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I recently "fixed" a Wordpress site for a client. He told me the site's host had "malware problems" and he needed the site restored from a backup. I did that, and didn't change anything else about the site. I noticed many plugins and Wordpress itself were pretty out of date but this is typical for this guy and he did say it was the host's fault...

Fast forward a week and now he forwards me a message from the host, presumably very much like the first one he got earlier (which he neglected to send me then), which explains his site was infected again through a vulnerable plugin. The email lists the file and line number that contains the exploit. This was frustrating to me because I have better (and better-paying - he's an old client on a "legacy" rate) things to do than deal with this guy's failure to communicate/understand the problems he creates for himself, again.

I would like to make this situation better for both of us by changing the nature of our relationship (at least for this site if not more) from hourly on-demand work to a monthly fee where I spend some time on a regular basis to prevent these kinds of problems before they happen by keeping things up to date, changing passwords, etc. This would ensure I get paid more regularly (and I can keep myself from wasting more hours by working intelligently to start with, rather than fixing stuff for him after he breaks it), and it would ensure his site doesn't keep getting screwed due to negligence/ignorance.

I am not sure how to bring this up however, and I feel like it's hard for him to take me seriously as a potential service (compared to a developer-on-demand like he sees me now). I said once already in an email that he needs to keep things up to date or problems will continue, and I could take care of that if he wanted. He did not acknowledge this statement but instead focused on the problem at hand and just asked how long it will take to fix. I am trying to come up with a more compelling way of explaining I no longer want to waste both of our time doing this hourly work fixing problems that should never exist in the first place if he had me handling things on an ongoing basis. I am asking for advice and examples of this kind of transition communication-wise.

  • So the real motivation isn't to make him save money - the real motivation is so you can do higher-paying hourly jobs? – corsiKa Jan 27 '15 at 14:38
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    "you know, you'd save a great deal of money if you simply paid a monthly retainer. In fact you'd save $XXXX just this past month." – Scott Jan 27 '15 at 23:35
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One approach I've used in the past is to simply tell customers that I no longer provide this service at an hourly rate, but that I could provide ongoing support on a flat rate monthly basis. Then I explained what this new service includes. In my case, I offered a guaranteed response time of X days, bug fixes, and priority service whereby I drop other non-emergency work to take care of their emergencies.

I'd suggest doing something similar here. Something like:

Starting in XXX month, I will no longer be providing hourly support for websites. Quite simply, I've found it is bad for my clients because they tend to focus on just the immediate need instead of thinking more strategically about how to protect their sites going forward. While this is good for me monetarily, I'd rather not profit from my customer's pain. Instead, I will be providing a flat rate monthly support package to clients. This will include the following:

  • Keeping your plug-ins updated to keep your site working properly and protect it from malware.
  • Regular site backups.
  • Guaranteed response time for problems of X days.
  • (etc.)

Based on your site's size and other needs, the rate I would charge you is: $XXX/month.


Obviously, you will want to adjust the benefits as necessary. And you might not be comfortable with removing the hourly option. I can only tell you in my case, this was successful.

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    As well, don't make it like a bandaid you just rip off; you may need to give them a month or two worth of notice to your client, depending on how you feel they'd react. – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Jan 26 '15 at 17:48
  • Yes, you need to give them sufficient time to consider and find another resource if they don't agree. – Avonelle Lovhaug Jan 26 '15 at 18:42
  • I agree with Canadian. It can be very difficult to find an appropriate replacement that can pick up where you previously left off, especially if there's been much custom development or customization that has been done. I would at least offer to put together a skill requirements list/years experience for whoever he needs to find if that is the ultimate outcome. The perspective of the customer may be a feeling of being trapped, even though it is certainly you're right to walk away in the absence of any kind of service level agreement. – AaronLS Jan 26 '15 at 22:07
  • I think these comments have missed the fact that this guy hasn't been getting regular service. It looks like he has been six months to a year without any problem. This means 2 things: a) he will not be feeling trapped so long as his site works in the present moment and b) he has no incentive to agree to this monthly plan until the next time something happens. Thats how this guy thinks. As a developer myself, I don't do monthly maintenance on our company's wordpress blog as for the most part it just sits there. – user1122069 Jan 27 '15 at 15:22
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Give him one hourly rate (higher than normal) for emergency services and another (your legacy rate) for, say fix this in 1-2 weeks when it is convenient for you. Then tell him the choice of a flat monthly service. Both situations will be convenient for you, whatever he chooses. You will be wasting your time persuading him and philosophizing about what is best for who, adding to yourself the same stress you were trying to avoid.

I can almost assure you, if he hasn't already responded to your offer, that he is not interested. You have helped him twice in two weeks, but it could be another 2 years before he has another problem. So inform him of your new rates and expected response times and when the time comes, you will at least get paid. Moreover, there are quite a few threads on SO about the problem of customers needing short little things. The bottom line: do the math correctly and make them pay for it.

I can understand why he might not go for the service idea. The reason being that you are basically asking to be paid something for the months in which you do little or no work on the site. The fact that he has, lets say $100 to pay you for 5 hours of work, does not mean that he wants to pay you that in monthly installments so that it will be easier for you.

I actually think it is much better for him to keep on at the hourly rate, even a high one (though that depends entirely on the prices). He will be more comfortable, and who cares about updates anyway? Who needs the latest wordpress anyway? The Russians don't really hack your average wordpress bog and this guy obviously doesn't care.

For the future: If you handle and pay for hosting services, you can charge a monthly premium as a package deal, and it will appear normal.

  • "who cares about updates anyway?" A lot of people do, but it is true that perhaps this client doesn't. – Avonelle Lovhaug Jan 27 '15 at 15:30
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I recently did an analysis after couple years of my uncle pestering me to make him an ecommerce site. I really wanted to, but considered having to stay on top of security updates for the various open source components(even with automatic updates for the OS/stack from a cloud host). I couldn't provide that level of service affordably, consistently, and reliably given other commitments. I ultimately recommended one of the full CMS/catalog/ecommerce services available that are fully managed/hosted. Those services are usually manage and maintain the various customer portals in a very unified/automated way.

Regardless, somewhere down the line someone has to stay on top of these things, and it is a regular process. Even the companies that have this maintenance process down to an automated science still make you pay a reasonable monthly fee for it.

You could compare your monthly "servicing" to what he would otherwise pay for other fully managed hosting. He might make the distinction that he's already paying for wordpress hosting, but I would explain his hosting platform manages the wordpress deployment, but not the deployment/updating of his plugins or specific configuration of his site to meet his needs and keep the site secure.

Just as you want to always be on the current most up to date version of your OS, wordpress platform, etc. He needs to ensure he stays up to date on plugins. The evidence justifying this is pretty glaring given the experience he has had so far.

One question that should really make this evident to him: Who is periodically checking to make sure your site remains secure by checking that all plugins are up to date?

I think including your "win/win for both of us" explanation is excellent as well. Add that you aren't trying to take advantage of his misfortune with vulnerable plugins, but have his interests in mind.

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