Navigating Complexities of Web Development with Customers
January 16, 2020 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to develop a few basic websites for people/companies, which I'm pretty happy about. I'm new to this, and would like to do it more. There are a few logistical details with domain registration and money that I'd rather not stumble through out the gate.  My main question is this: How do I navigate well with clients of various tech ability when it comes to deploying the product in relation to domain registration and ownership, and commitment to ongoing services, as needed?

I imagine the following customers:

1. Some already well established, and it's an issue of creating fresh assets for persons that already have domain access and maintenance ability, and I pass assets on for them to host themselves. I'm guessing it's pretty hands-off when it's handed off, unless there are issues that come up with the work. I assume ownership of assets gets transferred to them, also.

2. Creating websites for people who current have nothing and/or know nothing about domain registration, etc.. and need between a little hand-holding, and a lot of hand-holding.

So, what I need is a script for navigating scenarios from people who are somewhat tech savvy (and may have someone in-house who will eventually or does already have someone to manage the site) to those who know absolutely nothing and currently have-nothing; they just need to get a website up and running with related emails and told what to do in a way that isn't too complicated for them. Also, I'd like money issues to be smoothly resolvable and not overly complicated for the client, and ideally they would only have to deal with me (up front). I'm not worried at all about payment for service as much as how to facilitate a smooth transaction all around in light of various costs and ownership issues and such.

The part that feels tricky is navigating the initial up-front costs and figuring out how the domain registration works with the ongoing yearly cost. Having the client navigate much of this process (and one in particular right now) may be a deal-breaker. Their wording: "We just need to get a website up-and-running with company emails." So, how do you set up the domain and pass assets and responsibilities on to users that don't know much about it (or do you)? And how do you work out long-term commitment to maintaining the website (including yearly registration cost), also for those who don't know much about it? 

I'd like to be able to help anyone in the best way possible under these scenarios, regardless of their tech savvy. If there are sources that discuss this, please point me in the right direction!

Thanks so much.
posted by SpacemanStix to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For the tech illiterate the best option in my many years of experience is to walk them through, on the phone, registering a domain name at and assigning YOUR gandi handle as the technical contact. This allows you to do whatever you need with the domain.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:52 AM on January 16, 2020

Use checklists and documentation that you customize per client so that they can reference it later. So YOU can reference it later.

We develop sites almost solely on Pantheon, and when we send the email about buying hosting, it is basically a form letter with the client subbed in where appropriate. "We recommend the Performance Packages. Please select the level of service that is appropriate for your organization." If they need help determining that and we have stats, we can tell them "Package X accounts for the amount of traffic your site usually sees. We recommend X over Y for Z reason." But for *liability reasons* we never tell them what to do. (The nice thing about Pantheon is that it more or less keeps people from breaking their live sites, and hosting scales, so if you select Medium and your site suddenly has and maintains Large traffic, it just scales up to meet your needs and they bill you accordingly.)
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:09 AM on January 16, 2020

I've done this occasionally somewhat like DarlingBri suggests. Just make choices for them and set things up for them and add yourself as a technical contact to the account so you can make changes.

So you don't say to them "You need to create an account at GANDI" but rather "I've set up an account for you at GANDI and here is the name and password. The domain is set to renew automatically each year on your debit card account and I've set up these emails to forward (or whatever)" Similarly "I've set up a web hosting account for you at The login/password is this. It's set to automatically renew at suchandsuch a date" Encourage them to change passwords if they're security conscious and then have them write them down somewhere.

I've found it's not super great to set these things up yourself with your money and then try to get it switched over. Better to set it up with them right off the bat. You can explain domains and hosting to them enough so they can understand what the charges are for but I wouldn't really make them do the work, but rather pay you for the work (unless they're on a super tight budget)
posted by jessamyn at 10:15 AM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with DarlingBri and jessamyn. I've been doing exactly this for 25 years now as a web developer. You're basically a "fixer" or "pathfinder". I set up hosting and register domains by creating new accounts for the client and setting myself as technical contact. Then I have them log into these accounts and update the payment sources for the account using their credit card.

You didn't ask, but never, ever bid projects on per-project cost. Project creep happens with everything and it never goes in the developer's favor. I only bill by the hour and give rough time estimates when required.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:00 PM on January 16, 2020

There's a web series on YouTube in which experts explain concepts at five levels of difficulty. Maybe you could put together a pdf or web page using a similar idea for various sub-topics and let your clients choose which to read.

This won't address all your points, but it could be a helpful primer of foundational knowledge for clients of various levels of tech savviness, and it might relieve you of some repetitive conversations.

(The cynic in me is rolling its eyes and is convinced nobody would ever engage with that material and you'd end up having to explain it to every individual client one-on-one anyway, but I live in hope.)
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:14 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is a wealth of great information. Thanks everyone!
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2020

Just a note on setting things up for people.

It is now harder to completely set up an account for a client than it used to be. You can create a hosting account, but the client will have to click a link to confirm their email address and there is often two-factor authentication with a mobile phone confirmation code, so you can't just do it for them.

Generally I ask a client to be available for one hour at a specific time and do all the setup at that time calling them to click emails or read codes or login and update billing or give me the billing details as needed.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:33 AM on January 21, 2020

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