Don’t Get Stuck with a Dangerous Web Designer!

Some relationships last a lifetime. Others are fleeting. Some just run their natural course after a few years. When relationships do run their course for whatever reason it’s usually because one party just isn’t feeling it anymore or they want to go at different paces, go different places… Most non-sociopaths are disappointed of course but also able to detach with respect. Once they have licked their wounds for a bit, they will reflect and learn lessons from the break up.

But it’s not always so in matters of the heart (think bitter divorce battles!) nor is it always so in business, which means of course there will be occasions when, sadly, relations between client and web designer break down and go sour too. No doubt all parties start off believing that a breakdown in communication will not be part of their relationship story but a wise client will ensure they prepare for all eventualities. They need something like a ‘web designer pre-nup’. Just in case!

The consequences of being stuck in a relationship with a dangerous web designer are fresh in my mind, having recently watched a good friend go through all sorts of difficulties because he wanted to detach from his old web designer and move to new one. Unfortunately it turns out he was in bed with a designer bunny boiler!


The good friend thought his old designer was also a ‘good friend’ – after all the old designer had been helping him on his website for years – for free! Problem was though, when my good friend tried to ‘break up’ because he felt it was time to move on and up the development pace a bit (albeit he managed the break up very delicately and with deepest gratitude for all said and done) the old web designer decided she didn’t want to break up and was going to hang on in there in that un-contracted relationship, come hell or high water. Yep, for whatever reason – known only to her – the old web designer dug in her heels and just simply refused to hand over the good friend’s server details.

The old friend was completely stumped because he had never thought to get his own user access to the server or keep a copy of the admin user name and password – he had always just let the old web designer ‘get on with it’. He just hadn’t been that bothered with all the techy detail… But roll the clock forward and oh does he bitterly regret that lack of interest and misplaced trust today!

Now bear in mind this good friend is not daft. He is a very bright and focused young man with a seriously cool business that is really going places. His Wordpress website has helped grow the business organically because of his own top notch content and really amazing social media. With a booking engine as well as an online shop – quite apart from being a little online brochure – it has become the heart and soul of his business. Bottom line is, the website is worth a lot to him and his clients – financially and emotionally. He absolutely can’t afford to be in the position where someone else can ‘hold him to ransom’ over it.

Regrettably for my friend the saga is ongoing. He still risks losing all the content and great web SEO he has built up. The thing is in the end he will be OK because he owns his own domain so he could in the last resort build another site there. But only after a raft of bitter and unnecessary tangles, spent money and energy. Plus the old web designer will be left with egg on her face and a reputation for being an uncooperative saboteur. I guess she is desperate and frightened of losing business. They say desperate people do desperate things. But even so, don’t all sane people know for sure that any relationship you have to trap someone into staying in – is one not worth having?

The positive side of this (if there is one) is that the good friend will get there in the end because…

  • Lucky for him – he is in possession of the username and password to his business domain, which is the crown jewels of website ownership.
  • He has also bucked up his ideas when it comes to the importance of his website administration and the Ts & Cs of ownership as well as what a relationship should look like with a designer/host.
  • His lesson learnt is that never again will he let anyone, even someone he thinks is a friend, be in position where they could stop him from deciding what happens next to his website and his business.

Take action and follow these steps to futureproof your business & protect it from a dangerous web designer:

  • Create a ‘Website Essentials Document’ and store it at your Dropbox or similar. Open a new document and keep all the following bits of information on that document – backed up and very safe.

  • Register your own domain and keep the username and password private. Or if you prefer your designer/host to register it on your behalf make sure you have written assurance from them that the domain is owned by you and that you have the right to take it with you – should you wish to move it away from their guardianship when you are out of contract.
  • Always retain an admin username and password to your FTP or SFTP server (ie. the place your website’s content is stored in web files). Don’t be blinded by someone’s overly complex science. You just need an admin user name and password to the server. You don’t need to go in and do anything with it (apart from check it works from time to time!)
  • Know where and how to login to your hosting provider or call to get support from your them. If your web designer is a one man band, he or she may be away on holiday when a routine software update is rolled out or the host decides to upgrade their servers causing problems for your site. You don’t want to wait two weeks to resolve any problems!
  • WordPress admin login credentials: If your website has been built on WordPress make sure you have full administration access. Many WordPress designer/developers don’t give the ‘keys’ to clients outright – for fear that clients will accidentally break something on the site (and there IS some valid thinking behind that!). But you have the right to those administration credentials and the designer should put Ts & Cs in place to cover themselves for extra work – incase you do break something. If something were to happen to your web designer and they were the only ones with the admin access you would be really stuck. It’s your web site, know what the full-access login information is, even if the username and password you regularly use has a paired down admin access so the risk of you breaking anything is limited.
  • Own your images: If you want to hire a different web designer to create a new look for your site you’ll need to locate your original image files. Have your own copies in a safe place. Computers and external hard drives crash, files get lost. Make sure that you have backups of all important files off site (Dropbox or Google Drive for example). You can never have too many backups.
    Logo: have a full electronic version of your logo in the dropbox. It should ideally be in a vector format (like Adobe Illustrator or EPS) on a transparent background, to ensure the greatest design flexibility.
    Stock images: Any images that you’ve purchased (or that your web designer purchased on your behalf) for use on your site need to be backed up to your dropbox folder.
    Professional Profile Photos: Backup to dropbox any images that will be costly to replace.
    Font files: Did you purchase a font for use in your logo or other promotional materials? If so back it up too.
  • And finally. Make sure you have a written agreement with your designer. Even if they are doing some design, development or hosting work for you for free. It is essential to have a written (preferably signed) agreement in place so there are no grey areas about ownership or copyright later down the line.