What’s a small business owner to do?
Choose your host
For starters, make sure your developer approves of you being involved in choosing a dependable hosting provider. Why not just host wherever your developer chooses? As a business owner, you need assurance that all website files will be safe and accessible when the relationship with the web developer ends. If the only party with access to those files is suddenly no longer your partner, you might find yourself locked out.
Own your domain
Next, insist on being the legal registrant of your website’s domain name. Just as you wouldn’t let your accountant own your bank account, your web developer shouldn’t own your website address. If a dispute arises and you are not listed as the legal registrant, you might be in for a struggle. Unless you’re the owner you won’t be able to renew your domain or protect it from hijacking. If a potential website partner is reluctant to let you register your domain, it might be time to look elsewhere.
In addition, set clear expectations up front—from start to finish. You can do this by asking targeted questions:
- What work will be done?
- When will it be done?
- Is Search Engine Optimization included?
- Who will have access to make updates, and how often will updates be required?
- Will there be extra charges for maintenance?
- Who will own copyright?
- Will copywriting or editing be provided, and if so, how much will those services cost?
- Will images or graphic design be included? If not, what is the process for obtaining and sharing suitable photos?
- What’s the exit strategy, should either partner decide to move in a new direction?
- Will your designer need hosting or a server to do a custom build or use a popular content management system such as WordPress or Website Builder?
Why does it matter? If you don’t have a clear direction, you won’t be able to tell if you are on track. It’s also important to know if there are application passwords you need to record and whether the option you’ve chosen together allows you to make updates on your own or whether it will require a professional.
Once your website has been launched, let your website partner know you plan to remain actively involved. Then follow through. Visit it often to make sure it remains online. Just because no one has intentionally made changes to the site does not guarantee nothing has changed. Not being aware of issues can be disastrous if backups have become stale or unavailable by the time someone notices a problem.
Often, something as simple as an automatic update to core WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal files or an update that has been missed can cause all sorts of issues. Some errors have easy fixes. Others require the eye of a professional. Make sure you know in advance if your developer is qualified—and willing—to handle such things as they occur.
Finally, before a single page is created, insist on full website backups. Will they keep them current? How will they keep them safe? Will they be within your reach? A backup is of no use to you if you cannot deploy it if your website goes down or has issues and your partner is suddenly unavailable. Even if you and your website partner’s relationship remains intact, you never know when your site might be hacked or some other unexpected disaster might arise. If your developer declines to maintain backups, it’s time to find someone who will.
In the end, only you can decide who is best-suited to build and maintain your website. Make sure it is a mutually beneficial arrangement and always be ready to adapt if necessary.
Your website visitors will thank you.
By RuthAnn Hogue, GoDaddy
Award-winning print journalist and traditionally published nonfiction author RuthAnn Hogue now spends her work days immersed in technology. When she’s not helping people with their hosting as the Hosting Support Agent for GoDaddy, RuthAnn volunteers her time as Marketing Director for Rag Collection. She also spoils four energetic Jack Russell terriers.