After 11 years of web design, I’ve seen a lot, and learned a lot. One of the frustrating lessons I’ve learned is how some web designers use some seemingly innocent, yet dirty, tricks to hold their clients hostage and continue to milk them of their money; even when the client wants to move on to greener pastures.
This blog post was inspired by yet another recent interaction with a client who was being “held hostage” by his web designer. Only when we threatened legal action, was the previous web designer willing to cooperate with my client’s desire to leave and take his business elsewhere.
There are several ways a web designer can hold an unsuspecting client hotage but here are the three biggest. Understanding how to avoid these traps can help you avoid a lot of frustration, save you tons of money, prevent you from being trapped, and prevent you from feeling like a hostage when it comes to your online web presence.
#3: They don’t let you have administrator access to anything.
They may tell you that it is “for your own protection”. That there are inner workings that you could mess up and they don’t want to take the risk of you having access to those web services with administrator rights. This is only partly true in most cases. Yes, we do not want to fix your mistakes for free. However, an honest web designer should train you on how to use your websites as well as warn you to the risks of having administrator access (meaning you have access to really screw things up). At that point, he should hand over the keys and honestly let you know he is there to help, but if you try to extend your range beyond your abilities, he may have to bill you to fix it.
Doing this the right way is not about making money, it’s about giving you control over what you own. Keeping you locked out is typically about controlling you and making difficult for you leave them (or their monthly fees).
Any web product or service a designer tells you that you “need”, we advise that you ask them how you can sign up for or buy it yourself. Then, you can provide them with an account with sufficient permissions to do what they need to do. Usually, when singing up for a new web based product or service, the company you are signing up with will typically be willing to walk you through the steps to give your web designer access to what they need without giving away your complete control.
#2: They host your website without giving you control of your account.
If your website and it’s data are hosted on a shared or dedicated server that your web designer owns, guess who has complete control of your pictures, your text, your online presence? That’s right, your web designer. And, if he doesn’t offer you equal access that he has, guess who is in complete control of that data? Yup… your web designer.
What if you want to part ways, and it’s not on amicable terms? Good luck. They have the only keys!
In full transparency, we do still host a few clients websites (though we are trying to transition away from hosting other people’s sites on our servers). In the early days, letting clients have their own hosting accounts, while trying to manage their site wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t like it is today where it was easy to set up collaborative permissions for your web designer. So, we do still host a few websites for clients who have chosen to ask us to keep doing so.
Our strong suggestion would be to sign up for your own web hosting and then grant your web designer access to do what he/she needs to do. All the while, you still maintain complete control of your data.
Having control of your hosting gives you the ability to download your data at a moments notice should something go wrong; including if your web designer went out of business, your web designer died, or you decided to part ways because you weren’t happy with their service.
#1: Your web designer owns your domain name.
This one is a BIGGIE. Never, ever, let your web designer buy your domain name for you. Before you even start the web design process, go buy your own domain name. It only takes a few minutes.
This is important for several reasons. Number one being that your domain name will be printed on all of your marketing material. And, the longer you are in business, the more important your domain name is to people finding you; because they know your domain name by heart or because Google puts a lot of weight into the age of a site/domain name.
If you ever, for whatever reason want to leave your current web designer, they could very well hold onto your domain name and you would be starting your marketing from scratch. If they bought it, they own it. In some cases, getting lawyers involved could possibly be your only chance at not having to start from ground zero.
We run into this all to frequently. A client wants a new website, we build it, and when the time comes to point the domain name to their new site… we can’t! Because the previous developer bought the client’s domain name in their own name and refuse to let it go because they are upset about the client leaving them.
Make sure you buy your own domain name and that you own it personally! We cannot stress this enough.
If you want to know who owns your domain name… go here https://www.whois.net/ and type in your domain name. Unless they (or you) have paid extra money to keep the ownership private, you’ll see who actually owns your domain name. Hopefully you do.
Don’t be held hostage by your web designer.
When you buy a car, you don’t let the dealership keep the keys right? You hold the keys. Your website, social media accounts, and web based tools should be the same way. You can lend permission to people that need to work on your stuff, but you always make sure you hold the keys.