as long as there are dishonest people.
At some point each of us has to answer this question: what are you willing to do for money?