Should you sell site maintenance to your clients?

My friend Brad wrote a great post about selling maintenance services with your work. He contends that you are leaving lots of money on the table if you don’t sell these services with your contracts.

Yes, if you sell maintenance you have recurring revenue which is, of course, money you don’t have to earn again every month. Recurring revenue is the holy grail for most small businesses. Instead of starting every month at $0 and needing to bring in clients you have money guaranteed.

I get why this is so appealing, but for most web businesses, selling maintenance services is a terrible idea.

Should you start offering maintenance?

Before you take on any business idea you need to remember that just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. Because some guru says you should be running every client through some huge gauntlet for the privilege of working with you doesn’t mean you should do it now, or ever.

Any business idea needs to be run through your 4 Quadrants. If you don’t want to be on call for clients on weekends then a maintenance service is likely not for you. Even with firm boundaries — that clients agree to respect — if an outage happens on the weekend it’s likely they’ll still expect you to be around to fix it.

This is the exact reason I don’t offer site maintenance. I don’t want calls on weekends or evenings. I don’t even have my work computer at home most of the time.

Secondly, offering site maintenance pulls you away from your core business as a web developer or designer. Instead of building awesome things for clients or designing usable sites, you’re updating plugins and fixing bugs. All the ‘exciting’ projects you’re working on are now getting interrupted by things that need to be fixed. Your large blocks of deep work are drowning under a sea of interruptions.

If you do it

If you’re going to offer site maintenance then there are a number of things to be aware of. First off is this quote from Ryan Sullivan on the post in question.

Sorry, I can’t help but chime in any time I see maintenance services being promoted cause this work is HARD 🙂 – Ryan Sullivan Owner of WP Site Care

Offering site maintenance services is not some magic bullet to a successful business. Just because Ryan has done it, doesn’t mean you will.

To make it less hard you should:

1. Normalize your hosting environments.

That means everyone is on the same host. Then you can build in processes and get familiar with the control panels for the sites. This is going to cut out a bunch of random issues clients may have in the wild west of hosting that is out there.

2. Only maintain sites you build.

Don’t take on a client who maybe might have possible future work. Prospects dangle this carrot in front of small businesses all the time to get something they want. Maybe it’s a discount and the promise of a big project to come, or maybe that big project is dangled against the small thing now that’s below your project minimum.

If you stick with sites you’ve built then you are already familiar with the underpinnings of the site. You don’t have to get up to speed on a new setup in the midst of a crisis.

Other recurring revenue models

The big awesome thing in Brad’s post is recurring revenue. Most of you have to start from scratch every month to meet your bills. If you have $1000 recurring every month, that’s $1000 less you need to earn from scratch.

Maintenance services are not the only way that you can achieve some recurring revenue. Just a few weeks ago I talked to my friend Jason about moving to recurring revenue. He works with clients for a set fee to help them with their conversion rates. I have one client I work with monthly for a percentage of sales. Yes, I put time into the project every month, but I get paid well for that time.

My friend works on the contact forms for real estate agents and gets a commission on each lead he’s able to bring in. While there is a bunch of work at the beginning to get a form converting well, once it’s ready to go he’s putting in very little effort for a great commission from his client.

Don’t let the siren song of recurring revenue call you into a business that doesn’t fit with your goals. Make sure that any idea is run through the 4 Quadrants of your ideal life.

I’m not going to lie — having recurring revenue in my business has freed me up so much to work on the projects I love with the clients I love to work with. I just didn’t jump on the first idea that came my way.

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