Introducing Maintenance & Support Plans

March 4, 2019 7 min read

illustration of a shield and heartbeat

We’re pleased and relieved to finally start offering formal maintenance plans and the option of ongoing support. This is part of a commitment to improve the quality and care of all projects by making maintenance a business priority.

A strong launch is one thing, but keeping a site strong months or years later can be a challenge.

Things on the interweb change fast and long gaps between updates can be issues for security, speed and usability. We’re constantly improving how we build and deploy projects, so even getting back into older code can take a significant amount of time. We’re not the first to offer this kind of arrangement, but we hope we’ve found options that’ll work for every client and provide a sustainable way to keep every project happy and up to date.

For clients with older projects that have been with us for a long time, the idea may be uncomfortable. This is our fault, because like many in our industry we’ve learned the hard way that ongoing free support and availability has a cost. This cost either adds up day to day, or reveals itself when an old and untouched project needs work or experiences an emergency. While every project is different, there’s not a single site on the internet that isn’t dependent on hardware, software, and vast networks being maintained to keep it alive.

Why now?

Two key factors have contributed to our push to formalize plans.

The first is a growing body of work. We’ve launched more than a decade’s worth of projects, so we’ve had to figure out how to ensure every project stays up to date especially when it appears to be humming along without any needs.

We’ve always been happy to answer questions and keep supporting work we’ve done. It’s also becoming increasingly important to discern where to spend our finite supply of attention. Maintenance and support plans expose formerly vague or hidden costs and assign value in a way that’s clear, professional and sustainable.

Second is a much stronger proficiency with development tools and hosting infrastructure. A stroll back through some of this blog’s earlier posts will offer evidence of learning and diving deeper into the complexity of how a site exists and performs on the internet. While I wouldn’t dare mistake myself for a professional systems administrator, I’m comfortable with systems that years ago would have had me hesitate to offer support or guidance.

In other words: we aren’t just offering plans, we can actually manage and support them. We’ve put a lot of time into policies, practices, and packages that should ensure service from which everyone can benefit.

Okay great, but I’m a client. You solved problems, updated software and answered questions for free for a long time!

We’d honestly like to keep doing that because we like being helpful, but we’ll all end up disappointed if we keep on that way. Our support won’t be worth anything if our company isn’t around to provide it. We have to prioritize work that pays, which means maintenance isn’t a serious priority until we can include it in a stream of committed work. We don’t want to operate with a wink and a nudge, but with clear parameters and a fair cost.

Is a maintenance plan required?

No.

We don’t own or control any project; every one is in the hands of the client. We’re raising our standards and insisting that projects are kept up to date when we’re asked to work on them. (They should be monitored and kept healthy and we’d love to help with that too.) At the very least, we’ll expose the cost of software and workflow updates in any estimate we provide. That may not be a big deal particularly for newer projects, but there are plenty of options for older sites:

  1. We can help train someone from your team to manage updates. There’s nothing secret about what we do, we just insist that somebody cares for every project so it stays strong.
  2. We can help you find another developer or agency that can handle maintenance.
  3. If your site’s older and doesn’t see frequent updates, we may be able to flatten it by removing the machinery that might otherwise be problematic if left untouched. We’ve done this for a few clients, and while it’s not perfect it can dramatically reduce a site’s ongoing maintenance needs.
  4. We can also help move you to a platform that includes hosting, like SquareSpace or Shopify or Wix. You’ll sacrifice some of the flexibility you enjoy having a fully custom project, but maintenance and support are included in the service fee.

What does "up to date" mean?

Up to date means that a site’s code base is clean and checked into version control, that all minor software versions are current, and that any commercial software is properly licensed and entitled to support. Security patches and critical updates are applied throughout the software stack. Backup mechanisms should be utilized and periodically verified.

In non-technical terms, simple diligence should prevent the site from being a liability for the client. Best practices and redundancies can prevent problems and make it easier for others to get involved or help out.

Servers fail, people make mistakes, teams and developers change. None of these things needs to jeopardize a site.

What does "monitored" mean?

The level of monitoring depends on the plan, but at minimum it means perpetual one-minute checks from different geographical locations to make sure your public website is as fast and available as we’d expect. We’ll automatically be notified if there are issues, and clients will authorize us to file support tickets to quickly get them resolved. We’ll also report the site’s overall uptime metrics so we can all know how well (or not) the hosting setup is working out. Lastly, we’ll let you know about any upcoming SSL certificate or domain registration expirations. None of these things count as issues in Maintenance & Support plans. We’ll monitor and be proactive for any site we’re watching, period.

For more involved monitoring and support, we’ll also set up error monitoring in production and respond similarly if problems occur in the wild. If the web host type allows us to also collect server health metrics, we can include those as well.

Why is this a good idea?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin didn’t operate a single website and he was referring to preventing fires in Philadelphia, but contingency planning is always a good idea. In this case, some diligent action can prevent inconvenient or even catastrophic business problems. Lost data and lost business can take a lot of time and resources to replace.

What if I want to handle these things myself?

You can, and we’ll even give you pointers to get started! We don’t offer magic or proprietary wizardry, just expertise at what we think are reasonable prices. We love working with all the bits and pieces that bring web projects to life and enjoy sharing that knowledge. Odds are you hired us because you didn’t have time to become a designer and/or web developer and do everything yourself. That’s the same reason you might consider trusting us to keep an eye on your site and keep it up to date.

What’s it take to get started?

That depends on what the project looks like.

Recently updated projects won’t need much, just a plan selection, initial payment, and onboarding.

Older projects will probably need to be caught up further with workflow and software updates.

Either way, it might help to read more on the Website Maintenance & Support Plans page and chat with us about what it would take to get up and running.

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Matt Stein’s face

by Matt Stein

Full stack tinkerer, sporadic blogger and Craft CMS fan occasionally found on the devMode.fm podcast.