How to recover when your website is held hostage by a designer

Imagine that you cannot get your website back!

Your web designer can hold your website (and your business) hostage.

It’s an all too familiar problem that I often hear about. You can’t edit or improve your website and your  business is stuck in limbo. You may begrudgingly start over.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

So, WHY is your website being held hostage?

Let me tell you some of the horror stories I’ve heard on strategy calls.

  • “They didn’t do what we wanted and keep the money. I have no idea how to log in to anything.”
  • “They have the passwords and I cannot reach them. They aren’t responsive.”
  • “They are no longer in business and say that they don’t have the passwords anymore.”
  • “There was a dispute over payment and they took the website down.”

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Not only have you lost your investment, but you don’t have a website to generate traffic and leads. …

Lessons Learned. What went wrong and how to fix it …

It is time for some tough love.

Did you spot any potential red flags? You likely did not. But that doesn’t mean some of the responsibility doesn’t lie with you.

Before you invest with any service provider, you need to own your accounts and your assets. Maintaining ownership is critical because you are a responsible business owner …

You don’t own your domain name account

The biggest no-no? Not owning your domain name account. If you cannot log into your registrar and renew or cancel it, you don’t own it. If you do nothing else, buy your own domain name and remember your login. The account needs YOUR name on it.

Fortunately, this only takes a few minutes. Once purchased, you can either leave it ‘parked’ until you are ready to use it, or have your web developer link it to your hosting account.

No matter what, the domain name is your biggest asset. It’s where people find you. If you ever have issues with your hosting service or web designer, rest assured you can route your visitors to a new website with ease.

The fix: Request the the company/freelancer transfer the account to you. If they are unwilling to do this, you may have to go to the registrar to plead your case. Come prepared with proof that you are the owner of the business as well as any contracts, documents, and communications with the designer. It is possible that you may get your domain back.

You can also create a new domain name, but you’ll need to update your promotional materials to reflect the change. Otherwise, wait for the domain ownership to expire and purchase the domain once it’s available again.

You don’t own your hosting account either

In theory, you should own all your accounts. Yet, many designers offer to pay for your hosting as part of your service – either as a reseller or hosting it themselves. Either way, whoever purchased the hosting plan owns the account.

If you have purchased the hosting account, it’s your responsibility to keep up to date with the hosts terms and payments. You should know how long your hosting will last and how much it will cost to avoid any unwanted surprises.

The fix: If things go sour regarding your hosting account, route your domain name to another host. At least you’ll be able to keep your website running with the same domain name.

There is a payment dispute

One of the ways that a designer can hold your website is if you have outstanding payments or if you are on a month-to-month plan to keep your website online.

You may have had to pay a small amount upfront and an installment each month per the terms of your service. You enjoy getting a website for a fraction of the price. But, the designer may have the right to disable it if you lapse on your payments. Once you start to send traffic to your website, it’s not a good look for your business if your website is down.

The fix: Make the payment upon the agreed upon terms. Ask the designer for all files associated with your account in case you want to go elsewhere.

The company/freelancer is out of business

This is also a possibility that you cannot avoid. If they have your passwords and accounts, you’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to recover. Yet, your business should not depend on someone else in business.

The fix: Your domain name might be available or transferable. Please contact the domain registrar to have them help you out

What to do for next time …

Remember that I said that it doesn’t have to be this way?

Here are 6 ways to avoid having your website taken hostage again.

Own your accounts – all of them

Know what’s being set up on your behalf. At the very least, you will need to own your domain account. Ask your designer what he or she recommends and purchase it yourself. Your designer might be an affiliate of that company so that there is a mutual benefit.

Read the agreement (if there is one) and ask questions

You have a right to ask questions about the service that you are paying for. A real professional does not mind answering any questions and it’s a red flag if someone is being evasive.

A professional will have a contract or agreement.

You have a right to know what you are paying for, what the deliverables are, and how long you’ll be supported. You also have to be sure that you will own the site after all payments have been made.

Remain engaged during the process

Even though you have hired a professional, you have the ultimate responsibility to get what you want. Along with asking questions, you need to make sure that you receive appropriate status updates.

Provide meaningful and timely feedback. If you go for long periods of time without follow-up from your side, there’s little reason for the designer to prioritize your project.

Change your passwords

Change your passwords frequently, especially when the project is over. You should have complete control once the designer has handed off the site to you.

If you work with a virtual assistant or any other service provider, make sure that you are sharing your passwords with the right people . change the passwords after the service ends.

I recommend using a password manager, like LastPass, to share access with someone else. Using a password manager will make it easier to store and harder to forget your passwords.

Your experience can be a good one!

Despite a previous negative experience, not all businesses are the same. With a little vetting you can get a great designer that takes you an your business seriously.

You can be cautious and build great professional partnerships at the same time. Hopefully, this blog post has empowered you to make some changes in how you work with service providers and put you at ease for your next project.

Do you need assistance figuring out where to get started? Do you feel overwhelmed setting up your business.


Allow me to give you a free gift.

Want to know a secret?

You only have 6 seconds to capture your visitors’ attention and inspire them to stay. Just six.

Does your website pass the test?

A beautiful website may be easy on the eyes, but ‘pretty’ isn’t enough to attract and convert your target audience. It takes more than just looks to hook your potential customers.

Do you need simple and proven steps to follow and create a profitable website?

Download the Shine Online Workbook today, a powerful guide that will show you exactly how to create content for your website that speaks to your ideal client, so you can build a website that works for your business as a powerful lead-generation machine!

It’s 100% free and my gift to you!

Happy planning!

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