More threads by Jared


Dec 28, 2015
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I have a dilemma involving a not-so-original model. Naturally, I thought to ask you brilliant people. Basically, the model is this:

  • Find prospects without websites.
  • Build them a website as a part of your offer.
  • Allow them to use the website as long as their client.

Essentially, you're leasing the website as a means of keeping them locked in as a monthly retainer. If they choose to walk away--which they're free to at any point (no contracts)--I simply repurpose the site for a new client.

I like this idea because it seems to me it has huge scalable potential. Once your client's site is where it needs to be, it's mostly a matter of maintenance.

On the other hand, I do wonder if it's not unethical. Sure, you're still providing value, but you're not spending hour after hour on the client each and every month. It feels like I wouldn't "deserve" their money.

Have any of you ever tried this method?

If yes, are clients happy with it? If no, would you ever consider it?

I think the workflow with the local SEO is interesting, since there's definitely a lot more work required some months than others. Once they're ranking well, the website's set up properly, and so on, a big chunk of what you're doing for them is just keeping an eye on citation constancy, ranking stability, etc. and continuing the ongoing hunt for backlinks (if you do that as part of your service) and so on.

Personally I think it's hugely valuable for a business owner to not only have someone keeping an eye on things, but someone knowledgeable enough to throw down when something unexpected does come up. In a way, it's really no different than having a lawyer on retainer. Especially when you consider the potential costs of a busy business owner not even noticing that rankings have tanked until it's already two weeks in the past, I don't think you need to apologize or make up for the fact that some months you've just got more hourly work than others.

That's just my two cents though. I know Linda at least (if I remember right?) leaned more towards lump sum up front for an overhaul, and then letting them come back for a touch up later on if they ended up needing one again down the road. There's a lot of models you can build a business around. Either way, I think giving access to tools that the business owner doesn't want to buy themselves as long as they're in business with you is more than acceptable.

A much bigger problem though... your idea reminds me of a joke I heard once.

A long time ago, two cobblers go to Africa to see if there might be a new market for shoes there. The first one comes back, his wife asks him how it went. The cobbler says "Amazing! There's a huge demand, every single person I saw could use a pair!"

The second cobbler comes back, his wife asks him how it went. "Terrible!" he says. "Turns out in Africa, no one wears shoes!"

If a business owner doesn't care enough to invest even enough to get a crappy website up... is it because he was waiting for someone to help him? Or because he's not interested in spending money on marketing in the first place? I personally think you're always better off approaching people who aren't showing well, but ARE spending money elsewhere (adwords, print ads, direct mail, etc.) but I'm sure the right salesman could close deals with the group you're talking about too. I just personally prefer working with people that are already inclined to spend money on advertising, and would love to find someone they could trust to really knock it out of the park for them in another arena too.

All that said, you could test out your idea tomorrow if you feel like it. No harm in spending an hour or two cold calling, see what people have to say and how it goes. Fail fast and move on, or get some bites and sink your teeth in.
So long as you made it absolutely clear to the client that they were only renting, not owning, then it may be ethical.

Whether or not it's a viable approach, well, that depends on a lot of factors.

There is a competitor in one segment of my market niche who does exactly what you're asking about. They never really point out that the clients are only renting, not owning, and they are very successful at growing their business that way.

One other tactic that the competitor employs is that they use a template-based approach with all the clients' sites looking the same, and all employing virtually all duplicate content. Partly because of that, they charge a relatively low monthly fee for their "service".

I've competed against that competitor a few times. The competitor has usually, though not always, won. That has been in cases where the client is a very, very small business, a sole practitioner in a field in which a lot of nurses and social workers get started by doing consulting work while they still work at their "real" jobs. They usually have no budget and really only can afford an "online brochure" they can send prospects to look at online.

That's not a market that's very important to me, so I don't care much. That competitor is charging a few hundred dollars a month, and I'm charging a relatively smaller number of clients more than ten times as much.

I have written a few times about this competitor (see Do You Really Own Your Elder Care Website? and The SEO Problem With Elder Care Online Directories), without naming them. But when a brand new prospective client enters a field with no money to spare, they often go for the least expensive choice and then have no real precise way to measure results.

Sooner or later they may either fail and leave the market, or perhaps come to learn that they are only renting, and in fact in many cases they're helping to build the competitor's brand rather than their own. Then, they sometimes come to me and I welcome them. On my terms, though.

Your mileage may vary.
I would never do this. There are lots of SEO companies out there that use this approach and they all have terrible reputations. Business owners would not be okay with paying someone for something for years and then the moment they cancel it's taken away from them. It feels like making car payments for 3 years and then at the end having the dealership take the car back.

The reason why this isn't the same as the concept of "leasing" a car is because when you take it back or even give it to a competitor, it would tank their ranking on Google and cause them huge headaches if the site was linked to anywhere.

I have always kept the approach that what the customer pays me for is theirs, even if the relationship between us ends.
I agree with Joy. Business owners are smart people and have more than enough on their plate. If you help them check one more thing off their to-do list, they will keep paying you. Your strategy communicates a win-lose proposition and no client with a foresight would agree to that.

Theoretically speaking, if you're able to sell your business model to clients I'd strongly suggest a domain name buy-out agreement. Similar to a car lease in which one sets a pre-determined purchase price after depreciation, you can negotiate a domain name buy-out price after appreciation (of business growth) based on a percentage of revenue/profit. This approach seems more ethical to most in that it can be seen as a partnership (you provide the website and online marketing while the business owner does what he/she does). When he or she decides to end the business partnership, you need to be bought out.

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