Is Your Web Designer Holding Your WordPress Website Hostage?

escapeYou paid a professional web designer to set up your WordPress site. You’ve been updating your blog and now want to add a new product to your widgetized home page. You realize you can do this yourself without paying the original web designer. However, they never gave you the admin password. What are your options?

This is a social challenge, not a technical one. You can’t take the site and leave (as I’ll explain below*) so the only hope is to encourage the designer to see reason.

Step One: Ask, firmly. Point out that it feels unfair not to have access to your own website.

Step Two: Ask again, firmly. Point out that in most states in the US and many other countries, a work for hire (virtually every website ever made) is owned by the client who paid for it. Legally, the site owner is in the right.

Step Three: Ask again. Explain that unless full access is given within 10 days, you’ll take the loss of the site, report the developer to the BBB or equivalent, write a true but unflattering blog post about them, and take your business elsewhere.

No matter what point you end up, the next step is to take your business elsewhere. Any web developer this uncooperative and unprofessional needs to be put out of business and publicly shamed.


* To Move WP, you need

1. The XML export from the WP dashboard, plus
2. An FTP download of the theme folder; plus, perhaps
3. An FTP download of the “uploads” folder.

Don’t let your web designer hold your website hostage. Make sure from the very beginning that you have full administrative access to your website.

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4 Responses to Is Your Web Designer Holding Your WordPress Website Hostage?

  1. Lisa Frost says:

    Great post. What do you also think about web designers who make clients sign a contract that says any images made for the website by the designer belong to the designer! I have many new customers come to me, after leaving an unsatisfactory web developer who will not hand over the photo shop files to the client so we can alter logos, backgrounds etc. I think that’s wrong. Anything the client pays for i give them. I feel they have paid for it, so its rightly theirs and if they leave, which some do, because a family member takes over etc, at least i’m still known for my good customer relations :)

    • Aww. If they sign a contract, it’s nebulous. Some things can’t be signed away; the contract itself becomes illegal. But it’s hard to say about the legality.

      But it’s slimy, that’s for sure. If someone pays you for work, you got paid. You don’t keep their stuff and try to profit further from it.

      There are special cases, of course. My two book covers which I hired an artist to sketch, we agreed that she gave me an incredibly affordable price because she was giving me a scan of the drawings to use as I liked, but she kept the originals. For what we wanted, it was fair. (Though now, sadly, she’s lost the originals so I may not be able to buy and frame them as I wanted. Sigh.)

      Sometimes artists aren’t very good at doing business. But then, sometimes geeks aren’t either.

      Any time we put money ahead of people, it’s stupid and wrong.

      Thanks for popping by, Lisa. We don’t see you often enough round these parts.

  2. Dave Bricker says:

    Good post, Joel. I routinely sell clients on WordPress based on the idea that they don’t have to call a designer to make a simple change. I set them up with admin access, teach them how WP works, and stand by to offer support. If hey want to pay my shop rate for changes, they can, but they know they have the option. As a professional, my job is to empower my client—not to lock him out of his own content. Withholding access will eventually result in a shattered relationship—every time.

    As for Lisa’s question about ownership of graphics, my contract specifies that original graphics and code belong to me until such time that they are paid for—at which point ownership reverts to the client under the terms of “work made for hire.” This gives me leverage in the case of the client failing to pay because they can’t legally use my artwork, but it also assures the client that they can expect to own all their digital assets.

    Clients change horses for any number of reasons. During those few occasions when a new web designer has requested files from me, I’ve always verified with the client (important—a client’s competitor once tried to hustle a password from me) and then happily made the materials available.

    Ultimately, it’s just about impossible to find a justification for being unprofessional. As you say, “Any time we put money ahead of people, it’s stupid and wrong.”

    • Agree on those refinements, Dave: it’s okay to hang onto something which hasn’t been paid for. It’s a balancing act of trust, every step of the way.

      Nice to see you here. Our conversations seem to be widening from books to include web stuff. Next, we’ll conquer music!

What do you think?