My nightmare is over – finally

My nightmare is over – finally

bras4mums logo3 1/2 years ago I commissioned a new website for bras4mums. This was part of the business growth plan to move to a more sophisticated website for both customer shopping experience and for our own management of the business within the office.

It was a big task, and an expensive one. With the help of my Dad, who wanted to help give my business a boost after I’d neglected it whilst travelling to visit my terminally ill Mum for 9 months, we got the project started. I felt very grown up working with a big web design and PR company to develop my new site. It was one of my biggest business mistakes and has caused the most stress and heartache of anything I’ve ever known, in work and in my personal life.

I’m not going to tell the story blow by blow, as it’s not all relevant to you. Nevertheless, we can all learn from my mistakes and the roller coaster journey that has just come to an end over 3 years on.

Headlines:

July 2009: Brief written & agreed. Company chosen (One Marketing, was previously known as Made With & prior to that Go Create from Sale, Manchester), & contract entered into via email communication and face to face meetings.

August 2009: One Marketing recommended using a Magento site & had previous experience in lingerie websites having done Gok Wan’s Simply Yours website. It seemed to do what I wanted it to, and as One Marketing had recommended it, and they were experts in this field, we went ahead.

I agreed to get product details to One Marketing during August as part of the contract was for them to input the data onto the site.

September 2009: PR campaign started as site due to go live mid-September in time for pre-promotion before the Earls Court baby show. Site delayed & incorrect information added on products. I stopped One Marketing from entering any further details onto the site, and the staff team did it instead. It took over an hour to enter 1 products details – the old site took 15 minutes. I was told this would be ‘fixed’.

It turned out that One Marketing sub-contracted the development of the bras4mums website to Fusion Web Development, (no longer in existence). Part of the original brief was that I wanted 1 point of contact & now I was getting 2. I should have given more thought to this more at this stage, but was keen to get the new site live.

October 2009: Site went live with incorrect data & a day’s downtime due to incorrect DNS information asked for from previous supplier. Site was offline for at least a full day this month with ‘glitches’.

November 2009: More downtime and ‘fixes’ still not sorted.

January 2010: More glitches found and customers not able to purchase from site.

February 2010: During busiest retail show, the site crashed. There was no recent backup available, so a month old back up was restored to site and customer details were lost. At this stage I found out that there were 3 companies involved – the company I contracted with, the sub-contractor on software side & a separate server company, MESH Internet. The nightmare got worse.

Sleepless nights, stressful days, the laptop was permanently on and we had to check every single product again and again. The glitches had by this stage increased, and there were still no fixes in sight.

March 2010: One Marketing admitted they’d caused the problems by not hosting the site themselves, so migrated the bras4mums site to their own servers & told me I had to contract with Fusion for fixing the glitches. It was like living in an awful dream. Money could not fix these glitches, as none of the 3 companies involved seemed to care that my world was falling down around me. All the time and money already invested into this project seemed a total waste. I would not give up though – maybe I should have thrown the towel in and started again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Summer 2010: All relationships broke down with Fusion who could not fix the problems they’d created, or One Marketing who were an absolute nightmare and took no responsibility at all for their actions and advice. I took the decision to move the site back to a server that could cope with the site, (One Marketing weren’t letting Fusion access to their server to clear off backups and I was being charged an extortionate amount of money) and at least had a relationship with Fusion.

For the first time in my working life I shouted at people on the phone. It’s not big or clever, but I didn’t know what else to do to get my point across.

September 2010: I chatted with a solicitor, from Marsden Rawsthorns, Preston, who agreed that my contract had never been completed and the ongoing problems with the site created a claim against One Marketing, in failing to complete a contract plus loss of earnings.

One Marketing didn’t take my claim seriously until December 2010. At this stage I wanted my money back, plus my losses for website downtime and claimed £25,000 from them, plus costs.

2011: We made slow progress via the 2 solicitors, with One Marketing not providing any counter evidence to the big file of emails I had. They finally agreed to pay half of the website in June 2011. By this stage, I’d done a proper calculation of my losses caused by a malfunctioning website, and, depending if you looked at projected increase in sales with  a new website, or level sales with previous year, my total losses were between £60-£80K. *GULP*. That’s scary!

July 2011: We’d warned One Marketing that we’d take them to court if they didn’t increase their offer, so my solicitor advised this was the next course of action. The court papers were prepared. And that’s it. He then sat on them, for whatever reason….

Autumn -Spring 2012: I chased the solicitor for action. I’d been keeping the website going as it was needed by the court, so paying out more than needed for a site that didn’t work. I eventually wrote a Formal Complaint letter against my solicitor, who then started to get things moving again.

I created a new bras4mums website which was safe, secure and a way forward.

Summer 2012: Negotiations were re-opened with One Marketing’s solicitor, who agreed that they wanted to settle out of court. I just wanted it finished with by now. I’m not describing the effects this had on my business here, but I’m sure you can work out that if any business looses a significant amount of expected income, it has a knock on effect!

November 2012: We agreed to settle. It’s not satisfactory by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s settled.

I can finally move on with my life and my business. There are so many lessons to learn from this. Here’s just a few:

  • Become a limited company as soon as you can, to limit personal loss and also ensure the business is insurable against contractual failures
  • Consider contract insurance within your business
  • Write everything down and keep records of all discussions with partners and potential partners.
  • Don’t make final payments until you’re happy that the contract has been satisfactorily completed
  • Be clear about your brief and expectations. Stick to them & don’t let any ‘expert’ tell you how to run your business. You know your business best, and you’re asking a contractor to do something to enhance it. If they won’t do it, they’re not the right contractor for you
  • Never give up hope and keep chasing
  • Research your contractors and get references, but don’t rely on previous work for future. Personnel change.

I’m so looking forward to 2013! What’s done is done. There’s no going back. Now’s the time to move forward and build the bras4mums business up again using all my business knowledge and experience to support pregnant and breastfeeding women with a well stocked website that’s easy to use.

I want to publicly thank all those who’ve supported me personally over the last 3-4 years. It’s been a tough time for all of us, but now my personal nightmare is finally over, I hope I can support you if you need it. Thank you to my patient business partners. 2013 is going to be the best year we’ve had for a long time! 🙂

10 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am regularly tearing out my hair trying to get our web-developers to listen to me but it sounds like we have got off lightly.

    After a few epic battles on the subject of customer accounts vs. guest checkout (result: we got the guest checkout that I was determined have and guess what, less than 10% of our customers use the customer accounts that the web-developer assured me was the right way to go) and ongoing issues with various bits of back-end functionality (result: we can’t offer coupons code discounts at the moment but did get the site upgraded to latest version of OpenCart for free and still haven’t paid the final 10% of the original contract or signed a long-term maintenance contract) we do now have a good looking, largely robust and functional website. We are fortunate in having very strong technical expertise in-house, albeit with limited availability – I have no idea how we would have managed without that expertise.

    We have come to the conclusion that web-site designers come in 3 different flavours: 1) graphic designers who have branched out into websites – the end result is good looking website, iffy functionality and limited digital marketing science applied; 2) the techies types who produce websites with great functionality, in fact probably more than necessary but which look like they are straight out of the box (which indeed they are), again with limited thought about the digital marketing side of things; 3) marketing agencies – these websites are usually much stronger on the digital marketing side of things, but are let down by the business functionality – they understand branding and will often bring in external graphic design expertise. There is a 4th category of larger agencies that either consciously or unconsciously attempt to combine the above, but not surprisingly these tend to be more expensive

    More by luck than judgment, we ended up with the graphic designer type – which worked out okay as we have the technical skills to ask the right questions (and in some cases – provided the solution) and are getting to grips with the digital marketing side of things. If you are thinking of commissioning a website – make sure you know which type of agency you are talking and how your own skill set fits in with theirs. And make sure you test your assumptions with, and get verbal references from, existing customers who have similar buying power to you.

  2. Oh Tracet, I had no idea that you had been going through all of this. Which goes to show how professional, focused & what a good business woman you are.

    Business aside I can most definitely vouch for your passion and dedication and i know you will and I quote ‘move forward and build the bras4mums business up again using all my business knowledge and experience to support pregnant and breastfeeding women with a well stocked website that’s easy to use’.
    Your support (excuse the pun) for women: breastfeeding; maternity; post-op; elderly has been 2nd to none and from the days of allowing women to come to your home and try out the perfect fit in your dining room, you have over the years built a great business with trust and re-assurance that has led people to know they are safe in your hands. You can’t buy this kind of recommendation – it comes with years of hard work and being true to your customers needs.
    If I may suggest a small tip. The Chorley & Leyland branch of NCT is currently very strong in support and has very good numbers at sessions. They too have experienced problems in recent previous years due to admin changes, but the response to this from branch level has had a fantastic effect with the Bumps & Babes in particular. As you did with us, they need your support and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to them.
    You’re good at what you do – don’t let go of that thought.

    Best Wishes for a fabulous 2013 xXx

  3. Thanks Jae. I know I’m not alone in having a tough time, but sometimes it helps to learn from others “what not to do”! I agree there are different types and you need to understand your own capabilities. It’s also important to know what the limitations are in ‘off the shelf’ packages and whether you can live with that for now, or if you need a custom made site.

    I’m thinking of doing a small series on business matters like this. Do you fancy doing a guest post for the series?

  4. Thank you so much Lynne, I appreciate your support. It’s difficult to know when to tell the world that you’re experiencing problems but you’re doing your best, or to, in a sense, ignore it & carry on. I know that our reputation has been damaged over this time, but when it’s the technical stuff that’s letting you down, as a small business you don’t always have a lot of choice. I’m really looking forward to 2013 now it’s all behind me. And thank you for the tip off. We’ll get in touch with the group and offer our services again.

  5. I figured as we were talking about this via twitter, I’d come here and make a comment. For others who have not seen our conversation on twitter, you wondered if I, with my PR hat on, would have suggested that you should not have shared this update.

    As a PR, you have a huge opportunity here – you should take this blog and your entire online social presence and ask for help – you have helped so many different people over the years, that there is a long list of people who “owe you one”.

    Right now, it’s a great time to ask people to help you out by sharing news of your website which is now within your control and ask for help in taking it forward. Ask for ambassadors, online contributions and take 1 January 2013 as a ground zero and start your comms and PR all over again. With the site and the business as a phoenix rising from the ashes. With you at the helm. You’ve got a great story and a sizeable community of supporters and influencers so make use of them.

    I’ll be at the front of the queue to help you with this, because as I’ve said to you on many occasions, if anyone can make it work, it’s you. Go for it.

  6. Wow! thank you. I hadn’t thought of it in any of those terms, but you’re right. With the energy I can now put into the business, (instead of worrying about what might happen), 1st January 2013 is an exciting date to look forward to & 31st December 2013 will be an even more welcome date with a whole year of development and progression behind me! Thanks for the push.

  7. Wow. That’s pretty horrific all round. I hope you can do as Liz says and use it to your advantage from here.

  8. I had no idea what you’ve been going through and it sounds a complete nightmare. Sadly, I’ve heard many stories from small business owners of web developers not doing what they promised, or even finishing the project at all. But having survived this experience I’m sure you can achieve great things in 2013 and beyond.

  9. Have a look at this – good idea?

  10. Thanks Helen. It’s certainly been quite a journey! Fortunately my family & friends and close business colleagues have been wonderful. We are where we are and now’s the time to move on.

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