About the author: Donna Cavalier, Technical Writer @ Elementor

Donna Cavalier is a novelist and WordPress specialist, who has been in the website design and online marketing industries since 2003.

When a web designer or agency has completed a project for a client, the sense of “it’s finally done” is a feeling of relief that often comes with the urge to tell the clients the site is live, process the payment, and move on quickly. But there is still one very essential step that needs to be taken before wrapping it all up. The last step is the formal handoff of the site to the client. 

This handoff should be a well thought out process that is taken as seriously as each of the previous steps were taken during the build. If you are just starting a new web design business, or you simply want to make your established business a little more professional, incorporating a solid handoff process will bring many benefits to both you and the client. 

Over the years, I’ve gone from sending a simple email to the client, saying “It’s done!” to a process that is quite a bit more professional, and much less prone to future headaches. The end result is what I’d like to share with you now.

  • It imparts critical information to the client and reduces future support time: Your client needs to be given quite a bit of information about their site including items such as WordPress login credentials, hosting company login credentials, Registrar, and DNS information, special instructions, etc. By giving this information upfront in a clear and concise document, you won’t have to worry about the client emailing you multiple times in the future to obtain this info. Having this information all in one place also helps you in the future if you ever do need to refer back to it.
  • It ends the project on a high note: No matter how many setbacks or miscommunications may have occurred over the project’s timeline, the end of a site build is always a time for celebration. Ending the project with a professional handoff leaves a favorable impression, which can overshadow any previous issues.

Pre-Website Handover Checklist

Prior to initiating the handover process, designers should ensure that nothing has been missed and that the project is 100% complete. The first thing I usually do is cover these items:

Spellcheck and Grammar Check

  • Check all text for misspelled words
  • Check that there are no grammatical errors
  • Ensure there is no “Lorem ipsum” text left anywhere on the site

Marketing and Calls To Action

  • Are the marketing messages targeted to the audience appropriately?
  • Are calls to action prominently displayed and are not conflicting with one another?
  • Do social media links and buttons have correct links to social media accounts?

All Users Have Been Considered

Payments and Billing

  • All invoices due to date have been sent and paid
  • Any future invoicing has been set up and automated

But that’s not everything. There is more to do, but luckily, we’ve got you covered there. Review our Website Launch Checklist: 25 Must-Dos Before A Website Launch, which includes important steps such as:

  • Check that consistent branding is used throughout
  • All legal content is in place
  • Everything works!
  • SEO is ready to go
  • Client expectations have been met
  • And everything else you need to double-check before launch

Note: Although it’s well beyond the site planning stage at this point, you might also be interested in checking out our Website Design Questionnaire, which you could use for your next client project.

Step-by-Step Guide To Handing Over the Website To the Client

Once the project has been marked as completed, it is time to begin the handoff process. This should involve an offboarding package, which at the very least will include a document, preferably a well-designed PDF, that includes all of the information the client will need in the future. It’s best to create a document template that you can reuse with all clients.

Of course, you’ll edit and make adjustments as appropriate for each client, but a template will save you a lot of time in the future, and it will also ensure you don’t miss anything. Let’s take a look at each of the items that should be included in your handoff template in detail.

Your Company Branding

Make sure your logo and contact information is included.

  • Importance: The client will likely refer to this document many times in the future. Keeping your brand top-of-mind will ensure that they will come back to you for other projects they may need.
  • What to look out for: Only include the type of contact information that you actually want them to use. If you don’t want phone calls, don’t include your phone number. If you prefer to only be contacted via email, use the email address that is specifically set up for client support. 

Best practices: Include this in the header or footer of every page of the report. If someone prints the report and later loses the first or last page (if that’s the only place you included this information), then they may not know who to contact.

Project Summary

This is a short summary of the project, its goal, its main characteristics, its timeline, and its status – which should always be “final” or “launched”.

  • Importance: This orients anyone as to the purpose and importance of this document. Future employees or stakeholders who may not be familiar with the project will immediately understand the importance of keeping this document on hand.
  • What to look out for: Don’t include any negative issues that occurred over the course of the project or any time or cost overages that may have cropped up. 
  • Best practices: Keep this summary short and positive, making note of how this project has completed the goals as originally outlined.

Login Ownership/Admin Access

There are usually several different login credentials that should be shared with the site owners. Some common ones include:

  • WordPress Admin user credentials
  • WordPress Editor user credentials
  • Hosting login credentials
  • Domain Registrar login credentials
  • CDN login credentials
  • Importance: It is vital that the site owner have all the login credentials needed for every aspect of the site. You don’t ever want to have to answer the question “what’s my password for my hosting account?”. Having this documented and stored away for yourself will make answering that question very easy if necessary. In many cases, however, the user will change the password, either immediately, or at various times in the future, so your document could quickly become out of date.
  • What to look out for: Sharing passwords in plain text over email is not secure. Consider sharing the passwords separately from the usernames via secure sharing services such as Privnote. These types of services self-destruct the note once it’s been read.
    Also keep in mind that the user will likely change the password, either immediately, or at various times in the future, so your document could quickly become out of date. For that reason, you should create a user account for yourself so that you can always login if needed.
  • Best practices: Double-check each login credential before sending it to the client. Make sure every one of them works. One typo can cause far more frustration than you want to have at this point. 

File Sharing (Scripts, Stylesheets, Media)

In most cases, all of the site files reside on the client’s server and can be accessed there. However, if accessing the files is difficult, or if there are additional files that you want to share, such as a web design style guide, you may want to consider collating them and sharing them with your client via a file sharing service such as Dropbox.

  • Importance: Your client needs to have access to all relevant files
  • What to look out for: Some hosts make it difficult to access files. If your client might have problems using SFTP or other methods of access, then giving them easier access via file sharing might be advisable.
  • Best practices: If using a file sharing service such as Dropbox, be sure to have the files well-organized in a client-specific folder that is shared exclusively with them.

Post-Handover Support

Hopefully, you’ve already made a plan with your client, well in advance, as to how you’ll handle support in the future. In the best-case scenario, you’ve signed up your client for a maintenance plan. In that case, now would be a good time to remind the client that the maintenance plan will begin shortly, and you’ll reiterate what the costs are, and what services you’ll provide. If you haven’t already discussed this, or you have but the client has rejected the plan, now is a good time to give them one last chance to sign up.

  • Importance: The client needs to understand what support they will get in the future from you, and how that process will work.
  • What to look out for: Some clients are reluctant to sign up for a maintenance plan because they don’t understand the benefits of the service. All they see are recurring costs, so you need to make sure they understand the value they will be getting, and the pitfalls they will face without that service.
  • Best practices: Getting service commitments finalized in the beginning of the project is best, but if that hasn’t happened, now is the time to do so. Regardless of whether or not the client agrees to a maintenance plan, let them know now how support from you will work in the future. Be sure to note hourly costs, time expectations, and methods of contact. Ensuring the client understands the reality of timely support is critical. If you don’t plan to offer 24/7 support, now is the time to make that clear to the client.

Continuing the Client Relationship After the Website Handover

The future with this client is not only about support. There are many post-launch services you could provide, and you may reap many benefits later by keeping in contact with the client.

  • Importance: If you hope to work with the client again on new projects, or would like to get referral business from this client, making a good impression at this stage is crucial. 
  • What to look out for: It’s easy to forget about a client once the next client and the next project fills up space in your mind. To avoid this “launch and forget” problem, create automated processes to remind you of the client and remind them of you, well in advance.
  • Best practices: Set CRM or calendar reminders at various intervals in the future to get in touch with your client. This may include a mix of social / holiday greetings and sales pitches. When getting in touch with your client later, be sure to let them know that you wanted to check in with them to see how things were going with their website. This will hopefully inspire them to remark that although things are going well, they could use your help with some ideas they had for expanding the site.

In the handoff document, you should give them a quick list of services you can provide for them in the future, especially if you offer more than web design. Perhaps you can help them with other web design niche services such as eCommerce, SEO, content marketing, graphic design, social media, and so on, but if they aren’t aware that you are experienced in these areas, they may not think to ask for your help. If they see it here in the document, you’ll stand a greater chance of earning more of their business later.

One more tip: It can sometimes be difficult to find web design work. Be bold and upfront and actually ASK for referrals. This is the perfect time to include a short request, asking the client to refer friends or business associates to you for their own projects. Word of mouth is the number one way most designers generate new leads, so make sure your client knows that you would like referrals. You could even provide them with a link that leads to your design portfolio, making it super easy for them to share with their friends and associates.

Following this guide to handing off a website to your client will accomplish several important goals:

  1. It will make the offboarding process easy to implement.
  2. It will make the client feel as though they were smart to choose you because you’ve delivered a professional service and given them vital information.
  3. It will prevent unnecessary support requests later on, but will also help generate new projects or bring in new clients in the future. 

Good luck with your site handoff, and if you have any additional processes you routinely follow when handing a site over to a client, let us know in the comments below.