Do you outsource your website and related services to a website designer? If so have you ever stopped to think about how much of your business they control or could very easily impact?
For example, do they and only they know the login details for your domain’s control panel? What would happen if you sell the domain or want to change hosting companies without involving them? Would you be able to change the passwords to your email accounts in an emergency or cancel the account of an employee you were about to let go without needing their help? What happens if they forget to renew your domain name and you can’t get in touch with them? What happens if you rely on a sole trader for all your online services and something terrible happens to them “ how would you possibly get hold of all your details? This could impact on your company for weeks or even months!
Most small companies outsource their web design and give far too much control over their business assets to the 3rd party web agency of website designer they choose. It’s just lazy and fundamental bad business practise.
You could end up parting ways with your web designer for so many reasons. Maybe they get a full time job and don’t want the previous work they were managing whilst self-employed, maybe because of other commitments their response times become unacceptably slow, perhaps you want to switch to another company for any number of reasons and worry they will become hostile as a result and either cease communicating with you or become very uncooperative or even malicious.
Either way it’s your responsibility as a business owner to make sure that you control your business assets and that a 3rd party can’t easily interrupt how it functions on a day to day basis.
Here’s a useful list of steps you can take to stop your website designer controlling your business.
They are easy and quick to implement and will take a fraction of the time to stay on top off compared to the potential impact NOT keeping on top of them could cause.
Make sure you know who your domain is registered with. This way you can contact them directly in an emergency and you at least have a starting point if things go south with your website designer.
- Control Panel
Every domain name has a control panel so make sure you know the URL, username and password. The control panel can be used to do anything with the domain so issue logins to it wisely. If possible provide your web designer with a secondary login so that he cannot change your password and you can rest assured you always have access.
- Who Is records
Make sure that you and your business are listed as the primary contacts and owners of the domain. If you need your web designer to be contacted with any technical domain queries they can just be listed as the Technical Contact. This way if you cannot get access to your domain the domain authorities can accept signed and written confirmation of your ownership and get involved to help you reclaim ownership. If your web designer has the login details, he registered the domain and it’s his details on every WhoIs record “ then he owns your domain. Getting it back could be impossible or cost you a lot of money.
- Addresses and passwords
Keep a list of every email address and alias as well as their passwords. This way if you move providers or need to reallocate addresses in a company shuffle you have easy visibility as to what’s in use and what mail goes where. This can be very easily done using a spreadsheet. If you want to give your web designer the ability to update this for you then just keep ownership of a Google Spreadsheet but give them the ability to update it for you. Google Spreadsheets record a history of changes so information can’t be easily overwritten or lost.
- Transferring Mail
Make sure you can access and transfer your emails. Some email is accessed via POP3 so once you’ve downloaded it to your local machine the emails can be easily copied onto another machine or email account. Other methods keep the emails hosted online and whilst you can view them using a desktop client they don’t actually live locally. This means you can’t so easily copy them onto a another machine and if the accounts were shut down or passwords changed you could lose all of your old emails. If this is the case make sure you know how to periodically download and back them up.
- Email Settings
Keep a note of your email settings in case you move machine or provider. Email clients and email solutions can be fiddly and temperamental. One wrong setting could completely change how your emails are delivered and whether or not they work at all. In case you have to move your emails onto a new machine or you change hosting provider keep a note of the settings your emails use so you can easily set them up again.
- Social Media
Make sure you own and control any social media profiles like Twitter and Facebook. If you got your website designer to set these accounts up for you then you should know the login details and have updated the passwords. If you lose them for whatever reason they will be extremely hard to recover and could be used to permanently damage your brand if used maliciously.
- Google Accounts
Protect your site’s performance and performance history. Most web designers create a Google Webmaster Tools account and track site performance with Google Analytics. Both of these will be accessible under a Google Account login. Make sure you know what that login is or you risk losing all historical data of how your site has performed to date. This in invaluable when you want to measure new campaigns and strategies against old data.
- 3rd party applications and API’s
Lots of sites integrate with other sites, applications and API’s these days which require logins to work. Be it Paypal, YouTube, URL shortening services, page sharing tools etc if you lose the logins for any of these it could mean parts of your site not working and having to set up new accounts and reprogram parts of your site. Not to mention any historical data you might lose in the process.
- FTP and DB
Ensure that you can access your website files and any databases you use. If your new web agency cannot access your hosting server or databases they will pretty much have to start from scratch as very little information might be recoverable from the front end of your site alone.
Keep a simple sitemap stored offline somewhere. If you ever need to rebuild your site then being able to show your new web guys a sitemap makes life a LOT easier for them.
- Custom built components
If a developer has built custom parts of your site then ask them to provide you with blueprints. These shouldn’t take long to put together as normally flow charts are quite high level but it will make recreating the same system much quicker in the future. If you can afford it then also get a detailed system spec you can store safely away for another developer to refer to if needed.
- Backup files and databases
Get periodic backups of your website files and databases. Your web team should be making these for themselves anyway and not relying on the hosting company to do this for them so it shouldn’t cost much for them to provide you with a copy. Do this at a frequency which suits how often your site is updated.
Have your logos stored safely in a verity of formats. It’s quite amazing how many small businesses don’t have their own logo saved locally or only in one format. Make sure you have not only the jpg or gif but also a version which can be edited. The format will depend on which package your designer used to create it but it will typically have been done in PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, Etc. Make sure you get this source file.
Keep a note of the fonts your company branding uses. It may be that licensing prevent your designers from providing you with the font files they used on your logo and branding but make sure you keep a note of which ones they used at least. There are millions of fonts out there and for a new designer to guess or match the font could take hours and hours which they will expect to be paid for even if they can only find a very close match. This is a complete waste of time and money and could affect how your branding looks going forward.
As with your logo your website will have design source files. Get them. As long as you have paid for an agency to produce your design they should have no problem handing over the IP and source files to you. Whilst designers automatically own the IP and copyright of any work they produce it’s not the case for work they have been commissioned to do. You should check they will be happy to supply these source files up front to prevent arguments down the line. This means a new designer having to make small tweaks to your site won’t need to remake a source file or fudge what’s there.
Have you a bad experience with a web designer that could have been avoided using one of the tips above?
Are you a web agency who embrace transparency and already proactively promote some of these to clients?