The 1989 film Field of Dreams is often misquoted (it’s actually “he will come”) in an attempt to convince budding entrepreneurs to convert their ideas into reality. But one of the lessons many new business owners will have to learn, and one which is not frequently discussed, is dealing with abuse.
We’re not talking about rude emails, complaints, and people bad-mouthing your brand on forums – though that’s quite likely to happen, given the perceived anonymity of Internet discussions. We’re talking about those people who will join your site and find ways to game the system.
Surprisingly, almost every site in the world is open to system abuse. It’s often a direct result of the “customer is king” attitude business owners adopt to be successful. For example, a client buys something, decides they don’t want it, and expects a full refund, often leaving the business out of pocket. Most business owners write off such losses as a cost of reputation management – by paying out without arguing, they prevent any negative publicity from that customer.
However, there’s another kind of abuse that you need to be aware of if you’re setting up any kind of paid work site. It’s a systematic abuse from people who are desperate to earn money online, usually from home.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with most teleworkers. There are millions of WAHMs, half-hoggers, freelancers, and other enthusiastic individuals who look to the Internet as a source of income. Typically, these people are hopeful of decent returns on their investment of time and energy, and are grateful when they find a site that offers money in exchange for effort. They’re honest, hard-working, and a real asset to the sites they use.
However, there is a group of online earners who believe they are entitled to piles of cash in exchange for as little effort as possible. They’re often the people who believed all those “get rich quick” schemes, who trusted that PTCs would generate thousands of dollars while they slept, who honestly thought the affiliate marketing blog that they ran for two weeks would make them a millionaire.
Disappointment followed painfully on the coattails of their (usually short-lived) efforts, and now they’re looking for easy money because, deep down, they still believe the hype. They’ve never really accepted that, as the saying goes, “the only place money comes before work is in the dictionary.”
These people typically spend their time skipping from one site to another, scouring forums and “make money online” blogs to find the Next Big Thing. Then they sign up, find the loophole in your carefully constructed business model and exploit it as quickly and as frequently as they can, grabbing as much money as possible.
The end result? They suck your business dry, and leave you bankrupt.
It can be a simple oversight, like the one that virtually destroyed the incredibly popular content site, Bubblews. Their original business model assigned a fixed value to each page view, comment and Facebook Like – a seemingly innocuous choice, but one which failed to consider how easy it is to get page views and comments. As word spread of high payments for very little work (400 characters minimum per post, which is about 80 words), the bottom-dwellers emerged and began exploiting the setup.
It was amazingly simple to post a short entry which was complete rubbish, then generate traffic to it. Redirect some traffic exchange visitors, post links on a bunch of sites, pay pennies to show the page as a pop-under ad on popular CPM networks… the possibilities are endless. Bubblews quickly felt the sting of a flawed business model, shut down payments, and hastily tried to fix things for the honest folks.
We ran into similar trouble ourselves on PenStars’ sister site, WriteLearnEarn. The “fast sale” system was designed to allow all members to pre-sell their content. Again, an innocuous option – an ideal way to get a little bit of cash if you don’t want to wait for your work to sell. But word got around that WLE was the only site offering up-front payments, and the bottom-dwellers rose to the attack!
Suddenly, the WLE queue was filled with junk. People all over the world were writing complete rubbish, submitting it with no care for the quality rating it received, then cashing out as quickly as possible. The site was left with a huge pile of festering crap to rewrite – and a huge hole in the bank account. WLE had become an ATM machine for unscrupulous scumbags.
The difficulty for entrepreneurs is spotting the loophole and closing it quickly, before the leeches kill the site. If you have a devious mind, you may be able to spot the holes in your system before it goes live, but if you’re more of a trusting soul, you’ll need to keep an eye on things.
Our advice? Ideally, create a business model that ensures you get paid before you pay out. And don’t be afraid to clamp down hard on abuse, but keep your members informed of what you’re doing and why. Honest workers will stick around if you’re fixing the system, but not if you give them the silent treatment!