opinion

Paysite Power: Ending the Blame Game

A.J. Hall

May marked the 15-year anniversary of my start in the adult industry. A lot has certainly changed since then.

I recall the first shows I ever went to and how important networking was, how important posting on message boards was, and how this was the advice doled out to newbies to the online industry.

Fifteen years ago, people cared. They dug in and worked and you saw very little of the blame game and the cry-baby bullshit that permeates to the core of our industry today.

What was missing and still is missing was the biggest piece of advice someone could give then and now — you have to care.

You have to give a shit in order to be truly successful.

Caring means taking responsibility. A business is much like a garden. The garden itself needs tending but so do the elements required to maintain the garden and keep it producing. If you can’t water your garden because you failed to pay your water bill and the water company shut you off, who’s to blame?

Some adult webmasters and site owners would answer the above question by saying it’s the fault of the water company. After all, they may have been late or missed payments but if the water company had given them more warnings or done something differently, they would have paid before their water was shutoff. And how dare the water company shut them off anyway! Don’t they realize the garden is so important?

Anyone with half a brain can conclude that if the garden was so important, the water bill would have been paid.

Everything is someone else’s fault. I can image millions of years ago there were a bunch of cavemen standing around moaning about how the dinosaur ate their lunch because they were too stupid to go hide in the cave when they saw it coming a mile away.

One of the most unfortunate parts of my job is having to gently remind people that while I value their business, if they go out of business, to them it’s the loss of their business — but to me as a vendor, it’s a loss in revenue I’m never going to feel. Their catastrophic life event translates on my end to us checking a box on a web page and never thinking about it again. Their failure isn’t going to affect us on a whole. It’s harsh, but it’s reality.

Just as me canceling my cell service with AT&T isn’t going to matter to them. And just as me failing to water my backyard garden isn’t going to result in global starvation.

Our businesses are our own responsibility. The harsh reality is that as much as we want to have someone else to blame, not everything is someone else’s fault. Usually, things that go wrong are our own fault. This is especially true in business.

Inevitably, a customer of mine will be pissed off at me or their web host or whoever it is that’s locked them out or shut them off or isn’t delivering whatever they need.

A few years ago we had a customer who was always difficult to deal with but it went over the top when he submitted a support ticket claiming the out of the box design the CMS came with was causing his site to lose sales. He had convinced himself that because his site lacked a couple of aesthetic design features he felt he needed, his site was no longer selling.

There was no arguing around it so instead, we made a private bet. I bet my business partner (loser bought lunch) that if I made the design changes for him, I bet he would still be out of business within six months. I lost the bet. It took him nine months to go out of business only then when he finally did, it was his own fault and not ours. He still had a list of people to blame ... but lucky for us we were no longer on it. It’s always some else’s fault.

I once had a woman call me frantic because her server was shut off and she was furious with her hosting company and was going to post on boards and call a lawyer and threaten to sue them. I told her to calm down and explain what happened. She said she just got her first bill and it was for $2,000. I said “Wow, that’s a pretty big surprise bill.”

She then told me how upset she was that the company had waited six months to bill her and all that time she had no idea she had to pay for her hosting service. I said, “Wait, so you’re telling me you signed up for a monthly service with them and in six months you haven’t paid once?” at which point she calmed down and at my suggestion, called her host and worked out a payment plan and had her server back online within a few minutes. It’s always some else’s fault.

My favorite is one customer we have who can never pay on time and always asks for an extension, sometimes going a month behind on payments, then when his automated software license expires for nonpayment, gets angry at us. He’s gone so far as to tell me I should personally contact him to make sure he pays before this happens (when he’s already a month behind) and that it’s poor customer service to allow his software to shut off even if he doesn’t pay his bill. It’s always some else’s fault.

A couple weeks ago I spoke to someone who told me he didn’t want to sell memberships because piracy was killing his business. I told him piracy wasn’t killing him, the amount of free, easily accessible content similar to his was killing him. Then he told me because piracy was ruining him, he was going to make his paysite into a free site to promote cam shows instead of content sales. It’s always some else’s fault. It’s just easier that way.

In all of the above cases, there was no valid response I could give. It was going to be our fault (or someone else’s) no matter that we had zero role in whatever was going wrong. What every scenario has in common is that it’s always just a matter of time before that customer goes out of business.

The reason is never the stuff they bitch about but that their lack of accountability means they don’t care enough about their business to take the steps to ensure that it’s running smoothly. They fail to pull the weeds and water their garden and then when everything is dead or dying they blame someone else.

Those who are the most successful don’t do this. They’re honest when someone else is at fault or when they’re at fault. They apologize if they’re wrong. They don’t act like assholes or behave like children and expect business to business vendors to act like their mommy. They act like grownups. They act like business owners.

Caring means making sure your garden is attended to and that whatever resources you need are kept in stock.

Pay your bills. Pay them on time. Take stock of things regularly and make calendar entries or set reminders or whatever you need to do to remind you. Look at your site, your server storage and bandwidth levels, send a quick email to your host or CMS vendor or biller or anyone else you use on a month to month basis to check in and ask what’s new, if anything better (or cheaper) is available, etc.

Think of your paysite like your health, your car or your garden. If you don’t take care of it and maintain it, it will eventually break down.

Fertilize and water your garden and pull weeds once in a while and chances are good it will keep producing forever.

AJ Hall is a 15-year adult industry veteran and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and written for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won the 2012, 2014 and 2015 XBIZ Award for Software Company of the Year.

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