I always say that having a website for your small business is like having another employee. If you hire a living, breathing person to work for you, you have to “maintain” them. In other words, you have to keep up with them, communicate with them, analyze their performance, give them resources and tips to improve their performance, and fill them in on new things happening with your business. Without consistent communication with your employee, they won’t turn out to be very helpful.
A website is the same thing.
You have to maintain your website, not only to make sure it performs well but to make sure it’s healthy and safe from hacks.
Here’s a list of items you can perform on a monthly basis to keep your WordPress website well maintained. No one has time to be working on their website each and every day, so maybe set one afternoon aside each month to perform these tasks.
If you have a WordPress website, you have plugins. When you log into your site, you probably see a number in a red circle beside the word “Plugins”, indicating your plugins are out of date. All you have to do to update them is go to your Plugins page, find the highlighted plugins, and click the link prompting you to update them. Done! In almost all cases, you won’t have to do any further work to update your plugins.
WordPress itself comes out with new versions all the time. Each version is an improvement on the one before. Many WordPress installs will update automatically. But you can always check for a new update by going to Dashboard > Updates after you log in to your WordPress site. If there is a new update for WordPress available, this page will prompt you to click the blue Update button.
Update Your Theme
Whether you have a free or Premium WordPress theme, you will need to update them in the same way as you updated WordPress. Again, sometimes they will update on their own but usually not. Go to Dashboard > Updates and check the Themes area of that pages. Sometimes you may see that a theme you aren’t using needs to be updated. Go ahead and update that theme. even if it’s inactive, it’s still coded on your host that is out of date and can be a point of weakness that a hacker would love.
Updating plugins, WordPress, and your theme is very easy. But if you want to make it even easier, I suggest ManageWp, where you can update ALL these things with a single click, all from one Dashboard. And it’s totally free!
Test Contact Forms
If you have any contact or inquiry forms on your site of any kind, it’s a good idea to test them once a month to make sure they are functioning properly. You’d hate to lose leads due to a form that isn’t working right or is sending submissions to the wrong email address. Simply send a quick test form to yourself and make sure you get it!
Update Promos and Deals
Chances are, you offer promotions and discounts sometimes to bring in new business. If you don’t, maybe consider it! A website is a great place to showcase any promos or sales you have going on. Many companies rely on a monthly rotation of promos so things are constantly changing and new offers are constantly being released.
Publish a Blog Post
If SEO is a focus for you, even if you just want to build some brand trust between you and potential buyers, blog posts are a great method. For SEO purposes, I personally suggest a post a week. But a post a month is fine if you’re busy or don’t feel like you have much to say. Your monthly website maintenance check is a great time to reflect on the past month and maybe answer a question you’ve been hearing a lot in a blog post. If you’re curious about how to write good posts, read this one about how to use content to build your brand.
Run a Malware Scan
Check with your hosting provider to see if they offer any malware scanning tools that find malicious code that could bring down your site. Siteground, for instance, has a daily tool that searches for errant code in your site, as does ManageWP as I mentioned earlier. If you run monthly scans starting in January, for example, if you find something amiss in April, you know that everything up until March was fine and you can know to go back to a backup from before April. Which leads me to…
Take a Backup
Both ManageWP and Siteground offer amazing backup tools. I prefer the one on ManageWP. You can choose monthly manual backups or pay for daily ones. If sometimes happens to your site, you only have to pick a date and press Restore. The program takes care of restoring the site to a healthy version for you. Daily is best, but you’re taking backups at least monthly, you’ll be able to restore your site if something goes wrong.
Things happen as you make changes to your site. Especially f you have more than one person who alters and edits content, mistakes can happen. Once a month, it’s a good idea to simply click through your site and make sure that all the links you have on the site go to the proper places. Or, you can simply use a free plugin! I recommend Broken Link Checker, which does exactly as the name suggests. It scans your pages, posts, comments, and custom fields and finds any links that don’t work, images that are missing that may have gotten deleted, and redirects that are not functioning properly.
Test Site Speed
There are lots of different factors that can affect site speed. You typically want your site to load in 3 seconds or under. It’s not enough to just visit your site and see how fast it loads. Because you visit your site more often than most visitors, you browser saves information about eth website to load it faster to you. The experience of new visitors may be different. My favorite tool for testing site speed accurately is called Pingdom. The Pingdom Website Speed Test is so easy to use; you just type in the URL of your site (you have the option to test from different places in the world) and hit Start Test. The tester will show you exactly how long it takes your site to load, as well as other, more detailed information about what exactly is causing your site to slow down.
Hosting the service you have to purchase before setting up a website. (At least, before setting up a self-hosted WordPress website.) Companies like Siteground or GoDaddy supply affordable hosting services for small businesses. If you’re approaching a web designer/developer about a new website, you should already have hosting purchased or be ready to get recommendations from them and make a purchase.
Typically, you’ll want what’s called a CPanel. Having a CPanel gives you complete and utter control over your site, from the domain, subdomain and site files themselves. SOme hosting accounts offer an all-in-one website builder tool which may sound like a no-brainer to get, but they are often more complicated and harder fa or developer to work with if something goes wrong. I myself don’t work with projects that are not self-hosted on a CPanel account.
(If you need some more guidance on exactly what hosting is, why you need it, and how to get it, check out my page on hosting and maintenance.)
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses approach me for a site and when I ask them to describe succinctly what they do and why they can’t tell me. A good mission statement is a brief paragraph that tells the reader exactly who you are as a business, what you provide, who you serve, and what your values are.
A mission statement is useful for a website because a website is like a visual mission statement. A good website should communicate everything your mission statement does. They should be seamlessly connected. You may even want to include language from your mission statement on your homepage or about page.
Check out my free Business Bible Template which has a section on how to write a successful mission statement.
If your website is for an online shop, or even a brick and mortar store, and you’re selling physical items through the site, you should already have the photos ready for your designer. It helps to check with the designer to see what size photos are best or what format they prefer. But have your photography session done and delivered before signing a contract with a web designer.
This goes for regular photography as well. If you want to have photos of your employees or of your office, they should be ready to go before you start eh web design process. One of the biggest productivity killers when it comes to a web design process is waiting on content to be ready. If the designer can see all of your written and visual content before beginning the design, everything will be much more cohesive.
3 Blog Posts
If you intend on having a blog on your site, it’s best to have some content already written. I recommend to my clients that you launch the site with 3 blog posts already posted and backdated. (Meaning the date on the post is set to before the launch.) If you intend on having a really robust blog with multiple categories, I suggest at least 1 post per category to launch with. This means that on launch day when you’re sending tons of visitors to the site, there is actually a decent amount of content for them to engage with.
A Logo and Branding Document
This is less of a requirement and more of a suggestion. If you already have a logo from a professional designer and they supplied you with a branding document of some kind, this can help your web designer more than you know. A branding document will include all the colors, fonts, and other visuals that are required to keep your brand consistent. If I have someone hire me for a logo and a website, I always do the logo design first. A good logo is a condensed and succinct representation of what your business is all about. Think about interior design: they say you should always pick your favorite, statement piece, and design around that. A logo is like your statement piece. You should design everything else around it so that your entire online branding identity is completely consistent.
I just finished filing my taxes. This is the second year I’ve had to do it as a small business and each time, I learn more and more about the process as well as what I can write-off. Here are 7 things that are deductible to track for next year!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a tax expert nor do I have any affiliation with the IRS! This information is true to the best of my knowledge and research and should not be considered legal advice. Please make sure to confer with a tax specialist if you have any questions. If I got any of the following information wrong, please let me know in the comments and I will gladly make the necessary changes!
Home Office Space
I have an entire room in my house that is dedicated to my business. It’s my little office sanctuary. When I do my taxes, I can measure the dimensions of my room and subtract it from my home’s full square footage to determine the percentage of my rent, mortgage, insurance, electricity, housekeeping, etc. that I can dedicate to my business. This only works for a dedicated office space! If you work off the laptop on your dining table, that wouldn’t count.
Interest and Fees
I use Wave Apps to invoice clients and they take a certain percentage out of each invoice I get paid. While I hate paying those fees and seeing my payment shrink, they are deductible! If you have to pay any type of fee to process a credit card, through PayPal, Wave Apps, or any other payment 3rd party, you can deduct 100% of those fees.
We are never finished learning. I’m constantly looking for new skills and information I can acquire that can improve the quality of the services I can provide for my clients. Any seminars, books, or courses you invest in that complement your business are 100% tax deductible.
Auto Maintenance and Mileage
Personally, I don’t really ever have to leave my home for work. I don’t even own a car! But if you have to drive at all to supplement your business, either to client meetings or to buy supplies for what you create, you can track those miles and list them when you file. Even maintenance to keep your car running smoothly is considered a business expense if you use that car for business purposes.
There are tons of people we work with to help improve and streamline our business. This includes accountants, lawyers, business coaches, and more. Any consulting fees you pay them are fully deductible!
Employee or Client Gifts
This one really surprised me! If you decide to be kind this Christmas and send out gifts to your clients, customers or employees, you can write those off! A gift to a client or employee is 100% deductible, up to $25 per year per person. It’s like a built-in excuse to be generous this holiday season!
Did I miss a deduction that you think is surprising? Leave it in the comments below!
If you provide a service online – whether it’s coaching, graphic design, or something entirely different – you are probably no stranger to the stress that comes with charging your clients or customers. Getting paid is a huge pressure point for business owners, especially small or new businesses to whom getting paid late can cause chaos.
I’ve talked to numerous other freelancers and other small business owners about this topic. I myself have landed on the “pro” side of charging a late fee. In two years, I’ve only had to enforce it once, but it comes in handy when lighting a fire under a client’s butt when they seem to be letting my invoices collect cobwebs in their inbox. The one time I did have to enforce my late fee, I felt pretty awful about it and I could tell the client was peeved.
That experience got me thinking about whether or not I should continue to use late fees at all. I made a mental pros and cons list and decided it would make for a good post to share with you all. If you’re weighing the benefits and downsides of implementing late fees, hopefully this will come in handy!
This is the most obvious one. No one likes paying more, especially if they already have a set budget for the project. Explaining to your clients up front (and in their contracts) about the late fee policy will stick in the back of their mind. If they know your policy from the start, they will (hopefully) remember it every time they get an invoice and think, “Oh, I should make sure to pay this before that fee kicks in!” I’ve had people pay me early, just to make sure they don’t forget and get hit with a fee.
(Pro tip: Just having the fee isn’t enough. Make sure to have it clearly explained in your contract and at the bottom of every invoice you send.)
Oftentimes, I can’t move forward with a project unless I’m paid. Whether it be a deposit that marks the start of the project or a final payment that marks delivery of files. Payment is an important part of a project’s timeline. If your client is late in payment, that can mess up the schedule you’ve set for yourself. You now need to spend time re-evaluating your day to day routine, especially if you’re juggling multiple clients and multiple deadlines. It took me a long time to consistently remind myself that my time is what I charge for just as much as my skill or products I provide.
Running a business isn’t free. It’s not even cheap. All the things that go into running your business smoothly cost you. If you’re a small or new business, you might have run into a situation where you know that if and only if your client pays you on time, you’ll be able to pay a bill or charge you owe. And if they don’t pay on time, you may incur a late fee or overdraft charge yourself. By having late fees in place, even if that does happen, you’ll be covered.
Charging a fee is not fun to do. (Unless your client is a horror, then you might take a tiny bit of joy in it.) But 9 times out of 10, you’ll probably regret it. People typically don’t not pay on purpose. Maybe they lost the invoice or just forgot. To charge that individual more money for what may have been a simple oversight can really hurt the relationship. The client or customer may resent the fee or try to talk you out of it. If you hold your ground (as you should) it can really put a bad taste in the client’s mouth and ruin any future for referrals or continued business.
Unless you have a rather sophisticated tool for invoicing, you’ll have to monitor when payments are due and implement fees yourself in order to enforce them. I myself use Wave Apps which, as far as I know, does not automate late fees. My policy is a 25% fee for every 48 hours that a payment is late without prior warning. (I try to be flexible and give the client a break if they reach out and ask for a few more days to pay.) If don’t realize how late the payment is and I don’t go in and send them a new invoice for the fee, the process could completely escape my attention. Simply put, enforcing your fee takes extra attention you may not have.
I’ve had clients (only one or two) flat-out refuse to work with me and back out of a proposal due to my late fee. Granted, mine is very high. But that’s because I want them to notice it, ask about it, and remember it. Once I explain that they can request a payment extension if they need to and the fee only applies if they just vanish without paying, they usually soften and agree. But, you may get the odd person who balks at the mere idea of a late fee. Those may be people you don’t want to work with anyway.
Do you use late fees? How have they turned out for you?
So far in my web design business, the contract has been one of the most important tools I have. Mine has grown and expanded and shifted with each new client I get. It allows me to ensure that the client and I are starting on the same foot. It also helps me create mental walls, barriers and guideposts in mine and the client’s minds. No matter what happens, I can refer to my contract to cover my butt or explain away a problem. It’s by no means foolproof, but it has come in handy at least once in each project in the last year.
There are some clauses I find more helpful than others. Some I didn’t think of right away but have arisen out of necessity. They are useful when I need to protect my money, my time, and my sanity. Here are 6 clauses your web design contract is missing and how to fill in those gaps.
What to do in case…
Of harassment and disrespect
The grand majority of my clients are incredibly sweet, polite and professional. But every once and a while you get someone who is downright nasty. You may have run into one or two of them in your experience. They might be incredibly disrespectful and rude – either to you personally or to your time in general. They may be overly sensitive and get angry at the smallest things. Or they may be stubborn and not take no for an answer.
It’s useful to have something in your contract that basically says:
The Project Manager reserves the right to terminate the project in writing if the client expresses physical, verbal, emotional or mental abuse in any way toward the Project Manager.
I like this wording because it is just vague enough that any general mistreatment that I think crosses the line is covered. But it is specific enough that the client sees that I will take action if I feel I’m being disrespected.
What to do in case…
Your client vanishes on you
When working with people virtually, I’ve found that some clients have a hard time appreciating that I exist in the flesh. Despite my best efforts, they kind of see me as a face-less entity that they can approach as they please with no follow-through or follow-up. I’ve had more than one client, in the middle of a project, just vanish. For weeks, months, or forever. Either they get too busy, their priorities shift, they have an emergency in their personal lives, etc.
I’ve also had tons of clients who freeze when it’s time to supply content. It’s one of the most popular problems among web designers: how to get content from your clients in a timely manner. I’ve had clients who got so intimidated by submitting content, they disappear for a while to buy themselves more time.
It’s my strong belief that in running a business, it’s important to touch base with the people you’re working with, even if it’s just to say, “Hey, I need to put this project on hold for a few days!” or “Can I have another week to work on this content?” A ghosted client means you may not get paid, you’ve started work you can’t finish, you’ve wasted resources, you’ve wasted time, and you don’t know whether you can clear that time in your schedule moving forward. And it’s just plain rude.
To prevent ghosting, I have a line in my contract like this:
The Project Manager reserves the right to suspend work on the project in writing if the client is unresponsive (by phone and/or email) for 3 or more business days without prior warning or the client is more than 10 business days late in supplying content, revisions, or any other task requested in the scope of the project.
I like this wording because it gives tangible numbers of days that the client has (notice I specify business days!). I also say that this rule goes into effect if the client has not given prior warning. Feel free to remove this, but I like to communicate that extensions are fine, as long as we communicate.
What to do in case…
The client expects more work than you got paid for
This is more affectionately known as scope creep. You’re hired for certain services and the client starts tacking on more and more little things here and there until you’re overrun and doing twice as much work as you’re getting paid. It’s hard to avoid, especially if you have a genuinely nice client and would like to help them out. It’s easily avoided in your contract with a bulleted list of specific items/services the client can expect.
Project Manager will design and build a custom website with the client’s advisement, containing:
- X number of pages
- X number of landing pages
- E-commerce integration with WooCommerce
- Setting up, integrating and testing X number of products
- Setting up Google Analytics
- Setting up a photo gallery of up to 50 photos
- Optimizing each page for on-page SEO
- Integrating 2 MailChimp forms
- Installing an SSL certificate
Having a list like this, not only on your proposal but in the contract itself, allows you to refer the client to the list whenever they ask for new services. So when scope creep rears it’s ugly head, you can say that the requested service is outside the scope of the contracted items, but you would be happy to quote them on it after the current items have been completed. Saying “no” is never fun, so giving them an alternative that both gets you paid and gets them the requested feature is a good compromise.
What to do in case…
Something bad happens to you
A previous client actually brought this up to me and suggested I added it to my contracts. What happens to the project in case you are seriously injured, physically unable to work, or (no one likes thinking about this) dead? It seems like jumping to extremes, but it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. And it shows a level of professionalism and commitment to your client; you’ve made plans to complete their project even if the worst happens. It’s called a contingency plan and it may seem like overkill, but if you ever need it, you’ll be glad you had it.
The first step toward building a contingency plan is finding a contact person who the client can contact. I chose a web designer friend of mine who is familiar with the technology I use. I asked her to do this for me in exchange for me being her contingency person. She graciously accepted.
My contract clause looks something like this:
In case of disability, death, or any other instance that physically prevents the Project Manager from completing work on this project, the client can contact X.
- X can be contacted if the Project Manager is unresponsive for a total of 7 days.
- X will do all they can to complete and close out the project in a clean, fair manner.
- Contact information for X: (phone) or (email)
- They will facilitate any terminations, cancellations, or refunds. This client agrees to also release all necessary credentials to X
I like this wording because it includes the exact circumstances in which to contact her, what you can expect from her, her contact information, and a clause releasing all credentials to her. Which brings me to my next point…
What to do in case…
You need sensitive passwords and credentials
So far it’s never happened to me personally, but I’ve heard horror stories about web design clients whose sites or accounts got hacked after a project launched. They turned to the web designer, who had easy access to all those sensitive credentials. I don’t ever want to be in that position. Especially when it comes to e-commerce sites when I may have PayPal accounts or credit card information on file. If a client texts me a password and my phone gets lost or stolen, I can’t be responsible for that information now potentially becoming public knowledge.
It’s important to cover your butt when it comes to information like this. Assuring your clients that the information will be kept safe and secure is helpful, but I recommend having a way to do that. I use 1Password, which allows me to store client credentials all in one place, organized by project. You can also use LastPass or a similar password sharing system. The client can go in and add or remove credentials as they see fit.
My contract section on this is a bit lengthy, but it basically says:
All passwords and credentials both given from the client to the Project Manager and vice versa are not to be shared over phone, email, text, or any other messaging service. All credentials will be stored in a designated Vault set up by the Project Manager on 1Password.com. By signing this contract, the Client is agreeing to send and receive all passwords and credentials in this manner and in the period of time specified. In the event of a website hack or other instance of compromised credentials, the Project Manager bears no responsibility unless it can be proven that the comprising event was the direct result of negligence on the part of the Project Manager. Unless there is more work to be done on the website, the Project Manager agrees to release ownership and records of all website, hosting, and payment credentials 14 days after launch.
I can refer a client to this section whenever they have questions about sending passwords. They also can feel secure knowing I’ve agreed to delete the passwords from my records after 14 days. Even if you don’t store your passwords in this way, it’s helpful to have a clause that explains your responsibility to the client when it comes to sensitive information and the best ways to protect that information.
Let me know in the comments below what clauses I may have missed or if you’ll be adding any of these to your contract template! Interested in viewing my full contract, as well as a ton of other resources? Check out my Freelancers Resource Bundle, now available on Etsy for $20!
Today, I went back to work after a 2-week vacation. One of the first emails I opened was from a fairly new client – firing me. My heart sank, then pounded, then lifted. Sad, angry, relieved.
A long time ago, in a Facebook group for small business owners, I remember reading someone say that they loved when people unsubscribed from their email list. For most people, it was a failure. But for her, it was a great success. She was narrowing down her niche! She was making her audience more specific! That one person leaving made room for all the people who did want to hear her message! It was an eye-opening revelation for me.
I see clients leaving as the same thing. And here’s why.
All the Better for Them
It may sound passive-aggressive, but I am truly happy when a client leaves me because they can now move on to someone better. Maybe not objectively skillfully better than I am, I’m not saying that. (Although, good for them if they find someone who is a better designer!) But a better match for them.
All relationships are special, from personal ones to business ones. If that person wasn’t a good match for me, to the point where they wrote an email titled “You’re Fired”, then there must be someone out there who is a better fit. Now that they’ve moved away from me, they will know more about what they do and don’t want in this kind of relationship. I’ve seen a handful of ex-clients with sites that were fantastic! Things I never could have done or come up with and I am truly happy for those clients. Why shouldn’t I be?
I Suddenly Have More Time (And Less Stress)
I’m a fairly emotional person, to be frank, and when my clients are struggling or are not satisfied, I lose sleep over it. I put research into what’s going wrong. I talk to my friends about it to try and figure out what I can be doing better. I’ll start on their projects at the beginning of the day before anyone else’s because I want to bridge the gap between floundering and success. When they do decide to move on, suddenly I have so much more time! I don’t have to lose sleep or worry about how their project is going. Instead, I can move on to giving my happier clients extra love.
100% of the clients who have fired me (which, thankfully, hasn’t been too many) were extremely stressful, tiring, and stubborn people. The firing never came out of the blue. A lot of arguing and back-and-forth would precede the breakup. So when it’s over, it’s like a huge emotional weight has been lifted. Sure, it stings a little to know that I didn’t make it work. But when you leave any bad relationship, there is always, eventually, the feeling of freedom.
Nothing Was Lost
This point is a little bit more on the selfish side. I’ve structured my business to ask for a 50% non-refundable deposit at the very start. This covers all the work I do up until the end. There have been 1 or 2 people who didn’t like this concept and therefore, chose to move on. But for the most part, people accept it and pay it and don’t regret it.
When I get fired for a project, it’s almost a monetary gain. I usually haven’t done half the work yet, but I still got half of the payment. It sounds a little selfish and almost like a scam, I know. When I was fired the first time, I considered giving the money back! But it occurred to me that it is my responsibility to make sure the client is the right fit for me and it is equally the client’s responsibility to make sure I am the right fit for them. I love when new clients ask me millions of questions and keep me on that first call forever. It means they care about their project and they want to make sure I am the best possible solution for them. It’s their money being spent, not mine.
And honestly, even if I put a good amount of work into the project and get fired, I can never not use the practice. Typically, the firing happens within the first month or so, so not too much work goes in. But even if I was almost finished, even if I was 90% done, that work still made me a better designer, even if I don’t get to add ut to my portfolio.
I’m One Step Closer to Never Losing a Client Again
It sounds so cheesy, but everything is a learning experience if you want it to be. When a client breaks up with me, I am forced to ask myself what I could have done to have prevented it. Not, “What could I have done to make them stay?” But rather, “What could I have done to realize earlier on that this person and I were not a good fit?”
In the most recent instance, I realized I need to be more upfront about my process. I need to tell potential clients that they will be required to do a certain amount of work to make the project happen. I won’t be able to show them anything without that work being done. I also need to make sure that my clients are familiar and comfortable with Google Drive, or at least willing to learn. My last client wasn’t on board with it at all and just got annoyed when I asked if there was another method she would prefer.
Hopefully, if I learn from each experience, I will end up with a perfect interview method, perfect intake method, and perfect onboarding method and therefore, perfectly satisfied clients!