Alex Turnwall designer + developer
Design, Tech & Business

Cold calls and outsourced web design

I hate spam. I hate spammers. I hate getting emails for viagra, canadian meds, and opportunities to embezzle millions in foreign currency. I hate these things almost as much as my dad hated getting telemarketing calls when he “just sat down” at the pre-cellphone era dinner table.

You know what’s worse? People cold calling specifically to offer you the same service you offer someone else. There’s nothing worse than a B2B cold call from somebody who hasn’t done their research (and these days, there is no excuse not to do your research!) My contact information is all over the internet. It’s part of owning your own business. You know what else is on the internet? Stuff that describes what I do, what my business does, and who we do it for. A whole site devoted to it, actually.

So if you have the ability to find my contact information, I know you have the ability to find my “about” page. It’s there for a reason.

Of all of the unrecognized and unlisted cold calls I’ve picked up over the years of business ownership—one continues to baffle me.

Talking to a wall

The person on the other line whose name is “David” speaks professionally in a heavy Indian accent and tries to offer me web design and development services.

That bears repeating.

He tries to offer ME web design and development services. Specifically, he wants to redesign my website and throw in an email blast.


That’s what we do! Can you not tell from the site you’d like to redesign for us? Did you even look at it?

I can’t just hang up on him. I feel sort of bad for him actually—after all, he does have a legitimate business (I Googled it as soon as he introduced himself) and he’s just trying to make an honest buck. His job probably sucks, so I feel like I should be nice. Give him the time of day, at least.

My mistake.

I politely explain that this is what I do, and he is, in fact, my competitor. Then…

“Ohhhh, no, no, no. Okay, okay. Well maybe you would like to partner with us. We do development for you in India. Very Cheap. We make website for you starting at thirty nine dollar.”

$39. For a whole website.

No, I’m sorry. I’m not interested in that. We do our development in house and everything is completely customized.

“Okay, I understand sir. But perhaps you misunderstand me. We do development for cheap. We even design for you. And if you’d like, we handle the client for you as well.”

Uh huh. (Please excuse the potentially insulting-sounding Indian narratives. I swear they faithfully represent the conversations I had. [Sigh.])

“Yes. We start with simple project and see how we work there.”

So, what exactly would I be doing?

“You pay us, sir—we do everything.”

I’m sorry, I’m not interested, that doesn’t exactly fit our business model.

“Oh no, that’s okay. We’ll just find a small project to start with so we work together. Small project to start.”

No, I’m sorry.

“Okay, okay. Do you need the Photoshop files done?”

• • •

This goes on for a while. Painfully. In circles. After I lost the patience to deal with him, I had to say it more forcefully, but the call finally ended with “we’re just not interested right now. I have a meeting to get to. (I didn’t). I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Okay sir, very good. I’ll follow up with an email and send you samples.”


Repeat Offender

Well, not fine, really—the same conversation happened on four (four!) subsequent calls, each shorter with my frustration escalating faster. Every time the call comes in, it’s from a different number that looks like a local area code. “David” has also started sending me followup emails.

The fourth and last call to date started and ended with my little tirade:

“Listen. We offer the same services as you. We do it better than you. Most of the work in your portfolio looks like it was designed by one of the freshmen in my web design course that got a D. The fact that you keep calling to offer me your services means you don’t understand a thing about adding value in this industry and you are wasting my time and yours. It shows me that you have not even bothered to read my website. This has nothing to do with outsourcing, this has to do with quality. Please do not call or email me again.”

Instead of hanging up immediately, I waited. Silence. Then,

“Okay, sir… let me just point out one more…”


I’d had enough. I hate to do it, but I just hung up on him and thought out loud, “should’ve done that the first time.”

• • •

Let me just step back and point something out. This company was able to find my contact information, presumably from my website. They went there and got both my phone number and my generic contact email. I’m not sure how they found us, but they clearly didn’t actually read our site prior to the call.

Then, after I told them we were actually competitors, “David” was smart enough to pivot and offer to partner with me.

I was frustrated that “David” was wasting my time and his, again and again. I was frustrated that “David” couldn’t understand from the messaging on our site and the work in out portfolio that our brand of design was superior to his one-off replicas of what good design could be. I was frankly insulted that he thought the caliber of our work was so low that his work would pass for our clients.

And then it hit me. I’m an jerk. Am I a jerk?

I’m a jerk.

I mean, I’m not going to come out and say we’re the best of the best and everything we do is award-worthy. It’s not. But really—their portfolio was bad. I had to go look again to reassure myself. And in doing so, I realized something. Yeah, they didn’t pay attention to the details. They blindly followed trends. Their type treatments were just plain bad. But you know what? We had some strikingly similar overall layouts in our own work.

That was unsettling.

Here was this over-seas, bottom-dollar company blindly following trends and clearly doing zero research to understand what clients needed. And their work was… well, “trendy” and only half-bad. (Okay mostly bad.) But I could see how some marginally better firm could offer a trendy, decent site. For marginally more than 39 dollars.

Let’s go back to what I told “David” about “adding value”. Damn.

Although they were wasting my time because they didn’t do their research (and didn’t take no for an answer the first three times), maybe they actually can provide a valuable service for the right client.

That is also unsettling. We like to think we—the proverbial “we” in this case—designers with formal training, with our processes and strategy, are the only bearers of value in the industry.

Uh-oh. Is there a lesson here? Trends are okay? Trends are bad? Hope to God that your clients don’t get a call from an Indian design business?

Perhaps we need to realize that we are in fact not the right fit for every client. If this Indian design firm is going to offer a website for $39, who am I to tell a struggling mom-and-pop shop that’s not good value? Perhaps the value added here—any website at all—is the appropriate one.

Automation, outsourcing and commodification

As Daniel Pink recognized in A Whole New World: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, any job that can be done by a computer will eventually become automated. And in the interim, low-skill, low-pay workers will take it from you. We’ve seen this happen in manufacturing, shipping, construction. Pink suggests that designers and other “right-brainers” are somehow removed from these inroads, as creative tasks are harder to automate.

But the reality is, we’re not. We’re already seeing computer programs replacing writers. Where there is profit to be had, companies are always going to try to automate services, and yes, this has been happening on the web for years. There are tons of themes out there and customizable pre-designed website services. They’re not for everyone, but they are right for some people. We need to learn from this truth.

How long will it be before computers can simply automate the design process given certain parameters?

I knew this before “David”, but somehow, he hammered the proverbial nail home and serves as a prescient reminder.

If you want to stand out, you need to make sure you rise above the trends, the themes, and the out-right knock offs. Because if you’re good enough to do this, you’ll be providing the right kind of design for the right audience, hopefully at the right price for you any your clients.

So thank you, “David” for you calls. If you happen to actually read my website this time, please don’t call again.

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