by Maria Malidaki
Content management systems are a wonderful tool for empowering website owners. Most of us have witnessed the power and ease of use of CMSs like Drupal and WordPress. They have changed the web development industry in a significant way.
Now, even average Internet users who have very little technical knowledge can have the ability to run and manage websites without any help from trained web developers.
Because of this CMS revolution, a major segment of the web development industry — dedicated to developing simple to complex CMSs for a broad set of users and premium themes for popular publishing platforms — has blossomed.
There are quite a few benefits to developing a site powered by a CMS. Chief among them is that the website owner is able to add and manage their website’s content, thus keeping visitors interested and search engines tuned in. And for the web professional, he has much less responsibility in maintaining the website.
But is empowering the business owner with a CMS always the way to go? Sometimes leaving tasks such as website maintenance and system upgrades to a professional leads to better results for the owner.
To explore the question of whether or not we should always deploy content management systems for our clients, let us first go through some types of clients who would not fully benefit from them.
Owners of Static Websites
Not all websites have content that constantly changes. Websites for small- to medium-sized businesses and brochure websites that provide relatively static information usually require only a few changes throughout the year, such as when featuring a new product or making an event announcement.
The brochure website of Pic Fresh (a catering company) has information that changes infrequently.
These websites just include an overview of the business, a presentation of its products and the company’s contact information. We see this with restaurants, small shops and local organizations (such as a non-profit animal shelter’s website).
Such business owners usually have a small budget, so the extra cost of a CMS might be unnecessary if they don’t use it to its full potential. Asking a professional to make a couple of changes per year could be easier and cheaper.
Owners Who Don’t Want to Be Empowered
When I entered the Web industry, I assumed that every business owner would absolutely want a CMS to manage their content. But then I had a string of clients who made it clear that they wanted absolutely no involvement in technical matters or that they would just rather a professional maintain their website after launch. This is when I decided to cater my services to this category of clients.
Some clients simply don’t want to be empowered for various reasons; whether it’s because they’re not the best of friends with technology or they just don’t want to add to their existing workload and responsibilities.
By hiring a professional, clients that fall in this category feel more confident in the changes being made to their website and they have one less thing to worry about.
Many of my clients have told me that it’s like hiring an accountant to manage their finances or a secretary to manage the office; the work is done more efficiently, and the owner has more time to focus on their field of expertise.
Owners of Websites with a Shelf Life
Some websites have an expiration date. These usually support an event, such as a conference, a cultural event or a promotion of a special deal on a product. The website promotes the event ahead of time, stays up during the event and a little while afterwards.
The single-page promotional site for a 2009 event, HDLive 9 (hdlive09.co.uk) would not fully benefit from a CMS.
Projects like these require heavy maintenance for a short period of time (several months to a year), and doing it efficiently is critical. The event’s organizers will be preoccupied with planning the event and reaching out to participants through newsletters, media, the website, email, etc.
Hiring a web professional, then, is much easier, if not essential. Empowering such a client with a CMS would do them little good.
Owners Who Rely on a Web Professional’s Expertise
We have all come across websites maintained by people who don’t follow any design or usability principles. And preventing a hapless owner from ruining their own website is difficult, which is why we so often see links in multiple colors, excessive use of bold and underlined text, mixed font families, body text the size of headings, images squeezed in here and there, navigation menus that pop out of their containers — the list goes on.
The truth is, when we let non-technical website owners maintain their own Web property, we can’t expect them to adhere to the rules of aesthetics and usability, simply because it’s not their job to know these rules.
The moment the owner takes over their CMS, we should expect that the beautiful and functional website we so painstakingly created will start to look a tiny bit (or a whole lot) less perfect. This isn’t a big problem for every website, but some websites rely a lot on detail and uniformity of content.
Poorly styled text, for example, might not look so bad on a teacher’s blog where visitors mostly seek specific information, but it can be a disaster on the website for a new fashion line where users want to get a feel for the company before browsing the collection.
Empowering owners of websites that fall into the latter category is questionable.
By the way, some Web professionals worry that a deterioration of their work will reflect poorly on them when potential clients visit their portfolio. The potential client might be impressed with a screenshot in the designer’s portfolio, but then be surprised when they click through to the actual website. For this reason, mention whether you or the owner is currently maintaining a particular website, so that potential clients are not caught off guard.
Website Maintenance as a Service
Now that we’ve gone over some examples of business owners that wouldn’t benefit from a CMS-driven website, let’s now talk about what we can do to fulfill their needs.
For site owners that don’t need a CMS but would still like to have a site that’s taken cared of, we can offer them website maintenance as a service.
The following are some benefits that come with offering website maintenance as a service.
Maintenance is a paid task, and you can increase your income a little or a lot, depending on:
- The difficulty of tasks that are requested
- The frequency of updates
- The number of websites you’re maintaining
Keeps Existing Clients Close
Providing website maintenance as a service strengthens your relationships with clients. Not only will you be at the top of their mind by providing long-term quality service, but you’ll also get to follow their business as it evolves. This will make you a prime candidate when they have a new project.
Promoting your services also becomes easier, e.g., when creating a mobile version of the website, or redesigning for a small discount.
As with every technology, websites get rusty over time. A client might want to add features down the line. Adding code and updating site features will be easier if the code and product are your own. If the client has meddled with it, upgrading could entail a lot more work.
Before You Offer Website Maintenance as a Service…
The main disadvantage of maintaining websites is that it can really fill up your schedule. In case you decide to add this to your roster of services, be clear about the following.
What You’re Charging
I suggest that you offer maintenance only to customers who have been pleasant to collaborate with and who don’t give you trouble with payments. You can charge by the hour or by the amount of work done.
Overcharging can scare clients out of requesting changes, so be careful with your pricing. A website maintenance plan is a sensible approach. For example, a customer could prepay for a three-hour maintenance plan, which could be spread out over several updates during the year, equaling three hours of work for you. Or it could be a casual maintenance plan; for example, one new page of text and five new photos per month.
Here’s an idea: You can bundle these website maintenance plans as part of a new project.
What the Deliverables and Terms of Services Are
Draw a line between maintenance and redesign. Be clear on the definition of website maintenance. You could allow for minor new features, such as new icons or a fancier photo-gallery script or a new color for links. But draw the line when a request looks like a big change. You wouldn’t want to end up doing a redesign by making hundreds of gradual little changes.
Expected Delivery Time
Website maintenance work should be scheduled so that you don’t fall behind on other commitments. Ask clients to inform you of requests ahead of time (for example, an email one week in advance).
Also, give yourself enough time to fill the request so that it doesn’t interfere with other projects. My current arrangement with clients is to fill casual requests within five working days and to perform urgent updates within 24 hours. This can vary according to your own capabilities and priorities.
To Empower or Not to Empower?
The answer to that question depends on the type of client and website you’re dealing with. Empowering the owner to maintain their website is great as long as it’s worth the cost of implementing the CMS, and as long as they feel comfortable doing it.
Present the client with both options, and explain the reasons for opting for one choice over the other. Some websites absolutely need to be maintained by the owner, while others are best left to professionals. Some websites can go either way, in which case the client’s preference could be the deciding factor.
Last but not least, if you’re not willing to maintain websites yourself or are not willing to let clients do it, let potential clients know this in advance. And don’t recommend one approach over the other merely because you don’t want to offer both solutions. You shouldn’t feel inadequate for preferring one method to the other. Rather, try to excel in the services you offer, focus on your target market, and keep your clients and the Web happy!
How do you handle website maintenance? Do you use one approach over the other? What are your clients’ preferences? Share your strategies and thoughts in the comments.
About the Author
Maria Malidaki loves creating and managing websites, focusing on clean and simple design primarily using semantic HTML/CSS. Planning to also work as a vet and researcher, she specializes in building the web presence of academic and scientific events. Keep in touch with her on Twitter @mthunderkit and at her professional website at thunderkit.net.