Stepping up to the task: and why we're not a trade association right now.
The last few weeks have been incredibly exciting as after 5 years of wanting to create The Web Guild, we've started telling people about it - and have been receiving fantastic feedback. For those of you who aren't really sure what we're about just yet, I thought I'd write to tell you about all the pieces of our puzzle.
A primary aim of the Guild is to help members of the public (potential clients) find the right digital professionals to help them. We still need to do work around the search criteria for the site to make this more understandable for the layman (those who don't know their backend from their PPC), but now we're getting vetted companies onboard we're on the right track.
Part of that has been the dream of triumphing the work of the smaller web outfits - freelancers and small companies who's work is often showcased by the bigger agencies who outsource to them, and the idea of, where possible increasing transparency in the industry. Outsourcing is fine and can be a wonderful thing when everyone knows what they're doing. If a non-web agency outsource digital work, all too often the end client doesn't get as considered or thorough a service as they would if they were speaking to the people who were doing the work and knew what they were talking about.
During my research last year I was shocked to realise that there is no protection or help for businesses - Trading Standards and similar bodies are very much B2C. They want to protect little old ladies from rogue builders (and very right they should do so) but if you're a business rather than an individual and get screwed over by a cowboy, then you're on your own.
Tied in with all of the above is the idea of educating the public about web development and digital work in order to make the lives of web pros easier - helping clients help themselves when they choose to, letting clients understand the work involved with seemingly simple tasks and the subsequent costs, and providing an independent, respected source of information a digital pro can send a client to when they're having a, shall we say slightly sticky, discussion about why said client isn't top of Google on the day of launch.
We want to be a "hub". An over used word perhaps, but one that sums us up nicely. Somewhere clients and potential clients can turn to and somewhere a community of web professionals can rely on and feel valued. Events, jobs, news, tutorials - all that jazz.
One thing we've included as part of being a member of the Guild is the option (or rather, the "need" for full members) to maintain a CPD - continued professional development log. Those of us who work on the web everyday are always learning - and generally love learning - about new features, technologies and techniques. So this is another way to differentiate those not really immersed in the web from the true professionals. We're all busy people though so the requirements for this are very manageable - it can be as brief as a one liner about an article you've read or a new plugin you've worked with, updated every 3 months. To make this even easier, you can now update your log by replying to a reminder email the site will send you.
Taking it further
At the moment, a company member of The Web Guild needs to provide 2 references for every service they provide, agree to the Code of Conduct and supply a certificate of professional indemnity insurance.
We're planning a higher tier - and are in discussions with TrustMark (the UK Government endorsed standards people) - about this extra level of vetting, which will include onsite visits and proof of trading history, as well as mandatory training on important issues.
Being a grown up
Over the last couple of weeks I've been chatting to various people about The Web Guild and what we hope to achieve - and as I said above, I've been overwhelmed by the support shown by other web professionals and the strength of feeling that something like this is so very much needed in our industry.
Heather Burns wrote in December about how our industry needs to grow up and professionalise itself. It's an industry where it's perfectly acceptable (and common) not to have official qualifications, so we can't go down that route. So with vetting, CPDs and training on important issues we hope we can start to bring some order to this cowboy ridden land.
So that brings us on to the final big piece of the puzzle - getting the industry's voice heard. We really hope the Guild can get to a respected level where the media, but more important policy makers, will turn to our members for comments and views. And now we're hearing more and more about the call for a proper, formalised industry body, we're reassured that we were right to embark on this journey.
We're working hard to get consultative status on important issues so that we can contribute to discussions in Brussels and elsewhere and help form policy, with our members' views, rather that just report on it and moan about it afterwards with the rest of the web community.
So why are we stepping up to the mark and why doesn't this already exist? Well I can't speak for anyone else as to why something isn't already in place. But I know I've been wanting to do this for years, and I feel incredibly passionate about the cause - a passion that I'm repeatedly told comes across when I'm chatting with potential members.
We've spent months planning and building a sophisticated system which, whilst I want to refine some design/UX elements, is incredibly detailed with how it handles members and their employment. We've spent a lot time (and a lot of money) sorting out a Code of Conduct and Terms of Membership, we're all set up as an independent legally recognised not-for-profit company. Plus we've had some great meetings with some useful people.
As for why it's us - myself and Tom Freeman - that have set up the organisation... maybe there's a healthy level of naivety there. Maybe no one else has done it because it's a huge task - but that doesn't put me off.
But just as importantly - or perhaps more so - we "get" the Internet and the WWW (a very simplistic differentiation is cited here): it is in our core. We were making semantic tools before rich snippets were commonplace; we were planning how we could get a website and some technical lego to close our curtains when we were on holiday before the IofT was a household phrase. (But of course, we make websites so we don't get proper holidays.) No matter how disheartening a day of adhering to misplaced client directions can be, or how boring VAT return time is, after well over a decade each of working on the web we still get a buzz from all that the Internet can provide society.
To be honest, we're probably fiercely protective of the WWW. Trolling isn't the fault of any site in question - it's the fault of the individuals making the nasty comments. This doesn't mean the site can't do more to prevent it, but we won't have the blame just directly passed to the Internet.
We think around issues a lot. A LOT. Pretty much any question thrown at me about the Guild I've been able to answer because we've thought about it - a lot. Last month in our "day job" we turned down a project I was really excited to have won after an arduous pitch process because of something missing from the contract they were enforcing on us. Not something that we didn't like in their contract - something that they'd omitted and wouldn't let us add. Something which we only noticed was missing because I'd read almost 200 pages of legal bumpf carefully and considered it all thoroughly.
Plus we're realists. With a strong technical and UX background we can comment on when something is feasible if the social media giant in question really set their mind to it, and what is just unrealistic given how people use sites and apps.
Finally, and I hope this doesn't do us a disservice in some people's minds - we're very happy to say that we don't know it all or have all the answers. No one can know everything about the web, and if you claim you do, I think it just shows how much you don't know that there is to know. And that's why The Web Guild needs to grow a community, because hopefully between us all we can find most of the answers.
Why we're not a trade association
When we were forming the Guild we played with phrases such as "trade body", and "union" but nothing felt quite right - other than "guild". A group of craftsmen/women who are really good at what they do. It also feels like a word which doesn't discount the work we hope to do to educate the public. It feels welcoming and community based, and that's what the web is to me. I work in the opensource environment, but whatever you programme with, if you Google an issue there will be a wealth of people out there with answers - the Guild is just a formalisation of that.
We're set up as a not-for-profit company because when we told accountants and company formation people what we were doing, that's what they said best suited us. And it feels right. We hope too, being honest, that it helps to set us apart even more from the basic "pays your money, buys your badge" directories out there.
The other day however, we were asked if we're a "Trade Association", but after lots more consideration we think we're best - at the moment - to stay as we are. We've (personally) invested money in solicitor and accountancy fees to get this far and we can do everything above with this status. Changing our legal entity to an "association" brings a different set of rules and we're already up and running, so let us run.
(By the way - are you a member of an "association" for our industry? Are they actually an "association"? There are big legal implications of using that word.)
Something else I've read worried me about changing to be an association... generally, anyone working in a profession has to be allowed into an association. So bang would go our vetting / standards. There can be caveats where there are Codes of Conduct, but we feel like this is a grey area and we really don't ever intend to move away from our core principle of the Guild being a group of craftsmen and women who know what they're doing, and we don't want to one day find we're forced to abandon our principles because of our legal status.
(As discussed with Ben Furfie last week, there's nothing wrong with being an "implementer" - watch this space for his possible blog post on the subject - and people who can install a WordPress theme and sell it to a mate are welcome to be individual members of the Guild so as to keep in touch with the industry... but they're not company / trading members who potential clients can find.)
A lot has been said over the last couple of weeks about what geographical area the Guild should cover. And we think it can be International. The web doesn't have borders, you can work on a project in a different country, US websites need to be aware of EU laws - it can't be pigeon-holed. Plus on a more domestic level, if we kept it to the UK would we have to kick out our Scottish members if they gained independence? Limiting our remit raises as many questions as it solves.
We completely understand why some people think we should keep things local... but we think we need to look at the bigger picture. We're not saying companies in all countries will be vetted in exactly the same way - if "professional indemnity insurance" doesn't exist as a stand alone product in some corner of the globe then we'll ask for the equivalent. And we'll ensure this is conveyed clearly to potential clients searching the site.
And we're not saying that from our offices just south of Bristol in the UK we'll be able to comment on US law - but we hope we'll be able to work with a team of people in the US who are. And the Guild can then be one central place where people can come to find the info they need, and be updated automatically on the issues that matter to them.
Right now, yes we're going to focus on the UK. But anyone from anywhere in the world is welcome to sign up to the Guild (some already have) and we look forward to the day we can work with people in other countries to give a unified source of information for any businesses or web professionals looking for information.
Meanwhile, working with Heather we're going to try and get involved with the EU's upcoming consultation on the Cookie Law. Wish us luck, and please do get in touch if you've got anything to add or contribute - leaving a comment below is a great way to start. You can also find us on Twitter @WebGuildSeal. If you'd rather just stay in the loop please do add your name below to join our newsletter or check back regularly. Please do share your views if you can because we very much are a community.
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