I hate telling people “I don’t know”, especially clients as I feel they have hired me for my expertise and to say “I don’t know that…” feels like failure.

However I do find that I do have to say this from time to time. Sure admitting fault could be a good trait, I guess, but that is not what this post is about… it’s about setting boundaries, expectations and educating my clients on how things work and the services they may need.

I can’t help but laugh when I am introduced to someone as a ‘web developer’ or ‘programmer’ to have them respond, “I have been having a problem with my computer maybe you can help…”. 

No One is an Expert in all Things

The most common issue and point of misunderstanding I come across with my clients has to do with servers and infrastructure. There is often an expectation that because I work with websites that I am also an expert at server configurations, troubleshooting and setup. I’m not. Sure I know the ins and outs and can have stood up a few servers in my day, but that does not mean I am an expert on the subject.

I remind my clients that there are folks out there that have made entire careers out of server administration just as I have made my career about web development. It’s important to know when to call on different people and not assume that someone is a jack of all trades or that all things are closely related.

Earlier this year I signed a new website maintenance client, the first ticket they submitted: “I am having trouble setting up a new wireless printer”.

Know When To Call In the Experts

In my job conducting website maintenance, I rely heavily on other experts for such things as server maintenance, security updates and configurations. At FatLab, we host websites, however this is through a partnership with Rackspace where I hold a fully managed account. I often get website support tickets that I determine to be a server or network issue and once I have that diagnosis I contact the people who run the server.

This tactic seems fine with clients most of the time. The bigger issue occurs when they have been sold a low-cost self managed solution for their infrastructure. Self managed means exactly what it suggests… you are responsible for maintaining it, keeping it up and running and keeping it up to date and secure. Sure you can save a few bucks by going this route, but unless you have in-house IT talent who specialize in maintaining web and database servers, I highly recommend that most organizations ensure their hosting environment is fully managed.

Make Sure You Understand What Services your Services Providers are Actually Providing

One of the hardest lessons, I have see folks learning is when they need to pull backup of their site files or data only to learn that they don’t have a backup. Why? Because they were not subscribed to managed services that included a backup service and were responsible for finding their own backup solutions.

Any organization’s website is an important marketing tool and it takes a team to run it. Though a ‘team’ sounds large and expensive it can be as simple as ensuring you have signed up for the right services and your vendors provide the appropriate services. Please do not assume that your web developer is also server technician or other expert.

photo by Alan Cleaver / cc