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I had two conversations this week with potential clients who were quite rightly concerned about how their money would be used on their new website. One had already been burned by an agency and it had cost them significantly. The other was simply being thorough and trying to make sure the money that was to be invested wasn’t going to be wasted.

Sometimes, I hear that freelancers are higher risk as if they go out of business, quit or disappear, then you’re left in the lurch.

I believe that if you take a few precautionary steps you can drastically minimise your risk of losing money via your web company regardless of whether they’re a large agency or a lone freelancer.

Register the domain name yourself

Your domain name is so important. It is such an inexpensive commodity yet to lose it is to lose your website and all your emails. Register the domain name yourself; if you don’t currently have it in your name tell your web company you require it to be. Unless they’re up to no good, there’s not a lot they can say other than yes.

Buy the web hosting yourself

The same applies to web hosting. It would be difficult for a company to deny you having your domain name in your business name but web hosting is a bit tricker so best to insist you buy it in your own name from the outset. If they say no ask for a reason why; it may be software you can’t host yourself (see next section).

Consider the cons of using software you can’t host yourself

Some companies may use closed-source software meaning that they don’t permit any of their clients to have a copy of the source and host it themselves. Such software does serve a useful purpose in the market and no amount of persuading is going to get the company to surrender the source code for you to host yourself. This is understandable and you likely agreed to terms that mentioned this when you signed up. If you are using a large reputable company then you likely have nothing to worry about.

Do your research first

Always research the company you are thinking of using first. Ask for references/testimonials and, of course, be sure to read the small print.

Avoid monthly retainers

I’ve never understood monthly retainers; you’re effectively saying, “I’ll pay you even if you don’t do any work”. Ongoing work is understandable and not uncommon but only pay for work that has been done.

Keep a good two-way relationship

Always strive to maintain a relationship of mutual respect. The best websites come as a result of working together rather than a web company that do everything the client says — or an agency that make life difficult for a client.

If you’re thinking of working with me:

  1. I encourage all clients to have ownership of their domain name and web hosting.
  2. If you have been granted a license to use my software library there are no ongoing license fees and you are able to host it yourself.
  3. I can provide references and testimonials from previous clients.
  4. I don’t charge monthly retaining fees. Ever.
Tim Bennett is a freelance web designer from Leeds. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.