Fieldtrip Animated F Logo
let's work together
December 14, 2022

Mission Multiplier: Get the Hostage-Free Website You Deserve

Jane Pfeiffer

Hello and welcome to Mission Multiplier. I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and President of Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip is a marketing and branding firm that works with nonprofits and purpose driven organizations to help them close the gap between the people that they help and support, and the apathy or misunderstanding that keeps others from engaging and understanding why these issues needs to be solved. So today we’re going to talk about websites and how to keep this incredible brand asset in your control at all times. Too many times I meet with clients or prospective clients who had a horror story, and I have one of my own. Most recently, I met with a prospective client who had been sold a website. We’re talking six figures, multiples, and because of its complicated integration, this multi-hundred thousand dollar investment was needed. After speaking with them, the complicated integration was connecting to an Excel spreadsheet that was updated once a year. And unfortunately the website, they didn’t have access to. So every time something needed to be changed, it was another fee and an outside reach and they couldn’t make simple changes. It was horrible. I apologized on behalf of all advertising agencies that no client should ever be in that position.

Years ago, when the agency was first getting started, I didn’t have but one or two employees and needed a website for a potential client project. We met with an outside partner. We got along great and we went and presented and closed the opportunity. Great experience. Probably because I didn’t know better. And then we thought we build on that. So I had a client that we had convinced– this was a national well-recognized brand– and we got the opportunity to do a test pilot with three markets, and spinning up these microsites that would manage contests, catering all these kind of local activation tactics. So we developed the three websites. We did a lot of advertising that was driving to these special offers. Everything was going great until I got an invoice for $15,000 that I never expected, didn’t know about and couldn’t pay. When I called the outside partner, they just said, “Well, this is some functionality that we added.” Were you asked to? Was it approved? “Well, no. We just thought it would be a really good addition.” And sure, it was. But there was never a notice that there was going to be a charge. Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work through that issue. In fact, the result was pay the invoice or you’ll lose your site. So here are three sites for an important client, part of a national brand and a test project. I was stuck. I had to go to the client, eat some crow and tell them that I needed 30 days to rebuild these websites and change the domain and pay for all the printing of materials to change the domain name and the time to develop three new sites on my dime. And they’d have them back and we would not own them. So from that experience, I vowed that I would never let an outside source own the agency’s website, and by that I mean URL, hosting, or CMS. And I vowed that no client of ours would ever be in a situation close to that. So it was the birthplace of a hostage free guarantee that we had with the Web sites.

This is something that you can do yourself. There are four things that you should look for when you’re building or taking over a website. The first is the philosophy. What’s the philosophy of the developer or the firm that you’re working with? Are they intent on building an asset for your brand and your organization? Do they see this as a project with a definitive start and beginning? Or the third scenario and worst scenario – is this is a source of upfront revenues and ongoing revenues? Because you’ll have a long lasting relationship with them. You know, ask for the asset. Let them know that you expect to retain ownership at all times. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for development or figuring out fancy technical things. It just means that you are declaring your intent and expectation. That includes asking for it in writing. After development is finished, the invoice is paid. Not only do you own the asset, it’s free to use, with or without the outside firm. An important part of that is owning the hosting and domain name, as well as having admin access. and with the CMS as well. It’s a simple transaction. It should be on your credit card, not theirs. So you’re notified of renewals and you can never be in the situation that I was. It’s always important to make sure that the hosting and the domain organization that you’re buying from has live people that can support you in the time of crisis. May that never happen. But if it does, trying to figure it out by going to a help menu is not an option. You need attention immediately. And so you need to work with companies that can offer that level of support. I’m talking about the GoDaddys and WordPresses of the world that have created their company to support both the most sophisticated developers, and the people who don’t know a pixel worth of code.

So the third thing is to have a CMS (content management system) that is working for you and not dictating how you have to work with it to make changes. For example, we specialize in WordPress and it’s a comprehensive solution. In fact, it’s almost too robust for most websites. We not only categorize and organize the CMS to work for the client, we actually suppress some of the features that aren’t necessary for this site to avoid confusion and temptation to try something that just isn’t going to work with the particular site that’s built. So insist on a CMS that is regularly available so it can be supported by any developer outside the agency. Insist that you want a portable website that should the worst thing happen with your developer or firm, you can take the site with you and it lives, and you focus on the thing you need to, which is the mission. You want to avoid the use of proprietary code in the CMS. You want to make sure that it plays well with others, meaning it has lots of available integrations with all the common platforms that you need today and might need in the future and that it’s still supported. So it’s getting regular service on security upgrades, functionality upgrades and not something that’s going to sunset in 12 months and you have no support for it.

Fourth, insist on a website that doesn’t require website wizardry. And what I mean by that is that you should have the ability and capability to change 90% of the site without knowing a bit of code. Yes, there are always going to be some features that are hard coded and fixed, and you will need a developer to change. That’s normal. But the vast majority of the site should be open to you, and in a way that protects you from or anyone else on your team from adding the font of the day or an image that isn’t consistent with the brand. So you want control on the consistency and the image, but access to do what you need to do. That’s it. The philosophy of the firm you’re working with, own, and have admin access to the essentials, your domain, your hosting, and your CMS. Select a CMS or insist on a CMS that isn’t proprietary and something that works for you. And then finally, a simple, manageable, easy to update website that is built as an asset for you. Thanks for watching. Join us next week back at Mission Multiplier. And if you want to learn more, just visit