Last Sunday my wife and I wasted an hour driving to a rug store that turned out to be closed even though the store’s website indicated it would be open. When we called on Monday, the man at the store apologized and explained that the business is in a fight with its web designer, who is refusing to make any changes to the current site, including the hours. This is about the tenth hosting horror story I have heard recently, including the one from my auto mechanic, whose designer stole his website and sold it to a firm with the same name in another state. After spending five years building up his site, he is back to square one.
If you are an entrepreneur or a small business owner who works with outside web development and design firms, please DO NOT let them purchase or host your website. Every business should own its own domain name in an account that is controlled by the owner. The owner can purchase a third-party hosting plan with direction from the web designer and then give that designer access. However, when you let you a web designer purchase or host your domain, you are violating the old “possession is 9/10ths of the law” principle, and you may be putting your business in jeopardy.
Although these are two of the more egregious examples of what I call “hosting hostages,” others are much more common. Often a provider will hold a client effectively hostage by demanding ridiculous prices for simple upgrades and improvements. The providers know that their control over the client’s website prohibits the client from asking another service provider to get involved, and companies are often scared to ask for competing quotes from a new company if it means having to go through the existing vendor. Vendors can also make it very hard to switch over, especially if the goal is to terminate the relationship. I have seen companies stick with an unsatisfactory vendor for years because of this dynamic, often at a huge expense.
What You Can Do
For the aforementioned reasons, web hosting is a clever tactic for design and development firms; however it’s a liability for a business owner. Don’t wait until you have a problem on your hands to fix this. Go to your service provider while you still have a good relationship and tell them that one or more of the following (investors, auditors, insurance company, legal counsel) has suggested/required that you demonstrate ownership over your domain name and hosting account. The provider can tell you exactly what plans/service to buy and will have all the same access to make updates, but you should retain control of the master password. This is generally not as hard to do as they are likely to claim, and a third-party firm should have more reliable hosting, especially if your vendor has your website on its own in-house machines. If your vendor tries to drag their feet, hold back on accounts payable until they get it done for you. You don’t want to wait to deal with the issue until you have an acrimonious situation on your hands. When that time comes, it’s your customers who may suffer.