I recently received a call from a prospective client who was in need of branding assistance and a website overhaul. During the follow up call, he explained that he had went with a web design company that was now holding his website hostage at the “design impound lot”. Not only that, but the fee to get the site released was not going to be cheap.
VAROOM! does not hold any design or website hostage. Why? In the most simplest terms, I believe in transparency and free will. I do not want to hold anything hostage and sure as hell not for a fee when they’ve already paid me for the designs and set up. I believe it’s their right to go with another designer if they believe they are a better fit. And I want my clients to become educated in the software applications in order to handle their own updates if they decide to do so even if I provide maintenance services.
So, when I heard what this man was going through, it got me wondering if other entrepreneurs were experiencing this exploitation. What I have found out is disturbing.
It happens every day. Why? There’s a few reasons. Designers want to keep their clients so they resort to questionable tactics to prevent them (and their money) from leaving and business owners can be too trusting and are not asking the right questions.
If you don’t know where you stand with your designer, read on as I share how to prevent this from happening to you…
The key to protecting your website is control and also having the basic knowledge of how a website is set up. The two things you need to have full control over your website is your domain name account and your website’s hosting account. If you don’t have control of these two things, it can become very difficult if you want to go with another designer or want to make changes to your website or blog.
Buy Your Domain Name
Your registrar account controls your domain name. Common registrars are Domain.com, GoDaddy, and Namescheap. Your domain name is your address (URL) on the Internet.
When working with a web designer, it is important that you either purchase the domain name yourself or have them purchase it on your behalf under your contact information. If they set this up on your behalf, make sure you are the one that determines the login information (user name and password).
Be aware of the ones that want to buy the domain for you as part of the package or design fee. Why? If a web designer or developer is buying a domain for you, they will own that domain name. What does that mean for you? You’ll have a hard time getting that domain transferred into your name, especially if the designer is trying to hold your business hostage.
Pay For Your Web Hosting Account
Your hosting account hosts your actual website and sends it out to the world wide web. The website is sitting inside this hosting account and it is what controls the website. Common drag and drop web hosting companies are Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix. Common WordPress hosting companies are Bluehost, HostGator, WPEngine, and SiteGround. Note that sometimes your hosting company is the same as your registrar like GoDaddy or Squarespace.*
When working with your designer, make sure you either set up your own web hosting account or have them set up and purchase the account on your behalf with your contact information. Again, if they set this up for you, you specify the login information (user name and password).
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to let your designer set up the account and pay for the hosting because they will have the hosting under their contact information and they will ultimately own the account.
Unfortunately, this is really common for WordPress design companies. What makes things worse is the fact that they can provide you with your own personal login information where you may think you have access to your account, but in all actuality you have limited control of your website. Why? Because they don’t want you to be able to access the backend of the admin panel and risk screwing up the site.
If you do go with a WordPress designer, it is imperative that you get the site’s admin login information, even if you aren’t going to use it for fear of wreaking the site. Without this information, you don’t have complete access to the backend of your site and they’ll have control.
Pay For Your WP Theme, Plugins & Builder
If you want to have a WordPress site, you need to also own the theme, plug ins, and if applicable, the site builder. Without owning the theme and builder, even if you do have complete control of the domain and hosting account with access to the admin login and you choose to leave the designer, they can revoke the theme and the builder with the release.
What does that mean for you? At first glance, it might appear that the site is intact, but if you want to make any changes, it could lead to a hot mess!!!
Make Sure You Have This Upfront
No matter which way you go, make sure you ask questions. If something sounds too good to be true, ask for details. If you don’t understand, make them slow down an explain. There are no stupid questions. Even if you are non-tech and this goes over your head, it doesn’t hurt to get everything in writing in the form of an email that way you can go back and research so you do understand.
It also doesn’t hurt to get the basics of how a website works and what web design and hosting entails. The more educated you are, the better prepared you are to pick up on red flags and not get yourself into something you are going to have a hard time getting out of or is going to cost you more in the end.
If you opt for a web design company with a monthly plan, you may not have control of the items listed above. You are in essence paying for the web company to set the website up and keep it maintained. They will want to have control of the site to ensure they get paid each month. Just make sure you own the domain name, own the hosting and the theme/plugins. Most importantly, know what you’re getting into before you sign that contract - including how to get out of that contract.
*I typically recommend my clients purchase the domain name separately from the website hosting company because if you want to go with another hosting company down the line it’s much easier to do so. If they are tied together, you typically have to transfer the domain to a domain registrar or to the new hosting company and that costs extra money. If you have them separate, you can easily point the domain to the new hosting server.
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Amanda Johnson Young is a brand designer with over 20 years experience. READ MORE
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