Stick ’em up! Some small- and medium-sized businesses get held hostage by third-party partners or former team members when they allow outsiders to “own” their websites and other digital business assets. This might be our #1 pet peeve at Savoir Faire because it’s easily avoidable – and yet so messy to untangle once you’re “owned” by someone else.
The hostage situation comes about because some business owners or managers let a service provider talk them into taking the “easy way” when setting up a website. But the so-called “easy way” can easily turn into a nightmare when you realize that someone else owns your digital business assets.
How does this happen?
Small business owners may be too trusting or potentially not technically savvy enough to know how important it is to own and control business assets – including your domain registration, website hosting, Google listing and any other marketing technology you use.
Managing a small business is hard. Usually there’s a lot to do and not enough people to do it. So when a marketing provider comes along and says they’ll take care of it, it may initially feel like a relief. Many times, though, it comes back to bite them in the you-know-where.
It could happen as simply as this:
You have a business idea and you choose a domain name. The marketing agency checks out the domain, and says, “That domain is not available but these four options are. Which do you like?” “I like this one.” Then, the marketing agency registers the domain in one of their accounts. They now own your URL. You do not own your very presence on the web. You cannot make changes to anything because you don’t own your own URL. You are now hostage to this company.
In the first moments of starting a business, this may not seem that important. And, in fact, the person or provider may work out great for a time. But years down the road, your main contact at the agency retires or leaves, and you’re now a hostage and you don’t even have a contact person at the company. Maybe the company even forces you to use their support ticket system in lieu of a human being.
Or this happens:
The business relationship degrades over time, which is natural. But you can’t leave because they own you or they host your website in an account you have no access to. They might even own your social media, if they set that up and didn’t add you as an administrator.
You need a personal profile to set up a business page, so whoever set up the business page now owns it. Someone could set up a Twitter account for you and not share a login. All is fine and well while things are going well in the relationship. When the relationship sours, they can Tweet whatever they want from your account or shut the channel down. That’s a scary thought.
It’s a bad and fearful way for that marketing provider to do business: “I fear you leaving me and the potential loss of that revenue, so I’m going to make it harder for you to leave me.” That’s horrible but it happens. How many times has a hostage said, “Oh, it would take that to get away from you? Fine, we’ll just stay.”
Here’s another situation that demonstrates the risk of not owning your site or domain. One client had an internal staff person who moved a nonprofit’s domains from the organization’s GoDaddy account to their own personal account.
We expressed concern to the nonprofit’s marketing director about this move because of the control the IT person now had of the sites and domains. And, we were right. When that IT person left the company, he left the domains in his personal account and stopped returning calls. The nonprofit still does not have control of their domains from their former IT staffer.
If you think you’re in a situation where a third-party owns access to your digital assets, tell your contact there that you would like a full list of your access credentials for all systems they have access to. If they ask why, tell them it’s your right to have access to – and ownership of – all the platforms and accounts they’re managing on your behalf.
Don’t wait until the relationship deteriorates to make sure you have control of your digital business assets. Ask for the credentials at the three-month mark after you’ve been working together, and maybe again annually.
Getting login credentials to your website isn’t necessarily the end of the problem. You need to make sure that you have full administrative access to every platform and account.
You need to own these
These digital assets should be in your company’s name and should be accessible by an internal company email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, set up a corporate Gmail address and register everything there.
- Website administration
- Domain registrar
- Marketing automation system
- Email service provider
- Social media accounts
- Google Analytics
- Google AdWords
- Google Search Console
- Google My Business
- Facebook ads
- Review sites such as Yelp!
- Third-party advertising or listing services
- Third-party extensions and plug-ins
The right way to do it
In a perfect version of the world, things get set up in the client’s name with the client’s billing information. Then, you grant your marketing partner or vendor access to what they need and you retain ownership and ultimate control. You make us an admin on your Facebook page instead of us owning it.
If Savoir Faire sets up a client’s social media, we set up the client as the owner of the channel. We add their logo, add their cover image and start seeding their posts, knowing the client also has access to make updates whenever they want.
For those clients for whom we create a corporate Gmail address, we connect the company’s website and other digital assets to that email address. Then, we give ourselves access to do our work on their behalf. The client has the ability, should they so choose, to remove our access and/or grant other providers access. We make it very easy for them to fire us, should that ever become necessary.
Getting out of the hostage situation
Honestly, a layperson is likely not going to be able to figure this out on their own. You need people like us, hostage negotiators who can and will go through the pain and suffering of the extraction for you – and yes we’ve experienced that pain for customers. There’s often a lot of tedious work that goes into getting ownership of your business’ digital assets back to you. Once we do, we’ll set you up with a digital infrastructure that you fully own and control.
It’s just the right thing to do. If you fear that you don’t currently own your own website, reach out and we’ll help with the hostage negotiation.