The other day, a business associate Stan and I were discussing whether or not it is no longer profitable to host and maintain client websites. The question we put out there; would we be better off just building them and then sending the client on their way?
We’ve have both been in web development since the early days. Stan wrote a database software program for art galleries. Back then it was ahead of it time. The software would allow the client to select what items they wanted in the database to be on their website. That information was then upload to a Microsoft ASP.net designed website which he had designed.
I on the other hand was working in CyberStudio, Adobe PageMill and eventually Macromedia Dreamweaver. Adobe eventually bought Dreamweaver and made that their primary web development software and the one I still use today.
Back then clients had to rely on web developers to not only design their sites, but to make any modifications to their sites after they were developed. The client did have the option to purchase the software programs. They ranged in price from $99 to $399. And there were a couple of free programs out there Microsoft Frontpage and BBedit.
But more important and much more frightening than purchasing the software, they would have to learn hypertext markup language (HTML). HTML was only the beginning. Soon they would have to learn what Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were. Then if the wanted database driven sites they would have to learn a database program such as ASP.net, ColdFusion, MySQL the list when on and on. Whatever we charged to build, host and maintain it seemed worth it for the type of website they wanted.
Also back then clients didn’t want a lot of changes. Most weren’t even sure what they were suppose to do with the website other than put the web address on their business cards. Consequently, they rarely if ever wanted updates and/or changes.
Stan also billed the same way I did. For the first year, the hosting and maintenance fee were part of the original build fee. Then going forward we would charge a flat yearly fee for just the hosting and maintenance. Funny, there really wasn’t any maintenance in the beginning. Hacking into sites wasn’t heard of yet. Literally they just sat there and ran themselves. While it wasn’t a cash cow, the system did bring in some nice income.
In 2003 a new system called WordPress made its debut. From their website:
“Wordpress started out as blogging system, but has evolved into a full content management system and so much more….
“WordPress was born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system….”
But what made WordPress so wonderful for the non-developer; you not longer needed a web developer. The system called a “theme” was free. Further, you could also host your blog for free. All you had to do was come up with an original name and off you went. It caught on like wildfire.
Soon web developers starting playing around and found the possibilities seemed endless. Endless just as soon as you learned a new computer language called PHP. But there were options for you if you didn’t want to learn PHP. Websites were popping up that would take your straight HTML file and convert it to a WordPress theme for you. It was inexpensive and only took a few minutes. Once finished you downloaded the file and then uploaded it to your server. Web developers started building and selling themes like crazy.
By 2010 WordPress had become the standard of the industry. But with that came numerous problems. Security problems. It turned out PHP is very easy to hack into.
Suddenly those of us hosting and maintaining WordPress sites were getting calls all hours of the day and night that a client’s site was down. Or even worse it was now being directed to a porn site. Now there really was maintenance that had to be done. In the beginning it could take four to six hours to fix a site.
The security and hacking issues have only gotten worse. We now call them “brut force attacks.” Software programs have been developed to help. As I write this from one of the software security programs I use, on their website they say there are 9,646 attacks happening per minute. That’s 231,504 every 24 hours.
I started using this software on February 3, 2014 since that time I have gotten 6,412 notices that something is going on with a client’s site that needs my attention. I remember one day a client was undergoing a brut force attack and close to 800 times either a computer or human was trying to hack into her site. Yes, I got all 800 notices via email each and every time.
Also due to the security issues all of the software programs behind a website are consistently being updated. It’s not uncommon for me to be working on a clients sites three to four times a week just doing updates.
Stan and I are still charging the same price today as when we started. Both of us have had clients tell us, “You talked me into this program. Told me it was so much better why should I have to pay you more?”
Oh, and then there are the multiple design and/or update changes. Remember when I said clients don’t pay much attention to their websites. Well that too has changed. Some can’t seem to make enough changes. Unfortunately, they have become accustomed to having that as part of their yearly fee.
So the question for us has become do we stop building, hosting and maintaining and build only? If we continue to offer the services as we have in the past, and don’t raise our prices, there is no profit for us. Then the question becomes, what are we doing this for?
I decided to do a survey with two of the web developer groups I’m part of on Facebook. I asked the following five questions (currently 16 people have answered):
- Do you build, host and maintain websites?
Answer: 13 build, host and maintain – 3 build only – 0 build and host
- If you build, host and maintain are all fees included in the original design fee?
Answer: 5 Yes – 8 No – 3 N/A
- If you are hosting and maintaining a site do you charge extra for design modifications, page and menu additions?
Answer: 9 Yes – 1 No – 5 N/A
- If you are only billing for hosting and maintaining is your fee billed monthly or yearly?
Answer: 6 Yes – 7 No – 3 N/A
- In what range is your annual fee for hosting and maintaining?
$350 – $1,200 11
$1,200 – $2,400 2
N/A – 3
For Stan and I question three has the answer; we are giving too much away. Interestingly only two people in question five are in the range we believe we need to be.
Thank you to those who participated in the survey.