How to Fire Your Web Designer & Migrate Your Website to a New Agency

A man, seated at his desk, rubs his eyes in frustration

It happens. You build a website and discover the relationship you have with your digital agency isn’t a fit. Or, your website performance leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe you even discover that your web team is up to something shady. You need to know how to fire your web designer and gain control of your website—sometimes with a degree of stealth.

How do you migrate your website to a new digital agency successfully? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know.

First, though, let’s give you a little confidence that your gut feeling is right-on by taking a look at the red flags that something’s amiss.

Sure signs a change in web designer is in order

It’s time to start shopping around for a new digital agency when your web designer:

  • Demonstrates a lack of transparency
  • Gives evasive answers
  • Is unresponsive—you can’t seem to get your calls or emails answered
  • Doesn’t know how to correctly maintain your site or doesn’t offer website maintenance
  • Lacks a sound process*, like a failure to leverage project management tools, code versioning, or meetings, requests, and action items documentation
  • Doesn’t provide detailed project scopes when requested
  • Deliberately overcomplicates situations
  • Won’t let you update your own site
  • Won’t allow you to transfer your site to another host
  • Slow walks projects—serving their needs, not yours

We’re sometimes asked to provide a second opinion where the cost of web design and development are concerned; prospective clients want to know if their agencies are padding projects. Well, it’s not always easy to tell. So, how can you assess the truth of the situation?

For starters, make sure you get a detailed estimate. Sometimes insight into the detailed steps required to take a site from concept to launch can be a real eye-opener.

If you feel the estimate is high upon review, connect with your agency and ask them to walk you through it. Ask lots of questions. An agency that’s on the up-and-up will have answers for you—and they’ll be able to explain why some elements and functionality are more technically complex—and thus, more expensive—than you might have assumed.

If your agency dodges questions or offers vague answers, trust your gut and walk away.

*CAVEAT: Crucial work you should see represented in your estimate

Clear project definition. A detailed scope and estimate. Site backups. Code versioning. Documentation. Site testing.

These are areas where some agencies will skimp—or eliminate altogether—to deliver a cut-rate project. We caution against working with an agency that operates this way.

While the short-term benefits might seem appealing, in our experience, poor documentation and a lack of testing will always result in far greater expense for you in the long run. (We see this all the time).

Sometimes, the financial surprises are the direct result of an unclear scope and estimate. When assumptions are made on both sides of the table, the delivery of website features you thought were included may require an expensive scope change.

Sometimes, something breaks on your site and it takes a developer hours to identify the problem—all because the site is so poorly documented. (This is also a problem for updating your site, where each update gets increasingly more expensive and unstable.)

In the end, clear documentation is not “project padding,” but an excellent investment. It will save you time, money, and headaches down the road. Promise.

Protect your website before you alert your web designer they’re being fired

After you fire your web designer is a terrible time to discover you don’t have access to a critical account or possession of an asset.

To make migrating your website easier, we recommend the following:

  • Review any contracts you have in place with your current web design agency
  • Control your domain name—or have it managed by a trusted party
  • Put a detailed technical plan in place to ensure a seamless transition with no downtime and minimal surprises (ideally, managed by a seasoned firm that’s been through this process many times—you’d be amazed at how many things can go wrong)
  • Get direct access to your website’s code and database—or access through a third-party backup service, like Codeguard (you may need to arrange to have this delivered, as some agencies will only supply this as part of your final payment)
  • Ensure you have “Manage Users” permissions on Google Analytics (Note: If you don’t have Google Analytics access, the process you’ll need to complete to gain access is painful—and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get it in the end)
  • Document old vendor access, including backdoors, and have a plan to remove them
  • Document plugins and third-party systems implemented on your site and either ensure that licenses are in your name or set up new accounts if they’re not
  • Have a seasoned web design agency in place to maintain your site once it’s migrated

How to fire your web designer

Okay, you’re ready to proceed. What’s next?

First and foremost, it’s important to remember the human side of this equation. It’s always a bit emotional to lose a project or client. So, while you may not be happy with your web designer’s work, they may have invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in your project. If you’re able to approach the situation with some compassion, that will go a long way toward smoothing the transition. Many web designers put a lot of passion into their work, after all.

Additionally, make sure you’re up-to-date on billing. When a transition happens while there are unpaid invoices floating out there, that can amp-up the level of anxiety a web designer may feel upon learning they’ve lost your work.

Worried your web designer could retaliate?

Before you make the call, we urge you to quadruple check that you’ve captured login credentials in your password manager and have all “backdoors” covered.

We then recommend that someone on your team disable their access to your website and accounts while you have them on the phone. Most password managers will enable you to replace all passwords when you execute a single command, making the process much easier for you.

A word on taking over a website from another designer

Going in, it’s important to know that taking over a website can be a difficult, labor-intensive process—with migrating your website and transferring your Google Analytics account the most tricky to navigate.

If you can’t hire a digital agency to manage this transition—or at least help guide you in the process—expect that it will take a lot of work.

If you can get seasoned professional support with your website migration, great. An experienced digital agency can help you ensure a smooth process.

How so?

An experienced agency has likely discovered over the years the many ways a site migration can go wrong—the hard way. Go with a green worker bee and you’ll become the experiment—sometimes with disastrous results.

Additionally, an experienced agency can put you in control of your situation by ensuring good account hygiene. That means auditing your accounts, like Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Moz, and documenting ownership and access. It also means getting you set-up with a password manager if you don’t have one already.

They might also be able to work directly with your existing web designer to execute the migration. After all, these conversations are sometimes easier when they’re peer-to-peer and especially if they’re handled by someone who’s been on the other end. That said, it’s important that your new agency has the requisite people skills to do this. If they operate purely with a checklist mentality and don’t have soft skills, they could potentially add strain to the transition, rather than alleviate it.

We should note that in some extreme cases, web designers may become belligerent and even retaliate by damaging your website or holding it hostage. If this is a concern for you, hire a seasoned digital agency immediately. They’ll help you escape a bad situation in as unscathed a manner as possible.

Get the top-notch web design and development team you deserve

Your website is your digital face to the world. It’s the mission-critical tool that enables you to tell your story and convert prospects to customers. So, you simply can’t afford to partner with a digital agency that underperforms or, worse, is dishonest.

If that’s the situation you’re facing, we urge you to go in search of a team that will give you the support you need and deserve.

Give us a shout. We’d be happy to help.