I think there's a rule somewhere to the effect of “never blog when you're mad” but I'm going to break it.
It's funny, I was having a conversation with a friend this morning and I said, “learning the word straddler to describe myself was just a great thing in my life” and then less than three hours later I got to relive exactly why. Straddlers are people who grow up in one class but move to another class as adults. I grew up working class but now I'm middle class — or at least, I'm pretty sure I am because I own a house, a business, and I have to make decisions at tax time about how much money to put into my IRA. I can't be entirely sure, though, because one of the consequences of social mobility is to know that you can pass but you will never truly belong. I think I read somewhere that the most productive way to resolve the tensions of being a straddler is to take whatever privileges you have access to as a result of your mobility and try to share them with the people you came from. This has certainly proved true in my case.
This strategy, however, will not protect you from microaggressions — those moments when the world off-handedly reminds you exactly what it thinks of people like you.
One of the many reasons that I love WCA's receptionists is that they protect me from almost all sales calls. Every now and then, though, one slips through despite their efforts, which is how I ended up on the phone today with a representative from Yodle. I told her immediately that WCA has no marketing budget whatsoever, none, zero, zip — but she said, “Please, just hear me out.” I felt bad for her, so I said, all right. And then she started telling me some interesting things about how more and more people are using their smartphones to do Internet searches, and the rules about what appears on those searches are different depending on the device. I know a lot of people find WCA online so I thought, OK, I know I am not going to sign up for anything but she wants me to listen to her and maybe I'll learn something. I imagined having a conversation about it later with Wade and the WCA management collective. Here I am doing research, I thought cheerfully. And so when she told me to log in to a demo site on my computer — a demo site customized for me and WCA — I did.
A map of WCA's locations popped up and she described how Yodle would drive more customers within a 20 mile radius to us. Then a screen appeared with a link to Google. “Now,” she said, “how about if you type in a term that your customers typically use to find you — a term that reflects more of the kind of customers you want. Like 'acupuncture fertility'.”
“OK,” I said, and started typing “affordable acupuncture”.
“Wait, what are you doing?” she said.
“Oh,” I said, “a lot of the people who come see us found us by searching for affordable acupuncture. I've asked them.”
At that point something happened to her voice. Her tone changed completely. It sort of dropped — into a range of semi-amused disapproval. “Oh no. You don't want to do that. If you use the search term affordable acupuncture, you're going to get people who are price conscious.”
“Yes,” I said, “that's who I want.”
“What we've found is that people who are, ah, price conscious, are willing to accept a lower quality of service. They're just thinking about the cost. They're not who you want. Now, if you type in acupuncture fertility...”
I cut her off. “You don't understand. I like people who are price conscious. I like people who don't have a lot of money. That's who we treat, that's who we want to treat. That's why we don't have a marketing budget.”
“Well,” she said, and kind of giggled, “I'm sure that's very NICE for your CUSTOMERS, that's all very NICE, but if you type in acupuncture pain management…”
She went on in this vein for awhile until I cut her off again. By then my heart was pounding. On one level I knew that I had the power in this interaction — this was a sales call for God's sake, it was only happening because she'd said “please” — but on another level I felt like I was having to retrieve my self-respect.
“Listen,” I said, “we do 1,000 treatments a week, when you type in acupuncture Portland we usually come up first, we don't have a marketing budget and this is not a good fit.” As I hung up the phone I could hear her calling out, “Wait! Stop! Why are you…” Click.
It's five hours later and I'm still mad. In part because this wasn't an isolated incident; it's just the first time I recognized it as a microaggression when somebody tells me I'm not running my business correctly because I'm loyal to people like the ones I grew up with. This has happened more times than I can count over the twelve years of WCA's life. A definition of business success is for me to want nothing to do with, and have nothing in common with, people who have to be careful about what they spend. Being a straddler means that even when your business is a local institution, even when it comes up first in search engines, an Internet marketing salesperson can tell you that you're not good enough and then wonder why you're hanging up on them.