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The other day I was once again reminded why I help friends and clients with their websites. There’s more to it than just enjoying the creative side of the design or my perfectionistic tendencies of correcting punctuation errors. There’s the deeper motivation to right a wrong…what I define as an unwarranted business practice in the world of website maintenance.

My new client wants to make changes to her six-year-old website; it’s time for an update. To do this, of course, I need log-in information and passwords, the hosting company URL address, and any other account details she can offer. (If she still has a contract with the firm, they’re most likely not going to allow me access to her account.) But it’s been six years; she can’t remember any contract and there have certainly been no updates by the website design/hosting company. So she gives them a call.

Not only will they NOT give her – the client and owner of the site – access to her account, they tell her THEY own the content on her site. This is her business site, mind you. The design/hosting company has added industry-specific features (add-on templates)  that they also provide to other similar sites – competitors to my client – but she wrote a good deal of the content information as well. Plus, while they’ve been charging her a hefty monthly fee to host the site (with no changes for six years!), now they want an equally hefty hourly or contract fee to make any updates. This scenario infuriates me enough to write about it!

It’s my opinion that a business owner owns his/her own website content – at least the portion they write themselves or that which they contract to have written for them. I also believe that, if the client wants access to their website to make simple changes (or those within their skill set to do so), give them access. If the business owner messes up the site, the designer can then be paid to straighten it out. And the business owner can decide in the future if they want to walk that path again.

When I assist a client with their site, I give them a number of options:

  • They can write the content; I’ll edit. After all, they know their business much better than I do.
  • I can make the design and text changes, widget uploads, suggestions for improvement…or I can teach them how to do it. Most business owners don’t have the time, desire or skills to do this, but I believe it should be their choice – not my dictate. I get paid either for doing the work or consulting/teaching them.
  • If at any time I’m not available to assist with their project or they can find it done more cheaply somewhere else (unlikely at this point), they can turn it over to another designer/contractor. That’s the beauty of free enterprise and competition. But to hold someone hostage like my client has experienced, I consider that totally unethical!!!

My client now faces the decisions of staying with this original design/hosting company and continuing to pay their escalating fees and sales pressure to totally redesign her site (for thousands of dollars!) …OR…have me (or another independent website designer) start all over to give her a site that she can have access to whenever she wants by whomever she wants. She has already stated to me that she does not want to do the updates herself (no time and limited website skills). It actually might be cheaper in the long run to have her site re-designed, but she has concern about losing some of the features already on the site (all those handy template add-ons). Maybe it’s the familiarity with what’s been there for so long.

Until she makes a decision, I’ve got work to do on her blog. See, I can share.

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