7 Ways to Protect Your Web Site if Your Web Designer Goes Bust

In these uncertain economic times, it pays to make sure you have plans in place to make sure your business continues running in the event of a supplier going out of business. In the case of a web site, it can be a difficult area. If your developer goes out of business you may well find your web site off line – not good news for any organisation. Even worse, you may lose it. But how do you mitigate against the risks? Here are 6 ways you can protect yourself from the worst happening:

1. Know Who Does What

Many web design and development companies will sub-contract work to other groups. They do this to keep costs down and be able to deliver a wider range of services without the associated overheads.
For a client, this represents risk – being fully aware of who does what is essential in being able to plan for a disaster.

The most common scenario is that a design company outsources the programming work to a technical agency. In this case, the biggest risk is that the technical company goes out of business, leaving the design company and you in the lurch. You might lose access to source code, access to the hosting server or any ongoing support.

In a best-case scenario, you can simply contract another company to support you.

In the worst-case scenario, you have to have an entirely new web site built from scratch – a potentially expensive process!

To mitigate this risk, insist on knowing who does what and insist on being able to contact the sub-contractor directly. You need to know who they are, how the relationship works, who owns what and how you can be supported if one of them goes out of business.

2. Host Your Domain Names Separately

From a client’s point of view, letting your web developer take care of all your domain name, development and hosting needs is very convenient. You deal with one company and don’t need to worry too much about talking to other providers or dealing with subjects beyond your technical knowledge.

However, consider that if this is the case, and your developer goes out of business, it could take months to recover access to your domain names. That means all your email could be interrupted for weeks. Of course as the developer handled hosting as well, you aren’t able to put a note on your Home Page (which is probably offline anyway) telling clients to email you at a different address.

If you had hosted your domains separately, you could very quickly redirect visitors to a holding page, rather than a blank screen. Nor would your email be affected.

A further consideration is the value of your domain names. If you own a sought-after domain, there’s a chance you could lose it – if it’s up for renewal when the developer goes bust, someone might swoop in with impeccable timing and re-register it, taking it away from you.

So, the message is simple – host your domain names entirely separately from your web developer and your hosting company. That way, you’re in control and you can take the measures you need to if something goes wrong.

The best way to do this is to use a separate domain name host and registrar like 123-reg and maintain the account yourself.

Another problem to be aware of is that if someone else registered a domain name on your behalf, they may be listed as the Registrant, rather than you. This further complicates the recovery process if the company fails. To mitigate against this risk, insist that your provider tells you exactly what the registrant details say and if they’re wrong, ask them to change them (they’ll need to get in touch with Nominet if it’s a .uk domain). It’s easy to find this information – you just need to perform a WHOIS query on the domain.

In case you think this isn’t something to worry about, we’ve seen it happen and it took us about two months to recover a client’s domain name.

3. Own the Relationship with your Hosting Company

The majority of web development companies don’t host in-house – for them it simply makes better business sense. They can concentrate on doing their work well, and leave the tricky business of infrastructure to the specialists.

For you as a client, this represents a significant risk as more often than not, the development company owns the relationship with the hosting company. If the developer goes out of business, it’s likely that the hosting company will simply switch off your hosting server.

You then have to deal with the hosting company to take over ‘ownership’ of your service. They may be reluctant to do that – after all, there might be outstanding bills. This can leave you in a difficult situation where you have to wait for a company to move through liquidation before you can regain access to your site. This might take weeks or even months. Can you afford to have your site offline for that long?

The best way to mitigate this risk is to own the relationship with the hosting company directly. You sign the contract with them, you pay the bill every month. That way, if the developer falls by the wayside, the hosting isn’t interrupted.

A great source of information on hosting companies is Netcraft.com – they publish a list of the world’s best-performing hosting companies, ranked by uptime.

4. Maintain Regular Backups

You may well have a backup running on the server itself but in the case of your development company going bust, will that be enough? If there are unpaid bills aplently, or if the company is in administration, you may face the dual problem of your site being offline and the hosting company refusing you access to migrate it to another provider.

To get around this, you need to make sure you retain a backup copy of the site separately to any backups that happen on the server.

In an ideal situation your developer would provide you with:

  • All source code for the site
  • All files resident on the server
  • A regular copy of the database
  • Instructions on migrating the site to another hosting platform

It might be the case that the Licensing Rights you agreed to prevent these from being released: you may have a License to use a Content Management System, for example, rather than ownership.

The easiest way to mitigate this risk is to enter into an ESCROW agreement with your web developers. This involves their placing the source code in a secure environment with an ESCROW service; should the business go bust, the code is released to you.

Bear in mind that if your site is particularly dynamic, and has grown considerably over the years, the content (which would belong to you) is the most significant part of the mix. In this case it makes great sense to maintain a copy of the content locally. A copy of the content database would be better though – and make sure it’s up to date!

5. Talk to Other Developers

To recover from a disaster quickly, you need to know who you can turn to and who can support your site if your developer goes bust.

The best way to do this is to speak regularly to other companies and maintain a note of their capabilities.

It’s ideal to have a couple of names handy so you aren’t forced into using someone you don’t particularly like, or who is particularly expensive.

If the worst happens, chances are the companies you’ve spoken to will be very keen for the business and will be eager to help you out.

6. Have a Disaster Recovery Plan in Place

As you can see, quite a number of things can go wrong when a development company goes out of business and the fallout has the potential to last a couple of months.

As ever, the way to reduce the risk is to have a comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan in place that can be swung into action as soon as it needs to be. It should cover each of the points above and clearly set out a procedure for the recovery of your site.

How We Can Help

Our experience and advice comes from having helped clients whose web developers have gone out of business. We know first hand how serious a problem it can be and – crucially – how to sort it out. We provide clear, calm and level-headed advice.

If you’re concerned about your supplier and would like to be able to put in place a plan, Get In Touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.