Google’s free website program doesn’t help everyone

I posted brief rants about the Texas Get Your Business Online (TGYBO) initiative yesterday on Facebook and Twitter, but that wasn’t particularly satisfying, so I want to continue the rant here. After all, anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Here’s a quick refresher. TGYBO provides free websites and hosting (for a year) to small businesses in Texas. It’s a joint initiative spearheaded by Google and software company Intuit, and a number of national and state business advocacy groups. The FAQ on the above-linked website includes this blurb about why this is happening:

Small businesses are vital to America’s economic future; the nation’s 27.5M small businesses comprise half the US GDP and create two-thirds of all new jobs. Although 97% of consumers look online for local products and services, 51% of Texan small businesses do not have a website or online presence. This makes them invisible to many potential customers.

Sounds like a commendable program, doesn’t it? And it probably is, unless you’re a small business that’s trying to generate income by building websites for paying customers, in which case this initiative has the potential to, well, put you out of business.

The reality is that small businesses and nonprofit organizations are the bread-and-butter of most web designers. I’ve never had a Fortune 500 client and never will. That’s not all bad, but it does mean that I generate income via volume: creating a lot of small websites that individually don’t amount to much money, but with luck might add up to a living wage (and even that goal remains elusive). So you can see why an initiative like this by a gazillion-dollar company like Google might cause a disturbance in the Web Design Force.

I have a couple of suggestions for Google. If you’re so dead set on helping small businesses, why not just give each qualifying business a $300 (or $500 or whatever amount) voucher to be used to hire a local web designer to help get the business online? Not only do you not put a market segment out of business, but you also connect the client with someone local who understands and actually cares about the client’s business. What a concept!

Or, Google, how about giving small businesses free advertising via your AdWords program for a year? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Doesn’t feel so good, does it?

I have no idea whether this program will actually affect my business. It’s not as if there aren’t a hundred different do-it-yourself website programs out there now; every large hosting company offers them. I still believe that most small businesses want to work with someone local, and also subscribe to the theory that you get what you pay for.

If nothing else, this demonstrates that there are unintended consequences to almost any program that’s designed to give something for nothing. This one just hits a little closer to home than most.