My web designer held me to ransom

The problem

As a start-up going up against big brands we needed to find a good quality web design firm. We contacted 10 web designers and ended up with a shortlist of three:

A: Seemed  professional and spent time wanting to know about our ambitions

B: Was too familiar and not a great listener

C: Quoted way beyond our budget

Our first choice, A, went on holiday and didn't do work that was agreed. He was de-commissioned but subsequently held us to ransom over the domain name he'd kindly offered to purchase 'on our behalf' (actually registered it in 'his' name!).

We settled on C, who reduced his quote to an affordable level.  That was the beginning of a nightmare which severely compromised our business...

A web designer who offers to buy your domain name 'on your behalf' and/or host the site (allowing transactions with credit card companies, customer traffic info, and so on) 'for your convenience' is at best potentially shady and at worst could ruin your business at any point. Doing the above means he can hold you to financial ransom in future, either when you need to renew registration or by threatening to sell your  company name to competitors should you become successful (such as if he hits financial difficulties).

Allowing him to host the site personally is like giving a builder the keys to your house who then decides to envoke squatters rights. He controls your business and could actually shut you down by withdrawing his hosting support / access to your own site.

If the web-designer has achieved one (or both) of the aims above then the games will really begin.  He'll insist on that hourly rate for work outside of agreed fixed-price jobs (in our case £60 ph). He'll then simply never know how long a job will take - but will nevertheless plough on with it. He will then present you with a bill far in excess of any amounts you've both discussed. 

Even if he clearly hasn't followed the agreed brief he will want you to pay (at the hourly rate) for any corrections he's forced to make through his own errors! And when you start raising issues about these situations he simply 'won't understand'. (Why should he? - after all he's in control of your business!)

The solution

You can't always avoid making a bad choice but you can protect yourself - start by following the tips below.

Top tips

  • Do not let your web designer buy your domain name
  • Do not let him do your hosting (it's often outsourced to larger operations anyway - you're just charged more!)
  • Always hold an updated copy of your  website
  • Make sure the site includes SEO work as part of the main deal (or it will appear as an  expensive 'add-on' later)
  • NO hourly rates
  • Get an approximate price on all jobs before starting (don't believe him when he says he can't)
  • Do not pay upfront for a job
  • Move on if there is no natural synergy. Remember, bad web-designers work off the principle of 'whatever they can get away with'!

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