You’ve had your new website built, with your beautiful new brand guidelines; everything is launched and you are SO excited about how you’re able to show up online now.
But, now that you think about it, you didn’t pay a ton of attention to how your brand designer sourced all your brand materials, like your fonts, colors, and logos.
Unfortunately, there are bad brand designers and web developers out there who don’t follow best practices when it comes to licensing and providing access to all the moving parts that go into building a brand or a website, and tragedies to happen which can leave the clients of solo-service providers in the lurch if something bad happens that puts the service provider out of work.
This isn’t intended to be an article about what your brand is or what your brand isn’t – we both know there is so much more to a brand than a logo or a color palette.
But this is intended to help you understand the best ways to protect yourself and know what questions to ask up front, should something happen to the service providers you’re working with.
Do you own your marketing materials?
Your brand’s fonts are essential in setting the tone and creating a unique identity. The right font can make your website look professional and trustworthy, while the wrong font can leave visitors feeling confused and uninterested. But did you know that having the right font licenses is just as important? Without proper licensing, you might not have the legal right to use a font.
There are many fonts out there that can be used for free without any exception, but many fonts (especially the really great ones you can buy on marketplaces like Creative Market) cost a certain amount to be used on commercial projects, and typically there are restrictions around who can use them, how they can be used, and who can use them.
If your brand or website designer has used a specific, creative font in your branding or on your website, you’ll want to double-check that the correct licenses have been purchased for use in your marketing.
Much like your brand fonts, your unique color palette is essential to creating a cohesive and recognizable brand across marketing materials. The right colors can invite a website visitor to take the next action with you, and the wrong colors can leave a website visitor wanting more – which is never a good thing.
While there are no particular “licenses” for colors or your color palette, there are specific codes, called HEX or RBG that you’ll want to have in order to use the same colors across your marketing efforts.
These color codes are usually provided in a Brand Style Guide or other overarching guide for your brand, but if you don’t have them (or are left asking “what the heck is HEX?”), you’ll want to check in with your brand and/or web designer to make sure you have those codes on file for your own benefit.
There are tools out there, like Color Picker, which can help determine what colors are in use on a website or other online marketing materials, but it’s best if you use the same exact HEX codes every time, instead of getting an approximation like the Color Picker tools give you.
These days just about anyone can call themselves a logo designer and provide you with files to a design – but do they have the legal right to do so?
In case you didn’t know, there’s a lot of dispute about whether or not a logo can be created in Canva, but many brand designers are using it despite the confusion around what can and what can’t be created in the design software.
The industry standard for graphic design has always been the Adobe suite of products – and while I don’t think it’s cool to gatekeep who can and can’t offer a kind of service based on being able to afford Adobe, I do think it’s important that your logo be unique, for a couple of reasons.
First, you don’t want to land in legal trouble because the logo you use across your marketing materials was made in a way that isn’t up to par.
And second, if your logo isn’t unique enough there’s a good change you’ll run into issues if you ever try to trademark it.
When in doubt, ask your designer what kind of software they’re using to create your logo, and make sure they provide you with all the relevant fonts files once their done designing – including JPEG, PNG and SVG.
If they’ll give it to you, it’s also super useful to have the development (i.e. the .ai file that houses the raw design) but not every designer includes this in their package.
If they don’t, you can always ask if there’s an additional price you can pay to own that file as well – and that way you’ll be covered all the way around.
Do you own your website?
As a small business owner, your website is one of the most important tools in your digital toolkit. It serves as your virtual storefront, and it’s the first place potential customers go to learn more about what you have to offer.
Unfortunately, many small business owners make the mistake of allowing their developers to own their domain names—a decision that can come back to haunt them later down the line.
Sure, it may seem more convenient and cost-effective in the short term to let your developer own and manage your domain for you. But if something goes wrong, or you decide to switch developers down the line, that convenience can quickly turn into a major headache.
Not only will you be forced to pay whatever price the current domain holder decides to charge you, but there’s also no guarantee that they won’t refuse to transfer ownership altogether. And if they do refuse? Then you could find yourself with no choice but to start from scratch with a completely new domain name and web address.
That’s why it’s so important for small business owners to take control of their digital assets from day one. By owning your own domain name, you ensure that whoever builds your website has no control over it—which means they won’t be able to hold on to it if things don’t work out between the two of you.
Plus, when (not if) something does go wrong with your website or domain name, having full ownership gives you complete control over how (and who) deals with any issues that arise.
Hosting (or website file access)
One of the benefits of working with a web developer is that they help you work through all the difficult decisions that come with building a (WordPress) website. A lot of times, your developer is going to offer to host the website they build on their own server, or under their own account with a hosting provider.
There are certainly pros to letting the developer do all of the difficult parts – I mean you hired a developer so that you didn’t have to do it all yourself, right?
But there are also perils to letting the person who builds your website host it on their own server.
When I build a new website for a client, I always send the client their Website Owner’s Manual as soon as the site has been paid in full. Once that happens, the client is free to do with their site whatever they wish – including taking it somewhere else if it pleases them to do so.
There are a ton of different types of website access, but here are just a few you can ask for to make sure you have all the access you need to your website. And I don’t just mean “editor access” so that you can add blog posts – I mean full access to the entire website and files, so that, should something happen to your existing web developer, you could take the site elsewhere and not have to start over from scratch.
FTP access – this is a technical term, that basically just means you have access to the root website files. With this type of access, those files can be taken to any other host and put on their server.
This is arguably the best type of access if you plan to continue to work with a developer. It’s not particularly helpful to you as a small business owner who doesn’t want to deal with complicated technology.
WordPress Admin access – this is the kind of access you’re likely most familiar with. It’s the kind of access that allows you to log in to your WordPress website and see the WordPress dashboard, edit pages, add blog posts, etc.
Some developers either don’t provide this access to their clients, so that the clients can’t mess anything up, or they only give a limited amount of access to clients, again, so things don’t go all wonky when you’re working on the site.
If you don’t know what kind of access you have, don’t be afraid to ask your developer, and if you don’t have all the access you want, be clear with your developer about your concerns and ask them how they can be addressed.
Backup Access – If you *do* have WordPress admin access, you can add a plugin like Updraft and set it up to take regular backups of your site that go to your own storage. If you need to, you could take that backup and migrate it to a new WordPress installation.
This method isn’t foolproof, but it can give you peace of mind if you don’t have any other access available.
Hosting Collaborator Access – many hosting providers allow “collaborators” on website projects. If you decide to go with a service that offers this, I recommend that you sign up for the hosting account, and add your developer as a collaborator.
In this way, you retain all ownership of your site, and your developer has the ability to work on your site and contact support on your behalf as a collaborator.
Overall, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to a. work with reputable providers and b. ask the appropriate questions to make sure you’re getting everything you need to legally protect and own your brand and website.