Last week I had a meeting with a client who is also a good friend of mine. She had been away for quite a while so we were catching up. More relevant to this blog post; we were talking about what would happen with her website in certain situations that may or may not happen.
Question about responsibility
Her website is hosted on my production server and her question was; if something happened to me, what would then happen to her site? Would she get access to it? If so, how would that happen? Honestly, I have no idea how that works in the case of a sole-proprietor/freelance businesses. It’s definitely something one should think about though.
Bad things happen. That’s a simple fact we can’t escape. Anyone could get run over by a bus (or here in Amsterdam, by a bike) when walking across the street or get hit by lightning as he/she is biking home from the gym in pouring rain. I’ve actually been mugged three times in this city, which could have turned out worse than it did. I’ve had at least four epileptic seizures the past year or two, which also could have ended not so pleasant (not that they were particularly enjoyable but still).
The hosting company
Let’s say I die tomorrow—brutal and statistically unlikely but definitely possible. Would my hosting company that is based half-way around the world find out or would they simply suspend my account after 12 months when I haven’t paid the annual bills? If they do find out, they wouldn’t know which clients have their sites on my server unless they make the effort to go through every single site. Even if they did, maybe some of the sites are actually testing environments for abandoned projects. It’s really not feasible to expect any hosting company to deal with that scenario.
If my clients contacted them, would they let them move their files if they show the contract signed when the site was built? Who would have the right to make this happen? Who would inherit my account? It’s probably not the biggest problem that my death could cause but it’s certainly a problem for the ecommerce business I host that rely on their site for full-time income, allowing the owners to feed their kids. They shouldn’t have to build a whole new site and lose all their data because something happens to me.
If you’re an agency with employees, it wouldn’t be a problem. The other people in the firm would take care of these things for you and it would hopefully never become any problem for the client. But as I’m working solo for now, I feel I should offer my clients some security and protection from what could happen if something happens.
The obvious conclusion is that it’s simply your—and only your—responsibility to make sure that if something bad happens to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean something bad happens to your clients. To tackle this, I can hand clients any FTP login details needed to get their files, and write a document (or put up on my wiki) explaining what should be done if something happens to me—perhaps give a brief description of how to grab their files and get their site running somewhere else, and how to get a hold of domain names and so on.
But really, the by far greatest thing one can do is to not put oneself in that kind of situation. If you’re working solo, don’t host client websites or domain names. I do it only in rare cases, and even then I’m reluctant. Many will likely ask you about it—explain that getting their own hosting is good for their health. If you’re setting it up for them, make sure your clients have login information for the hosting and other back-ends so that they have all the access they need.
If something happens to you, the single reason why your client panics should be that he or she will have a lot of trouble finding someone as good (and charming) as you. Be safe now!