Should You Host Your Client Websites? 5 Experts Share Their Advice

Web Hosting

Last week, my post on developer licenses sparked a lot of discussion on maintenance plans, web hosting, etc.

I also got several emails with comments and one person asked a question if it is a good idea to host your client websites?

So I wanted to follow up and answer the question: Should you offer web hosting to your clients? Along with sharing my thoughts, I also asked 5 industry experts for their thoughts on whether developers should offer web hosting to their clients.

In short, the answer is NO you shouldn’t offer hosting to your clients. It may seem like a good idea in the short run, but it’s not in the long run.

Let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of hosting client websites on your server.

Pros of Hosting Client Sites

It’s true that when you resell hosting, you can charge a premium for it and add an additional source of recurring revenue to your business.

When you first start out, it seems like a great idea because your VPS / Dedicated server costs get covered, and you make extra $$$.

What could go wrong you ask? Let’s take a look at the downsides.

Cons of Hosting Client Sites

When you host your client websites, you’re their first line of tech support. If they install a plugin that broke the website, they will call you.

If your hosting provider has an outage, they’ll call you. Not to mention, you also get most of the blame too because you’re their web host (not the company that you’re reselling).

You have to be the sysadmin and regularly monitor the server load to ensure that no one website is hogging the resources and slowing others down.

Aside from all the support liability, you also have legal liability.

When starting out, most freelancers don’t think about getting proper legal contracts drafted up. This opens you up to all sort of liabilities (data loss due to hardware failure, loss of sales due to network outages, etc etc).

All it takes is one bad incident, a pissed off customer, and a lawyer who’s willing to work on contingency.

Yup, you should probably tell your business insurance company about all the services you’re offering if you want proper coverage. In other words, get business insurance if you don’t have one already.

My Thoughts

It’s always better that you specialize and focus on what you’re good at.

Let the web hosting companies do their job.

Refer your clients to companies that you have relationships with and think would be a good fit for your clients’ needs.

Most of them have affiliate programs such as WPEngine and InMotion Hosting.

After that, you can sell them a maintenance package that doesn’t involve hosting (so you actually make decent $$$ without being the first line of support).

Here’s What Other Industry Experts Think

I decided to ask this question to 5 top WordPress experts, and this is what they had to say:

1. Brad Williams (@williamsba)

Developers should not host their clients because they are developers. There’s a figure of speech that is very relevant here: Jack of all trades, master of none.

You hired a developer, or team of developers, because they are experts at what they do, which is developing. Your developer should be a master at developing awesome websites, but that doesn’t mean they are a master at hosting awesome websites.

There are many different hosting companies that specialize in hosting websites, and that’s all they do and they do it very well. Leave hosting to the hosting experts, just as they should leave development to the development experts. Be a master at what you do, not a Jack of all trades.

2. Jared Atchison (@jaredatch)

I provide value to my clients because I am an expert in what I do (development). I don’t offer any design services because I am not good or an expert in the field of design. If a client needs design work, I help them find a designer who is qualified.

I look at hosting the same way. I am not an expert at hosting. While I know the in-and-out of cPanel, I wouldn’t consider that being an expert or having deep knowledge in web hosting. I don’t know Linux well, can’t effectively fine tune Nginx or Apache configurations, and most importantly can’t rapidly scale a site if needed. I’m perfectly OK with not knowing these things, but I don’t pretend to know them. I am transparent to my clients about my skill set.

Instead, I talk to each client and find out their specific hosting needs their site. Then based on that information I will offer recommendations that will serve them well.

3. Chris Lema (@chrislema)

It seems like such a good idea initially – to offer hosting to your clients. It’s like free money. You pay someone else for the server and then you rent out the space with your own profit margin rolled in. And initially it works. You get cash without having to do anything. Maybe it even feels like it will work in the longer run because you’re not just selling regular VPS, maybe you’re selling Managed WordPress Hosting. But the issue isn’t when a single client has an issue. The problem arrives when there’s a larger internet issue, a virus, or a denial of service attack on your hosting provider. Because suddenly you have 5, 10, 25 customers all calling you – all demanding immediate service – and you can watch all that profit disappear. Ultimately, I think it’s a bad idea because I think people just hope nothing will go wrong. Given enough time, something will. And hope isn’t a strategy.

4. Andrew Norcross (@norcross)

I’m not in the hosting business. I’m in the development business. By agreeing to host a client, you’re agreeing to be their first (or maybe only) support contact when *anything* goes wrong. Server goes down. Site speed is meh. Things aren’t working right. Or, they begin to feel like they’re paying too much. Do I recommend hosts? Absolutely. Do I host it for them? Hell no.

5. Bill Erickson (@BillErickson)

I don’t want the 3am phone call that the client’s website is down. Large hosts have 24/7 support, so the client always has someone they can call or email and get a quick response. They also have the experience to quickly identify the issue and get the site back up.

Most hosts offer generous referrals. As a developer, you can help your client identify the best host for them, and be compensated for that through the referral program. The client can then have a direct relationship with their host.

In case you don’t get the theme here:

Do you host your client websites? Did you use to host your clients and switched away? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Should You Host Your Client Websites? 5 Experts Share Their Advice

  1. The only rebuttal that I have to the idea that clients will contact the host first instead of me is that they need to be trained to do that. Even if you tell them in advance, some will continue to contact you for issues that are hosting related. The reason could be that they want you to handle it and don’t understand the disconnect, or that they literally do not know if it qualifies as a site issue or a hosting issue.

    I agree that hosting support should be covered by the host, but I regularly have to reroute clients there, some who feel that I’m passing the buck (while not getting any from them if I help out of contract).

  2. Playing devil’s advocate here because I feel most of the names above are ‘big name’ developers who are past the point of worrying about income, like many freelancers reading this article.

    Sorry to single out @williamsba , but the rest of that saying is “Jack of all trades, master of none, but certainly better than a master of one” — in this case, I would say that a moderate amount of diversified (and more consistent) income can be beneficial to developers who have varied paychecks and just starting out (with a few caveats, of course).

    I’m not saying you should have 50+ clients hosted, but maybe 10-20 who you charge a fair premium, and who you know well enough to consider them low-maintenance, can help cover a few bills each month. I host 12 sites along with my own and my development spaces. Personally, they cover my all hosting costs and then enough for my apartment’s monthly utilities (on average)… not bad, right? That said, I did my homework — these are people who send me less than a dozen emails A YEAR, and it is with a managed hosting company who I know I will not have issues as outlined above in some of the responses (plus the clients may even save money by not getting the entry level plans with fewer features).

    Just my two cents, obviously everyone above is very successful at what they do. It is true at a certain point you may have a tough conversation to drop a nagging client or take a 3am phone call. I would say the best bet is to always do the math of how much time it will take to properly support vs how much you stand to make. A blanket answer of “no” across the board dismisses the people who could make it work. It works for me.

  3. This is a good post, and good advice. First, if a developer doesn’t have linux experience, not a good idea no matter what. Though WHM makes some things easy, you’re still going to need the command line at some point, and it’s easy to get in trouble.

    We’ve hosted most of our client sites for over 5+ years, but are winding that down for a few reasons. First, as this post mentions, there are excellent WordPress-only hosts out there who have “solved” this agency/client problem – look at Flywheel’s new Agency package for instance. Chances are, any of the top WP hosts can host your WP site better (more securely, faster, with automatic updates) than you can. A few years ago that wasn’t true.

    Bring security into this mix and there is no reason to put yourself on the line — either in terms of time (fixing hacked sites) or liability wise. If your clients don’t maintain the site properly (as happened to one account on our server) it can take a day or two of work to lock a hacked site back down if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially if you’re not a developer. Services that do this are expensive.

    At Wordcamp Miami, there was an excellent talk on legal issues around development and business practices and even if you are just reselling a VPS account, you are presenting yourself as a host and therefore are opening yourself up to liability from lawsuits either from your clients or from their clients/customers. If, for example, a site is hacked and sensitive information gets out, or customer accounts, or whatever.

    We’ve always enjoyed hosting client accounts, and thought of it less in terms of “easy money” (because it really isn’t) but more about building trust and a deeper relationship with our clients.

    But there’s just too many reasons not to do it in 2015 and beyond.

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