Dealing With Third-Party Service Nightmares as a Web Designer

As a freelancer, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed when work is piling up in your queue. Sometimes, it can lead to mistakes or miscommunications with clients. It can sometimes be quite embarrassing.

Luckily, the solution is often very simple. Own up to the mistake, make sure it’s fixed and move on. If it was a particularly bad mistake, perhaps offering a bit of a discount could smooth things over.

But, what do you do when a heavily relied-upon third-party service drops the ball? That can put you in a much more difficult spot.

The Middleman

Third party services (hosting, newsletter management, payment gateways…) are a necessity for most web designers. We use them, resell them and recommend them to our clients. The trouble is, third-party services add another link in the "chain of trust". That means that part of our clients’ satisfaction is based upon the success or failure of that service.

Often times, a freelance designer can find themselves in the unfortunate position of playing the "middleman". We’re the ones who communicate directly with both our client and the vendor. This can be especially frustrating when there’s a problem.

Even Though It’s Not Your Fault…

Whether your web host is having problems or that remotely hosted shopping cart is refusing orders, having a third party service fail on you can become a nightmare. Even though you’re not the one having the problem (after all, it wasn’t your misguided PHP coding that is causing the error), it’s still your problem.

After all, it was you who chose the hosting. It was you who recommended that payment gateway for your client’s online store. So, when your client has a problem, they’re going to call you first.

Clients can get understandably frustrated with this type of situation. Someone’s mistake is costing their business. And getting a straight answer on the situation can be difficult for both clients and freelancers.

What To Do

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of third party nightmare, here are some tips to help you weather that storm:

Don’t Panic – This is tough for me during a crisis. If something’s not working, I want to hide under my bed. But that’s not going to solve anything. So the best thing to do is to try and remain calm, especially when discussing the issue with your client. If you’re panicked, it’ll make them more likely to feel the same.

Contact the Vendor – Do your best to find out what is happening and why. Politely (at first) ask for a timeframe of when things will be fixed.

Tell the Truth – I speak from experience when I say that most clients don’t like to be placated with false assurances. Sure, you can tell them "Give it an hour to get back online." But, what happens after that hour is up?

You’re better of explaining the situation, exactly as the vendor explained it to you. Also feel free to throw in a warning that the status of things can change at any time. And, since you aren’t the one directly working on the problem, explain that it’s difficult to know exactly what will happen next.

Keep Checking In – Asking the vendor to provide you with periodic status updates can be helpful for both you and your client. Some services have support pages dedicated to ongoing issues. Others may require you to call in once an hour. Share any updates with your client. Even if there are no updates, share that with your client as well. Make sure they know that you care and are frequently checking in with the vendor.

Repeat Offender?

If and when the issue is resolved, ask the vendor if this problem is likely to happen again. If it does happen again, seek a partial (or full) refund. That will at least help to keep your client happy.

And, even though it’s often painful, don’t be afraid to switch to another vendor if problems persist. No one likes to change web hosts, etc., but you may be better off in the long run. Just make sure to do your research and look at support forums, etc. before making a new choice.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to face a third-party nightmare. If you do, being proactive and honest will always help both you and your client get through the situation.

All images from Everett Collection on Shutterstock.


  • This is great. It’s the kind of advice that we all know we should do but forget in the heat of the moment. It’s important to be vigilant about 3rd party services. I always ensure I use services that are the best I can afford for my clients. If the premium version is better than the free version then I’m going for it!

  • Luke Pettway

    I worked at one company where we used a third-party to host websites. They constantly had performance issues, things would break, we had very little control of the system and had to rely on the admin to fix everything. They were in a different time zone to make matters worse. Sadly the company would not switch, we gave them reason after reason to move to another host and nothing came of it. Sometimes it is amazing how long people will tough out crappy support. If someone isn’t doing their job to help you, then don’t pay them. Find someone who will help you.

  • oh yes its truly a nightmare to manage with a third party when they don’t bother your problems. I like your “what to do” part, i think these simple steps can make things much better.

  • Thanks for sharing this post. I Totally agree with your point of view because I lost my previous web designing job because of these issues.