Business Owners: Own Your Digital Assets

I was talking to a friend about helping with their business website and in the course of things, I asked who the current hosting provider was.

“Oh, I’m not sure, [friend] set that up for me.” I’ll find out. It turned out that not only had someone else setup the hosting account, but it was also in that person’s name.

It’s one thing to have a friend setup a site for you if you just want a blog for fun–but if you’re a business owner, your digital assets constitute your real estate on the web. You should no more let someone else own it, than you should let someone lease or buy a storefront if they are not part of the business.

Even if you’re the least technical person ever, and the thought of servers, domains, and DNS cause your head to spin, that’s no excuse.

As a business owner, you will run into many things that are outside your expertise. You can do the same thing for your web assets that you would do in any other situation: Ask someone who is an expert for help, or hire someone.

If you do get to the point where decide to get outside help with your website, your developer will need specific information to gain access.

Here are the things you need to setup your digital house, and the information you should have readily available for someone you hire to work on your web properties.

Domain Name

Your domain name is your address on the internet. For instance, the domain name of this site is karveldigital.com. You buy a domain name from a Domain Registrar.[1]

The cost is generally around $10–25 per year. Sometimes it’s cheaper if you buy 2–3 years at a time. If you’re using your domain for a business, you should probably set it to renew automatically, to prevent heartbreak and sadness from losing your domain.

Once you have your website setup, you tell your domain registrar where it is, and they make sure that when people go to yourdomain.com, it goes to your server, who’s address is really something like 208.33.146.110.

If you don’t have a domain name yet, Domai.nr is a good site to see if the name you want is still available and what the alternatives are if your dream name is taken.

If you're looking for a good Domain Registrar company, Hover is my favorite and the one I use and recommend to all my clients.

Privacy Warning

When your register your domain name, make sure to opt for domain privacy. That means that if someone tries to find out who owns your website, your contact details, including your address and phone number, will be protected. Otherwise, anyone can find your information simply by running:

whois yourdomain.com

on a command line window.

Hosting

The next thing you need is a server to house the files that actually make up your website. You get this from a hosting company.[2] The hosting company rents you space on a shared server, or if you have a larger site, with a lot of traffic, you might need a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which is sort of like having a server all to yourself. Even if the hardware is shared between more than one person, the level of resources in your server are dedicated to you alone. That means that if Oprah suddenly tweets a link to someone else on your shared server, the sudden spike in traffic won’t take your site down with it.

Good hosting will run anywhere from $5–30 / month for a shared hosting plans and more for a VPS.

Ideally, your domain registrar and your web host should be different companies. Almost every hosting company will offer you a deal to register your domain with them and it can be nice to manage everything in one place. But what if you decide to change hosting companies? If you sever your relationship entirely with your host, now you have to move your domain as well as your hosting. Transferring domains is a pain, even for people who know what they’re doing.

Separating your domain registrar from your host means that if you need to change hosting for any reason[3], you simply go in and point your domain at the new server. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of moving an arrow to point at your new house instead of your old one.

Easy.

Giving your developer access

If you’ve hired a developer to work on your site, you’ll need to give them access to your server in order for them to work on it.

That includes the following:

  • A username and login to access your web host. This doesn’t necessarily have to be YOUR username and password. On most hosts, you can create a separate login for your developer, which is the most secure thing to do. In some cases, you can limit access so that they don’t see your billing information.
  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol) username and password, or better yet, SSH (Secure Shell) access to the site. If you don’t know what that is or where to find it, call your hosting company’s tech support and ask them. Once you get this information, you should keep it securely stored[4] for future use.
  • Access to your database. If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, your developer will also need access to your database. They should be able to get this information on their own, once they have access to the server, but it’s a nice touch to provide it yourself. Again, your web host should be able to help you find this information.

ALL logins associated with any of your website assets should be secure.

Let me say that again. ALL LOGINS associated with ANY OF YOUR WEBSITE ASSETS should be SECURE.

Don’t use your dog’s name, your cat’s name, your anniversary and please, for the love of Grumpy Cat, don’t put any form of the word ‘password’ into your password.[5] In fact, it’s best if you don’t make the password yourself at all. If the host offers a password generator when setting or changing your password, use it.

If you’re grumpy that you can’t remember the password, that means it’s probably a good one. It also means, you should probably think about getting a password management system.

Lastly, now that you’ve gathered all this information and become your next developer’s new best friend, do not ruin all your good work by sending those passwords to them in plain text over email.[6]

Good ways to transfer password information, in order of security is:

  1. If you and developer are both 1Password users, you can create a shared vault with access to just the things they need. UPDATE September 13, 2016: Just use 1Password for Teams. It will make your life better, I promise.
  2. Passpack is a service meant for sharing passwords between teams.
  3. Put it all in a Word document and then password protect the document. Give them the password over the phone.
  4. If you must send them via email, at least take a screenshot of the passwords and attach it to the email.

Congratulations, you are now the most organized client your developer has ever had.


  1. Don’t use GoDaddy.  ↩
  2. Don’t use GoDaddy.  ↩
  3. You’ve decided to leave GoDaddy, your site is hacked and you decide to move servers using a backup, you outgrow your shared hosting, etc  ↩
  4. My next post will probably be about why you need a password manager. I like 1password.  ↩
  5. It’s horrifying how not-hypothetical this is. Please don’t do it.  ↩
  6. At least make the NSA earn their paycheck.  ↩

Kronda Adair

Kronda is the CEO of Karvel Digital, a digital marketing agency that helps established businesses double their revenue in 12 months using online marketing. She loves empowering small business owners to not be intimidated by all this tech stuff. She's often covered in cats.

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