This story is the first of a three-part continuation of my previous post on The Importance of Trust, in which I shared several insights about what to look for in a marketing relationship and how to avoid getting scammed.
Domain Parking, Carbon Copying and Incomplete Work
I have personally encountered each of these three issues that I’m about to discuss in just the last few months with actual clients, whose names I will omit for obvious reasons. Each one of these clients was a hard sell for me — I really had to earn their trust. It was not about fast talking and being smooth, it was about being open, transparent, and putting the relationship first. These are people trying to make a living, or achieve a lifelong dream. They deserve to be treated that way.
So, even though it totally sucks to pay the price for some other person’s mistakes (in this business we’re often guilty before proven innocent, it seems) — the same way it works in relationships where one person has trust issues from the past and projects their insecurity onto the innocent significant other — I have to remember, this person does not have to trust me. They don’t know me. They’ve been burned. Why would they give me their money and grant me access to something that is very important to them? I’ll tell you why.
Meet Client A
Client A requested a consultation after I submitted my bid for her project, and mine was one of many. She’d been interviewing for weeks, if not months. Every designer she spoke to made her feel like they were either rushing her off the phone, or like they understood her vision technically but didn’t really grasp what it meant to her. She was forthcoming and very clear about the fact that she was looking for a relationship, a connection, and a vibe. No, this isn’t online dating, but it is serious business! She was also very honest about her level of technical knowledge — very little.
The right person should listen more than they talk. If you are having trouble articulating your vision, they should try to understand enough to fill in the blanks for you and be somewhat on target. It’s a fact-finding mission of discovery. Those who truly deserve to work with you will be adept at putting the pieces together.
So, this client informed me that she already had a domain that she’d “owned” for a long time, but that the person who built her website years ago was now unable to be reached and had been in charge of her hosting. Client A said that her former website was no longer active, and that she didn’t know how to regain control of her domain. She had discontinued her relationship with her previous web person for a couple of reasons, and due to that, the previous web person stopped responding to the client’s requests.
Red flag #1:
NO ONE, I repeat — NO ONE, should ever leave you hanging, under any circumstances. If you have paid them, trusted them, and they manage your website (or have completed any type of project for you), they should remain at your disposal even after the project or relationship is terminated. I don’t mean they should work for free or continue to spend a lot of time on your requests, you have to be reasonable, but they should not prohibit you in any way from being able to move forward with something they used to manage for you. If that means educating you, or handing over the keys to another professional, they should (at the very least) be responsive to your requests. If the contract language doesn’t explicitly state that they are willing to do this, ask to get it in writing.
I’ll Take Parked Domain for $2,000, Please (Said No One Ever)
I promised Client A that I’d investigate and, upon searching for her domain, I found it parked for a premium price of $2,000! Her prior web person continues to own the domain, but has disabled the hosting, parked the domain, and is now asking for $2,000 for it to essentially be bought back from her. To give you an idea, most domains are like, $9.99 or $14.99 a year. Now, I don’t know all the details — I don’t know if this person feels they deserve more payment for services rendered, or whatever the case may be. But they made it cost-prohibitive for this client to move forward with her existing website — something the client is supposed to own. Yes, I said it — my fellow creatives are squirming — your clients should own the material you create for them.
Maybe my position is unconventional, but I think that’s why I earn loyal clients. They know they’re safe with me. To my understanding, Client A had a site, she wasn’t happy with it, and she requested changes. Her former web person didn’t make the changes to the client’s satisfaction, so the client terminated the relationship (after giving many chances, it was not immediate). The former web person may have been unhappy with this, and took the site down, then stopped responding to the client’s requests to grant access to the site. Basically this client was left with nothing — no website, no access to the previous content or the domain that the site lived on — nothing to hand to the next professional. And then the former web person puts the domain up for sale for a ridiculous price so that the client has to start over from scratch or pay out the nose.
To avoid a situation like this, anyone you’re considering should be able to tell you (in writing) that you will own and have rights to all aspects of your project even if your relationship with them is terminated by either party. It is their responsibility to, at the very least, leave you with a set of instructions on how to access, manage, and proceed with whatever is left.
Theoretically (because I know some of you are going to counter me on this), let’s just say that Client A didn’t tell me the whole story and she stopped paying her former web person for the hosting or for services rendered. Let’s say the web person had made reasonable attempts to contact Client A for payment, and was unsuccessful. What would I do? I’d first remind my client of the terms of the contract, emphasizing that I’d attempted to obtain payment, and if I still didn’t hear anything in a matter of 48 hours after issuing my final warning, I’d temporarily disable the site (in accordance with the terms of the contract) so that it would generate an error message, but I wouldn’t terminate the hosting and then park the domain for the amount of a past-due balance.
Perhaps this web manager was paying for the hosting and then billing the client for it — that’s not something I do. It’s not advisable to be in the business of paying for things on behalf of your clients and expecting them to essentially reimburse you on a regular basis. With every website I’ve ever created for a client, I give a set of options which all include a level of direct ownership on their part. If you explain to the client that they are responsible for “non-inclusive” costs (such as domain ownership and hosting) which are required for keeping their site up and running, then they will be invested in the project, they will understand it better, and you will not be in a liability position if they stop paying.
Payment to the web person should be for setup and design. If you’ve already paid me X to design your site, but the hosting and domain are connected to your credit card, then I will not delete or take down the content for which you’ve already paid — I just won’t make any further changes to your site until you pay your past-due balance. If you fail to update your credit card information and your annual domain renewal fails to go through, you’ll be getting the email about it, not me. Once you update the information on your end, everything goes back to normal. Your web person’s billing and payment expectations should be crystal clear in the Terms and Conditions of their website and should be referenced in the contract language from the beginning.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Client B and The Dysfunctional, Carbon Copy Website