Taking over a website from another designer sounds like good deal. No need to build anything from scratch, just get the login information, check in every once in a while and write regular invoices. We see lot's of companies try and offer our clients cheap hosting solutions and we can tell within hours if they know what they are doing or if they are going to cause our clients a ton of problems. Don't be wooed by the rookie. Ask them for their migration checklist and plan before you get started, if they don't have one, RUN! Ask them what servers they are using - if they say GoDaddy or 1/1, RUN! Ask them what software they can support, if they Don't Know, RUN! Ask them if you can host a 4 year old website on their servers, if they say yes, RUN. That means you are sitting on a server with old, insecure websites. I know that it sounds good to get set up with cheap hosting, but - doing it wrong is far more expensive than doing it right.
For them - Easy money, right? They get to try and change out our logo and put there's at the bottom of a site they didn't design, not knowing it's not legal (first rookie mistake). And you get to save 50-75 bucks a month only to loose 70-80% of your website performance and put your entire investment at risk. Let's look at how we would require our team to think when they are doing a website transfer - you can use this as your benchmark on what to expect from the next friend, family or fool trying to convince you they can do it better and cheaper.
However, when you do take over an existing website, the reality is quite different. Websites don’t exist in a vacuum, there are lots of moving parts and many steps to it.
To help you avoid forgetting anything and make the process as smooth as possible, we wrote up a checklist of what to keep in mind when taking over administration of a finished WordPress website.
Use the tips below to make sure you take all necessary steps to properly assume responsibility for an existing client website.
Note that not everything below will necessarily apply in your case, but it’s better to have too much information and not need it than forgetting something important.
When you take over an existing website, the first thing you need is access to its important components. You should get a temporary link to the website files (typically this lasts for 7 days - so you need to be quick).
This means more than simply a username and password for the WordPress dashboard. You will need to get your clients to give you access to everything possible - they are responsible for keeping the access information, not the old web provider.
In particular, make sure you have credentials for:
Once you have all of this information, the next step is to go ahead and change all the passwords you just collected — every single one.
When you take over an existing website, you don’t know who had this information before you. So, in order to keep the site safe, it’s crucial that you make sure from now on there is only one person: you.
Alright, in some cases it might be necessary to share it with other stakeholders. However, the most important thing is that nobody who is no longer on board with the project can still log in anywhere.
You can use software like LastPass to collect all logins in one place. This also makes sharing them easier if you ever give up the admin role to someone else.
There are often additional services and infrastructure involved in running a site. Depending on how far your role stretches, it might make sense to be part of them as well.
Here are a few examples:
As stated earlier, all of this really depends on the setup of the site you are taking over, so don’t see this list as conclusive.
Once on the site, go to Settings > General and check whose email address is input there for notifications.
If it’s the client’s, you can likely leave it as is. In case it is the former admin’s, make sure to change it to yours or your client’s, depending on your agreement.
After that, go through the user list (Users on the dashboard) and find the person who took care of the site before you. Make sure to remove their access if they have completely left the project or downgrade them to what their new role requires.
While at it, go through the other admin-level users and check if everyone who is on there deserves to be and has the right access level.
In the best case, anyone on the site should only be able to perform they tasks they need to, not more. This reduces the chance for accidents.
Finally, check the plugin list to see if the site is connected to any management solutions that would allow remote access. Should that be the case, be sure to remove it.
Next up on our checklist for taking over existing WordPress sites is making sure that no data is easily lost. This means, that the entire site (including the database) is backed up regularly and in full.
If nothing is in place for that yet, be sure that you install a backup solution first thing and create a full backup before doing anything else. Actually, do the latter either way.
If a backup solution already exists, check that it is working properly and where the files are stored. For example, if it is backed up remotely, be sure that you can access the remote storage facility (change passwords as necessary).
Once you are sure that the entire site is kept safe, it’s time to do the first round of maintenance. Show your client your maintenance plan - login to a few of your sites and let them see how well you manage monthly maintenance. That means, updating themes, plugins and WordPress core. When you take over an existing website, chances are good that at least some of this will be out of date. Make sure you change out all the custom plugins that didn't transfer with the site and make sure you purchase and install the license keys for all the plugins whereas the past agencies developer license keys were removed. They had to buy them and so do you.
If you haven’t done so in the last step, now is the time to make a full site backup. Then, update both core, plugins and themes one by one, checking regularly if the site is still working correctly. In contrast to bulk updates, this allows you to spot immediately if one component is making the site kaput. If you do a bulk update you may just crash the whole site and attempt to blame it on the old provider. Good agencies know when this is done and will quickly be able to show you and your new client that the same files work great on their current server. Showcasing your challenges with configuration, server, maintenance, etc upfront will make a long time skeptiple customer and you will likely be teaching someone new what we are teaching you.
You might even consider downloading the site to a local development environment or staging area and making the updates there to keep any hiccups invisible from your visitors.
After the backup, it’s time to deal with the rest of security. After all, keeping the site safe is one of the most central tasks when you take over an existing website. The number of times we have seen a new company post the entire clients files on an insecure public link when they first get them is too many to count. That's a quick way to cause yourself a security nightmare.
Same as for backups, if there is a premium solution in place, find out who is paying for it so you can change it if necessary.
For many WordPress contractors, it’s standard practice to pay for premium components themselves and then invoice their client for them.
Therefore, when taking over a website from another developer, it’s up to you to sniff out where the project is still entangled with its former administrator:
If content creation and/or management will be part of your duties, there are a few more things you need to be aware of/ask for:
In short, know the workflow and how you fit into it. By the way, much of that will be part of a blog style guide, so see if the site you are taking over has something like that.
Once done with all of the above, it’s time to take on your new responsibilities as the person in charge. If don’t know what that entails, and don't have a strong maintenance and security checklist, you should tell the client and recommend they stay right where they are today... with CI Web Group, Inc.
Aside from that, it’s important that you keep vigilant. Every website is different so there may be things not included in this checklist. If that is the case, it’s up to you to get all necessary information and include them on your end.
The moment you take on an existing WordPress site, it’s best to know what is expected of you. Since most websites exist in a network of different components, it’s easy to forget some of them.
For that reason, the checklist above walks you through the process of taking over a site from another designer or developer so you don’t forget anything important. Once you have this process in place (this is just the transfer), make sure you have an extremely solid plan for updates, maintenance, security, refresh's, backups, PHP, Plugin, Wordpress and theme updates.
Once fully in charge, you have other opportunities to help your client improve their website - be careful not to go changing, deleting, re-arranging everything as you may destroy years of work and results.
That way, taking over a site from someone else can result in additional income instead of a liability. However, only when you have the infrastructure, skills, experience and you make the effort.