How to Not Shortchange Yourself When Inheriting a Website


Imagine that you’re a contestant on one of those crazy reality shows. The kind where they drop you off, blindfolded, into the jungle. They give you a compass and a rudimentary map. The goal is to find your way to a posh resort.

Inheriting a website that you didn’t build can feel similar. You may have a basic understanding of its many components. But there are surprises around every corner. And no guarantee that you’ll arrive at your destination unscathed.

It’s a familiar experience for many web designers. Yet it should never be taken lightly.

Here are some reasons why you may want to think twice about accepting such a project. And if you do, be sure to charge accordingly.

You’re Dealing With the Decisions of Others

We often make choices based on what seems like the best option at the time. But humans are fallible. And sometimes we make terrible decisions. Thus, there are consequences.

For example, that WordPress plugin you installed five years ago may have seemed fine. But that doesn’t mean it will stand the test of time.

It’s bad enough if we made the decision ourselves. But it feels even worse when inheriting the choices made by someone else. That makes it easier to second guess what was done.

Plus, the issues you’ll face can be difficult to resolve. Security flaws, compatibility bugs, and abandoned software are just a few examples.

Therefore, charge accordingly.

Inheriting a website means dealing with some potentially poor decisions made by your predecessor.

Websites Don’t Age Well

Fine wines get better with age. But that doesn’t apply to a typical website. Even a well-maintained site can fall behind when it comes to technology. And a site that’s been ignored is likely to face significant issues.

It falls on web designers to deal with whatever problems arise. That may be a matter of refactoring code or a dated design feature. In other instances, you might be best served by starting from scratch.

Surprises can pop up at any time. Thus, it’s important to remember that you’re working on someone else’s vision. They may not approach things the way that you do.

They weren’t necessarily wrong, either. Perhaps they did a fantastic job. Still, it’s not easy to figure out what someone else was thinking when they added a specific feature.

Unless they provided detailed documentation, you might be left to guess their intent. Otherwise, you’ll need to do a thorough code review. It’s often a matter of going line-by-line to make sense of it all. That process takes time.

Therefore, charge accordingly.

An old website can have compatibility issues.

It’s Never as Easy as You Think

Clients love to describe things in simple terms. “It’s a basic shopping cart,” they’ll say. That may be an accurate description of their perspective. But they may not be fully aware of how their website was built. Surprises, you know.

And problems aren’t always readily apparent. How many times have you clicked through a website and said to yourself, “No problems here”? Only later do you realize how wrong you were. It’s happened to this designer more than a few times.

A cursory review won’t tell you everything. Some potential issues don’t appear until you dig deeper. Adding a feature or investigating a user complaint are prime examples. That provides a clearer picture of what’s happening below the surface.

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

Website problems aren't always readily apparent.

Despite the Downsides, It’s a Learning Experience

Inheriting a website built by someone else can be challenging. There are times when you’ll wonder why you ever agreed to do it. But it’s also an opportunity to gain some valuable knowledge.

When you think about it, there may be no better way to improve your skills. Diving into someone else’s code and making sense of it is often difficult. But at some point, you’ll likely start to understand how things work. That can give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

And what you learn can be applied to future projects. You’ll have a better grasp of how to approach an unfamiliar website. Spotting potential issues will become easier.

The result is that you’ll become an expert in your field. And for that, you can charge accordingly.

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