In this blog post, I’ll discuss how I think about the maintenance of websites with low complexity and that don’t support critical business operations. They’re mostly marketing-type pages with no eCommerce and for businesses with up to 50 employees.
When considering maintenance contracts for WordPress sites I ask myself a few questions:
- How much support will the client require? Do I need to be able to support them via phone during business hours most of the time or can the occasional email answer wait for a week?
- What’s the cost to the client’s business if their Website doesn’t work correctly for a few hours or days?
- Is the client outsourcing part of their operations to me or is it more of training support for their team?
- What are ongoing costs on my side – plugins, hosting, or monitoring?
- Do I get value from continuing to work with them?
Don’t offer website hosting
When setting up a website for a smaller client or project I make sure that they’re hosting with a reputable hosting provider. Hosting is insanely cheap these days and I can’t compete with a local web hosting provider that has active phone support.
It also means that I decoupled myself from the commodity layer of support and if the client doesn’t want my specialized support, someone else will take care of providing for the basic infrastructure.
It also gives me another ally when debugging strange issues such as web site not being accessible from a certain ISP. The web hosting provider has better access and leverage towards ISP than I would with my own server.
Offer a year of free support and maintenance
The client will always call you first if they need help. Since you want to help them and keep good business relations you’ll help them. It will also help you fix any issues that you didn’t catch during the development.
During this time you’ll see the types of support requests they’ll send you. You’ll teach them how to do things on their own and maybe build a small workflow improvement so they don’t need to have you in the loop. It’s also an opportunity for upsells like offering them additional services or to start planning upgrades based on their needs.
How much to charge and how?
I find that charging between 10 – 20% of the project cost for each year of support is a good ballpark figure to start the estimate. It will also give you a reasonable amount of time each month to do planned updates during your slow times.
Another way to have this conversation is to say that you’ll plan for an average of 4 hours of work per month for a year – so that’s 48 hours. You then multiply it by your hourly rate and you get a yearly contract value – such as 1200 EUR for 25 EUR/hour or 3600 for 75 EUR/hour. A reasonable amount of hours per month is something business owners understand and you’re also probably comfortable charging at that amount.
You should charge this as an upfront yearly fee. There are multiple benefits to this:
- Removes your administrative overhead
- Ensures that you’re paid for being on standby
- Moves the value conversation to once a year instead of potential questions with an invoice every month
It’s a good idea to have a running log of your work activities so you can send a regular FYI report at regular intervals so that they are aware of your “background” activities.
You should charge for maintenance if you can find a reasonable market rate to support it. If your client can’t justify paying for a few hours of your availability per month then it’s probably not worth trying to sell it on them. In such cases, I rather offer it for free and ask them for additional referrals.
Overall you should focus on finding better clients that can extract ongoing value from their websites. It’s much easier to charge and provide value with your services in such cases.