The case of the abandoned clients

We sell our product Perch to web designers and developers, the majority of our customers are small agencies and freelancers. They buy a license for each site they build for a client. We allow license transfers so quite often a designer will transfer the license to the client’s own account once the site is built.

This year Perch will be five years old, there are tens of thousands of Perch websites in existence and increasingly we are seeing end clients coming into support, with a problem on their site, having lost touch with their designer. Quite often these end clients don’t own their license, or have an account with full admin access to their website. Typically we will find they are running a very old copy of Perch as updates have not been made. As a self-hosted solution we know very little about how an individual site is set up on Perch, so we can’t really help a non-technical end user with their site.

We have some help for end clients, and where they are looking for a new web designer we point them to our experienced group of Registered Developers. However, it is sad that clients get placed in this position in the first place. It seems that there is often a real missed opportunity for ongoing support from design agencies. I’d like to suggest some best practices that would prevent the type of thing that is now a daily occurrence in Perch support.

Explain that third party software needs updating

Whether the software is paid for or free open-source software I believe designers and developers have a responsibility to their clients to explain what the software is, and that a budget needs to be put in place to perform updates. While we have never had a security issue with Perch, we fix small issues all of the time, and also keep up with deprecations in PHP. Failing to update the software may mean that a client suddenly starts to see an issue if the host updates their PHP version.

This can be a great way to set up a monthly retainer agreement with a client. They pay for a few hours per month and you do any updates, make sure things are running well and perhaps make suggestions as to ways they could improve the site. Many clients will be pleased to feel they are not being abandoned with their site, and that someone is available to help them if they need it.

Make sure a backup strategy is in place

Many of the end client issues we deal with have nothing to do with Perch. The site has been running nicely for months and then the host has a failure and the client loses all of their content – or even the entire site. Then they find they have no backup.

Your clients will probably assume that the hosting company or even you, their designer, is worrying about backups. It may not even cross their mind that disks on servers fail just as disks on desktop machines do. You are the expert – make sure you have advised them about how to backup the site or put in place a solution to do this.

Protecting against the “hit by a bus” scenario

When we provided web development services we always asked our clients to sign up with any third party services and provide us with the details. That way they owned any licenses and accounts whether that be for webhosting, domains, hosted fonts or other software. We could vanish and they would have all of the access details they needed to pass the work on to someone else.

Where the running of a website depends on some licensed software or service – a CMS, hosted fonts, third party APIs and so on, the client should have that information in a file somewhere for use in the event of them needing to find another designer.

If you sign up for things on behalf of the client, when handing over the site on final payment why not include a little pack of information? This can be in physical or digital format and should include everything they need to take their site forward in the future. Explain that you would love to continue to support them and offer a maintenance agreement, but you want to ensure that you want them to stay with you because of your good work and not because you hold the keys to keeping their business online!

When relationships end

We’ve all had situations where a professional relationship has ended, sometimes even in tricky circumstances. Even if you feel you have been treated badly, keep the moral high ground and ensure that you leave your client with anything that they have paid for. If you are terminating subscriptions or taking with you licensed software due to non-payment, please let them know this and explain how they can restate this under their own license.

If nothing else you’ll be making life easier for some independent software developer or support person in a SaaS business who otherwise will be dealing with an annoyed user of their software whose site suddenly stopped working.

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