I've recently heard the term "refugee client" used to describe website clients that come to me from another provider, typically after a bad experience. That got me thinking about what I would advise any small business owner when they are considering vendors to create them a new website, update an existing site, or host their site content.
When it comes to hiring a website developer, there are several issues to consider.
First, of all, as the owner of the business, you need to be SURE that you will OWN your website. By that I mean, you need to be sure that you (or your company) own both the domain name and the contents of the site itself (all of the images, text, links, etc.). I have had clients lose all of the content of their entire site because their former vendor "held it hostage" due to a billing or support dispute. It is a very sad (and expensive) situation when a client has to start from scratch and have a totally new site created, all because they didn't know that their contract with their vendor did not give them ownership of their own website (or the domain name where it resides).
Secondly, be sure that you are clear on the pricing, timing and duration of the contract to develop a new site or update an existing site. Is the pricing based on an hourly rate, and if so, does it have a cap at a maximum amount? You wouldn't want to get an unexpected bill at the end of the project because the vendor couldn't create the site as easily as they thought. You also wouldn't want to be waiting for months to get your site live on the internet.
Third, you as the business owner need to be involved in the project to develop or update a website for your business. You'll need to collaborate with your vendor to find a design that appeals to you and is appropriate to your business. You'll likely need to provide logos, photos or other images for your site. You also may need to provide some or all of the textual content of the site. Your vendor may be able to write some of it, but you'll need to review all of it at the very least. You can't give total control to a vendor who does not know your business or you may not get the results you want. The more that you are involved, the better your site will reflect and promote your business. You'll also need to plan for periodic maintenance of the site, in order to keep it current, so make sure that you have a person at your company who is prepared to take this role. Even if the vendor is going to make the changes, they'll need someone to tell them what to update on a regular basis, and also to provide new prices, photos, etc. as appropriate.
When you are looking for a hosting vendor, there several additional important things that a business owner needs to know. Your hosting provider is essentially renting you "space" where the content of your site will reside so that it can be seen by internet users (like a rented storage unit). Your site's domain name is linked to the specific location of the vendor's server where it resides. This link is recorded with a company that keeps the record of your ownership, or registration, of the domain name (such as GoDaddy). That company is called a domain registrar. You will typically renew your ownership of the name on a periodic basis, typically annually.
In order to change from one hosting provider to another, there are two steps - you (or your website vendor) have to change the link where the domain name points to be the new location, and then you (or your website vendor must) move the contents of the site. If both of these things are not done, your site will still be accessed by internet users on the old location, and it may be turned off by the old vendor if you stop paying the bill. You could actually be paying for two different vendors without realizing it, or be paying the new vendor while your site still resides with the old vendor (or resides with both vendors). Any of these scenarios can lead to losing your site and/or duplicate charges.
You need to either have a vendor who gives you the login credentials to your domain registrar, or have a strong enough trust in your vendor to know that they will take care of it for you. It helps if you insist that the contact information for the domain name includes you (or your company) as the administrative contact and the vendor as the technical contact. Then the domain name registrar company can contact you if needed (and not just your vendor). You should always "own" your domain name, not your vendor. If your contract with your vendor includes them renewing your domain name for you, make sure that it also says that you "own" the name itself. Then if you leave that vendor, you hopefully could at least sue them to get your name back if needed.
Please feel free to contact Tepato Systems if you find yourself in any of these unfortunate scenarios. I can try to help you to rescue your domain name and your website, even if you don't need my services for other website work.