It’s not as uncommon as it might sound. Not necessarily someone getting run over by a bus (thank goodness), but rather a supplier disappearing or no longer being able to support your requirements. A few of our clients started out with us after their original web developer let them down. This can happen for a variety of reasons; self-employed web designers sometimes move onto alternative areas of employment or a change of career path, whereas larger agencies can go out of business or shift their focus in terms of customer type or the services they offer.
If a big part of your business relies on your website and online presence, there are ways you can protect yourself from the above. Most businesses don’t have a plan of what they’d do if their chosen development company were to disappear from the face of the earth, and due to good fortunate it doesn’t matter in the majority of cases. However, with a simple plan in mind you can prevent disaster should your developer go bust or get hit by the proverbial double-decker:
Standard technology. Where possible ensure your website uses standard tools and methodologies. For example, all of our websites are built using PHP, MySQL and Apache which are industry standard technologies. Avoid proprietary technologies – i.e. those that are owned exclusively and only understood by your developer.
Open source. In addition to the above, open source systems are better than bespoke ones in the sense that they are widely understood and can be easily adopted by an alternate supplier. If you do have a bespoke system, refer to point 1 above.
Intellectual property. Talk to your developer, preferably before the start of your project, and check that you own the intellectual property rights to your site. Even if you don’t, you should ensure that you’re able to transfer it elsewhere if ever you need to.
Backups. Keep up-to-date backups. It’s also important to understand that your website is often comprised of multiple components, for example scripts, templates, image files, databases and server configurations. Simply having the login details for your webspace doesn’t mean you will have access to all of these components. Ideally you should ask your developer for an archive of all required files, databases and configurations for your entire site, and you’d want an updated version periodically.
If you have a control panel with the ability to backup all of the above, make sure you do so regularly. Talk to your developer about this and ensure that your backups really are complete – if they’re not then you need to find this out before disaster strikes and not afterwards!
Some suppliers might become cagey when you ask for full and complete backups. Explain that you are not “jumping ship” but simply looking at ways to protect your business. If you’re on very good terms with your developer, you could even ask them to recommend a friendly associate or rival on the understanding that such details will remain locked in your safe until such time that the sky falls in.
Domains & hosting. Keep your domain names separate from your developer and your web host. By registering your domain names elsewhere you keep your eggs spread across multiple baskets. If things were to go awry with your developer or host, you’ll be able to route your domain names elsewhere.
Communication. Meet with your developer regularly – at least once a year. Talk to them, find out how business is doing and satisfy yourself that they are still committed to servicing your needs.
Following these steps will hopefully provide you with peace of mind by protecting the investment you’ve made in your online presence.