Don’t build your business with someone else’s product!

dont-build-business-someone-else-product

Hey pals!

I wanted to talk about a pretty worrying trend that I keep seeing in various guises, from social media to online marketplaces, and it’s even in the world of web design. People are building their entire businesses on the back of someone else’s product.

I don’t mean that they’re using someone else’s product to promote, improve, or grow their businesses, I mean they’re basing their entire business model on something that someone else controls. This is really, really fucking scary. Especially when you see what can happen when that product changes, it’s life ruining!

I’m going to talk about 3 scenarios where I’ve seen this happen lately, and the fallout that can occur when each of these platforms changes.

THE PRODUCT BUSINESS

My product based business, Finest Imaginary, happily runs on a few different online outlets. I have wholesale contracts with a few shops, and I sell at markets throughout the holiday season. Whenever I’m promoting my business online I’ll always, always direct people to my own website (which is hosted on Shopify, a tool I used to grow my business – if Shopify up and closed tomorrow, I’d be able to move my store to another ecommerce platform and still use my URL). I’ve spread my business around a bit, not too thinly, but enough so that I don’t rely fully on one marketplace more than another.

Earlier this year one of the marketplaces that I’ve sold through for quite a few years decided to make some rather drastic changes to their business model, removing many businesses from the site and shifting things around in product categories (which in turn meant that certain products were no longer getting the exposure that they once were!). There were a number of people who had built successful six-figure businesses on this platform, and they suddenly found themselves up shit creek without a marketplace! It’s sad, and frustrating, and my heart went out to those who were affected, but the business who built the platform have the right to do whatever they want with their product (whether it’s morally right or wrong is a whole other story…).

It’s easy to become complacent when your business is thriving on a marketplace, whether it’s Etsy or similar, but is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no.

Is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no. Click To Tweet

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PROMOTION

Here’s another one that everyone got their knickers in a twist over a few weeks ago. Instagram.

Remember over Easter when everyone was losing their shit about the algorithm changes, and posting silly images asking you to subscribe to alerts? Yeah? I’m just gonna stand here right now and call bullshit on all those antics.

I love Instagram. I’ve been focusing on it as a promotional tool for my businesses for the past few months, and have been steadily increasing my engagement and following. It’s awesome. I get a heck of a lot of referrals from it, and it’s been (probably) my most successful marketing tool to date. But here’s the thing. I don’t rely on it. I don’t put all of my energy into using Instagram as my only marketing tool, I also use Twitter, my newsletter, Pinterest, and I’ve even started experimenting with Snapchat.

When and if Instagram changes their algorithm and it starts to affect your business, then you change along with it. You evolve, you keep on your toes and you work out how to fill that gap. Don’t rely on someone else’s product for your entire business marketing, stay current and see what else is out there. Your business will have way more to worry about down the line than the changing up of a social media platform. Who knows, the next thing on the app store might be even more suited to you and your business!

THE WEBSITE CREATION TOOL

I come from a background of coding sites from scratch, before I even heard the word “Wordpress” I was creating shitty table based sites on geocities. Since then I’ve focused most of my energy on WordPress (and more recently Shopify), but have dipped my toes into Squarespace, big cartel, blogger, and Magento.

There’s a new breed of web designer around who can successfully drag-and-drop your site into existence. I mean, that’s great and all (and kudos to them for making bank on a relatively simple task), but it’s not something you couldn’t do on your own (given an afternoon and a help doc or two!). The scary thing here is that these designers have built an entire business around being able to use a drag-and-drop interface (on a product that wasn’t even available a couple of years ago!). I’ve long had these same worries about the WordPress “developers” who were using a popular framework package to make all their sites. They rely so fully on this framework that when there’s something that the framework can’t do… they’re stumped!

My advice to those who work this way is to expand, learn new skills, get dirty in the code and don’t rely on that single product that someone else made for all the income in your business. It might change next month, it might become even easier for people to use it themselves (in which case your client pool would get incredibly small!), or it might disappear altogether!

So, what do you think? Looking at your business, are you relying too heavily on someone else’s product? What would happen if that product underwent a huge change? Or closed? How would you recover? I think it’s time we started taking responsibility for our own businesses rather than blaming someone else if a change in their product fucks it up.

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  • This is precisely the reason I won’t work with designers who use a framework. I can’t stand the frameworks, and their skills are too limited for what I want—zero bulk, limitless freedom, and the confidence that my designer knows WTF they’re doing. I like to know my designer can fix the random, minuscule issues that arise with my theme (they’re really random) once it’s done without having to consult the framework’s support team…it just feels like I’m being cheated as a client when they have to rely on something else and can’t code it themselves—even more so when the designers who use a framework are charging several times more than what the designers who don’t use a framework use.

    I actually thought I was one of the few people who felt this way, but…I suppose I can add one more to the list?

    As a general rule, I try to rely on as little third parties as possible, because there is always the possibility that they will change everything about their product, even if you liked it. It’s why I converted all my recipes to not only work with Schema, but to do so in a way that they’ll show up the same way they would if I were using a recipe plugin…I’m just not anymore. I also do my own SEO stuff, because I decided a lot of the things simply weren’t for me, especially since I noticed I gather more referrals from search engines other than Google. It was easier to learn it myself (perks of being autistic and having special interests!) than to have to constantly see tons of red and “bad grades” courtesy of a plugin.

    …I also try to rely on them as little as possible for the reasons you’ve listed, but in my attempts to explain them in the past, I’ve just received a lot of beef about it. :|

  • Wow. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself! I complain to my husband all the time about these “developers” who rely on framework or build on a drag and drop interfaces. They don’t actually KNOW what they’re doing.

    I come from the same type of background as you. And since you and I were building websites from scratch way back when, we still have that with us. We like to KNOW exactly what we’re coding.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’ve used Visual Composer a handful of times because I’m super lazy haha! But I can 110% code it on my own if I wasn’t such a sloth.

    You know how many features people could really add to their websites if they just truly learned how to code? Yeah.

    /rant

    Oh, hi! I’m Kerri and I really enjoyed this blog post. :D

  • Chez Sargent

    Isn’t WordPress somebody else’s product? All because it is free, it does not mean it is not a product. I’ve seen people using your product for their blogs, is that ok, or does this only apply to Web Developers, that age old argument of ‘who codes the best’?

    Where does it stop? What defines authenticity in this sphere? It’s great if you can create templates in PHP, have a grasp of Adobe, write markup in HTML and style in CSS – but what about a knowledge of system architecture were it not for WordPress’ guidelines? What about databasing? When does it stop? Because of this – I’m sick of programmers having this over arching ownership of the web. It is akin to grandparents saying, “in my day…”.

    The fantastic thing about the internet is that designers can make websites, writers can tell interactive stories, we should support that and not worry about it. We don’t own the internet. All because someone does not code, it does not mean that they don’t have the capacity to adapt and find new platforms and resources to tell their story.