Warning: Do you realise how easily your website and domain can be held hostage?

So it’s Monday morning. You’ve just received an email from your website designer telling you for the fourth time that he’ll get onto your latest request “shortly” but you can’t possibly wait any longer. It’s already been 3 weeks. You need to start selling your exciting new product now so you can start generating more revenue but you can’t. He’s holding you back!

You’ve had enough so you decide it’s time to find a new web designer even though you’ve already paid the old one for the modification in advance. You bite the bullet and go out, search through hundreds of designers, find one you like and get a good quote you can work with and you’re very excited to finally be moving further towards your dream.  The new designer asks you for your website access details and you get in contact with your previous designer to get them. You don’t get a response. You send another email and try phoning them. Still nothing. You send further emails and make more phone calls and still radio silence.  Now you’re left with a useless website that you can’t do anything to. Your previous designer won’t implement your request and won’t respond to your emails/phone calls and your new designer can’t do anything until they have the access details.

You finally get a response out of your previous website designer informing you that he won’t hand over the details unless you pay $500 first. Welcome to having your website being held hostage. You’re at stalemate and you’re not in control. You’re paying for a website and hosting that you can’t use and that’s no longer serving your needs. You can’t move forward and it’s causing problems for your business and your passion. It’s costing you time, money and lost productivity.

This type of scenario is all too common – you can even google it to read some pretty horrendous stories!. Not many website owners are aware of it and are certainly at risk of it happening to them. It’s one of those things that you don’t know about until it happens to you which is the reason for this post. I want to build more awareness about this and to help stop people from falling into this trap! If I can save just one person from having this happen to them I’ll be completely happy!

So how do you prevent this nightmare situation happening to you?

You make sure you get all your website access details from your website designer when the website is handed over. You also be the one to purchase the domain and website hosting rather than having it setup by your website designer, friend or a relative.

Reasons why you need to have full website access details and be the one to purchase your domain and website hosting

So you’re website is not held hostage by unsavoury web designers and developers

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to trust your website designer but since we unfortunately don’t live in an ideal world, it would be wrong to not protect yourself from bad experiences and nightmare scenarios like the one at the beginning of this post.

Bad website designers and developers do exist sadly and they can really make your life a real living hell. There are some really horrendous stories floating around on the internet which you can easily find through google. Most web designers will also have stories from their own clients they can share (myself included). What most people and businesses do to avoid this is to try and hire a good website designer but sometimes you just happen to luck out or a relationship with your website designer might start off great but then turn sour for any number of reasons. This isn’t a very good “protection” measure and it leaves you vulnerable and at risk of having a website that you can’t use or update.

Not having to change your domain and emails when you fall out with designers, developers and friends and finding it costing you thousands in branding replacements and marketing campaigns.

Should the worse happen and you do find yourself with your website being inaccessible or that your friend, relative or website designer or developer won’t hand over your details you are left with a very difficult and horrible decision. If you can’t obtain ownership of the domain or gain full administration access to your website and you have either exhausted all legal avenues or don’t have the funds to fight, you may find yourself with the only option of getting a new domain and starting again from scratch. Besides the cost in re-creating your website from scratch, you may also have to re-do all of your branding (posters, documents, flyers, business cards,  tv campaigns etc) since you’ve most likely set these to use a particular domain and email address that you can no longer access! This can be a very expensive option which I’m sure you don’t need and could find better uses for that amount of money.

Note: In some countries it is even illegal for people or other companies to register domains in the names of/for other people/businesses.

Allow you to freely switch between designers, developers and hosting companies

If you have hired a website designer and discovered you don’t like them, they aren’t the right fit or you end up having a disagreement, you can walk away and find another designer that’s better for you without worrying about them turning nasty on you or holding your website hostage. Some website designers (if they setup your domain and hosting) won’t hand over the details as a way of “getting back” at you for what they think “you’ve done” or to try and lock you down so you can only work with them. It’s a horrible tactic that has no place in the industry but it sadly does happen but you can protect yourself by making sure you’re the one to purchase the domain and hosting and having the full administration access details to your website.

The same situation can happen when you’ve had a friend or relative setup your website hosting as a “favour” for you. This typically happens when you don’t know that much about website hosting and know someone who does. If you end up falling out with them or simply want to move away from the hosting company due to financial or personal reasons and doing so may impact the relationship, you can find that they may not want to hand over the details to you. Though it may seem uncommon, I can tell you that I’ve had more than one client where this has happened to and it’s been quite a fight to get hold of the details if at all!

As you can see, by having purchased both the domain and hosting yourself as well as getting the full administration access to your website you can avoid the situations above which gives you the freedom to move between hosting companies and website designers without hassle.

Not getting locked out of your website and having to start from scratch that could cost you a fortune and lost productivity

It’s important that when your website has been completed that you obtain the full administrator access to your website. If you don’t, you can find yourself:

  • not being able to update your website
  • not being able to switch designers/developers
  • not being able to extend your website functionality as your new designers/developer will need full admin access to do anything with your website.
  • if the worse should happen like your designer being involved in an accident or worse or they pull a disappearing act, you can still access your website and hire someone else to continue on without as much disruption to your business.

When you get locked out of your website and your new website designer can’t help you regain access but you need to make changes/extend functionality you may find that your only option is a website recreation. This can be really expensive and cause you lost productivity, unexpected expenses, keeping you up at night instead of working in your passion and doing the things you’d rather be doing!

Less stress, worry and time saved, delays averted

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  When you purchase your own domain, hosting and have all your access details you can rest easy, put your feet up and have a cup of tea not having to worry about finding yourself in any of the horrible situations mentioned in this blog post. You’re important projects, launches and client work won’t be delayed, postponed or lost due to these types of website emergencies. You won’t have to put the development of new products or services on the backburner due to lack of funds and you get to keep on servicing your clients and doing your thing! No stress for you is always a good thing!

Not requiring money that could be used more effectively elsewhere

You can avoid having to outlay unnecessary expenses related to website re-creation, legal costs or re-doing all your branding materials. This allows you to use your hard earn money on more useful and productive things like developing new products and services, marketing and other things that contribute more to furthering your purpose in life and in business. Things that make you happy and set you on fire.

Get on with your passion and helping others rather than exhausting your energy on negativity and bad experiences that will hold you back.

When you’re right in the middle of a situation like that one at the beginning of this blog post you will find that you’re stressed and not your usual bright, cheerful, happy self and it’ll zap your energy like crazy! You’re unfocussed, exhausted and you’re dreams and passions will suffer for it. Getting out of one of these situations is exhausting and doesn’t happen overnight which means you’ll be held back from truly reaching your potential and we’re not just talking days!

Being able to continue with your website in the event of your designer getting hit by a truck or doing the disappearing act..

This is your ultimate worst case scenario. We all know life is short and unpredictable and that things can happen to anyone. Even though most of us think it won’t happen to us or anyone we know we’ve all read the stories. If it should happen to your website designer, though it would be unintentional on their part, you may find yourself inadvertently without access to your website, hosting and domain and having to find another website designer to take over from them. This makes it all the more complex in a difficult time for you, creating unnecessary stress in your life. You can help yourself from having to deal with this scenario by purchasing your own domain and hosting and asking for the full access administrator website account details from your website designer if they don’t supply them. Most ethical website designers will do this automatically as they know what can happen but quite a lot of website owners don’t think this far and don’t know the ramifications it can have for them. Please don’t be one of them.

Here’s exactly what you’ll want to make sure you have:

Below are the details you need and in the next section, we’ll look at how you can obtain these if you don’t have them. The details you’ll want to have:

  1. The access details for your CMS (Content Management System) that sits behind your website (e.g. wordpress, drupal etc).
    You’ll want to ensure you have username, password as well as the  login link for the FULL ACCESS ADMINISTRATOR account for your content management system.
  1. Your hosting control panel details
    You’ll want to ensure you have your control panel access details:

    1. Username
    2. Password
    3. login link
  1. The FTP accounts setup details
    You’ll want to ensure you have:

    1. Username
    2. Password
    3. FTP Address
  1. All database username and passwords
    For each database required by your site(s), you’ll want to ensure you have:

    1. Database Name
    2. Username for the database user account
    3. Password for the database user account
  1. Licence Keys
    You’ll want to ensure you also have a copy of license keys for any included plugins and themes, where applicable, for your website.
    Please note: some plugins may be using a developer licence of the designer so you won’t be able to get these ones.

How and what to do if you don’t have these details

If after having read through this post you find that you’re missing certain details, you’re first course of action is to get those details as soon as you can so you’re protected.  Here’s what you need to do for each of the items listed above.

For CMS Details

Contact your website designer and ask for the username and password of the full access account to your website including any links for login.

For Control Panel Details

If your website designer or a friend/relative setup the website hosting attached to your account, you’ll need to request these details from them. If you don’t want to step on toes, you can frame it under just getting all the details into one place and protecting yourself from a worst case scenario. If you wish to transfer ownership which I’d highly recommend you’ll need to talk to the hosting company about their procedure for doing this as it differs between companies.

For FTP Accounts

Contact your website designer and ask for the FTP address, username and passwords for any FTP accounts they may have setup. Nine times out of ten the username and password are the same as the hosting but not always. Your website designer will know what an FTP account is. Please note that if they can’t supply them/don’t know or whatever reason they give you, it is possible to have this password reset without breaking your website so you aren’t completely in the dark if you can’t obtain the existing password.

For Database Details

Contact your website designer and ask for a list of databases they have created complete with database user account names and passwords for each.

For Licence Keys

Contact your website designer and ask for the licence keys for any plugins they have used for your website which are not using a developer licence.

A note about restrictions

In some cases you may find that some website design companies or website designers will not be able to hand over the full administrator access account details for a content management system for a website. This is usually due to some proprietary code/setup/plugin that they have developed and it’s usually mentioned (but not always) in your contract. If this is the case then you’re unfortunately at their mercy in relation to the risk of being held hostage and a few of the other scenarios mentioned above. The best way to avoid being in this situation in the first place is to ask before buying or check the faq’s of a designer you’re interested in so you know that you’ll be able to get them and protect yourself/avoid the risks in the first place.

Lastly, do you know of someone with a website that could benefit from this knowledge? Please share it with them so they also don’t get caught out and have something terrible happen to them!!

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