Don’t Shortchange Yourself When Inheriting a Website


Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a contestant on one of those crazy reality shows. The kind where they drop you off, blindfolded, in the middle of a thick jungle. Maybe they provide you with a compass and a very rudimentary map. The goal is to find your way to a road that leads to a posh resort.

Well, taking over maintenance on a website you didn’t build can feel a bit like that. While you may have a somewhat foggy understanding of what you’re supposed to do, there are surprises around every corner. Maybe they don’t equate to a hungry lion looking at you as its next meal, but still pretty bad.

It’s an experience that just about every web designer has had. Yet it should never be taken lightly.

In fact, if you decide to take on this sort of project, you should charge accordingly. There should be no special discounts given, even if the site belongs to your Mom. Here’s why:

They Made the Decisions, You Get the Consequences

We often make choices based on what we feel is our best option at the time. And to be truthful, sometimes we just make terrible decisions. Either way, there are consequences.

For example, that WordPress plugin we installed five years ago looked like a winner. But what was fine at the time isn’t necessarily going to stand the test of time.

It’s bad enough if we made this type of decision ourselves. But it’s exponentially worse (or, at least it feels that way) when inheriting the choices made by someone else. The bigger the site, the more of these potential pitfalls you’ll have to deal with.

Every buggy, upgrade-thwarting moment can make you want to throw your hands up and beg for mercy.

Therefore, charge accordingly.

Man with hand in his hair.

Websites Don’t Age Well

Fine wines and those really fancy collectible cars get better with age. But as time goes on your average website is more likely to break than continue humming along like a Ferrari.

What that means for web designers is dealing with the aches and pains that come along with old age. Sometimes it just requires a little freshening up of some code or a dated design feature. Other times you may need to take a sledgehammer to something and fully rebuild.

Again, this is where those surprises can get you. Remember that you’re working on what was someone else’s vision of how a site should be built. They weren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, they may have done a fantastic job. But it’s not always easy to figure out what someone else was thinking when they added a specific feature in their own unique way.

The hope is that their code was commented so accurately and completely that your job becomes easier. Short of that, it’s often a matter of going line-by-line in an attempt to make sense of it all. It’s not easy.

Therefore, charge accordingly.

An old, broken down car.

It’s Never as Easy as You Think

Clients love to describe things in simple terms. “It’s just a basic shopping cart”, they’ll say. While that may be how they really see their website, it doesn’t always carry over to how it was built. Surprises, you know.

But even giving a cursory look over a site that you’re considering taking on won’t show you everything. It’s often not until something needs fixed or a new feature added that you really start to see the challenge before you.

How many times have you reviewed an existing site and said to yourself, “Oh, this is a piece of cake”? Then, how often have you realized how very wrong you were? It’s happened to this designer more than a few times over the years.

The lesson is that there will always be intricacies and complications that you can’t foresee.

Therefore, charge accordingly.

Woman being splashed with water.

Despite the Downsides, It’s a Learning Experience

As we’ve seen, inheriting a website built by someone else can be full of stiff challenges. But it’s also an opportunity to learn something.

When you think about it, there may be no better way to improve your skills than by diving into someone else’s code and making sense of it. While there will undoubtedly be some ups and downs along the way, you can come out the other side better at your job.

In between, you may well fear for the survival of your sanity.

Therefore, you know, make sure you earn some money for your hard work!

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