Today, Stacy and I are staring out this dreary window, and it's raining and a little sad outside. So, we thought we would talk about heartbreak, specifically, how to break up with your web designer. Sounds better than breaking up with your boyfriend, right? Which, of course, we're not encouraging you to do. We'll let that be your own decision.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer
Stacy Brockmeier
Stacy Brockmeier Account Executive

How to Break Up with Your Web Designer

How to Break Up With Your Web Designer

Breaking up with your web designer… sounds better than breaking up with your boyfriend, right? Which I’m not encouraging you to do — I'll let that be your own decision.

Regardless, lucky for us, ending your relationship with your web designer can be broken down into just a few simple steps... as opposed to breaking up with a significant other, which might break down into 23 legally-enforced steps that can span over months or even years or possibly even a lifetime and may not ever end... 4th grade was a tough year.

Anyway, onto the good stuff!

How do you break up with your web designer? Start with your contract.

1. Understand where you are right now in your contract.

To do that, you have to review the contract you signed with your current web designer. It will tell you what you own, what the company owns — even what you have access to . There are likely multiple parts or sections of the contract that pertain specifically to things like:

  • your hosting space
  • rights to your files
  • rights to your code
  • stock photography used in your website
  • original photographs taken for your website (both the ones you used and those you didn't)

You might not be able to use the images in your current site in a new website, especially if they're stock photos — doing so can sometimes get you in a little bit of trouble if you if the images weren’t included with your contract.

Photographers often grant varying degrees of ownership and usage rights to client's photos. If this design company came out and took for you — make sure that you have all of those, and the rights to use them, from the photographer who took them.

The contract should also let you know how much notice you're required to provide that company before you can end your services. A lot of cancellation stipulations required a 30 day notice before the date you’d like your services to end, but not always, so look at that.

2. Go through your website and figure out what assets from it you need from your designer. 

You'll certainly want photos, images and videos but what else do you need your soon to be former design company to deliver to you before you part ways?

Think through any items you may have procured from or through this company throughout your relationship and make a list so that you can ask for those — because, quite frankly, after you end the relationship with them, they're probably not going to be super enthused about sending you your logo files, and you’re not going to find them anywhere else. 

Again, list what you find and then get those assets from your design company so you can use them in your future marketing. 

3. Figure out what you information need to transition your site (and what you don’t know you need).

Hosting Space

Your website is comprised of many things, the first of those being your hosting space. I like to think about hosting as an apartment. This apartment (your hosting space), like most, exists within an apartment complex (your host). To get into your apartment, you'll need a code to get into the building (the host - usually just your website URL but not always), and keys to your apartment the username and password to your FTP (File Transfer Protocol) space. 

Another piece you’ll need: your port number. That's kind of like your extra security code when you need to turn off the alarm system in your apartment.

If you have a content management system like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, etc., those are all hosted on a database — so the second set of usernames and passwords that you need are your database username and password

Domain Name

A domain name is that little thing you type in the top bar of your browser to go to a website, i.e. mayecreate.com — that's our domain name also referred to as a URL. It also points to your email, and we'll talk about that in a second.

Unfortunately, if you do not have access to your domain name, it's not easy to get access to it once you’ve cut ties with your design company. So it's super important to know who owns it and where it lives before breaking up. We host a lot of domain names for our clients, but they've paid us for them and we're really cordial about giving them back. Not everybody is so kind.

How do I get user information for my domain?

Your domain name registrar is where you bought your domain name. I didn't just make up that word. It's actually a real word, registrar — places like GoDaddy and Network Solutions, Bluehost, Tucows, FastDomain.com, etc.

To figure out your registrar run a report at Whois.net.

You need the username and password to the company you registered your domain name with. If you don't know who your domain is registered with you can run a “who is” report on it by going to whois.net and enter the domain name into the search field (there are several companies out there you can run “who is” reports through). Unless you've paid for a domain name privacy policy your registrar should show right up.

You can do this for any website. If you're feeling frisky type "godaddy.com", you'll see who the registrar is. It can be a little bit tricky sometimes because those companies buy each other up, so it could be hosted with a smaller company owned by a bigger domain name registrar.

But your new web developer ought to be able to help you figure out where it's registered so you can get in touch with the registrar and get a hold of your domain name.

Story time!

Right now, Stacy is in the throes of helping an organization her dad is a part of. Keep in mind, this is a group of 70-something-year-old men. Well, their webmaster sadly passed away, and unfortunately nobody has the username and password to their organization’s domain name. Nobody knows whose email is on it, and Stacy can't even run that “who is” report because the organization paid for domain privacy. And of course, the registrar is not helping because their duty is to protect their client. 

We’ve submitted the Secretary of State paperwork — all kinds of paperwork actually — and we still don't have access to it. Fortunately, her dad's group isn't an online business so it won't be the end of the world for their organization to go without a website for a hot minute. So they decided they're just going to have to let the domain expire and figure out how to buy it back when it goes out on the market. No fun.

Administrative User Account in Your Content Management System

The third thing you need, if you have a content management system, is a user account within that content management system. So for example, in WordPress, you would need an administrative account to grant you full access to the website’s content and settings. This is really important. If you don't have an administrative account, you can't make all the changes you need to make to move your website some place else. 

We’ve had many clients tell us they have a username and password, then when we log in, the only thing they can do is publish blog posts. Which is great if you're afraid users are going to break the site. But they are the site owner and they can’t even install plugins. They can't export data from their site. And maybe this isn’t necessarily content or data you’ll utilize when you redesign your website, but having this level of access also gives your new designer access to the database and other files, making the site move way easier. Especially if your site has a blog or a shopping cart with lots of products.

The takeaway: make sure you get a user in your current content management system at an administrative level. 

Not sure if you have an administrator account?

If you have an administrative user account, you’ll see a ton of options to choose from down the left-hand side of the screen, and you’ll likely not have a clue what most of them are. If your site is built in WordPress you can check your user level easily. Once you've logged into the admin section click on Users on the left navigation. If you don't see Users on the left, you're not an admin. On the Users screen look for your user ID. A few columns over from your User ID a Role will be listed. If you're role says Administrator you're golden. If it says subscriber, author, editor or anything else. You know what to do.

Email Hosting

If you have a professional email account associated with your domain name, it's really important to understand where your email is hosted and how that changeover is going to work in terms of email functionality and access.

We've had many clients who didn't really know how their email was handled, and when it’s not handled right, you can break your email when you redirect your domain name to point over to your new website,  which is very sad because you can't ever get those emails back.

So get clear on all that email stuff before you move on from our old company.

4. Write the email.

Be clear in your communication.

Be sure in your communication you’re clear on when you want your services to end. If you emailed me to tell me that you want to cancel your service there are many ways I could translate that. I might think you mean you want to end your service when your contract is up. But you might mean you want to cancel in 6 months or cancel today. I don't know if you don't tell me and if I make an incorrect assumption you could be billed for a service you don't need or if I cancel your service before your new site is ready you won’t have a website anymore.

So definitely make sure you include a date — and if you’ve got multiple services through the company, a list of the specific services you're going to cancel.

Be considerate.

Speaking of hosting bills, many designers have hard costs tied into the development and hosting of your website, so if you just up and move your website to a new place and don't ever tell them, you’ll owe them for the cost of hosting your site whether you used it or not.

That said, be sure to follow up on any charges you might see post-break-up. With so many payments set up as auto-pay, it’s common to find those recurring charges are still running even after your site’s been moved over.

Bring in your IT professional if you have one.

I love when companies bring in their IT professionals at the very beginning of these conversations, because those IT professionals know how everything is set up. Given they’ll be the ones dealing with this exchange, it's great to have them on board from the beginning. 

For clients who need a transitional guide...

When we have new clients with an existing website who are trying to retrieve these details and assets from their past designer, we'll write the “break up” email for them. This way we can all feel secure knowing expectations and needed items are being outlined as clearly as possible.

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We generally don't reach out directly to the previous design company, unless something really strange is going on and we have no other options. Most of the time, we draft an email for our client and they pass it along as their own email and send it off. It’s a nice exchange, because the client doesn't feel overwhelmed or out of control not knowing what words to use to communicate what they need — it's peace of mind for them, plus it's really easy for us to provide a list, after all we deal in this jargon everyday.

5. Send the email.

When is a good time to send the cancellation notice? 

It all depends on your current relationship with your previous developer, but typically there are two schools of thought on this: 

  1. For the amicable developer, give 4-6 weeks notice.
    With a nice and cooperative developer, you might give them 4-6 weeks notice for you to each start getting the necessary details in order. Plus, you’re still giving them the respect of that 30-day cancellation policy, or whatever the amount of time is required in your contract. If it's your friend or someone you know who designed your site, or maybe it’s a developer who took you on as a side gig and is ready to cut ties, they're most likely going to be cordial with you and will kindly hand over these details.
  1. For the less-than-cordial developer, pull the plug ASAP.
    If it’s a company who is less than eager to relinquish your website, they definitely have the power to turn it off whenever they want. So if you don't think your current web developer is going to be cooperative about the split and you’re afraid they might do something like that, then rip off the band-aid now by trying to end service as soon as possible.

There is a third method we don’t necessarily recommend, but it's not necessarily awful. We have had people who’ve used a sort of a "drip" method with us — they email and ask for their FTP username and password.

Just a heads up, if you do for this “sneaky”-ish drip approach, it's not really sneaky. Your developer will know what you're doing — and that's okay. They should cooperate if they're functional people, because it's your website, and you have the choice to do what you want to do with it. If you think your web developer could be vindictive you'll want to pull the plug all at once.

We've worked with many of our clients for years. And we can be fairly certain many of them don't know what the acronym FTP is or how to use it. And let me be clear: this is not to say our clients are unintelligent people, but their specialty isn't web development. So when they ask me for information I'm pretty sure they don't even know how to use, that to me is a red flag that they're probably on their way out.

On the receiving end of that, we use it as an opportunity to re-engage and see how we can improve, even if it's just in feedback and not in continued service. Communication: it's one of our values.

Your website access is like insurance. Don’t let it lapse.

Some of the things I mentioned in this article are a bit technical but they’re all necessary components of your website. By taking the precautions now and doing your homework to ensure you have the necessary information you’ll need to move your site, you'll save you oodles and oodles of time and heartbreak once the ball gets rolling and starts picking up speed.

So that said, you may have to bite the bullet to get said ball rolling, but the smooth transition from your current company to your new designer will be well worth it.

Maybe you’re not in a good place to split from your current company, or maybe you really like them (in which case, I’m not sure what made you want to read this, but I’m not complaining!), you can let them know you’re not going anywhere, but you’d still like to gather all these details just on the off chance you may need them in the future. 

EPISODE GOODIE BAG

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