What's Scope Creep?

Did you know WTF Marketing has a new podcast?

Wait! Before you roll your eyes at the idea of yet-another-thing™ to distract you from binge-watching the next season of Ted Lasso, chill: the WTF Marketing podcast is bite-sized (10 minutes or less) with actionable tips in each episode so you know exactly what to do next with what you’ve heard. It’s a show dedicated to making you a better business owner and more informed marketer one episode at a time.

Most of my marketing advice is delivered in the form of fun-yet-novel-length rants and I know that while the very depths of your soul long to cozy up with some tea and your iPad, lovingly absorbing my insights on the WTF Marketing blog, nobody has the fucking time to do that. I barely have time to write it! (I’m still gonna, though, cuz it’s fun.)

The WTF Marketing Podcast frees you up to both learn from me AND commute/clean the toilets/fire off that extra-salty email to fuckface George in accounting. You know, the important day-to-day stuff of running your business. Each episode will be accompanied by a transcription blog post like this one, so you can absorb the info in whatever way makes you most happy.

Today’s episode is all about the single most avoidable category of headaches for small business owners: website woes.

Website issues are the biggest mistakes I see costing small business owners money, the most prevalent of these is not knowing where your website is at.

Not in the “It’s 3am: do you know where your website is?!” kind of way like it’s on the back of a milk carton or something like that. What I mean is: being unclear about the details of your technical life:

  • where your website is at,
  • how its hosted,
  • what the technology is behind it,
  • where your domain name is registered, etc.

If you’re like most business owners, you may be breaking out in a cold sweat right now because you don’t have a good handle on those details. And that’s something that needs to change, right now.

Step 1: Get all of your information in one place.

If you don’t know:

  • where your website is hosted?
  • where your domain name is registered?
  • how often it renews?
  • how much it costs you?
  • how often you pay the bills?
  • which bills to pay?
  • what types of plugins are you using?
  • what type of web software are you’re using (whether that’s WordPress, Wix, Google Sites, SquareSpace, or something else)?
  • is your domain name hosted with the same people who are hosting your website is your registrar somewhere else?
  • when does your domain name renew?
  • is your domain set to auto-renew?
  • whose credit card is it running on?

Any one of these questions can lead to disaster when one little thing goes wrong: usually the expiration of a credit card.

Without knowing when your website renews, where it’s hosted, which credit cards are being used for what, who’s paying for it, and so on, you end up paying more than you would otherwise when it breaks. And in most of those cases, beyond the bummer of having your website down, you can lose emails, you can lose your domain, and you can even lose your entire website (including any customer and order data stored there). It’s a totally avoidable catastrophe.

Step 2: Consolidate your accounts.

Make it really simple to know:

  • where your website is at and how often you pay for it and how
  • where your domain name is at and how often you pay for it and how
  • what technology your website is in
  • who built your website and who works on your website when you are experiencing an issue or you need plugin updates or you need regular attention to update your SEO or your content

Knowing these things can help save you a ton of money and avoid emergency fees.

When things happen to your website, like your website goes down, and you don’t know where or what your logins and passwords are, that’s extra time that you are paying for out of pocket for somebody like me to go in and figure that stuff out. We don’t need to spend that money as a small business owner, we can have that information at the ready in a spreadsheet, or in our password manager, or somewhere else that is super easy for us to access and share with the relevant professional.

Depending on the technical setup of your website, either you or your web person might have had your website and your domain in two different types of accounts or in two different places. Most modern providers can actually enable you to manage your domain name and your website all in the same account. This is really convenient for things like billing updates, but most entrepreneurs weren’t lucky enough to start out like that. For most of us, myself included, when we came up with the next great idea for our business or a cool project or something else, we might have used multiple registrars or web hosts or both – whichever one was our tool of choice when the idea came.

I cannot overstate how much the process is worth to consolidate your domains into one registrar today, or as soon as possible. It does cost a little bit of money to do this (somewhere between $12 and $20 per domain). When you transfer a domain to a new registrar, it extends the registration for a year.

This simple swap allows you to have one place that you need to go in order to update your domain billing. You can repeat this process with web hosting – consolidate where your sites are, most hosts have the ability to have multiple websites with different domains on the same account.

Step 3: Update your billing and contact information (especially email address).

While you’re checking out your billing, also make sure that all of your contact details including your email address and your phone number are up to date so that if your domain name nears its expiration date and your credit card has expired, that you are easy to get in touch with.

It’s really helpful to have a spreadsheet to know when your domain names expire, if they are not on auto-renew. If they are on auto-renew, it’s still helpful to have this information because your credit card could expire, and having reminders can help you save your domain name in time before you lose it.

It’s also useful to know who is paying for your domain name (you, your web person, a random stranger), what schedule that payment happens on, and how often it renews. It’s usually an annual thing for domains and either monthly or annually for hosting. Sometimes you can renew your domain name for multiple years, which makes the whole “expired credit card” thing a lot more likely and a lot more problematic if you don’t remember your logins and your contact info is out of date.

Step 4: Review who has access to your website, domain, and other accounts.

Along with having proper billing details and knowing where to log in, knowing who has access to your domain name is really important too.

It could be a former web designer.

It could be an old business partner.

It could be somebody that you used to live with your roommates, or your cousin who had some technical knowledge that you needed help with at the time. Make sure that your passwords are updated regularly. A password manager helps with this.

This can seem trivial, but know that if a former web person is sitting out there with access to your domain names, mistakes can happen. Every extra hand in the cookie jar can create chaos. I’ve seen this happen. It’s not very often that this happens, but it does happen.

With some registrars and web hosts, you can even delegate access as needed. You can allow for just technical access (and not billing) so a web person can help you solve a problem, and then remove that technical access afterward. Many modern tools like Google domains, GoDaddy, WordPress.com, and SquareSpace allow you to do this.

Step 5: Don’t forget about all the connected accounts (like your email address).

Picture this: you lose your domain name because your credit card is expired, the service gets cancelled, your website is down, and you suddenly can’t access your business email. From there, you probably can’t access your business’s Square/PayPal, your social media accounts, your productivity tools, and on and on and on. This nightmare *can and does happen*. It’s stupidly catastrophic and can end most small businesses very quickly, unless you budgeted for something like an emergency rebrand.

Know where your email addresses are sitting. You might have a domain-specific email like you@yourdomain.com that you pay for, typically through a service provider like Zoho, Microsoft, or Gmail.

If your domain goes away, access to your email can be hindered as well and there’s no way to recover lost email while your domain is down.

Step 6: Line up help before you call for help.

It helps to know what to troubleshoot as well as who to call when it’s time to ask for more help.

I typically tell my clients to keep a list of 2-3 professionals who can help with emergencies and I recommend them so that they know who to call in advance. You can DIY this research or get referrals from other small business owners – just make sure to have the list in advance. If you have time, you can also check availability and timing for emergency service work.

Step 7: Learn basic troubleshooting and maintenance for your website.

Knowing how to troubleshoot your own website can also help save you a ton of money and time and frustration.

Knowing the difference between a hosting, WordPress, or domain settings issue can be tricky. I typically walk clients through basic troubleshooting with the caveat that they can call me and don’t need to absorb 20 years of web design experience in a 30-minute meeting.

Still, it’s sort of like knowing basic maintenance tasks on your car. If you know your domain isn’t expired, then that eliminates time required to check it. Checking first if what you’re seeing is a local issue by way of DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com, checking the status of your domain settings with MXToolbox.com, and knowing if your host is having some downtime issues via a status indicator page (most major tools have these, here’s WordPress.com’s) can save you frustration and time required for an expert to help you.

There are tons of different errors that can befall a modern website, but also knowing generally what’s up can help reduce money and time required for expert consultant to help you. For instance, if you know that your website goes down regularly at a certain time, or that errors come up when you do a certain task or a type of activity on your website, or if you just launched a sale and you know that there’s a ton of traffic on your website at the moment, and it’s currently down… information like this is helpful to experts to narrow down the issue.

Step 8: Do this work before it becomes a headache.

Websites can be a tremendous headache. If I can help, or if you just need a double-check with your web person, I am happy to do that. In the meantime, I hope these tips get you started on the right path to saving you frustration and money on your website when the odd emergency does come up.