Warning: Dubious Web Industry “Regulator” Selling Questionable Business Leads

Web developers are being ripped off by a self proclaimed industry regulator who also happen to sell dubious business leads. This report proves beyond reasonable doubt that the offending company must be stopped, shamed and sanctioned.

Research by the money advice service suggests there are 8 scam phone calls generated every second and two thirds of us have received a suspicious call in the last 12 months.

My own experience began in 2015 when I received emails from a web development business lead generating company calling itself the IWDRO and claiming to be an industry regulator.

For a yearly fee I could join the Internet and Website Development Regulatory Office to display their prestigious badge on my site as a way of demonstrating a supposed level of skill or compliance.

Suspicious, I did a little research and discovered things that didn’t seem quite right.

Edit: As of 17th November 2016, the IWDRO have begun making alterations to their site. Some of the screen captures in this article will appear inconsistent with how their site looks presently.

Chapters

  1. The Web Profession Has No Official Regulator
  2. YouTube Video Claims
  3. A Regulator Selling Job Leads?
  4. First Telephone Approach
  5. Second Telephone Approach
  6. Bold Claims and Nice Layout Are Not Enough
  7. What is the Quality of the Leads?
  8. Anyone Can Post a Lead!
  9. A Web of Deceit?
  10. What Current and Former Members Said
  11. The Membership is Falsely Represented
  12. The Legal Consequences of This Post?
  13. Third Telephone Approach
  14. IWDRO Get Rattled
  15. So… Is There a Legitimate Web Dev Association?
  16. What’s The Real Problem Here?
  17. Reporting Nuisance Calls and Messages
  18. Reporting a Scam

1) The Web Profession Has No Official Regulator

Because the web industry is not unified, anyone can set up as a supposed trade association and recruit members. The website development industry has no regulator, unlike doctors, lawyers and architects, to name just a few examples.

It’s misleading and tantamount to false advertising to call up businesses and make a paid membership value proposition under the pretext of having authority over an industry.

Granted, it’s up to businesses to do their own research before joining, but when persistent marketing practices combine with nefarious intentions it’s harder to say “no”.

This appears to be the case with the IWDRO since a cursory glance at the members section of their website boasts a roster of supposed digital talent. Do all those listed businesses honestly think they’re affiliated with an official trade body?

IWDRO appear to straddle the fence with the use of the word “regulator”. Sometimes they say they regulate their members, other times (like on their YouTube channel) they say they regulate the industry.

A business joining an association should be audited to ensure they’re upholding officially recognised standards. From what I can tell, that is not the case because it seems anyone with money to spend is accepted into this pay to play system which also sells job leads.

More on that soon, but first…

“Regulator” Is Supposed to Mean Something

The blogger who wrote this critical post got on a VoIP call with me and said he knows of a few local web businesses who are IWDRO members, but the quality of their work is shockingly bad and certainly does little to uphold basic quality standards.

What exactly is being regulated then? There are plenty of examples of real regulators with vested authority and a specific mandate for any given industry.

The Society of British Neurological Surgeons, formed in 1926, is not endorsing any old physician but controls its industry, publishes the British Journal of Neurosurgery and holds doctors accountable.

Similarly, the General Medical Council can have doctors struck off for professional misconduct.

Another example is that of The Law Society of England Wales, founded in 1823 to raise the reputation of the industry, set better standards and initiate proceedings against dishonest practitioners.

You might had heard about the shamed solicitor Mark Small and the subsequent ruling from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

I have clients who are part of trade or product associations in which their work is insured and backed by guarantees. Some of my clients are FENSA registered (Fenestration Self Assessment Scheme) and is trusted by consumers, Local Authorities, the industry and Government.

Unfortunately for the IWDRO, peddling flimflam with words such as opportunity, potential, integrity, credibility, ethics, methodologies and transparency just doesn’t cut it. All they can do is kick you out of their club if they receive a complaint, and ostracisation is unlikely because they make money selling annual memberships!

Seriously. Don’t join a fake web industry body to get a membership badge.

Here’s why.

Posing as a Regulator is Illegal Under UK Company Law

The IWDRO have registered their company name as an acronym because the “R” stands for Regulatory. Using the word “Regulatory” is forbidden under UK company law and they seem to have done their homework. Let this be a warning to businesses who may encounter claims of industry approval.

Under the advice from a concerned fellow Twitter user I looked at a UK government publication on company incorporation and the words/terms you can/cannot use in a Company name.

It’s a long PDF document so I took a screenshot of the part you should look at:

(Click thumbnail for larger view)

Use of Phrase “Regulatory” or “Regulator”

The meta description of the website says “IWDRO is a professional membership organisation for the Web Design, Web Development, SEO & Digital Service Sector committed to providing a platform for members to compete in a professional and ethical manner.”

So far, so good.

However, the about page meta description says “The IWDRO exercise a Regulatory function, setting standards…” but if you click through to the page the body text mentions being a “regulator” of its own members.

It seems like they’ve attempted to moderate the use of “regulatory” and its implications.

The screenshot below is from September 2016:

If we go further back in time courtesy of the Wayback Machine we’ll see that the wording, specifically “regulator”, is different.

The screenshot below is a cached version from July 2014:

Obviously that passage was adjusted to tip toe around the law and meet their obligations in not misleading people. Sort of.

The footer of the website uses the word “regulatory” on every page of the site:

2) YouTube Video Claims

While researching the company I saw this blog comment in which a particular frame from one of the company’s videos was subject to a sharp observation.

Thanks for posting this, Olly. Agree that lead generation services aren’t (necessarily) a scam; nor are pay-to-use-our-logo advertising schemes.
Still, I suspect that a video claim like this: https://youtu.be/gWWK4vyavfQ?t=21s “…as the UK’s only official regulator overseeing suppliers of web design, web development, SEO and digital services…” would count as a false advertising scam.
“Official” aside (as it doesn’t seem to mean anything in this context), they certainly aren’t the “only” membership organisation for the UK web services providers.

In case the video gets taken down, I’ve made a screenshot of it so there’s no doubt that a direct and unequivocal lie has been told:

If the image doesn’t load, the text in the video says:

“Well, as the UK’s only official regulator overseeing suppliers of web design, web development, SEO, and digital services, we know better than most exactly what a great spec looks like.”

And then there’s this expensive looking but awkward feeling promo video. The embossed stationery is a nice touch:

Watch video on YouTube (Update — They’ve taken it down)

There’s another video in which they blatantly claim to be a “regulator”

Watch video on YouTube (Update — They’ve taken it down)

Fortunately, someone had the foresight to download that video. You can see it here.

3) A Regulator Selling Job Leads?

As mentioned a few minutes ago, I first became aware of this company in 2015. Every few weeks I’d receive emails claiming a Nottingham website development project with a confirmed budget of £5,000 awaited me if only I would become a paid up member of the club.

Once registered, I would be able to pitch on the leads for additional fees. These fees would be calculated on a sliding scale based on the project budget.

These emails were unsolicited and clearly automated, so I marked them as spam.

It didn’t seem worth the effort replying to tell them to remove me from their mailing list, which, by the way, I’d been added to without my expressed permission or consent.

These were my concerns:

  • Why is this company referring to themselves as a regulator?
  • What kind of regulator sells leads?
  • Why was I receiving the same email over the course of many weeks?
  • Were the leads genuine?
  • Could the Nottingham company with a budget of £5k really not find a web developer?

4) First Telephone Approach

Apparently they gave up on email because in spring 2015 I received my first nuisance phone call from a representative of the IWDRO.

The exact month or day on which the call was received is unclear. It might have been February or March.

The caller cheerfully informed me there was a wonderful opportunity to pitch for a web development contract with a Nottingham firm. There was even a confirmed budget of, you guessed it, £5,000.

I made my excuses, asked not to be contacted again and hung up.

5) Second Telephone Approach

On the 24th August 2016 at 12:10pm I received another call from the same outfit.

During the call I was once again told of a Nottingham contract opportunity with a confirmed budget of £5,000. Apparently, it had been recently added.

It was explained to me that the orange dots on their website job listing two other businesses have already placed their bids.

The remaining green dots represented two free slots for other prospective bidders.

Because this call came through to my landline (which runs on Skype) I recorded the conversation for retrospective scrutiny. The third party plugin Evaer is capable of saving date/time stamped Skype conversations to a stereo MP3.

The jist of the conversation was this:

  • All members abide by the “code of conduct”
  • IWDRO is backed by an “international legal firm” called Excello Law
  • IWDRO members can benefit from legal advice at a preferential rate
  • Professional membership (for freelancers) is £155 annually
  • Business membership (for agencies) is £355 annually
  • Corporate membership (for larger organisations) is £655 annually
  • Enterprise membership (for the largest organisations) is £955 annually
  • The professional membership package was being proposed to myself
  • The cost of purchasing a “contract opportunity” is on a sliding scale
  • To “bid” on jobs of £5,000 I would pay £50 each time
  • To “bid” on jobs of £10,000 I would pay £65 each time
  • When a member purchases a “contract opportunity” all the clients’ contact details become available
  • An email alert is sent to members when a new opportunity is available
  • There’s a maximum quota of bidders on the contract opportunities
  • I would be listed in 1 chosen category in the IWDRO Membership Directory
  • Additional category listings are charged at a fee of £45.00 per category
  • I would have access to the full IWDRO Member Benefits package

Here’s a transcript extract of that conversation:

Darren: Okay and what’s the URL of your website?
IWDRO: It’s iwdro.org — Is it just yourself at the agency or do you have a larger team?
Darren: No, it’s just myself.
IWDRO: Okay, well in that case the membership [unclear] … right down for you from the price of £955 for a very large agency to just £155 for a year. For the contract opportunities there price is on a sliding scale, they are not just guaranteed live, there are only a maximum of 4 members to go forward for each one. If you are on the website now actually I can show you the contract opportunities page. If you just go to the second option in the blue bar which is member tools and click Contract Opportunities and then if you just scroll down there and see number 6, that is the Nottinghamshire one, that’s still available, that was updated on Monday. The ones in orange are no longer available, either four members have gone forward for it or less than four have gone forward and we’ve found it to no longer be live, they’ve chosen somebody so of course we can’t keep spaces for sale if the project is no longer live.
Darren: Okay, so going back to the fee structure, if I go to member information, membership, tiers and fees: £155 per annum listed in one chosen category, additional category listings at a fee of £45 per directory, access to the full IWDRO member benefits package. So are there any other fees in addition to that or is that it?
IWDRO: The additional fees would be when you purchased the opportunities themselves, so with that one it’s a £5,000 project opportunity that would be £50, if it’s £10,000 that would be £65, it’s on a sliding scale.
Darren: Okay, so there are going to be quite a few people bidding on a £5,000 project …
IWDRO: It would just be a maximum of four.
Darren: A maximum of four bidders?
IWDRO: Yes we only allow four members to go through for each one, as we find that more than that just affects the value we believe.
Darren: How do you shortlist the bidders?
IWDRO: We send out an email alert to all of our members when we add a new project opportunity to the site and then of course, the members, if they are looking for new business at that time, some just use us for their quiet periods so you can go on take a look at the location and the project type and the budget of course and touch the opportunity to put forward for them. Once four have done that it is no longer available to anyone else, sometimes, it will go up to four on the day it is uploaded, other times, it won’t, for example the Nottinghamshire one went to only 2 members for that one.
Darren: Okay, so I can see it says “Allocation: four, remaining: zero”… that means that the quota has been filled and the project is basically assigned?
IWDRO: Yes it says remaining zero that is because there are no other spaces remaining, we won’t allow any more members to go forward, that’s because the rule is four.
Darren: Okay, so what kind of criteria do I have to meet in order to bid, presumably I need to submit a detailed proposal of some kind.
IWDRO: When you pitch for business, when you purchase the contract opportunity, you’ve got all their contact information and you can approach them however you wish. You can approach them how you normally would unless you want to do something a bit different with the IWDRO link. One thing that we would always recommend is that as soon as you’ve got that info, give them a call on the phone, instead of just an email because then it’s impersonal, discuss the project with them, let them know that you are an IWDRO member when you call because that way, that’s not just to promote us, that’s because they will be expecting your call that way, because when we speak to them, we say “You will be contacted by up to four IWDRO members”.

You can read the full transcript or listen to the conversation using the links below.

Listen to the recording of this call from 24th August 2016

Download call transcript from 24th August 2016 (PDF)

6) Bold Claims and Nice Layout Are Not Enough

According to their membership information page, “Businesses with IWDRO accreditation are recognised throughout the industry as competent, credible and professional service providers.”

It’s such a bold claim, I started doubting my own suspicions.

The website itself is impressive and would easily fool anyone not looking closely enough at the nature of the proposition. There’s analytics dashboards, technical support, dispute management, and an area about pre-vetted qualified leads with design briefs and budgets.

There’s even a little graphic proudly demonstrating they’ve generated almost £6 million of work for bidding members. It’s a smartly dressed organisation.

Their about us page includes spiel about governance and growth of the digital sector with all the mandatory corporate diction.

The code of conduct is a set of standard best practice criteria that any self-respecting business would follow and is therefore not markedly different.

Incredibly, they had the temerity to say “Consumer reports of unsatisfactory products and services are increasing year on year within the sector.”

7) What is the Quality of the Leads?

Either this is an amazingly well executed confidence trick or I’m a stupid, close minded individual missing a fantastic opportunity to do business.

But then I remember the convenient dangling £5,000 carrot from Nottingham; the “lead” that just wouldn’t go away.

Some quick online research revealed others had come a cropper with the IWDRO, and the comments section was telling of what to expect (or what not to expect).

Here’s an example a blog comment. Anecdotal evidence by way of blog comments is not always solid but under the circumstances I’m willing to entertain it:

Hi Olly,
Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been getting a near constant barrage from this lead generating company pretending to be a regulatory body.
I contacted a few of their “customers” to here their side of the things, an example response; “I have paid £500 so far on different leads, not a single one has answered my emails, calls or made any contact with me at all. I wish I didn’t sign up, I have now stopped buying the ‘leads’ as they promise that they are qualified, but out of the 15 I have bought every single one hasn’t answered.“
That coupled with some other responses and your own article was enough to put me off.
Cheers for your article.

I also saw this comment and followed it up by contacting the author:

I can confirm that IWDRO was set up and run in the same small office as The Smart Marketing Group.
They were pretty awful at being a design agency, and they quickly worked out that their lead generation ‘service’ made more money for them. They also take the best leads and pass them onto Smart’s sales team. HANDY.
The majority of staff working at IWDRO are actually Smart Marketing Group employees.
It’s a big money making sham with a shiny face on it.

Once the business model is held up to scrutiny it becomes apparent IWDRO were/are getting money for old rope, or perhaps more accurately, for burning tires.

A maximum quota of say, four bidders, all pay £100 apiece to bid on a questionable job lead and that’s assuming the competing bidders are genuine.

In my phone and email communications, many members said the clients were being contacted by way more than the advertised lead quota, indicating that leads were being sold to more than the officially stated number of bidders.

Granted, clients may have advertised elsewhere yet I was told by one member that leads remained “open” on the IWDRO website even after the member in question contacted them to point out the lead needed to be removed.

Many members signed up to the deal either on faith or under pressure. 99% said they wish they hadn’t.

8) Anyone Can Post a Lead!

How are the leads vetted? How can it be determined if company X really does have the budget they claim to have?

It’s very easy to submit a lead using the website iapproved.org which is associated with IWDRO.

The situation appears to be that companies that are merely fishing for quotes are allowing their contact details to be sold as a lead with a confirmed budget.

How this part of the operation works is unclear so I had someone who has a beef with IWDRO submit a project brief with a made up budget in anticipation of a phone call or email to confirm details.

As of yet, no response has been received which means either this “lead” will be posted straight to the Contract Opportunities part of IWDRO and sold to bidding members without a follow up OR it might mean they’re not taking the bait.

9) A Web of Deceit?

The Smart Marketing & Media Group LTD was incorporated in 2004, 8 years before the IWDRO was incorporated in 2012 and has the same director, one Simon Hubbard.

While there’s nothing wrong with running multiple companies it doesn’t look good when you consider someone operating a self described regulator is involved with law firms as well as web design, development and marketing.

When I was contacted on 24th August 2016, the sales rep told me that Excello Law ensures that the IWDRO is “legally compliant.” Considering that these two companies are run by the same outfit, any promises of legal backing and compliance is worthless assurance.

If you visit the IWDRO website and follow the link in the header to the Excello Law website, the registered address is 5 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1LG, England.

Edit: As of 18th November 2016, the IWDRO have removed the Excello Law logo from their masthead.

Using the Companies House website I found the corresponding Excello Law company profile. Notice the address.

Now look at the Companies House profile for IWDRO and notice that although the registered address is different, they’re obviously in cahoots with Excello Law.

The company directors are all different, of course, but the tell-tale sign is that the address is C/O Excello Law, One Derby Square, Liverpool, England, L2 9XX.

Excello Law was incorporated in 2007, and IWDRO was incorporated 2012, so it seems Excello is the parent company.

Update: As of November 21st 2016, we’ve discovered that IWDRO in association with Excello Law were featured in Web Designer magazine.

Here’s a tweet:

https://twitter.com/WebDevLaw/status/800639117193117696/photo/1

Page 12, issue 239 of Web Designer Magazine. A commercial lawyer, and the company secretary. https://t.co/SzgjA7du6D @SmallBizGeekUK pic.twitter.com/fFlnJrRnog
— Heather Burns (@WebDevLaw) November 21, 2016

And here’s the link to a high res version of the magazine article.

10) What Current and Former Members Said

This was going to involve some research — yes — contacting the listed members and asking then about their experiences.

Of the 30 or so members I phoned, the story seemed to be the same: individuals and agencies took a punt on the idea and paid the annual fee, thinking that all they’d need to do is land one or two “contract opportunities” to cover the cost of membership and the business lead.

On the homepage of the website is a horizontally scrolling carousel of members. I telephoned some of these businesses thinking they had some special status on the site and might be able to say genuinely good things.

One young man told me about the persistent telephone calls from the reps urging a quick sign up. This wasn’t every few months, weeks or days. It was every few hours.

I was dumbfounded. “Why did you sign up?”

“We just wanted to get them off our back”, he said. “Although I really wanted to tell them to eff off! They offered a 50% discount on the membership fee and we took it, but we won’t be renewing.”

Warning: UK company posing as web dev industry regulator & selling low quality business leads Click To Tweet

I spoke to another business who told me they’d spent money on leads and found the quality of these leads was poor and the budgets exaggerated.

The individual agreed to have me record our phone conversation. Here’s a text transcript:

Darren: So you were an IWDRO member and you registered on the 5th June 2015. Is that right?
Former member: Yeah, we did, we registered last year in June, and we were due to renew I think at the end of May 2016. We’d had several issues, most of which were to do with the quality of the leads, which were poor. Also we had some subscription problems, our subscription kept getting cancelled, periodically, during the year for some reason, due to an administration error, and were actually missing leads a good deal of the time as well. But in general terms, the leads just seemed to be conversations that somebody had with a company, and the budgets also I think were a bit manipulated because a lot of the people didn’t have any idea about what it would cost to put a website together and I think it was sort of planted by the IWDRO as a budget.
Darren: Right.
Former member: That’s the impression I got.
Darren: So would it be reasonable to say that they’re operating a racket?
Former member: Well I’m not so sure it’s a racket. I think it’s a business that they’ve tried but I think they’ve got the wrong model. I think it’s obviously a very heavy, hard sell, and they call them leads but I wouldn’t even call them leads, really.
Darren: Okay.
Former member: I would just call them people they’ve contacted and squeezed some information out of them.
Darren: Okay. Are you aware of what the acronym IWDRO stands for?
Former member: I do but not off the top of my head.
Darren: Well I’ll tell you, it’s Internet and Web Development Regulatory Office. They say they regulate their members but they have a YouTube video on their YouTube channel which says they are the UK’s only regulator which is an unequivocal lie because that is giving a false impression and that’s tantamount to false advertising.
Former member: Like they’re an official body or something.
Darren: And they’re not. And the other thing is your registration date says 5th June 2015, well you’ve not renewed, it’s now — the date of this recording — is the 6th September.
Former member: Yeah we’re out of subscription now.
Darren: They should really prune that because by leaving it up it looks as if some of these businesses are happy with the service and therefore renewing.
Former member: Yeah. I suspect they’ve left it on there because.. I’m sure we’re not the only ones… I’m sure there’ll be other companies that haven’t bothered to renew.
Darren: The other problem I’ve discovered is that they say they’re backed by an international law firm who ensure that the IWDRO are compliant in what they do, and on furthur investigation — and this is via Companies House, a very useful tool — it’s the same people running the IWDRO as Excello law, it’s the same directors, so when they say we’re backed by an international law firm, what they’re saying is “we’re backed by ourselves”.
Former member: Yes.
Darren: So now when I say “do you think it’s a racket”… I mean… maybe that’s a crude assessment.
Former member: Yeah, I wouldn’t think it was a racket but I must admit I did go online and look at some reviews, there wasn’t an awful lot on there in all honesty, but we did check it out online when we joined. Because it was relatively new, it was probably too soon for people to actually have an opinion.
Darren: Yeah.
Former member: After being with it for 12 months I think we soon realised we were wasting our money really.
Darren: What kind of membership level.. oh it was a business membership you went for..
Former member: Just a business membership.
Darren: Right, okay, so if you were approached in future by a supposed business lead generator would you be extra vigilant dealing with them, do you think?
Former member: Yeah we would, yeah.

Listen to the recording of this call from 6th September 2016

Download call transcript from 6th September 2016 (PDF)

Twenty phone calls in, and I’d yet to find a single person who could share a story of success, so I decided to email every listed business under the web dev members category.

Lots of Emails Later…

Of the 280 emails I sent, the conversations were much the same.

Irritation. Annoyance. The feeling of having been let down.

Out of the couple of hundred replies emails I have (many domains no longer resolved or weren’t active) here’s a just few responses:

Hi Darren, I had no success what so ever with them. I only had a couple of leads, Their leads small or large were always dismissive. Didn’t want to know regardless of my proposal. One of the leads I had a lengthy chat with said he seen an email pop up on his screen regarding click here for free websdesign quotes. After he submitted his details it wasn’t long before he got companies contacting him offering him quotes etc.
But he said he was just enquiring and not actively looking for a site.

Waste of membership in my opinion and the leads not worth it at all either.

Another…

Hello,
I have bought maybe 4/4 leads in total, they are real junk, all have gmail email addresses and mobile numbers.

And another…

Hello
I wouldn’t recommend it. We signed up on one of their 50% off offer for membership after dwelling over it for months, but should have trusted my instinct.
I’ve bid on 3 so far
1) ended up going cheap as he couldn’t get funding 2) decided to not to the project and source it in-house (guess after getting quotes)
3) never responded
so we are reluctant to buy leads now as its money wasted.
Plus they don’t put enough info to really warrant purchasing the lead personally, they repeat themselves on the description to make it longer. Also must cold call to get ‘semi’ enquiries to add.
One guy said he had 8 or so calls, so we also don’t believe its only 4.
Also — we hate it when they say ‘a simple brochure site’ a ‘simple directory’ nothings simple!
So overall disappointed, but expected for a lead site.

*Sigh*…

We signed up for IWDRO about 3 months ago. In total we have now bought 10 opportunities. Out of those • We managed to get a refund for 1, because we could prove that it was not a genuine opportunity • Phone numbers proved to be unobtainable or not answered. Leaving messages never led to a call back or any other contact, even after several attempts • Emails were not answered
• Only 1 went further than an initial call or email. Eventually this too turned out to be a non-opportunity, i.e. there was no project there.
All in all, we have given up on them now as they appear to be a waste of time. Unfortunately, we do feel that the initial fee for the service was wasted, a lot of our money was wasted, and of course our time too.
I do think there is a place for a service like this, but the leads are too expensive for them not to have been properly qualified first. If they were to get that right, it might be worth it.

There’s lots of email replies like this but we’ll be here all day, but anyway, here’s another:

I completely agree, the leads we purchased all turned into nothing — in fact they tended to be a waste of time, so much so that I haven’t purchased a lead for months. Not only that but I suspect the leads are ‘managed’ to certain agencies. I did express my disappointment with the quality of the leads to IWDRO, which was pointless.
On a number of occasions after purchasing a brief and responding to the client immediately I was informed that the work had been placed elsewhere or that they weren’t in a position to proceed. Also, when I attempted to talk to the business owners to qualify exactly what they wanted because the brief supplied by IWDRO wasn’t adequate, I couldn’t always get a response. More annoyingly though on occasions when I could speak to a prospective client, qualify them and their budget then invest the time into a pitch document which typically takes a day or two as you probably know, the follow up led to nothing because they wouldn’t respond to calls or emails. 
 The account manager at the IWDRO said that they were there to help in this instance, but again nothing ever came of that — they said they would call the client on our behalf.
So all in all I am really annoyed I didn’t do more research myself, therefore I have paid the price.
Unless things have improved significantly over the past few months since I last paid for a lead I would class the lead quality as very poor — low quality work with low budgets and high expectations. Not the type of clients we want.

In fairness, some people said they were able to get a refund on bad leads…

We had an awful experience, terrible lead quality to the point that we questioned whether the lead was ever legitimate at all. We got a refund back for the majority of the leads we paid for but I would advise any company to stay as far from the IWDRO as possible.

Mainly there were frustrations with the commitment of clients in cases where they were contactable:

Because of the restriction of information, on a number of occasions, as soon as the contract is purchased, we’ve discovered that its unfeasible for us — for example the customer might have a requirement to use a specific platform that we don’t work with. So before we even speak to the customer, this could be a wasted purchase.
On one occasion we noticed an opportunity being posted that was for a business local to us, and decided to purchase the contract. It was Thursday 19th May when we bought it. I tried calling the customer on Friday 20th and again on Monday 24th, with no answer. I managed to get an answer on Tuesday morning, only to be advised that they’d already given the project to another company. Only one allocation was purchased for this contract through IWDRO (which would have been us), so the company they used must have been sourced elsewhere.
I got in touch with IWDRO to explain the situation and ask if we would be eligible for a refund for this, as it seemed a little harsh that we’d not even had the opportunity to quote, despite the contract being posted just a couple of working days previously. Needless to say, they weren’t sympathetic.
The other problem we’ve some across is client commitment — as I understand it, the clients aren’t required to pay IWDRO anything to submit their opportunity for quotes. We purchase the contract and spend significant time in understanding their requirements and putting together a proposal, only for them to turn around and decide that they aren’t going to bother proceeding with the website for the foreseeable future. Out of our first 10 contract purchases, at least 50% of the companies indicated that they had decided not to progress with developing anytime soon. Now I appreciate that this will happen sometimes, but the number of clients who aren’t really committed to developing their website is just far too high. I know that the IWDRO accepts no liability in respect of the leads, but they do advise that that “each Lead is vetted by IWDRO and as much information gathered as reasonably possible about the Lead and its source” — I’d dispute what “vetting” they carry out!
So, due to the lack of upfront knowledge of some important requirements of the projects and the number of opportunities from clients who don’t actually appear to be committed to developing their sites at this time, I told IWDRO that they weren’t proving to be a reliable source of quality leads. They said they’d pass the feedback on…..

I was determined to find a couple of success stories in which the leads came good. I managed to find around five members who described having won business.

The following email surprised me and I wanted to know more. No response yet but we’ll see:

Hi there,
We have won some decent projects from them.
They also pay back on leads that are not what they said they were, so all together we are pretty happy with them.
I would like to read your report though.

Another emailer described having gotten business:

Had lots of bad leads from them to be honest, mainly just tie kickers looking for quotes on business ideas that they might not even go ahead with.
Landed 2 decent clients, but overall not satisfied so cancelled my subscription, and they literally offered to knock 75% off the renewal to keep me so I presumed they were struggling as others were leaving them.

Someone else managed to land a good client:

I would agree with you that most of the leads are poor quality. However we have scored a few big hits that make it worthwhile.
They have occasionally refunded a dead lead for me but it takes a bit of pestering.

I spoke to some of these people on the phone, and for those who described a degree of success, it was somewhat bittersweet. In one phone call, someone said they ended up building a site and charging a price that was five times less than the “confirmed budget” IWDRO had advertised.

It was almost as though any happy outcome was in spite of the IWDRO, not because of them. Another person told me he could just save his money for Adwords and get better leads that way.

11) The Membership is Falsely Represented

As mentioned in the September 6th transcript conversation with the former member, some of the “older” web development companies in the member’s directory were no longer active.

What I mean by “no longer active” is that although a business profile/listing contained a URL that longer resolved — dead — suggesting the company in question had ceased or rebranded.

Surely, those inactive members should be taken down if they’re not active?

I called up some of the businesses with and spoke to someone who registered in June 2015 and never renewed, but in September 2016 (the date of the phone call) their company profile/listing was still published in the member’s directory.

This turned out to be the case for many more annoyed members.

12) The Legal Consequences of This Post?

Writing this post presents a risk. Being openly critical of another company can result in loss or damage to their business image. In defense of libel I am citing truth, fair comment, and the public interest.

Undoubtedly, the international law firm that runs the scam company will puff out their chest and send a written legal reprimand. Someone else had this experience.

Request: “Cease and Desist”

This was indeed the situation concerning an individual who had also written a critical blog post about the company in question.

He forwarded me a PDF of the litigating correspondence sent from and on behalf of the IWDRO.

The letter he received was a cease and desist demand signed by a Barry Ross, who, on furthur investigation appears not to be a qualified solicitor although he is listed as a director.

In fact, Barry does not seem to exist at all. Oddly, according to Companies House, his country of residence is Malaysia.

Edit: Barry does seem to exist, according to company check.

Cease and Desist sent to Olly (PDF)

Response: “Nope”

The individual replied to the cease and desist, pointing out Barry Ross is not qualified to make such demands since he is not a solicitor, and that the letter didn’t specify how exactly the blog post in question caused injury or loss to the IWDRO. The Defamation Act 2013 had not been cited at all.

Olly’s response to Cease and Desist (PDF)

No reply was received.

13) Third Telephone Approach

On 23rd September at 09:30 I received the final telephone call, which I’d agreed to take. Considering I’d uncovered much about their operations, I asked very specific questions during the conversation.

Below are a few extracts but you can read the full transcript or listen to the conversation using the links further down the page..

*Phone rings*
Darren: Hello?
IWDRO: Hello Darren it’s Chris from IWDRO. How are you?
Darren: Oh hello, morning, how are you?
IWDRO: Really good, thanks very much. Just calling as scheduled — nine thirty today.
Darren: Great okay.
IWDRO: And did you have any further questions about IWDRO membership or were you now happy to proceed?
Darren: Erm, yeah, I’ve been thinking about it, it sounds good, err, I’m interested. I’ve got a few questions…

I knew the code of conduct on their site was flimsy, so I asked about that:

Darren: Erm, I’m just wondering what the code of conduct is. It said on the website “all members abide by a code of conduct…
IWDRO: Yes that’s correct.
Darren: …because obviously you’re a regulator, so there’s a code of conduct that the members have to abide by. I just want to know a little bit more about that, because once I’m signed up I’ll be displaying the IWDRO badge on my site…
IWDRO: Yes…
Darrern: …and people are going to know I’m abiding by a code of conduct, but what is that exactly?
IWDRO: Yes, certainly, I can actually show that to you if you’re on the computer at the moment.
Darren: Yeah, yeah, I am, yeah.
IWDRO: If you just go to our site iwdro.org…
Darren: Yeah.
IWDRO: And then go to… it’s err, membership… sorry Member Information, just under our logo.
Darren: Oh yeah, yeah…
IWDRO: And the second to bottom there, if you click Code of Conduct
Darren: Oh right, yeah ok… didn’t see that
IWDRO: And if you just scroll down slightly, the second PDF on there is the actual Code of Conduct itself. So feel free to look through that. It’s just one, two, it’s actually two pages there, of details, and to give you the overview, it’s all in regards to being a reputable web designer…
Darren: Yeah…
IWDRO: So basically, if for example, if you joined IWDRO but was running off with the prospect’s money and not delivering websites or something extreme like that, of course, then they’d have their membership revoked…
Darren: Yeah.
IWDRO: …so the purpose of the Code of Conduct is to give prospects that extra element of trust for you as an agency, so, ya know, they know you’re a reputable web designer, basically.
Darren: Ok, so anybody who is not abiding is ejected, basically.
IWDRO: That’s correct.
Darren: Okay…

I suppose it’s good to know they don’t approve of anyone running off with someone else’s money!

But wait, they’re backed by Excello Law, and apparently they wouldn’t stand for any nonsense:

Darren: Yeah. Okay. Erm. I had another question… Oh, you’re backed by a legal firm…
IWDRO: Yeah.
Darren: What’s their purpose, because I remember you saying, erm, I’ll just put my mind back to what we were talking about… oh yeah, they make sure you’re compliant in what you’re doing.
IWDRO: Yeah, that’s correct.
Darren: Yeah…
IWDRO: So of course if we were to do things that were sort of, misconduct, then of course we would lose the backing of Excello, naturally.
Darren: Right.
IWDRO: Because they believe in what we do, those guys being a legal firm, and having the goal to improve business online.

I asked how to bid on the leads and mentioned the impressive and ever increasing figure representing the total amount of work generated for members:

Darren: Okay and how… so how do I start bidding on the leads?
IWDRO: Certainly, so as soon as you’re fully active, then, you’ll receive email alerts of course, but you can go on any time as long as you’re active…
Darren: Yeah.
IWDRO: … onto the Contract Opportunities page, click to view the cost of the leads and then download it if you want to go ahead with that one. And then you’ve got the PDF in your member dashboard to get in direct contact [unclear]…
Darrern: Yeah. Six million! “Member Contract Value Total — Six Million, One Hundred and Forty Six Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty”
IWDRO: Yes.
Darren: That’s great!
IWDRO: Of course that’s over the three years we’ve been active.
Darren: Yeah. That’s quite a figure.

You can listen to the conversation or download the full transcript below.

Listen to the recording of this call from 23rd September 2016

Download call transcript from 23rd September 2016 (PDF)

14) IWDRO Get Rattled

It seems that the “industry’s only official regulator” got wind of the negative sentiments surrounding their operations and attempted some crisis management with a mailshot sent on 3rd November at 4:30pm.

It’s actually very funny:

— — — — Forwarded message — — — -
 From: IWDRO <
[email protected]> Date: 3 November 2016 at 16:30 Subject: IWDRO — Unsolicited Member Contact
To: [Name removed]
Hello,
We are getting in contact with you as we are aware that our Members may have received a message from an unsolicited, third party and non member of IWDRO. The individual responsible for sending this unsolicited communication has never been a Member of IWDRO and as such has no first-hand experience of the operational procedures or services provided. The unsolicited email communication and material distributed is both factually and technically flawed, and in no way a true representation of how IWDRO operates.
The individual in question has obtained (scraped) your data from the IWDRO website in order to contact you in an unsolicited manner and we wish to apologise for this unlawful action and any inconvenience or concern that this has caused you.
At IWDRO we are focused on providing a transparent service, in particular with the Contract Opportunities service, hence, we are one of the only organisations that offers a personal service, contactable by telephone, in which you can call to discuss and report any Contract Opportunity obtained. If you experience problems in making contact with a prospect, or find any of the documented information to be incorrect, then we will proactively assist you until a satisfactory outcome is reached. If we establish that the Contract Opportunity in not commercially operable then we always offer a credit against that particular opportunity.
We sincerely thank you for your continued support.
Kind Regards,
IWDRO

15) So… Is There a Legitimate Web Dev Association?

There is no regulatory agency, accreditation authority, central licensing organisation, or industry body for the web design and web development industry.

While there are many groups claiming to be professional “associations”, they are and can only ever be voluntary membership organisations with no regulatory powers or industry authority.

To complicate the situation further, some government-backed business advice assumes that trade associations and industry bodies exist, and encourages businesses to find members to provide web services.

That information is incorrect, and merely provides free advertising for organisations which dance around the edges of false representation.

Genuine groups which exist for the legitimate benefit of the profession, such as The Web Guild, make no claims or attempt to hold authority over the profession as a whole — nor would they.

The issue is with how the world thinks the web industry works.

16) What’s The Real Problem Here?

A company is making false regulatory claims and sending unsolicited nuisance marketing communications with the aim of peddling low quality business leads with exaggerated budgets.

The bigger picture is that the internet still resembles a wild west frontier town in which a few ambitious individuals plant their flag and choose their job title. In this case, we have a self appointed mayor and sheriff levying taxes for a service that is not being provided.

The nature of this kind of operation will only ever attract low-value, high-maintenance projects, if they indeed exist at all. If there was real government-backed unity in the web dev industry perhaps some of the members wouldn’t have gotten involved with this.

For those who wonder how to get web work and whether a lead generator can be trusted at all, perhaps readers will share their thoughts on how a great business with a good budget should not, must not and need not farm out their projects or fish for quotes using an organisation they’ve never heard of.

17) Reporting Nuisance Calls and Messages

Report a concern to the Information Commissioner’s Office — If you can clearly identify the sender, the Commissioner can investigate complaints.

18) Reporting a Scam

If it’s possible, record any phone calls received or made so you can play them back for analysis or as evidence. The Skype Evaer plugin is inexpensive and excellent for this.

If you’re approached by a company or individual proposing what you suspect is a scam, report it Click To Tweet

The organisations below are good places to begin if you’re concerned.

Citizens Advice

The Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline is a good place to start. Open a new case and report a scam. A reference number is supplied. A B2B case will be passed to your local Trading Standards Office.

You can listen to my call with Citizens Advice, but I edited out the reference number they quoted.

Trading Standards

Trading Standards will investigate a scam but you’ll need to go through Citizens Advice in the first instance.

Advertising Standards Authority

The Advertising Standards Authority will investigate a complaint based on three main points. They handle print and digital advertising, not telemarketing.

If you call them up the chances are they’ll ask you to submit a complaint via the online form, which you can attach documents to.

Action Fraud

Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud & cyber reporting centre where you can report, as well as get advice and information. A police crime reference number is provided.


Originally published at www.smallbizgeek.co.uk on November 15, 2016.