You’re killing me! How my SEO provider is asking me to fire them.

Here I am trying to give you money – the single core business process that exists in EVERY SINGLE business in the world.  And you’re making it hard to give you money.

This is a true story of how an SEO company I hired continually f***s up our relationship:

  1. I’m talking with an SEO guy who cold-called me to pitch me their services.  The call went well; they knew their stuff.  Great!  I’m ready to go with credit card in hand. 
  2. But wait!  I need to have another meeting for them to review the contract with me!  
  3. So I snore through the second call where we review the contract.  There’s stuff in there that’s totally unrelated to the promised work, but they say it’s okay, because it’s crossed out.  As in strikethrough‘d.  Seriously.  I give them a break on this, because they suck at business.  I still have my credit card in hand, ready to pay them!
  4. They say, “We’ll email you the contract, you sign it and mail back a check.  Then we’ll begin.”
  5. “Aw hells no!” says I.  I’m okay with the ridiculous contract.  It’s the paper check part that bothers me.  I don’t know where my checkbook is, because I haven’t used it in 5 years.  “How about credit card?”
  6. “Ummm…” they reply.  “Okay, but we need to tack on a 4% processing fee.”
  7. “No.”
  8. “Ummmm…” Okay, no fee.  Expect an email from us in 3 days with a payment link.
  9. At this point I’m thinking this might just be a shady operation.  But I wait the 3 days for the payment link & pay anyway, and here’s where the fun begins
  10. THEN!!! THEN!!!! After waiting 3 days for a payment link, I wait 4 days…and nothing.  Then I email them and let them know I paid 4 days ago.
  11. I get an email saying, “Fill out this form.  It’ll take 45 minutes.” (Only 45 minutes?! Should I be excited?) I fill out the blasted 45-minute form, but most of it is irrelevant based on the promised work.  At the end of the form, there’s an option to rate the form: I give it 1 star.  Take that, World!
  12. And that’s where we’re at today…

Making Payments Difficult Is Called, “Friction”.

“Friction.”  That’s what famous people who write business books call it when you make it hard to get paid. 

I call it “insane”.

The absolute last place you want people to ask, “Should I buy this?” is at checkout! Adding your 2.9% + $0.30 credit card fee to their cart, as coffee shops and barbers do is just plain dumb!

And then the Contracts! Contracts!  Contracts!!!

The person who founded Less Accounting says that contracts are worthless, because anyone with time/money can cause all sorts of headaches for business owners (contract or no).   So why let a contract get in the way of honest, good business? Some sound advice from my dad: “The best way to avoid litigation is to avoid it in the first place.” (Fwiw, He also advises that you don’t do work for lawyers, because “They can sue you for FREE!” Advice that I’ve broken many times over, because I actually have a lot in common with lawyers and enjoy their company.)

When I’ve screwed up or when I’ve been fired, it was never due to a poorly-written contract.  It was always due to expectations not being met.

Contracts communicate your values & expectations…Just not in the way you want.

Things that Communicate Expectations Better than Contracts:

  • Conversations.
  • Google Reviews.
  • Your homepages. 
  • Your squeeze pages. 
  • Your email tone. 
  • Ease-of-use of your product.
  • How someone feels going through your onboarding experience.  
  • Your availability for phone calls, emails, etc.

And don’t think it’s just me saying this.  Hospitals know that being nice is the most helpful tool to avoid costly litigation!  

It’s like how coffee shops don’t win repeat customers with fabulous coffee (They win ’em over with fast internet! Or in the case of my local Caribou Coffee, they gave me a free hot chocolate today when they found out I forgot my wallet! Think I’ll be back?! Heck yes I will!)

A helpful phone conversation is worth 10,000 contracts.

A cumbersome contract says, “I’m trying to weasel my way out of something.”

A simple contract (or no contract) says, “I’m human. I mess up.  You’ll mess up.  We’ll figure it out together.”  That’s the way actual business is conducted outside of the corporate & non-profit bureaucracy.  

Apple‘s contract is a checkbox (Which everyone assumes is evil (and it probably is).  It says, “I’m a greedy corporation that will throw you under the bus, BUT I’m going to make it easy for you.”  I’ll take that with Apple, because:

  1. I understand that’s how corporate behemoths do business.
  2. They make a damn fine laptop, and I want it.
  3. They have an amazing return policy (for hardware, anyway).

But an SEO company?  No cultural understanding there.  Not a lot of trust with that industry in its entirety, either.  They are behind out-of-the-gate and are fighting an uphill battle for trust!

So if you work in an untrusted industry, delivering an ephemeral product, never promising results, at minimum you should deliver an amazing customer experience.  One that gets me excited to work with you.  One that helps me to see the value you are bringing.  Ya know…an experience that doesn’t inspire a blog post like this.  

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for