Ensure Your Digital Assets Are Yours

Old-fashioned key on desk,

Are you giving your developer the only key to your digital domain?

I’ve run into this problem so many times in the past few weeks that it was just begging to be the topic of this month’s The One Thing.

Even if you have a long-term relationship with your developer, I wholeheartedly recommend that you do not use them to host your website or purchase your domain names. They also should not be the sole keeper of your passwords. Even if your developer has passwords to all your accounts — Facebook, newsletter service, domain host, web host, etc. — make sure you, too, have them. Putting all this power in your developer’s hands is equivalent to giving the only set of keys to your store to a contractor.

Let me give a few examples (based on my clients’ true stories) that better show why this is a terrible, no-good, very bad idea:

A.  Client A had entrusted her developer to purchase her domain names for her. When I pointed out that he had purchased them on his account, meaning she had no control over them, she asked him to turn the domain names over to her. Of course, he dragged his feet and even tried using the domain names as a bartering tool to try to get more money out of her. After two weeks — during which time the developer refused to push her site live, meaning there was just a dead page for visitors to see — she realized she had to take legal action. Luckily, her lawyer friend was able to step in and mediate what could have been a very costly legal battle. Also on the client’s side: She’d saved the emails saying that the developer had purchased the domains on her behalf, otherwise the costs — legal and otherwise — could have been much higher.

B. Client B, a very successful restaurant owner, accepted his developer’s offer to host his website on the developer’s servers. When I saw the costs, I was shocked: The developer was charging nearly $500 per month to host a website that should have cost less than $100 with a very reputable web host. When the client decided to move the site to another host, the developer balked and wouldn’t give him access. Again, legal action had to be threatened. (If you’re looking for a web host, I’ve been using Bluehost for years for clients of all sizes and have been very happy.)

C. Client C had a very long, fruitful relationship with her developer. It was the perfect relationship and the developer was, ultimately, incredibly honest and trustworthy  — and all signs point to the fact that he would have remained so had he not died unexpectedly. Because she’d entrusted the passwords with the developer and didn’t keep copies of them herself, the client had no means to access her accounts and spent months getting legal documents together to prove she was the actual owner of her domain names, Facebook page, etc.

D. Client D paid to have a website, including a mobile site, redesigned for their hair salon. When they decided to move to Siteseeing Media for content maintenance, I discovered that their mobile site was built on the original developer’s proprietary platform — meaning the client now has no choice but to use the previous, costly developer to make updates to the mobile site. Even just changing the name of new hairstylists will cost them three times what they should be paying. And if they ever decide to completely sever the relationship with the developer, they will have to pay to have the mobile site completely redesigned again.

So, what have we learned from this? Make sure you have complete control over all aspects of your digital assets. Re-read contracts before you sign them so that you know who controls and owns what.

Time required: One minute to one lifetime, depending on how many accounts you have and how ornery your developer/tyrant/despot is.

Written by

Jenna Rose Robbins started her life as a nerd on her Commodore 64 coding Mad Libs games for her friends. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she parlayed her digital talents into a career and went on to work at AOL and launch multi-million-dollar websites for Disney. After heading up FIJI Water's marketing department, she opened up shop under the Siteseeing banner, which helps small businesses improve their local presence on the web. When she's not getting eyestrain at her computer, Jenna can generally be found trying to avoid emergency rooms around the world.

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