Are you being served?

Or are you being ripped off? We’ve been up to our virtual elbows in research lately and have been shocked to discover how little many people know about how much they’re being charged for internet and web services, and just what it is they get for that money. This isn’t one of those ’10 questions you must ask your web designer’ articles, just a reminder that all web designers/developers and hosting companies aren’t equal, and what may appear an unmissable deal could in fact cost you dear.

Let’s take free hosting. We don’t do that, well except as a rare favour (hi Mum!) or as part of a deal. We have to rent rack space in the data centre, buy and maintain servers (which sometimes require a new widget or two) and feed our children (just now and again or they come to expect it). All these things cost us money and our business has to generate that, so rather than shouting about free hosting and then leaving our customers reeling under the impact of hidden costs, or charging per word for technical support, we have a charging structure that builds in pretty much unlimited support, help and advice from a real human being. No international call centres or automated phone lines for us. Providing a quality service costs, and you’re better off paying a fair and reasonable price and being confident that your services are well run with your best interests at their heart, than being hit with the huge price of failed services, extended downtime while problems are solved and a big bill at the end of it.

We warm to this theme, but it’s because time and again we’re approached by people who have got themselves in the most almighty pickle after run-ins with the big hosting companies – we all know who they are. This type of DIY hosting is a false economy.

Something else that has us hopping up and down is costly website design. If you have a massive, complex and multi-functional website with very specific requirements then there is clearly a case for specialist help, but the average SME doesn’t have these sorts of needs. Not everyone is a dab hand at creating a website (and here I hang my head in shame – I last created a website in the days when a girl wrote raw HTML) and may well want to contract it out, all fine, but don’t think that that has to mean costly web design software and a megabucks bill. Ask any potential web designer (yes, it’s worth talking to several, not just gratefully giving your business to the first one that deigns to speak to you) whether they use an open  source online program (this is good) or proprietary software that has to be bought, installed and licensed for each user (this is bad). Ask about how you would go about making updates to product information, news, blog or any other frequently changing content. A good web designer should expect to hand that over to you if you want to do it – be very wary of any designer/developer who wants to retain control of that area and even – shock horror! – charge for it.

Then there’s hosting. How much space does your deal allow you? Make sure you aren’t being charged a fair bit for a teensy weensy little bit of space when the deal your web designer has taken out on your behalf in fact entitles you to 20 times that much – and guess who’s using/sub-letting the rest? We’ve come across this and quite frankly it shocks us.

And how about email? A provider shouldn’t tell you what to use – the idea is that provider and prospective client discuss what would best suit the client’s needs, and that requires the provider to understand the client’s business. The big providers don’t do that, they can’t. Cut-price hosting = one size fits all packages and cut-price support usually. We don’t believe in one size fits all, we are the antithesis of that.

This is just a taste of the bad practice that goes on. Anybody you speak to about any element of your IT provision should provide as much detail as you can cope with (you say when), break down their charges so you know *precisely* what you’re getting for your money, and make sure that you retain control of the overall shape of your IT provision at all times.

Have you had a bad experience? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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