Website Support Contracts - What You Should Know
So - you've found a website maintenance company who have the perfect tech skills to help you. Great!
Hang on though, before charging in, here are a few tips on how to get the best website support contract for you with your chosen web support team.
Dodgy contract clauses to watch out for
- Long lock-ins and punitive termination clauses
- Front-loaded payment structures
- Hidden automatic price rises
- Lack of accountability/reporting
- Terms which don't reflect the deal you've agreed pre-contract
It's not surprising that more businesses are outsourcing their website support requirements.
The role of maintaining and developing websites has traditionally been filled either by IT departments (who are usually more focussed on hardware and networking) or external web developers (who are focussed on new website builds, not maintenance). But IT departments are looking increasingly a "thing of the past".
Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service give us IT that's essentially self-fixing. As a result, it's getting harder to say exactly who is supposed to look after the corporate website.
And that's why website support companies exist. The website support contract will therefore be an essential requirement for many small-medium business in the next few years. It's going to be important to get it right.
How long will the contract last?
The first question most customers ask is how long they will be tied in for.
Many website support providers will ask for contracts of at least six months. Shorter contracts, such as rolling month-to-month deals, are more flexible, and keep customers happy and providers sharp and at the top of their game.
Whatever you feel comfortable with, make sure it's clearly stated in your contract, otherwise you risk being locked in for longer than you need to be.
Confidentiality and intellectual property (IP)
You are going to be sharing some extremely sensitive information, including usernames and passwords, with your provider. You'll be giving them access to your systems at a very high level.
Therefore confidentiality and data protection are incredibly important and this should also be reflected with a robust confidentiality clause in the contract. In addition, your provider may be creating intellectual property such as images, logos, designs. These will all belong to you - no arguments.
Make sure your rights to own all IP created during the course of the contract is stipulated.
Website support is more of a two-way relationship than you might imagine. Whilst the aim of the game is always to remove the burden of work and expertise from you, you will have some responsibilities in this relationship too (shock!) These should be discussed at the outset and mentioned in the contract.
For example, you might want a clause which ties your provider into responding within a certain timeframe (say 24 hours). Having said that, you'll need to make sure there's somebody on your side who can provide the information your provider needs to get on with their work.
This is especially true when it comes to feedback on the work your provider delivers. Feedback is essential in almost all aspects of website maintenance - without feedback the project cannot progress.
There will be a steady flow of email/phone calls/texts/Skype/whatever your chosen channel of communication might be. It's sensible to ensure the chosen methods of communication are also agreed in the contract.
Managing multiple tasks and priorities
You will want your provider to work on many different tasks, often simultaneously. Different tasks will have different priorities, and these priorities can change often. Sometimes priorities will conflict with each other.
Deadlines will need to be met. It all points to one thing - effective project management. Ask your prospective provider what project management software they use, or what systems they employ to ensure a high throughput of work.
Don't be shy of requesting a breakdown of all the tasks on their list at any time. Whatever the system you agree on, it's wise to ensure that the details are set out in your contract so that expectations are clear. If you can, set aside 30 minutes each week or at least each month for a phone call or video meeting.
Your provider should be available via at least phone, email, Skype and Google Hangouts, if not in person. Availability should be specified in the contract.
Expectations can differ quite widely when it comes to engaging a support provider. It's kind of unknown territory even in this day and age. Your provider should listen to your requirements carefully, and echo them back to you in writing before a contract is entered into.
Reviewing the contract
We recommend a review at least once a year to ensure that the relationship is healthy and working for both parties. Adjustments can always be made - more time, less time, more support hours, less support hours - so it's good to diarise a day for a review meeting every so often. As regards prices, they should not necessarily stay static from year to year, and you should expect prices to rise, at least in line with inflation.
The work your support provider delivers should be nothing short of exceptionally high quality. How will the provider guarantee this consistent level of quality from month to month, year after year?
Guarantees on quality should therefore be built into the contract. For example, if your provider (heaven forfend) should knock your website offline, will they be available to bring it back online again immediately, no matter what time of day or night?
Backups and disaster recovery
If you are working with a website support provider, you will expect them to take reasonable care of your website. Be wary of any company that doesn't insist on regular website backups and test restores.
Websites can be erased from the web with the touch of a button. Although your support company are highly unlikely to be the culprit (it's much more likely that your hosting company will be to blame), you'll want to turn to your support company in this emergency situation.
For this, they'll need a recent backup - not one that's five years old! Should the worst happen and your website is damaged, you'll want to refer back to the contract to ensure that your provider is obliged to set it right.
Bottom line: it's all about the relationship
Your relationship with your web support company is (hopefully) going to last a long time.
Ultimately all contracts are designed to ensure that human beings fulfil their promises.
Your contract should provide basic legal protections but if you get the right relationship you'll never need to worry about that contract.
What happens if the relationship breaks down?
It's sad but true, website support relationships can break down. This eventuality needs to be considered. In particular, your contract should cover:
- What happens to the confidential information that's been shared with the support company?
- If there's going to be a handover to another support company, how will this be handled?
- What post-contract error-correction period will there be (if any?)
A website support contract should be flexible and provide an agreement on the level of service that your supplier will provide. It will set out expectations on both sides, including the responsibilities of both parties. It will provide protection in the case of emergency, and include a disaster recovery plan. Once signed, it should be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.