Being Held Hostage by Your Web Designer?

by CDW on June 4, 2010

It seems that this situation is happening more and more. A business wants to update and make a few changes to their website. They call their web designer and on of the following happens:

  • Their web designer doesn’t answer and doesn’t return their phone calls.
  • The web designer agrees to do the work but months later the changes still are not made.
  • The web designer makes the changes and charges an exorbitant fee.

The business owner is left wishing he could just make the changes himself and call it a day. However, when he tries to get access to the site to make the changes, he finds out he doesn’t have access and in many cases, can’t get it!

Wow, don’t let this happen to you! There are a few things you should know BEFORE you start. First of all


That means that you have access to everything and that you can kick your web designer to the curb if you aren’t happy.

Own your domain name and make sure it is registered in your name and that you have the administrative username and password. Any reputable web designer will be happy for you to do this.

Own your hosting. Make sure you have a user name and password that enables you access to all of the files and programming that make up your site.

Own your content and programming. I saw an excerpt from a contract at that a poor lady signed and then, of course was left without ownership of her site:

Unless other contractual arrangements are made beforehand, you will not be receiving any source code or files containing code of any kind from us other than what is stipulated here: You can request a CD or ZIP file containing and limited to: “.swf”, “html”, files for purposes of backing up your site. Unless specific arrangements are made these files cannot be altered, adjusted, decompiled or changed in any way. If you remove and edit or otherwise obtain files not given to you by us you are in direct copyright and contractual violation.

I understand that the source code for all projects belong to and are copyright of (Name of Design Firm). Source code is defined as all project files, executable code, source files and materials used to create the framework of the project. [In the event that (Name of Design Firm) is not able to provide service or future updates, we will negotiate a flat fee for any source files. This fee will be 50% of the total hours spent on the creation of source files. Source files will include fla, swf and a copy of the store.]

Why would anyone agree to such terms? They probably didn’t understand that by agreeing to such crazy terms, they were completely handing over control of their website to someone else.

Also, insist that your designer use industry standard programming. Proprietary programming is going to be difficult for another designer or you, as the business owner, to take over and, quite frankly, sometimes it is designed that way for just that purpose.

Don’t “ask” for access to your site – demand it. READ your contract before you sign. Pay your hosting, domain and design fees on time so none of them lapse. If you are not comfortable making changes to your site, make sure you understand what the charges will be for your designer to make changes for you.

Keep in mind that if you use a “do-it-yourself” template design, you will most likely NOT have access to the code of your website, so if you wish to change to another system or host, etc. you will have to start from scratch. Often these types of systems only allow limited access to meta tags such as title tags and descriptions as well.

Your business website can be one of your most valuable assets. Don’t give someone else complete control over that much of your business!

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