Don’t Neglect the Pony: Why Website Support Contracts are important.

There’s one thing that I won’t build with anymore, and from the title you may have guessed what it is. I won’t take on a new client without a website support contract. Let me show you why it’s in everyone’s best interest to do so.

Today’s best practices are to have

  • a central git repository with at least a master branch of the project. This allows multiple developers (or a different developer, later) to work on the project at the same time from the same starting point.
  • A development site on which to present enhancements and test updates
  • A central project management system (i.e. not an email inbox) for reporting issues, discussing solutions, assigning tasks, and tracking to completion.

These all cost money if you want to keep them secure, private, and stable. More than that, updating on a monthly basis (which is another best practice on Drupal, Backdrop, and WordPress) takes billable time. If you have an internal team, like the projects I’ve worked on with Washington University, it’s still a good idea and one which I’ll still require. If one of the nation’s leading universities, with a dedicated IT and web staff thinks it’s a good idea to enter into website support contracts, you might want to consider one as well.

Think of it like buying a pony. You might get a pony for a good price, occasionally even free!  But you still have to feed and groom the pony, house it in a stable, give it exercise and attention, fit and replace shoes, teach it how to be a riding horse, and of course, muck the stables.  Now, if you want to do all of that by your lonesome, and know how to, great. Otherwise you’re better off keeping a trusted stable hand or two on retainer.  In this extended analogy, that’d be me.

It’s not only that I want a continued working relationship with the few clients I want to service really well – It is also a genuine on going concern for the success of your company. One of the worst assumptions clients have about a site is that it’s only a brochure; an on going support contract can open the door to better ways of helping your customers and more efficient ways of servicing them for your business. Support Contracts open the door to analysis of customer behavior and sales opportunities you’d never see before. And support contracts make your organization’s digital platform more capable and easier to iterate and build upon.

Bottom line: Just because you can hire a vendor to come in and do a one-off job, doesn’t mean that’s the right model. In fact, after years of doing exactly that, I’m convinced that it’s a disservice to the client and their customer to do one-off engagements. Any web property isn’t just a one-time thing.  They all fit in an organization’s broader competitive and strategic plans and that means planning and relationships for the long haul.

One caveat – I’m not interested or able to support sites I didn’t build. That’s simply too much hassle and overhead.  What I’m selling is a model where I nurture the digital aspect of your company on an on-going basis, not a place for you to outsource support.

That said,  you might want to re-think your web strategies any way, and then we’re cooking!

Pro tip – telling me that you’ve even considered how you’ll maintain and eventually retire a site tells me you are serious about the project.