I was asked to add an e-commerce section to a website by a colleague. The client was one of theirs. I started poking around on the site, gathering some information for the upgrade, when I noticed the registration info. Specifically, the site wasn’t registered to the end user – a bakery. Rather, the whole thing was registered in the name of the person who created the design for their site.

I mentioned this to the bakery owner, and in a few hours I got back a text.

“I think I made her mad. She wants to know who the hell you are, and why any of us are poking around in the site.”

To me, this is like a car dealer getting angry because you washed your car yourself. It didn’t just set of signals for me – hell, flares went up, sirens whooped and citizens ran for fall-out shelters. I asked the baker about the contract for her site.

“I never signed a contract.”

So, I immediately put the e-commerce upgrade on hold. I wrote out a set of suggested actions for the baker. The first two recommendations were –

  • Change site name registration to be in your name, not designer’s
  • Get a written contract saying you own the site

I can’t even begin to tell what disasters can fall on your head if you’re essentially doing business under what has become a name and website owned by someone else. You have put yourself at their mercy. At any time they want, they could shut you down, change the design or content of you site, or open it up to the nasty folks of the world. Worst case scenario is that they start doing business under (what you thought was) your name!

I know all of this first-hand, from being on the hosting side of the equation.

I had a “client” (in quotes, because they never paid me a dime) ask me to set up a site for the magazine they wanted to publish. I offered to walk them through registering the URL they wanted with a registrar, but they insisted it would be faster if I took care of the whole thing. We signed a contract stating every detail. So I registered their URL under my business name. I designed the site, and began hosting it. I even did some other marketing tasks for them. And I waited. 30 days came, and no payment. 45 days and I called them. They wanted me to do a few more things and add it to my bill. I begged off.

60 days came and went. They spent thousands of dollars printing two issues of the magazine, and I hadn’t seen any money. I called, but they were no longer answering me. I wrote a letter, recapping the whole situation, asked for immediate payment, and sent it off as a registered letter. Nothing happened. On day 75, I shut off the website.

I got an immediate call from “their lawyer” – the owner’s sister, who was unemployed. She demanded I turn “their” site back on. I reminded her that in the letter I’d sent, we’d agreed in our contract that as soon as the payment had been made, I would transfer all of the registration info into the name of their company. Since no payment had been made, it was legally mine, and I could do anything I wanted with it.

They said a lot of nasty stuff about me, but had to register a new domain name and actually pay someone to design a new site for them. While they threatened me with legal action, I knew it would never come to anything. Re-starting their site, especially at such an early stage, was far cheaper than taking me to court, even if they were to win.

So today – RIGHT NOW – check to make sure you or your business is the registered owner of your URL. Make sure you have a signed contract with your site designer (if you hired someone) that says the design is a “work for hire” and that you own it. And make sure you have something from your hosting company that spells out costs, who controls the site, who can shut it down, and when.

Otherwise, you’re dancing on the edge of a cliff while wearing a blindfold.

* * * * *

Scott Gardner is the founder of boutique firm Agile’ Marketing Services, LLC. They specialize in working with their clients to become Recognized Experts, and using that status to leverage the clients’ marketing efforts. For more information, please visit http://www.AgileMarketingServices.com.

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