Succession Planning for Your Website… Before it’s Too Late!

True story #1

A couple of weeks ago, a government-related entity contacted us for emergency big time help. They were referred to us by a long-time client of ours who knew we could help them… if anyone could. I took the call, and found myself on the phone with a frantic woman (let’s call her Susan) who works internally for the organization. For years, Susan would contact Ben, her website administrator, when she needed help with their website. He took care of everything related to the organization’s website and email hosting. Unfortunately, Ben had recently passed away, leaving Susan and other organizations he served clueless about any technical information related to their sites. Susan didn’t know who was hosting the website, or where their domain was registered, or who had control of their email accounts.

We take over websites and hosting all the time from other companies who clients wish to sever ties with, but, to be honest, a situation like this had never come up before. I’ve never attempted to gain control of a domain name when the owner and maintainer had up and died without a contingency plan. So, I contacted Jack with Elliptical Hosting, our resource for hosting and gaining control of domains. This was a new challenge for him as well, but he was up for it.

Because Ben had been the contact for all aspects of the domain name, initially we hit a dead end (pardon the pun). And, to make it even more exciting, three days after her first call, Susan called us back with the news that both their email and website were totally down. It was domain renewal time, and because no one could do anything about this now that Ben was unavailable, naturally, she’s in a panic.

Fortunately, because of the complete shutdown of the email and the website, we were able to track down the small company that hosted it and requested they turn the system back on. “We need to talk to Ben first,” they said. We told them “good luck – get back in touch with us when Ben doesn’t answer the phone.” Finally, after fully understanding the predicament, they agreed to turn the website back on… temporarily. We are still working to gain control of the domain name, but to do so we are required to send a death certificate and more proof that Susan and her company are the rightful owner. Ah, Ben. Rarely has the loss of a human being been so deeply felt. (To Be Continued…)




True story #2

(Better than the movies)

Lest ye think Susan’s problem could have been prevented if she’d only gone with a larger hosting company, read on. Only one week after Susan called us with her debacle, a national IT firm (let’s brand them NATCO) called us, with a dilemma of their own. NATCO needed our help to put one of their client’s websites back up on their server; here’s what happened:

NATCO was sub-hosting with a third party provider and missed a payment. As a result, the hosting provider SHUT DOWN ALL of their websites. NATCO did not have locally stored backups of their own and was relying solely on the hosting provider to keep the backups. We were not the only website development company they had to contact. For all we know, NATCO may have had hundreds of websites residing on the third party host, and now has to spend hundreds of hours and lots of real money to get all of the websites back. My question: How long have these websites been down? How much business was lost as a result of this big national hosting company’s blunder?


So What’s the Lesson Here?

These awful tales inspired me to put together a few TO DOs – a continuation plan for our own website and email systems. You may want to do the same.

  1. Trust your hosting company but check up on them every year. Set a calendar reminder. Don’t just pay the hosting fee and assume it’s taken care of. Check in once per year with your hosting company and find out if any of their services have changed.
  2. Confirm each year that your email address is correct, or someone at your company has access to that email address, so you can receive emails from the address that is with the registrar of domains and with your hosting company.
  3. Occasionally check to make sure your website is up and running properly.
  4. Make sure you have a company, possibly not your hosting company, backing up your website on a daily or weekly basis. If your site is hacked or lost, you can get it back up and running with the current version of the site.
  5. Find out if the hosting company you are using manages their own servers or if they are a re-seller. Re-sellers aren’t all bad BUT you need to find out where your website actually being hosted.

You wouldn’t die without leaving some kind of insurance plan for your family. Do a little pre-death planning for your website as well.