I’ve gotten calls in the middle of the night from people around the world trying to get help recovering their WordPress password because their “web guy” ran out on them. I’ve watched people turn over their entire online business to a family member “because they are young and understand all of this stuff,” only to have the family member make wrong decisions, abandon them, or take their money and run. I just got off the phone with another person taken advantage of from some web designer/developer in India. The developer locked up their site and threatened them that if they don’t pay him $500 a month, he will shut down their website and online business. He says that he controls everything on the site and that everything, the content and the code, is his and he has the right to control it all if they will not pay him more.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. It’s your site. You own it. No matter how much work someone does for you on the site, it is yours.
If you hire a gardener to work on your property, the gardener does not own the property. They are an employee, contractor, or, in the legal sense, work for hire. You might give them the keys to the property, but you own it. It is yours.
“If I stop them, they will destroy or take down my site. They will lock me out and hurt my site and business.” This is the most common fear I hear from people. No one has the right to harm your site because you refused to continue business with them. The gardener has no right, legal or ethical, to burn your house down because you end your business dealings with them. If they do, you have the right to take legal action against them.
However, if you violate the legal agreement with them, they also have rights to take action against you for non-compliance. They still have no right to deface or harm your site. While there are abusive web designers and developers, there are also bad clients. Don’t be one of them.
Site ownership has the responsibilities and liabilities of any business. Be responsible for your own site. Make sure you own the domain name, that you contract with the web host for the hosting arrangements (possibly on the recommendation of the designer or developer of your site), and that you have password access to everything. Get it all in your name. You never know when the relationship may sour. You want the online property in your name, under your control.
Too many times we hire friends or family members to do our business websites, trusting them with our business, income, and reputation. While they may be professionals, they may not act professionally. You must still act professional when it comes to your online business.
Before you hire someone, or if you have, make sure you know how to access the site and that your name is on all the legal forms that are part of a website.
- Domain Name: The domain name is the dot com, dot net, or whatever for the site address. It is registered with an annual fee with InterNIC through a third-party such as your web host. To keep this simple, consider this the address to your website.
- Web host: The domain is forwarded to a website address on a web host. Your monthly/annual fees for web hosting covers storage space on the web. It may or may not use WordPress or another web publishing platform, which is typically free or included in the price. Consider your web host as your landlord. The domain name (address) points to this spot on the map.
- Design: Once you pay for the design of the site, it is yours to use and do with as you will, depending upon your contractual obligations and licenses with the site designer. Many web designers design the site for a fee, then charge a retainer for regular updates and maintenance. In the WordPress world, most WordPress Themes are free, but even if you paid for one or for someone to design it, you own the right to use it and they cannot take it away or do anything to harm it intentionally. Read the license agreement, and if you hire someone, get it all down in writing so everyone understands the fine print.
- Development: If you pay someone to develop scripts, WordPress Plugins, or any programming for your website, it is still work for hire and you own the work as part of the license agreement. You pay for it, it is yours to use on your site. You may pay a retainer or maintenance fee to the developer to maintain the code, but they have no right to act beyond the limits of the license and contractual agreements you’ve made with them.
- Webmaster: You may hire your designer, developer, or a separate person or company to maintain and manage your site. Do not give them complete control or trust them implicitly. Just like an arrangement with an investor or housekeeper, go in informed and make sure all legal paperwork is read and the terms are agreed to, taking into consideration their liability and responsibility with your site, and an exit plan to protect yourself.
- Contributors/Content Managers: Contributors and content managers are the gardeners for your site’s content. Set up writer’s and contributor’s agreements with them before they publish their first words. Set their user level permissions to restrict access to content not design and development. Be specific with writer’s guidelines so they speak well for you, representing your best interests on your site. Like webmasters, developers and designers, have a clear exit plan for termination.
- WordPress: WordPress is free. While some may charge to install and setup a WordPress site, and there may or may be be WordPress Theme and Plugins you may choose to buy, WordPress is free. It takes seconds to install with little or no coding experience. Most reputable web hosts have a free one-click installation of WordPress. There are plenty of WordPress Themes and Plugins to choose from to enhance your site for no additional fees, though generous donations are always welcome to encourage them to continue supporting their code. Take care when choosing to pay someone for things that are free and you can do. Time is money, so paying someone to do it for you because you do not have the time or energy is fine, but make sure that such arrangements are in writing and no ownership or control of your site is included in paying for their services.
If you are in the process of hiring someone, make sure they have a minimum of three years experience (five is better), look at their portfolio carefully, and contact their clients. Just as you would anyone you would hire to come onto your property, verify their story and protect yourself before you open the door to your precious property.
Note: This site is managed by WordPress.com and I am subject to the WordPress.com Terms of Service. Per the Terms of Service, I own the content. If you are on a managed or hosted service, check the terms of service and agreements to read all the fine lines about ownership, responsibility, and liability to ensure you protect yourself.
Your blog exercise today is to check the above list to ensure you have all of the elements in place. Make sure your name is on the domain name and web hosting agreements, and that you know how to set permissions for access to your site if necessary.
If you have any agreements with designers, developers, or webmasters, clarify them. Get them in writing and read the fine print if you haven’t already. Make sure you are protected at all costs.
Write up strong contributor and writer guidelines for guest bloggers or contributors to your site. Make sure they are all on the same page as you and that you have exit plans in place for them as well.
It’s business. It’s professional. Protect yourself. Bad things may never happen. A web designer, developer, or webmaster may never take your money and give you poor work or walk out on you. A writer may never turn against you. Let’s hope that these things never happen and your online business experience is always a blessed and joyous one.
For the rest of us who’ve had these things happen not once but many times, learn from our mistakes and protect yourself.
If you blog about this, remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.