As a freelancer, one of the services you may offer clients is hosting their websites. Whether you build websites yourself or work with web developers, at some point a client will likely ask you to handle the hosting of their site. Hosting a client’s website comes with some unique considerations that are important to keep in mind. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know as a freelancer when it comes to hosting client websites.
Choosing a Hosting Provider
The first decision you’ll need to make is which hosting provider to use. There are many options to choose from, but the main ones include:
- Shared hosting – With shared hosting, multiple websites share resources on the same server. This is generally the most budget-friendly option but may not offer the best performance or control for clients with more complex needs.
- VPS hosting – A VPS (virtual private server) gives clients more resources and better performance by partitioning a physical server into smaller virtual servers. This offers more flexibility and customization.
- Dedicated servers – For clients with substantial needs, a dedicated server that is solely for their use may be required. This is more expensive but provides maximum control and resources.
- Managed WordPress hosting – Specialized managed WordPress hosting providers optimize servers specifically for WordPress sites. This can streamline maintenance and improve WordPress site performance.
- Cloud hosting – With cloud hosting services like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud, resources can be scaled dynamically to meet changing needs. Cloud hosting offers high flexibility but may require more technical expertise.
When evaluating hosting providers, look at factors like reliability, performance, ease of use, customer support responsiveness, and costs. Make sure any hosting company you consider offers adequate resources and features to properly host your clients’ websites based on factors like anticipated traffic volumes, site complexity, security needs, etc.
It’s often wise to use a separate hosting account just for client sites rather than commingling them with your own sites. This keeps things neatly separated and makes client transfers easier if you ever part ways.
Setting up the Account
Once you’ve selected a hosting provider, you’ll need to set up a hosting account. Make sure the account is under your business’s name or set up under your client’s name – do not just use your personal hosting account.
When establishing the account, consider these tips:
- Make sure you have full admin access to the account for easy management.
- Select an appropriate hosting package based on your client’s unique needs. Don’t just default to the cheapest shared plan if the site requires more robust resources.
- Set up the DNS settings and point the domain to use your hosting account’s nameservers.
- Configure backups, security features, and caching as appropriate for the site. Don’t leave the default minimal settings.
- Only use your business email address for the account contact information. Avoid using your personal email.
- Store the hosting account credentials and details in a secure password manager you can reference later.
Installing the Client Website
Once the hosting account is ready to go, you can install the client’s website. If the site was already built by a developer, they should be able to provide you with the site files to upload.
Here are some tips for installing a site:
- If the site was built in WordPress, install WordPress on the hosting account first, then migrate the WordPress site files and database over.
- For a custom site, upload all the site files and folders to the hosting account via FTP or the hosting control panel.
- Make sure any databases are migrated or created as needed. Test database connections.
- Update the config files with the new database connection details and other hosting account references.
- Confirm all plugins, web services, and assets like images have transferred properly. Test site functionality.
- Switch the domain’s DNS to point to the new hosting account’s server IP address(es).
- Consider setting up staging and production environments on separate hosting accounts for testing.
- Ensure any security rules, firewalls, and permissions are configured per best practices.
Setting Client Expectations
Hosting a client’s website does require ongoing management and maintenance. Make sure to have conversations with clients upfront to set expectations around aspects like:
- Monthly or annual hosting fees and billing practices
- Domain registration and renewal costs and processes
- Hosting control and access (will you retain full control or share/transfer it?)
- Updates to plugins, themes, and WordPress core
- Website backups and restoration processes
- Ongoing performance monitoring and optimization
- Uptime guarantee and response time for issues
- Plans for future growth and hosting upgrades
- Procedures for transferring hosting if you part ways
Put any agreements around hosting management and fees in writing before proceeding. This will prevent confusion and help the relationship go smoothly.
Handling Billing and Payments
Since hosting is an ongoing expense, you need to establish billing practices:
- Set up automated payments from the client’s credit card on file to pay the hosting provider directly.
- Invoice clients monthly or annually for hosting fees if they prefer to pay by check or bank transfer.
- Mark up hosting costs by 20-50% to cover additional management overhead.
- Keep impeccable records of hosting expenses and client payments.
- Adjust plans and billing as needs evolve to upgrade hosting, renew domains, etc.
- If you ever part ways, transfer billing responsibilities fully over to the client.
Keeping hosting billing simple, transparent, and consistent will build trust with clients and prevent problematic delays in hosting payments.
Managing Hosting Responsibilities
As the freelancer hosting a client’s website, you become responsible for a variety of critical hosting duties, including:
- Monitoring site uptime and performance regularly and addressing any issues.
- Managing SSL certificates for the domain.
- Ensuring site backups are working and available if restoration is needed.
- Coordinating domain renewals and registrar changes if requested.
- Performing server and WordPress core updates.
- Updating and patching plugins/themes for security and compatibility.
- Optimizing web servers and databases as traffic grows.
- Adding/removing site content or configuring new functions per the client’s requests.
- Responding promptly to the client’s hosting-related questions.
- Being available “on call” for critical hosting incidents like hacks or outages.
To avoid being overwhelmed by hosting duties, charge clients accordingly for your time. Also document processes clearly and use hosting management tools to automate where possible.
Handing Off Hosting to a Client
There may come a time when a client wants to fully take over their website hosting themselves. To make this hand-off smoothly:
- Give the client ample notice about the transition date.
- Transfer full DNS and domain registrar access to the client.
- Change the hosting account billing to be handled directly by the client going forward.
- relinquish any hosting account access you previously had.
- Provide the client with all hosting account credentials, logins, documentation etc.
- Backup the final site and offer the client a copy of those files.
- Remind the client to change FTP passwords, update SSL certificates, establish new backups, etc. Once you hand off the reins.
Following best practices for transferring hosting access ensures the client’s site remains stable and minimizes frantic calls for help later!
Alternatives to Self-Hosting
While DIY hosting gives you the most control, there are alternatives to consider if you want to offload the hosting burden:
- Hybrid hosting – Some hosts like WP Engine offer fully managed WordPress hosting where they handle updates, scaling, etc. This balances control with support.
- Fully managed hosting – Hosting providers like Pagely and Kinsta provide seamless managed WordPress hosting so you don’t have to actively maintain much.
- Web platform hosts – Services like WordPress.com and Wix handle all hosting and updates for you. But this may limit customization abilities.
- Client’s in-house hosting – For larger clients, they may already have in-house infrastructure and IT teams better equipped for website hosting and management at scale.
Evaluate if alternatives like these make more sense depending on the client’s needs and your own desire for hands-on website hosting duties moving forward.
Hosting client websites introduces some unique factors to consider as a freelancer. Following best practices around account setup, security, billing, maintenance, and transfers ensures your clients’ sites stay running smoothly. While hands-on hosting does require active management, the payoff is more control and the ability to deliver customized hosting solutions tailored to each client’s needs. With the strategies outlined in this guide, you’ll feel confident taking on hosting responsibilities for your clients’ websites.