Competing for Business: High Quality or Bottom-Feeders?

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 08, 2010

Anyone who has freelanced for any amount of time quickly discovers that there are two kinds of business customers: professional clients who value high-quality work and are willing to pay for it, and bottom-feeders who suck up all your time while paying as little as possible.

Desperate entrepreneurs, by which I mean people struggling to break into a market and build a portfolio while generating enough income to survive, may be tempted to compete on price and undercut the competition. Unfortunately, discounted service pricing tends to attract a disproportionate share of the bottom-feeders.

In a kind of small-business version of Gresham's Law, those bottom-feeders not only crowd out more reputable businesses by making constant demands (and expecting you to swallow the costs), but also leave you with a portfolio filled with dreck that will only appeal to other bottom-feeders.

On reading this article in today's Spectator I was again reminded that Hamilton as a city still largely accepts desperation and embraces the death-spiral pursuit of bottom-feeders for its economic survival.

Whether we're clapping ourselves on the back for poaching a bread-making factory, humiliating ourselves to woo a pork processing plant, pinning our economic fortunes on warehousing, or sacrificing a long-term investment in advanced manufacturing to appease a $15 million-a-year sports retail business - Hamilton doesn't exactly present the face of a focused, visionary city competing on quality.

An inevitable vocalization of our endless economic kvetching is the oft-repeated but under-analyzed trope that we need to do more to "lure" businesses here - as if they'd never come unless we tricked them. Instead of playing the same old zero-sum game, why not concentrate our energies on growing new businesses by providing a rich, fertile climate?

Why not try to understand how cities work and then choose not to sacrifice our early foray into this understanding?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted September 08, 2010 at 13:25:37

Good read Ryan. Agree sometimes, perhaps often, cities do seem to get their priorities all mixed up. Growing new businesses that have a well articulated business plan for success makes a lot of sense to me, to support such plans.

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By BenInBC (anonymous) | Posted September 08, 2010 at 14:52:04

If Hamilton actually had any support for new business, I probably wouldn't be in B.C. With the ludicrous rents anywhere near Toronto, do you know how many startup companies would flock to Hamilton if we turned one building into an incubator?

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By kevin (registered) | Posted September 08, 2010 at 17:56:50

Guy Girono, Harper's recently retired Chief of Staff, also worked for Mike Harris. If memory serves me correctly, it was Guy who was on TVO with Steve Paikin (another talented Hamiltonian working in Toronto)arguing on behalf of the Harrisites that telemarketing was a "good job." I still can't believe it. Low wages, no benefits, plenty of abuse and lots of stress are not good.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 08, 2010 at 20:53:58

High quality jobs, high quality post education, the best place to raise a child, livable walkable communities.

All these things would attract people to stay and live in Hamilton, instead of leaving, as they do now.

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