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Professional Webmaster Business Issues Forum

One Man Setup needing Advice on Business Backup
Someone to help clients if I'm hit by a bus, out of the country etc

 4:27 pm on Jun 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm in the early days of running my own web design / Internet marketing business and at the moment I'm a Sole Trader. I have a client who needs more assurance that my business is backed up in such situations as me being ill, being hit by a bus or if I am out of the country for x days.

I'd be interested to know how other one man set ups approach this.

    Do you have an educated family member who can take over clients in such a situation
    A local designer/developer who you've built a relationship with
    A national/international designer developer who you've never met
    Or a specific web support service

One of my concerns is that (I assume) many of these companies would charge a certain amount of credit from the offset that they eat into if required - whether I use their time or not. What experiences/advice do you have? Would love to hear it!



 5:15 pm on Jun 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

welcome to WebmasterWorld, Metzed!

This is a subject that comes up once in a while, and there isn't one comprehensive answer. You know your business best, and only you know how many ingredients would spoil if you're not around to keep them going. But there are some common points:

1) keep your passwords somewhere safe other than in your noggin. Make sure at least two people know where that safe place is

2) have some friends who can act as a specialized executor: people who know how to transfer domains, close AdWords accounts, pay out your invoices, etc. Or make sure you have someone in mind that will be able to take over your whole business should you meet an untimely end. This may involve a clause in your will specifying transfer of ownership, with provisions so revenue/profit may continue to provide for your family & heirs as well as the new business owner.

This did actually happen to someone I know. Their life ended unexpectedly and the business they owned (a larger operation with many employees) was left in the care of a close colleague in the same industry, with clauses that provided dividends into a trust fund for his kids. Adult family members of the deceased acted as an ad hoc board of directors representing the children as all the details were worked out... it was complex and tragic but worked out well in the end

3) Document EVERYTHING about your business that you can. Everything!

I'm in a similar situation - I have a few complex online businesses that are run 100% by me. And I'll admit, I am not as well-prepared as I should be. I do some of the above, but not as thoroughly as I should.

Ideally you would like to have a backup plan, without paying a retainer. But that may not be possible if you need risk assurance for your clients.

Perhaps the simplest path is to grow your business up to the point where you require a partner/apprentice/employee, and train them so they are capable of continuing operations in your absence, or at least knowing what accounts need to be settled and what relationships would need to be maintained or terminated.

I'd love to hear how other sole-proprietor webmasters handle this


 10:59 am on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

As a buyer if I choose to use a small company I want to know that I'm not going to be held hostage - for whaetever reason, so anything that makes it easy to change suppliers will help.

Deliver master copies on a CD, document what you have done, use standards, get into knowledge transfer.

The risk assessment / backup plan is good to do, but any single points of failure in a business/system are usually very expensive to solve or the contingency is not any good in reality. You should do this primarily to protect your business not clients e.g external backups, USB Modem, Spare Laptop, Key contacts all on Linkedin, Insurance, Roaming SIM, Experts Exchange Account etc.

If you have good underpinning contacts then a lot of the technical risk is removed.

Perhaps the simplest path is to grow your business up to the point where you require a partner/apprentice/employee

Then you start to forget how it all works they hold you hostage!


 12:57 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was in this exact position, running a net marketing business on my own. I had plenty of customers, many on one virtual server and then I fell ill.

After a while the server fell over, one of the email accounts was not limited and it filled up the disk and basically the server went belly up. Some of my customers lost their email which was intolerable for them. A relative tried to help but they did not really know what they were doing. So while I was out of action my customers took what actions they could, they in the main set up new Virtual servers and transferred their sites and email to them.

When I was better and returned to work, I was down quite a few customers which was quite hard to recover from. I did not get the lost customers back, they did not want to take further risks with a one man band and were I in their shoes I would not have either. Once bitten twice shy I think is the saying.


 12:57 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I did continue for a few years after this catastrophe but I was not so keen to host my client's websites and email in the future and promoted it as an advantage that I did not.


 3:29 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have a colleague who can cover but this thread has reminded me to write down details of the things that only I currently have access to.


 5:24 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

My wife is my backup. She has a tech background and understands 80% of my business already. I keep written copies of instructions and passwords under lock and key.

Beyond my wife there is a huge void. If something we to happen to both of us, it would be a mess.


 5:52 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I give my accountant most of my information, since he already has access to my financials I figure he's a safe bet to have my passwords as well.


 5:56 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have a client who needs more assurance that my business is backed up in such situations as me being ill, being hit by a bus or if I am out of the country for x days.

Are you just designing the site or are you hosting his site as well?

If you're not hosting it I'm not sure why he wouldn't just seek another designer if you got hit by a bus.

I had plenty of customers, many on one virtual server and then I fell ill.

Good example of why you should host them on a managed server so someone just has to make a phone call on your behalf to get it fixed in the event you're out of commission.


 6:48 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's an important exercise to think this ahead. I did it last year, telling each client, "in case I get run over by a semi..." your details are in "readme.doc" located on your website. Therein, I placed potent details on domain registrar, DNS assignments, hosting company, folder names on my computer, backup copy locations, and such.

Now that I'm facing a recent HPV diagnosis, I find it important to teach mi esposa to maintain her own website (same "semi").

Such ahead-of-time documentation is a good motivator toward a more simplified, efficient website setup, too.


 6:52 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

We have just launched a new biz which addresses this problem for small businesses who have got their website and email at some tiny jackleg outfit (sometimes a friend or a relative of the owner; big one we're doing now was set up by the wife) that cannot provide professional levels of services.

For $0000 dollars, we come in and set up everything on the cloud with a major firm (we use two) and train them how to use it.

I'm finding this to be a much larger market than we first thought. It's fun. They are sooooo happy to pay us.


 7:46 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is a question we have had to answer for many years. As your OP recognizes, there are different levels of need.

The most common, and easiest, in my opinion is the travel situation. We've been able to provide a continuum of service while we travel/vacation through laptops that are running a mirror of all our business and client files. It takes some time each day to just check in on everything, but it has worked.

Getting hit by the bus or seriously ill? It scares me to think how vulnerable we are. I am looking forward to watching this discussion.


 8:25 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's worth having a chat with your lawyer to make sure your will has everything in it that an executor would need to know.

Meanwhile, make some contacts locally with folks in the same industry as you, make friends, know that if you're smooshed in a bus crash there is someone your spouse can call who knows how to reboot an Apache server.


 8:28 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I had a router / firewall go down once when I was out of town and since I'm the only one that knows about the servers it was a major pain talking through the work-around on the phone. I couldn't get into my network and the outbound internet was down so the VoIP phones we have didn't work. The only way was via cell phone which, of course, had no service in the server room. We ended up playing the old-school game of "telephone" with one person yelling instructions to the next then yelling them into the server room. It took TWO HOURS just to bypass the router as was extremely frustrating. I've since made a complete network architecture with Visio and listed all the services provided from each machine. I also hid a paper list of all the passwords to the servers. I then called and interviewed several third-party tech companies in town until I found one familiar with pretty much everything we have. If something goes down again, I'll call them, point them to my password list, and cross my fingers that they can fix it without costing a ton of money.

I don't have a "bus plan" yet. It's such a huge challenge to teach someone all the SEO stuff I do for clients. I think I'll look into a transfer of ownership / trust thing in the future.


 11:44 pm on Jun 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I rarely take a vacation and if I do have to leave for a few days I let all my clients know when I'll be back. My daughter died and I went through breast cancer and radiation at the same time last year and I kept right on working so my clients aren't worried about my devotion or attention to their needs.

I am not a reseller host and all my clients own their own domain and I teach them how to manage it and pay for their hosting, etc., so if I'm gone for an extended time they can find another designer and move their domain if they have to. Therefore there is no need for my clients to be scared if I disappear for an extended amount of time other than the annoyance of finding another designer.

I've been looking for another designer but haven't found anyone that can both write code by hand and understands SEO (other than the gradeschool version of SEO). One of my grandsons is following in my footsteps but it will be a few years before he can take over, if needed.

I have written out brief instrutions for my family in case something happens to me but need to set it up in more detail like was mentioned above so thanks for the reminder.


 7:00 am on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Good example of why you should host them on a managed server so someone just has to make a phone call on your behalf to get it fixed in the event you're out of commission.

Yes, although the clients most affected by my downtime managed to take their sites and domains and move them, it would have been no trouble for them at all (my being out of contact) had they owned their own servers and controlled their own domains.


 10:25 am on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think that the very fact that so many of you have been in the same situation highlights a fundamental weakness in the one man business model.

It can never get any bigger than you. You can't sell it because you are it. And of course if you go down, it goes down.

The solution is to NOT be a one man business any more.


 11:33 am on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

The solution is to NOT be a one man business any more.

To make the change from one person business to well ... a business .. is not an easy one, and it is not a step everyone wants to take. As soon as you have employees you have salaries that HAVE to be paid which means you have to win a breakeven level of business month in month out.

One of the things I enjoyed very much about being a one man band, was if I wanted a quiet month, perhaps a bit of time off, I could take it pretty much whenever I wanted.


 11:52 am on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

If I want a quiet month, or even the whole year off, I can also take it whenever I want. The difference is that my profits remain the same as the business no longer needs me.

None of my staff are salaried, they are only paid on results and work for themselves using my resources.

Having help means that you get the benefit of more than one mind working together and that you can work on your business rather than in your business.

It also means that you end up with much more free time, which is something none of us can ever buy more of.


 12:06 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Interesting conversation, and like regular backups, something that should be addressed once in a while.

I was a one person operation (well, 2, with my spouse). Things were going very well and I wanted to smooth out the operation, make it saleable, etc. So we opened some space downtown and brought on some staff. I moved from sales to building the business and management/training.

Two years later, the sales were less than what I did from home (can't find people who can sell the product near what I do). So less gross revenue and add in the overhead of staff and an office, and this was not the best idea I ever had.

So I closed the office and went back home a couple of months ago, and started sales again. Immediate return to doing well.

Now I'm working with a remote person, strictly commission, to handle my overflow. I'm a much, much happier person. And it's not just the money, I much prefer working from home and being in direct charge of my income and time.


 12:52 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

ukfinanceaff: None of my staff are salaried, they are only paid on results and work for themselves using my resources.

I think if you have found a business model that works for your situation then all power to you.


 2:43 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I don't have backup plans in case I'm out (only if I'm dead but that's something different: leaving stuff vs having someone knowing your biz). I tried but in my market (and locality) it involves many questions... then "I want to learn how to do it too" and that's a no.

Backup plans are very important but there is always a point where at least one or two conflict of interest emerge.


 5:03 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping that some day I can just write a shell script and cron to do my job.


 8:36 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Dropbox + some local solution (wifi hard drive) has been the best for me to date, after LOTS of experimentation.


 9:38 pm on Jun 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

@stuntdubl you might have misunderstood Back up in this context, we're talking more about the human side of it, is there anyone to organise your business if, as a one man band, you are on holiday, or rescue your business if you're seriously ill etc.

@httpwebwitch thanks very much for the welcome and for your thorough answer, very helpful.

And thanks to everyone else, a lot of food for thought.
  • My thoughts at the moment are that I need to setup my web hosts whitelabel Cpanel solution so that clients can login and potentially cut me out if required, I'm a web hosting reseller - but only for my web design clients.
  • Send a copy of the website with instructions if they need to set it up somewhere else, although as time goes on that will be out of date, so they need to know how to get an up to date version of their website. This extra care will hopefully mean that my client is more likely to stay with me rather than go somewhere else.
  • Train up a web design interested relative
  • I was thinking about some kind of formal agreement with another web designer/developer but I think that's quite a hard one to agree to. Firstly the trust needs to be there, and they probably have other priorities.
Whatever happens, if I'm away on holiday or in hospital and one or more of my clients suffered an SQL injection and had their sites defaced then someone needs to rectify it. Who is that someone that will mean I won't lose my client? Interested in hearing more...

 3:12 am on Jun 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping that some day I can just write a shell script and cron to do my job.

Let me know when you get close! If you need some help in refining I'm offering whatever knowledge I have in getting it done! :)

Having spent the last two years dealing with a cancer that didn't (quite) kill me, my backup has been truth to my clients, providing them with general essential details, and (for a minor fee) training them or employees in their company) for transition (sans my brilliant brain, of course) to their internal operation.

I am that one man shop under discussion who has outlived both of his wives and (sad to say) his children, too.

Yet, put it all into perspective, it is us, the small biz, that actually makes the world of economics spin, moreso than big biz. The mom and pop, etc. Yet we really do need to make contingency plans and usually do not, until there's been a wake up call.


 12:39 pm on Jun 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have automated 80% of my site maintenance. Beyond that I have volunteer mods and super users helping take care of much of the daily on-site tasks. I could technically disappear for years and the site would go on without me. All revenue is direct deposit into accounts that are linked to accouts my wife can access.

The main hole would be having someone to reply to emails. But I am working on automating that as well.

Then I shall disappear. [insert sinister laugh]

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