Monday, June 18 , 2018, 2:57 pm | Fair 69º


Paul Burri: When You’re a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail

Someone once told me that if I knew someone who was a bricklayer, the chances were extremely high that he had a brick wall around his house. It was also a pretty safe bet that he had a brick patio, a brick fireplace, a brick barbecue — and maybe even a brick commode.

Chances are also pretty good that if you are a chiropractor, you will look at most ailments as being curable by means of an “adjustment.” When we have a talent or a skill in a particular field, it is highly likely that we solve almost all of our problems with that talent as a starting point. Thus the aphorism, “When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I have been having an ongoing criticism of the latest marketing misconception — especially prevalent among new start-up businesses. Frequently, the first advice these people get is, “Create your own website so that people will see what you are offering.” What follows is that the person spends money to have a website designed and installed on the Internet. Then he or she sits back and waits for the phone to ring.

I want to make it clear from the start that I believe in having a website.

I also believe that the positioning or ranking of one’s website is important. What is the point of having a website if you are on page 47 of a Google search where no one will see you? Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the “science” of improving the ranking of one’s website, and there are literally thousands of companies willing and able to do that. (I often wonder if all of them are on page one of a Google search.)

But I think the first thing that should be considered when someone is considering a new business is the feasibility of that business idea. If someone were to ask my opinion about the feasibility of, say, an anvil repair business or an ostrich grooming service, I probably wouldn’t be too optimistic. I seriously doubt that there are too many customers who have an anvil that needs to be repaired. Ditto about people who need to have their ostrich groomed or manicured.

So if I’m right about that, perhaps spending money on an anvil repair web site may not be a great idea - not to mention buying equipment and renting a storefront. Worse yet would be spending more money on SEO to ensure that the website was on page one of a Google search. If there is no need for the service or product, how will its great ranking on the top of page one do any good?

Recently I had the privilege to sit in on a counseling session between a local SEO expert and a client who owns a business that provides a technical inspection service doing somewhat arcane testing for various environmental hazards. It is an important service, especially in the construction of new buildings, and in many cases it is required by real estate law. But it is a service that is used only by homeowners when certain rare environmental problems seem to be occurring. If so, testing and subsequent mitigation may be required.

Not surprisingly, the SEO expert’s primary advice was that the client’s site needed work to improve its ranking. (Keep in mind the hammer/nail aphorism.) Also, remember here that I agree that ranking (or SEO) is important. My problem with the advice was that there was little or no concern about the content of the client’s site. The expert even said at one point, “The only thing I care about is ranking.” I should mention here that, in my opinion, the site needed work to improve its attractiveness, its readability and its focus.

Then, near the end of the consultation, the SEO expert, in answer to the client’s question, recommended that the use of Groupon be seriously considered.

Here’s my understanding of Groupon and how it works. A business offers a discount coupon for something it is selling or promoting, and there is a tie-in with groups such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or any of the other social media groups with the hope that those people will forward the coupon to their friends and that the offer will “go viral.” To me, that’s a great idea if you are a restaurant, a night club, a specialty clothing store, a day spa or a yoga studio, just to name a few. But a Groupon for a highly specialized, technical service that is surely not an impulse sort of purchase? Apparently in the mind of this particular SEO expert, if Groupon works, it works for everything.

Therefore, I submit a few other Groupons that should also work:

This week only!
Funerals at a discount.
Buy one, get one free.
Let’s go viral with this!

This week’s Groupon special
Anvil repair
15% off

20% off to all Groupees
Come in today for a free consultation

Special this week only
Condom repair while you wait
100% money-back guarantee

Etc, etc, etc. I repeat: When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @BronxPaul, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >