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Should You Host Your Clients Websites?

Published by Chris Coyier

This question was sent in by jamie y.

I have been asked before when talking to potential customers if I could host their site. Right now I have been referring them to a hosting company. But I was wondering how I might be able to host them myself and pocket that hundred bucks instead of giving it to the hosing company. Is there an easy way of doing this?

Absolutely yes, you should offer to host your clients sites and profit from this.

If a client already has their own hosting, that's fine, but if this will be a brand new site and they don't already have hosting, I think you should go so far as to suggest that you host it. As a freelancer, you should invest in some decent hosting, and host all your sites right on that server. Why?

  • You'll be more comfortable on your own server. You'll learn how to create and manage databases quickly. You'll have access to any logs. You know what the environment is like, what software its running and on what platform. Your backup procedures don't need to change. You've already dealt with customer support. You know how the backend works, how to set up cron jobs and all that. The list goes on and on and on. It just feels better to work on a site on your own server.
  • You'll have the control you need. Need to upgrade versions of PHP? It's your server, you can do whatever you want with it. If the client owns the hosting, you might have to go through their IT guy and who knows what all red tape.
  • It's a value-added service. Knowing how to handle web servers is a high level skill, even at the basic level. Most clients don't even want to think about it, they just want their website to work. Handling the hosting of a client's site can makes you look even more valuable, which of course you are!
  • You can charge for it. Never once have I had a client complain about the fees charged for hosting. They know it costs money and takes time.

At Chatman Design, as of maybe a month ago, we have now consolidated every client site we have onto a single server. It's so sweet, I gotta tell ya. We have the 1GB Joyent Accelerator, and there is about 15 sites on it. Each one is different. There are Ruby on Rails sites on it, ExpressionEngine sites, WordPress sites. The Beacon Athletics site we do has about 5 different softwares running different parts of it. And it all runs on our one server and everything works wonderfully. The yearly cost for the server is $1,250. We probably pay for that with just 2 of the clients fees, and the rest on top of that is gravy.

As I've mentioned before, CSS-Tricks runs on Media Temple (the grid-service), which only costs me $480 a year (because I had to upgrade to a bigger MySQL container). Media Temple is also very nice. I bet I have 40 different random sites all in that one account.

Should you buy the domain name as well?

NO.

Don't buy the domain name for the client. They own the business under that name, they should own the domain name. If, god forbid, the relationship goes sour, you don't want to be in that position. Plus domains are annoying to transfer. They are easy to buy, let them do that part and give you the login and you can handle the DNS stuff.

Comments

  1. Definitely host:
    -You can be sure of the server functionality so you don’t have to make sure things like imagemagick is installed
    -Database driven sites are more secure if only local servers can access the database
    -You can charge and off set some of the development cost with hosting to attract more custom

  2. I totally agree – hosting our clients websites has been a a great way to add income and maintain control.

    One thing to watch out for though: Hosting your clients’ email can get ugly FAST. If your client has more than 2 or 3 email users, or seems like they might be a “squeaky wheel”, consider using Google Apps for Domains (or something similar) to host the email service. Answering support calls for email issues (“I can’t connect” or “I’m getting all this spam” or “I’m in a hotel or library and it’s blocking port 25 and I can’t connect”) is NO FUN, especially with a cranky client. I now direct my clients to purchase Google apps on their own and I help them set it up.

  3. Permalink to comment#

    We use a reseller account through one of the major hosting companies so each client gets their own control panel so they can add, delete, and change email addresses as they desire. I was initially scared that a client would mess around and delete a database or something for their website, but it hasn’t happened.

    A lot of companies mark up their hosting astronomically, to the point to where I don’t know how they can sleep at night. I’ve come across people that were paying $300 – $400 a month to a designer who was “hosting” their five page website. I’m all for being profitable, but taking advantage of clients because they don’t know any better ticks me off.

  4. That’s a really good point – we actually give one trustworthy client access to the control panel. But it’s not for everyone! And if something goes wrong, it’s US they’re going to call about it.

  5. I definitely agree with Tim that email is not something you want to take care of. Hosting is completely different because most of the things that can go wrong are either out of your control as well or most likely just a deleted file or a changed setting. Email, totally different story :)

  6. Mosso’s a great option for hosting client sites. It gives you all the flexibility of a server but you can have them do the client support for you (if you want). I do my own client support, but because of Mosso’s easy login for each sub-account, the client can make their own email changes.

    I’ve also got a MT account that I use as well.

  7. I’m glad to say I host my client sites, (Ok, 3 of them), I am only just starting out.

    But, I do own the domain for a friend portfolio site at the moment, but as soon as I switch to (mt) were going to work out how he can own it on his own service, if that makes sense. Transfer it so he controls it.

  8. Permalink to comment#

    Any recommendation/advice on how frequent to charge the client for the hosting? Example: Every 3 months vs Every Year ? Also would you recommend some sort of auto payment (credit card automatic payments) or by check?

    Thanks~

  9. Joost P.
    Permalink to comment#

    Don’t host.

    Unless you have near expert skills with both Unix based systems and a small array of popular internet protocols. If you don’t have the technical know-how troubleshooting your server will most likely take ages.

    Hosting 15 websites won’t make you alot of money. Why? Cliënts know that paying 500 dollar just for simple hosting is way too much. Especially with all the $5 hosting actions going on.

    For just a mere $1000 dollar profit a year i wouldn’t get myself into trouble with hosting.

  10. Although buying the domain name is simple for professionals like us, it is not simple for customers, in my experience. It is difficult for them just to pick a registrar since there are so many choices. And, it is tricky to check domain name availability without getting suckered by a site that registers every domain name that is searched for. The nameserver configuration is another source of confusion. These are serious barriers to getting the project started, causing delays or possibly even cancellations of projects.

    Consequently, I do buy the domain name for my clients. But, I create a new registrar account for each client and I give them the username/password to the account right away.

  11. Permalink to comment#

    I have to agree with Joost, here… Hosting client sites won’t make you enough money to justify the hassle, unless you’re overcharging them. Sure, when everything is fine, its easy money – but when something goes wrong – services fail, god forbid you get hacked/exploited, its YOU they’re all going to be calling at oh-my-god-o’clock in the morning, and unless you have strong Unix admin skills, you’re not going to have any answers for them and you’ll look stupid.

    I used to host client sites, and its just not worth the aggravation when something does go wrong. Instead, I keep a list of dependable, consistent hosting companies (whose specs I know, so I don’t need to wonder if Imagemagik or other things are installed) and let them make the decision based on my recommendation.

  12. Permalink to comment#

    I’m also on the “don’t host” side.

    Every hosting account\company is generally a little problematic and what I experienced is “dealing with those problems” for the client is a loss of time which costs more than the profit you can make.

    But, I find it better to advice my customers to the hosting company I work with and generate affiliate income from there. So, I make a profit and my customers websites are hosted at a system that I already know.

    Owning and managing a server for a design\dev company is great as you get to know better “what a server wants” for a better application. But hosting client websites on the server you manage is again a hassle with all the “e-mail sending, unable to reach” problems.

  13. Funny, I am totally changing my vote here on the subject. As someone who’s hosted client websites with a Media Temple (dv) reseller account for about a year (I charge clients $97/year) , I think I am done with hosting. It really is more hassle than it’s worth. And Umut makes a great point that you can make money by referring clients to the same host you use.

    Thanks!

  14. Permalink to comment#

    I’ve seen the ugliness on both sides. I hate when I’m stuck between an angry client and the hosts privacy policy. Clients tend to see any issue with their site as my responsibility, so I like having the control to keep the client happy. I like being able to answer a client an “I can take care of that…” instead of a “that’s out of my control…”. But then again, so much time can be eaten up by tech support questions. I’ve been lucky to have found a pretty good host to send my clients to.

  15. I look at the size of the website, if it’s small, then it’s worthwhile to host on my own servers.

    Otherwise I use my reseller account with a web hosting company to get them a deal and still make a profit.

    The company I use does all the support (while claiming to be my company), and I get to do less hosting related work and just deal with the website building side of it instead.

  16. Permalink to comment#

    We host our clients sites and register domains for them. For domains we have a domain reseller account with http://www.safenames.com, this allows us to register the domain (with them as the owner), keep the management in-house (no relying on anyone else to make changes), and make a few extra quid. Why would you not want to do that?

  17. rich
    Permalink to comment#

    Media Temple VDS is the bomb. 500/year for the cheaper of the two options, and when you set up a client, they can use plesk to control the whole thing. Eventually, if you host enough sites with a decent amount of storage and bandwidth, but it only takes 4 clients or so to break even (if you are hosting your site too). It makes sense.

    Rich

  18. Grant
    Permalink to comment#

    I currently host just a handful of clients’ sites but plan on hosting more. My host of choice (JAB Web Solutions, co.uk, not .com) is run by a couple of guys that provide amazing customer support and rock steady servers. I’m on a multi-domain shared hosting package and manage clients through Plesk but regularly ponder a reseller package or server..

    Perhaps I’m just fortunate but all my clients are decent people and easy to get along with. The support issues have never been a stumbling block, although email support can be a pain when it’s blatantly a configuration issue at their end.

    Regarding domains, as part of the hosting I usually purchase the domain. I’ve never found that to be a hassle. I used to try to get the domain transferred in but concede that simply changing the DNS is much easier / quicker.

    Interestingly my worst hosting issue was with a client NOT hosted on my servers. He’d promoted a site heavily before even getting me involved (yes, promoting a site and service that did not yet exist!), even getting it featured in a magazine. He lost patience when I couldn’t turn it around fast enough and got another company involved. Which was disappointing (interesting and potentially lucrative business model that he wanted me in on).

    In the worst possible coincidence, his cheap and nasty host had tech difficulties the very night he emailed to say he was getting another company to take over. Site went down, most of what I’d done vanished. The next morning I get a phone call from him before I’d even checked my email, screaming at me and demanding to know what I was playing at. I found out later that the stress of the project gave him a heart attack. New company contacted and I emailed them the database, which contained hundreds of registrations that had poured in from his crazy marketing.

    So, the moral of that story is: if your client’s hosting is diabolical, suggest firmly but politely that they should switch to your hosting (or at least a better one). It’s better for their health and your sanity. :)

  19. thanks for this chris, just one question related to this. I have been looking for some decent hosting to invest in so I have somewhere to put client sites. would you reccomend the media temple dedicated virtual plan?

  20. Permalink to comment#

    I think that clients – for the most part – aren’t smart enough to know that they’re getting ripped off. Which is why it ticks me off when I come across a friend’s dad who has a concrete business, simple 4 page website, and he’s paying $400 a month to some second rate design shop. Another designer located in town, charges people $300 a month to host web sites, and he’s probably hosting 20 sites. Why bother with new business when you’re raping clients already for $6k a month.

    We host sites because it’s easy on everyone. A reseller account from hostgator is $300 a year. We host probably 10 sites right now, and charge them $10 a month. So we make around $900 a year profit off of hosting. We also treat our clients really good, and we’ll do updates without charging them so the $900 isn’t really “free” money for us.

    We’re in a smaller market (250,000 or so) , so treating clients good, and offering them helpful services – even if it means helping them set up an email account – often means you get some of the best advertising around – word of mouth.

  21. lowell
    Permalink to comment#

    i like the content on this site, but what drives me absolutely nuts is the broken spacebar-to-pagedown (and page down itself) in firefox 3.. i HATE using my mouse lol.. your site works fine in safari.. weird.. i’m on mac os x 10.5.5 using firefox 3.0.3 if that helps

  22. I should have mentioned that although I’m in favor of providing hosting, I don’t do the email part. Using advanced DNS settings, you can always point those MX records wherever they want to handle their own email. Or… set them up with Google Apps (for their domain), which is a damn nice service.

  23. My vote is ‘No’. Like most freelancers I charge around $75-100 per hour and I’ve found that hosting a client’s website takes a lot of time in maintenance. If I’m only making $97/year on something that takes more than an hour a year I’ll pass on it. Plus, like many have already commented, I don’t want to become their Customer Support.

  24. Permalink to comment#

    I have looked at some reseller accounts which look quite attractive for a web designer. Like other contributors, I have been concerned about the possible support headache, but as Roger Stringer mentioned (Comment 15) there are reseller accounts which offer the option of end-user support. If you can do enough research to satisfy yourself that their support is good, then:

    Open a reseller account with a well researched, reputable company;
    Offer your clients web hosting (and email?) under your reseller account;
    Take the option for support to be provided by your hosting provider.

    Where’s the catch?

  25. Permalink to comment#

    I strongly agree and recommend hosting sites, at least for small business web design clients whose needs don’t involve high-availability application serving. Your average small business client’s website works primarily to direct interested, semi-qualified leads to the business by phone or email. It isn’t expensive to deploy $99/year hosting setups on a variety of open course CMS tools that clients can maintain themselves…in addition, the “support” that happens along the way can easily be charged for justifiably if delivered at a high level of service. Clients who call and receive tangible help are empowered in a “teach a man to fish” way and, in my experience, will pay for that service call time. It means a lot to small business hosting customers to be able to talk to someone, to have someone individually responsible for their website (especially in this day and age, when customer service jobs are being outsourced to call farms a million at a time.)

  26. Permalink to comment#

    Should you buy the domain name as well?
    NO.

    Absolutely agree 1000% !

    Relationships do go sour and transferring domains is the most painstaking process! Even if relationships are good, then the transfer is still a horrible process!

  27. Ashley Williams
    Permalink to comment#

    NO, you shouldn’t host clients websites.

    On the outside it seems like a good idea, but when things go wrong guess who has to fix it? And who has to deal with clients?

    A standard host can give back the same standard replies for stupid or irrelevant questions and problems, but because they are one of your clients for your primary business, you near enough have to help them with every little thing, else they are less likely to use you for your design services in future, or refer others to you.

    Worth it? Nope. Do the designing, then forget about them and move on to your next client. It will keep you sane and give YOU control over when you work.

  28. Permalink to comment#

    I have a reseller account for personal projects and close friends… at my ‘official job’ we let the client buy the hosting themselves… People expect 99% or better up time and round the clock support… we just dont have the time to focus our energy on running our own servers.

  29. Hassan
    Permalink to comment#

    Hey but how would you host it ? What softwares do you need to host a site on your own computer? And what if someone wants to have domain as well? is that possible to have your own domain and own hosting? if so please let me know ? thhanks a lot

    • Permalink to comment#

      Seriously not trying to be a jerk here, but honestly, if you don’t know the answer to that, you have NO business considering getting into hosting.

  30. GaryB

    My clients are on the monthly subscription. As much as I would not like to host, I don’t see another way to keep control over their site content. Say, a client signs up, I build the site, and he cancels. If he’s with a 3rd party hosting company, I have no control. If I host the site myself, once he cancels, I can take it down. Any suggestions to find a better way without hosting clients? Thanks.

  31. Michael
    Permalink to comment#

    Hi everyone, please i need your advice here. I am a newbie on internet stuff like designing a website and running online businesses and at the same time am very much interested in setting up a business in the internet but i dont really know which business to go into.
    Recently i did a little research online about reseller hosting and thought its something i can handle even with no experience, so i went a head to register a domain name for 2 years, As i wanted to create my website i came to find out that reseller hosting is not easy even to more experienced designers. So now i want to cancel both my account and and the reseller hosting plan hence i still have another domain i registered earlier. Could you please advice me on a better internet business that can be easy to handle with not much experience and which in return put some money in my pocket. I will appreciate all your advice. thank you.

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