Protecting Your Digital Assets

Your business likely has important assets that help it thrive and grow. A food delivery company might own vehicles that allow employees to deliver orders to its customers. A carpet cleaning business might own a proprietary mobile cleaning system. These are physical assets. Your business also has rights to its name and intellectual property. But have you thought about your company’s digital assets?

What are digital assets?

According to Wikipedia, “A digital asset is anything that exists in a digital format and comes with the right to use.”

Wikipedia further specifies types of digital assets (bold added for emphasis): “Types of digital assets include, but are not exclusive to: photography, logos, illustrations, animations, audiovisual media, presentations, spreadsheets, word documents, electronic mails, websites, and a multitude of other digital formats and their respective metadata.”

For the context of this article, I will be focused particularly on domain names and websites (i.e., their importance, and how you should protect yourself and your business.

Why is it important to protect your domain name and website?

To help clarify, I would compare your domain name and website to your home. Your home is a building on a piece of land with a specific address. The website is your company’s Internet home and the domain name is the address. The piece of land is the web hosting where your website is built.

With that said, would you allow a contractor to build your house without giving you the keys? You aren’t going to just sit in the street and admire your house, you want to live in it. You would take the keys when the house was done so you could move in.

The same goes for your website and domain name. You need to maintain access to them because you own them. That’s not to say you couldn’t provide access to others who can help you manage them, but you certainly need to keep control and ownership of your own assets.

What happens if your web designer disappears?

Let’s say you hired a web designer to register a domain name and build a website for you. He registers the domain name in his own account, where he keeps the domains of 150 of his other clients. He builds a beautiful website that checks all the boxes for your business and things are going great. Your website is bringing in business and you are ranking highly in Google search results. All is going well, so there’s no need to worry, right?

One day, your website stops working, so you try to contact your web designer. You call and leave several voicemails with no response. You send emails and they bounce back. You have no way to contact him and your website is down, quickly losing all the search ranking it had earned since you launched it. Your current and potential customers are frustrated because they can’t find your website. Eventually, you decide to find a new web designer to fix the problem. Trouble is, the old web designer registered your domain name and built your website but never gave you access to any of it. Unless you find a way to contact the old web designer, you’ve most likely just lost your domain name and website and have no recourse to get it back.

No matter who builds your website or registers your domain name, it is imperative that you have full control and access to those digital assets. You can’t leave them in the hands of one person who may disappear or become unavailable for whatever reason. You can always delegate access to others, but you must always be sure that you are in control.

How do you maintain control of your digital assets?

Your domain name is probably the most critical component of your Internet-related digital assets. Your domain name is the core asset where you direct visitors to your website and route emails to your inbox, among other things. If you lose control of your domain name, you could lose control of your business.

Here are some tips on how to protect your domain name and your website, to keep them in your control:

  • Register your domain name yourself. You can allow someone else to do it for you, but be sure they create an account on your behalf and give you full ownership of it. Provide access to it on your terms, not theirs.
  • When possible, delegate access to outside providers instead of giving them your username and password. For example, if you register your domain name with NameCheap or GoDaddy, they allow you to delegate access to your web designer or others who are helping you setup your website, emails, etc. This allows you to maintain ownership of the domain name, while allowing third-party vendors to do their work without the risk of losing your domain name.
  • When you register a domain name, be sure to register it in the name of yourself or your business. Do this immediately! If you have someone else register the domain for you, be sure that they register it in your name, not theirs. This is a trick many nefarious web designers will use to strongarm you into staying with their services.
  • When someone builds a website for you, make sure they create an administrator account specifically for you. This isn’t as critical a step as protecting your domain name, but it could save you headache in the future. You may need to make changes to the website and if your web designer becomes unavailable, you need to be able to make the changes yourself (or hire another web designer to handle it for you).
  • At the end of the day, however, if something dire occurs and you need to use a different web designer or hosting company, having ownership access to your domain name is critical. Even if you have to rebuild a new website somewhere else, at least you still have access to the domain name and can easily take action when needed.

At my company, Harness Media, I often register new domain names for my clients. Initially, I register them in my own NameCheap account because I get steep discounts. Then I immediately move them into a new NameCheap account, registered in the client’s name, and delegate access back to myself. I then send the ownership access information to the client, so they have total control over their own new domain name. Since I have delegate access, I can then adjust the settings when needed to setup the website, email service, or other configurations. But the full power remains with the client, who could revoke or change my access whenever they want to — because they own it.

Why do web designers vanish?

There’s no good answer to describe why this happens. It seems to be a big problem in my industry, and it makes the good ones look bad. But I guess it’s a problem in almost every profession. The good ones will continue to do the best they can and serve their clients in a way that helps them succeed. Many designers, particularly the nefarious ones, know that they can hide behind their computer and disappear at any time. So the best course of action for business owners is to make sure you hire someone that is prominent and highly visible¬†while also making sure that they give you total control of your own assets.

It’s really sad that I have to write this portion of the article. But it’s a common reality that many people face. A large number of my current and past clients came to me because their previous web designers (yes, plural!) disappeared, and they were referred to me by my other clients. Of course, they are sometimes apprehensive because they’re afraid I might disappear as well. There are two primary strategies that I’ve implemented in my business to prove that I will not allow this to occur:

  1. One of the first things I do is review the client’s digital assets to make sure full access and ownership is available. If we can obtain full access, then we move those assets into their own accounts, fully owned and controlled by the client. If we do not currently have access, we attempt to get it so we can protect the assets for the future. If we absolutely cannot obtain access, then we provide options to the client and help them move forward. Through all of this, I make it very clear that my goal is to ensure the prosperity of my clients’ digital assets, even if it potentially means shooting myself in the foot.
  2. I maintain my visibility in the community and the Internet at large to prove that I’m not going anywhere. I can be found via my own website, email, phone and various social networks. Harness Media regularly sponsors and participates in community events, donates to local charities, and provides pro bono work to non-profit organizations. It’s not hard to see that my company and I are well-established in the community and aren’t going anywhere.

Protect yourself!

It all boils down to protecting yourself. Protect your domain name, your website and other digital assets. They are critical pieces of your company’s puzzle and you need to be in total control of them, even if you don’t understand them.

Need help protecting your digital assets? Feel free to contact me at Harness Media for a free consultation.

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