How to Change / Fire Your Web Developer: A Checklist for a Smooth Transition

Safeguarding Your Business: Transitioning from Your Current Web Developer

You’ve decided to change your web developer for one reason or another, and you have no idea what you need to do! You don’t want your website to go down or lose anything you have spent time and money creating! So what do you need to do? This guide contains a checklist of items you need to gather in order to make the transfer smooth and easy!

As a business owner, it’s natural to have your reservations when it comes to technical matters, especially if it involves parting ways with your web developer. It might feel like navigating through uncharted territories. I hope this article will help you feel a little more in control. With over two decades of experience in web development, I’m going to walk you through a comprehensive and friendly guide to successfully transition to a new web developer while ensuring your online business remains safe and protected.

 

Ensuring Your Web Assets Stay in Your Control

The first thing you need to do is plan out when you are going to tell the current web agency that you are cutting ties with them. The best time to tell them is after you are sure that you have all the information included in this guide. In my experience, most web developers are ethical professionals who respect your decision to end a working relationship. However, not all web developers adhere to this ethical standard. There have been many instances I have seen first-hand where developers removed administrative rights from business owners, effectively locking them out of their own websites: their own property. This is wrong, but it happens with some agencies, and this may be the exact reason you are deciding to make a change! If you have paid for the website development, if you own the domain name and it is part of your business, YOU own your website. Period. Remember, this is YOUR Intellectual Property. Do not let a poorly run web agency bully you, and if you follow the steps below, you should be in a good position in case they do decide to bully you.

 

Let’s get started with what you need to gather first. There’s a couple of things you need to do so that you keep your website safe and online and your property protected. Do NOT assume that you have access to each of these things. Even if you think you have access, please follow this guide step by step to verify that you do have access one more time. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to us and do not have access to all of these items or some of these items, and this can lead to problems.

 

Registrar Login

You want to verify that you own the domain name and that you have access to it. Your domain name is managed at a Registrar, and there are a ton of registrars such as GoDaddy, Domain.com, Network Solutions, Namecheap, Buydomains.com and more, as well as many popular hosting companies such as Bluehost and HostGator. You may even have registered your domain name with a web building platform such as Wix. You may know who your registrar is, but if you don’t, you can use a tool such as ICANN’s or Internic’s WHOIS lookup. Using this tool you simply enter your domain name in the search box (no www needed, just enter the domain name and the ending such as .com), and scroll down a bit and you will see the name of your registrar. It will look something like this:

 

Internic’s WHOIS lookup results for Registrar

Once you know who your registrar is for your domain, go to their website and log in. Verify that you have the correct user ID and password. Do NOT assume that you have the correct login (for your Registrar or quite frankly, any of the accounts we are discussing in this article). Once you log in to the registrar, verify that you see your domain name in question in your account. Sometimes people have multiple accounts so do not assume that if you have the login that the domain name is in this specific account. If you do not see your domain name in your account, you will need to do some sleuthing. You can ask your IT company (if you have one) if they have the login. You could also ask your web development agency if they have the login as well.

If an agency comes back and tells you that your domain name is in THEIR account and they cannot give you access to their account because then you would have access to all of their domain names (which that is a reasonable answer), then you must have the web developer transfer ownership of the domain name to you. This can be an easy process or a difficult one. GoDaddy includes instructions on their website how to complete this process here.

If you have access to your Register and domain, next check for any delegated access to your web developer and remove it if found. If you’re unsure how to do this, reach out to your registrar’s customer support. If you are using GoDaddy as your registrar, there’s an area called “delegate access” and there you might see that you have given the current web developer access to your registrar. You want to remove that access.

 

Securing Administrator Access to Your Website

 

Let’s make sure you have access to your website’s backend. Your goal is to find out if your web developer has a login. Log into the back end of your website (this is where you would go if you want to add new photos or edit your website in any way). You need to log in with an account that has administrative privileges to complete this step.

 

Option 1:

 

If you have administrator access, you should be able to see their account and delete it.

 

Once you’re logged into the backend of your website with an admin account, you should proceed to remove the web developer’s access. Be careful when doing this. Do not skip this next step:

 

If you are using a platform such as Wix or Squarespace, check with the support team to make sure you can remove their ID safely.

 

If you’re using WordPress you need to make sure you do one thing which is very important: sometimes when you remove a user when you delete a user a second screen comes up  (see below) and asks if you would like to attribute all of that ID’s content to someone else. You must, must, must choose another user to attribute all of the content to. I would suggest choosing yours. If you do not do this, all of the content that that user created will be deleted from your website.

 

When you delete a user in WordPress, you may see the question. Make sure you attribute all content to another user!

What does the screen above mean? Well, if this ID created all of the pages on your website and you do not attribute the content to someone else, then all of your pages will be gone in an instant. One of my clients did this one time and she called me in a panic. She removed an admin user on the system and most of her website disappeared! I was able to help her get the site back because I had a GOOD BACKUP system in place! So this is OK if you have backup running properly (see my article on backups) but you just don’t want to get into this situation. So, make sure you choose another user preferably your own user ID to attribute all the content to.

 

Option 2:

If you log in to the back end of your website and you do not have the ability to manage the users or see the users, or maybe you can see the users but you cannot delete any of them, that means you you’re not logged in with an admin account or an account with administrative privileges. In this case, you need to go to your current web developer and ask them for administrative privileges.

 

If your web developer refuses to grant you these privileges, this is a huge red flag, and you should take immediate action. You need to secure this immediately if that is the response from your web developer.

 

In this case what I would do is contact the platform where you’re building your website and talk to them.

 

If your website is built on an open-source platform like WordPress, this process could be a bit technical and might need some expert help as you’re going to need to do this on your own. You will need to create a user on the back end of your website in a backdoor manner or a manual manner. This is more technical than I can go into in this article, but if you’re in this situation reach out to me and I can get someone to help you with that.

 

Once you’re in your website the back end of your website with an administrator with a ID that has administrative privileges, you want to remove the web developers ID. Please revisit Option 1 above once you have this access for an important step.

 

 

Checking Your Hosting Access

 

The next thing you need to do is you need to check your hosting and see the level of access your web developer might have. What is your hosting?

 

Your hosting is where all of your website files live. It’s the computer that they’re stored on.

 

Common hosting providers for WordPress include Cloudways, Flywheel, WP Engine, Kinsta, SiteGround, Bluehost, Dreamhost, HostGator, Host Monster, and more.

 

If you are using a platform such as Wix or Squarespace, that is your host so as long as you’ve removed their access from your account you should be OK, but you may want check with your website platform to verify this so you’re 100% sure that the old web developer or the current web developer does not have access to your hosting.

 

You may have the hosting set up under your own account or you may be set up under your web developer’s hosting account. The latter is very common as it is both a single point of contact and web developers like that so they can manage your account more easily and also an easy way for web developers to continue to receive a residual every month from their clients, so quite frequently we will see web developers require you to purchase the hosting that they are reselling. In this case, ask your web developer for administrative access to the hosting account.

 

If they will not give you admin access to your hosting account, this is a red flag and you will want to move to your own hosting or the hosting of another web developer before you sever the relationship with the developer. Why? Well, if the web developer has all of your files and databases in their account, and you have no access to it, they can shut down the site or lock you out completely in under a minute. You will want to move your entire website to your own hosting or one you have administrative control over first before you cut ties with them.

 

In the case of WordPress, I suggest Flywheel or WP Engine these are my affiliate links here.

 

Both of these hosts have migrators to help you move your website from their account to yours. Also, the hosting company will move it for free if you set up an account with them and it takes about two days.

 

Once you move your website to a new host, you’re almost ready to make it live on the new host, but first you want to do the following steps in this article plus check the temporary URL where you new website is located: look at all of the pages make sure everything displays properly make sure everything is working. If everything looks good, you’re ready to go live showing this host with these files as your live website instead of the current host and current files. Going live is it different process for different hosts so check with your host to find out the best process for going live.

 

Nameserver

 

Another crucial aspect to consider is the name server of your website. If the name server differs from your registrar and hosting, you need to ascertain whether the web developer has access to it.

 

You can find out your name server by using this tool here.

 

  • If the name server is different than your registrar and different than your hosting, then complete this step.
  • If the nameserver is the same as your registrar and you have control over your registrar, you can move to the next step.
  • If the nameserver is the same as your hosting and you will be moving your hosting to your own hosting account, you need to follow this step as well.
  • If the nameserver is the same as your hosting but your hosting is under your control completely, you can skip this step.

 

In the case that your nameserver is different from your Registrar (something like Cloudflare), log into your name server and see who has access.

 

If you cannot log into your nameserver, it may be that your web developer set up your website under their personal account. In this case you would want to reach out to your web developer and tell them that you would like to have access administrative access to your name server account. If they will not give this to you this is another red flag that you need to move on.

 

If for some reason you cannot get access to your name server, then I would suggest moving your name server to your own name server account or moving your name server to your registrar if you have a good registrar and it is under your control. This is a pretty simple process to do but it is slightly technical so you may have to employ the help of your new web developer with this step.

 

If your nameserver is the same as your hosting, and you will be moving your hosting to your own account, you will need to move the nameserver to your own registrar or your own nameserver. Again, this is slightly technical so you may need to have someone help you with this step.

 

 

Assessing Website Software Licenses

 

Next, think about any paid/licensed plugins, software, apps, or extensions running on your website. If you’ve purchased them yourself and own the licenses, you’re in good shape. But if your web developer holds the licenses, you risk losing access upon terminating your relationship with them. In that case, you need to secure a new license or find a web developer who can provide access with their license.

 

In the case of WordPress this could be plugins such as Gravity Forms, WP Bakery or Beaver Builder, or extensions for WooCommerce such as Table Rate Shipping. When you terminate your relationship with your web developer you will lose access to those licenses. Most of the time your software will continue to work, but it will not be updated and therefore it’s open for hacking and bugs. In that case you need to either find a web developer that has licenses to that software that you can use, or you need to purchase your own license.

 

Sometimes software will stop working if your license is terminated. In these cases, you’re going to need to do a little bit of planning. If that account has a lot of customer or leads data, orf any kind of data of yours, you will want to get an export of all of that data so that you can set up your own individual account prior to severing the relationship.

 

Make an inventory list of all the plugins, extensions or apps you are using on your website and then make sure you can log into all of those websites and that you have control over the license and the payments of those licenses. If you do not have access to those extra pieces of software, you most likely can set up your own account and simply connect the new license to your website or you can find a web developer who works with that software and has an unlimited license you can use (Note: if you engage with a new web developer who has an unlimited license, most likely you will need to become a “client” of theirs so that they do not violate the terms of service they have with the software company. This is standard practice).

 

Securing Your Google Services

 

Don’t forget about Google services. If your website uses Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Ads, or Google Tag Manager, or you have a Google Business Profile set up, you need to ensure you have administrative access to these services before ending your relationship with your current web developer.

 

If you have any of these services set up, most likely the web developer (if they were a good developer) has access to those services. Before you sever the relationship, use your Google account to log into each of the above services and make sure that you have the ownership or administrative access.

 

If you have administrator/owner access to all of these services, then you should feel comfortable deleting the old or current developer from your accounts. Note that some of these services will notify the web developer that you have removed them, so you may want to wait until right before you tell them to remove their access.

 

If you do not have the proper access, you will need to get administrative/owner access from the web developer before you cancel this relationship. Ask them for that proper administrative access to your accounts and once you have that you can then safely delete them from your account.

 

Backup is Essential

Another critical precaution is to ensure you have a backup in place NOW. Aim for at least 30 days of backup available that you know how to restore and that is under your control. This way, even if things go south, you can still retrieve your website data.

 

Backup can be with your hosting provider or platform. If that is under your control, then just check with your hosting provider to make sure you can go back 30 days and find out how easy it is to do a restore.

 

In the case of WordPress you should install MalCare. MalCare will not only keep 90 days of backup of your website but will also give you a back door so that you can create a login if you get locked out. MalCare will also enable you to move your site from the current hosting to another if you need to. This is my affiliate link here. I love Malcare, I would never run a WordPress website without it – there are a TON of benefits and yes you should sign up if you have a WordPress website.  

 

 

Time to Say Goodbye

 

With all these safeguards in place, you’ll have secured administrative access to your Intellectual Property. Now, you’re ready to inform your web developer that you no longer require their services.

 

If you need to find a new web developer, feel free to contact me. I can provide references for honest, hard-working professionals who run their businesses ethically.

 

Remember, you deserve a web developer who respects your business as much as their own. Don’t settle for less.

 

 

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