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The Admin Bar

What to say to clients who insist on self-hosting

Feb 17, 2022

By: Matthew Sebert

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Website care plans are an essential revenue stream for web designers, but when clients insist on choosing their own hosting service, those waters can get real muddy, real quick.

The fact is that allowing clients to choose any random hosting service can make your job complex and costly, significantly slowing your ability to make agile changes and improvements to their site.

A few well-placed facts and examples can help sway even the most committed self-hoster to allow you to manage their hosting. Here's how to start the conversation.

Hit them with the uncomfortable facts

Convincing clients to allow you to host their site may feel like an awkward conversation or an uncomfortably hard sell. But if you already know a client's decision will be bad for their website in the long run, it's your obligation to advise against it.

You know an outside host will not benefit their website, and here's why:

  • Debugging is tougher: If one of your servers has an issue that leads to site downtimes, you'll notice it in all of your sites and be able to fix them together, quicker. A third-party server issue will be an anomaly. It will require a slow, intense debugging effort that will delay restoring their website.

Or maybe the issue will be a straightforward one, like scheduled site maintenance or a bill that the client simply forgot to pay. With a client-hosted site, you won't be privy to the warning emails about site maintenance or upcoming bills, so you'll be frantically trying to find a nonexistent bug.

  • Maintenance takes longer: Testing after site changes is streamlined when you stick with one or two trusted servers. You'll know how updates affect the first site, and you can guess they've affected the other sites in similar ways, so you can fix any issues quicker. A client-hosted website will see completely unique problems with a site change, so you'll need to devote time to finding a completely unique solution. And there's no denying the fact that "completely unique" takes a lot longer.
  • Site improvements are trickier: In a similar vein, any new additions to the client-hosted website will be significantly more complex because you'll have to discover all of the quirky settings required by their server. While you've practically memorized the settings for your servers, understanding environments for a third-party server, especially in the middle of applying site improvements, is time-consuming and frustrating.
  • Two-factor authentication is almost impossible: Keeping your clients' websites safe is a top priority, and two-factor authentication does that beautifully. But if you're stuck in the middle of an authentication code relay between your client and their server, two-factor authentication will quickly become maddening. Not to mention the times when you're trying to work on their website but your client isn't available to help with the logins. Trust us - no one has that kind of patience.

Share these issues with your client, and don't sugar-coat them. When it comes to website maintenance, you are the expert, and the functionality of their website is at stake. When you've educated them on the facts, they're ready to hear a few examples to back those facts up.

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Follow up facts with real examples

Once clients understand the risks of self-hosting, they'll want to hear your solution to mitigate those risks. By letting you work with your own servers, clients gain faster and more secure sites:

  • Debugging is quicker, so you will have it restored faster if their website goes down. 
  • Maintenance and updates are smoother, so their website functions better. 
  • Hosting is no longer their problem, so they can focus on their business with complete peace of mind. 

They don't need to worry about hosting: that's your job.

And you do your job well! So here's where you share some examples of how you've made life easier and sites better for clients by using your servers.

Talk about how efficient and reliable updates and changes are with your servers. Throw in a few horror-story examples of self-hosting going terribly wrong. Remind them that the security and functionality of their site are at risk, but allowing you to work with your servers gives you greater control to deliver a fast, safe website.

Be upfront with the stubborn self-hosters

There will always be a few clients who insist on self-hosting, despite the risks. Some web developers will choose not to work with self-hosted clients. If you decide to work with them, be sure that they understand the risks and requirements upfront.

  • You'll need access to everything: From email updates to logins and permissions, everything needs to be pushed to your inbox. Without access to every piece of information regarding the third-party server, you're likely to be left in the dark on site outages, scheduled maintenance, etc.
  • You'll need to be familiar with the host: If your client hasn't yet chosen a third-party host, insist that they choose from a shortlist of servers you know and are happy to work with. If your client is already using a third-party server and needs to stay with them for specific reasons, familiarize yourself with the hosting company before agreeing to take on the work.
  • You may need a higher price point: I know this one sounds a little pushy, but the reality is that a self-hosted website requires more hours for you to manage. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to require more money for extra hours of work in a self-hosted website care plan.

Clients who insist on choosing their own server are often doing it as a way of retaining control over their website. Having control makes them feel safer, but few understand the technical risks associated with refusing to relinquish that control.

So, what do you say to a client who wants to choose their website host? Just tell them that their website is safer, faster, better when you have complete control to maintain it. 

When clients understand that it's their website - not your ego - that's at risk, they'll be ready to make the decision that most benefits their site.

Matt Sebert

Matt is the co-host of The Admin Bar, and the owner of Matthew Sebert Design located in the beautiful small town of Keene, New Hampshire.

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