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Blog > Breaking Up With Your Web Designer – A Safety Checklist

Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Breaking Up With Your Web Designer – A Safety Checklist

February 11th, 2010

I often have people contact me who are in various stages of breaking up with their current web designers. Sometimes the termination is friendly, sometimes it’s not. Here’s what you should know BEFORE you attempt to fire, or otherwise end your working relationship with your web designer.

1. Domain Name Ownership – Make sure that you own your domain name, and the domain name registration is not in the name of the web designer. You need to make very, very, very sure that you, and no one else, legally owns your domain name. Here’s article you can use to find out who owns your domain name. You’ll want to be 110% sure that the domain name is owned by you, and that your name is listed in the public records. Some domain registrars will hide the names, and display a proxy – but you should contact the domain registrar and make sure that you are the owner of record. If you are not the owner, you should ask your web developer to transfer the ownership to you. If they refuse to transfer it, you might want to hire an attorney.

2. Hosting Plan Ownership – You can use the same method listed above to see who your current hosting company is. It will generally be listed in the DNS (Domain Name Server) area of the WHOIS record. If your web designer is doing your hosting, then you might want to consider moving to a neutral company (like BlueHost). Unless your web developer has sent you recent copies of all your website files, they may only exist on your hosting company’s server and your developer’s computer. This means that if you make your web developer mad enough, they can simply delete them from the server and your website is GONE. Sound unbelievable? It’s actually happened to a client of mine.

Why are these two things important?

If you don’t own your domain name, it means whoever owns it can sell it to another person – even a competitor, at will. There’s no logical or ethical reason why a web developer needs to own another person’s domain name – would you let a graphic designer trademark YOUR logo? Of course not. So make sure you are the domain name owner – and if not, make this your #1 priority.

If you don’t have direct control of your website hosting server, your website files could be at risk if your relationship with your current developer goes bad. It just takes a few minutes to set up your own hosting account with a neutral company – so if you’re planning on leaving your web developer – get an account set up and get your website files moved. Most likely you will need help from your current developer to get this done, unless you have duplicate copies of your website files handy, or have FTP access to your website’s server.

Other Things To Consider

3. Stock Photography Licenses – if your developer has purchased stock photography on your behalf, get documentation to prove this so you can’t be held liable for copyright infringement.

4. Software Licenses – if your developer has purchased software on your behalf, get copies of that documentation so you can prove that you own all the software used by your website.

5. Databases – If your website uses a database, transferring your website from one hosting server to another can be complicated. Be sure you understand the scope of your current website before attempting to relocate.

6. Server-Side Language – Know what languages are used on your website. For example, if your website is written in PHP, it might need to be hosted on a Linux or Unix server, and if your website is written in ASP, it might be need to be hosted on a Windows server. Know what server-side languages (and corresponding database languages) are used on your website because they may prohibit you from moving your website to certain servers.

7. Email – Generally speaking, email servers are with whoever is hosting your website, and whoever is hosting your website has the ability to read your website-based emails. If you change hosting companies, your email accounts will be lost, and you will need to set up new accounts on your new hosting company’s email system.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – But It Shouldn’t Be Dangerous

While deciding to end your relationship with your web developer may be difficult, it should not put your website in jeopardy – if, and only if – you’ve taken steps to make sure that your website registration and hosting are independent from your web developer. If domain registration and hosting are under your direct control, you simply need to change the passwords on any accounts (control panels and FTP) to make sure your developer doesn’t have access, and you’re ready to start a new relationship with someone else.

Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure

This means that if you haven’t yet hired a web developer and are in the interviewing process, you can ask them about domain registration and hosting. You can avoid folks who say they’ll do the domain registration on your behalf, as well as folks who insist on hosting the website themselves. There’s no reason why a developer would need to register your domain in their name. While it’s possible that your website is so special and complex it has to be hosted on a developer’s server – find out the details and ask lots of questions, especially if all you need is a simple small business website. Domain registration and website hosting are relatively inexpensive things ($10 a year and $10 a month, respectively) – yet depending on how they are structured, can make breaking up with your web developer a nightmare.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

2 Responses to “Breaking Up With Your Web Designer – A Safety Checklist”

  1. Ray Says:

    Nice article! Just what I was wondering about. Thank you, there’s not a lot out there on this topic.

  2. Anna Says:

    Really helpful article – thanks

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