Freelancers’ Guide to Hosting Client Websites

As a freelancer, one of the most common services you may provide for clients is building and hosting their websites. However, hosting client websites comes with its own set of challenges that are different from hosting your own personal site. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through all the key considerations for freelancers when it comes to hosting client websites, from choosing the right hosting provider to setting up the accounts properly to handle client requests smoothly. Follow along for pro tips that will save you time and headaches down the road.

Choosing the Right Web Host

The first big decision you need to make as a freelancer is which web hosting provider to use for your clients' sites. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a web host:

  • Reliability – This is the non-negotiable must-have. The web host must have robust servers and good uptime, otherwise your clients' sites will constantly be down. Look for a host with at least 99% uptime.

  • Speed – Fast page load speeds are critical, especially with Google using speed as a ranking factor. Look for hosts with solid-state drives rather than traditional hard drives.

  • Support – Things will go wrong at some point, so choose a host with 24/7 customer support via phone, chat, and tickets.

  • Scalability – As your clients grow traffic, the host needs to allow seamless scaling of bandwidth and storage. Unlimited bandwidth and SSD storage are ideal.

  • Backups & Security – The host should have automatic daily backups and a disaster recovery plan. Extra security like free SSL certificates is also valuable.

  • WordPress Optimization – If you build sites in WordPress, choose a host that offers WordPress optimizations like caching and staging.

  • Price – Don't choose the cheapest option, but you don't necessarily need the most expensive either. Look for good value and don't be afraid to pay for quality and good service.

Some of the top hosts to consider based on the criteria above are WP Engine, SiteGround, Bluehost, DreamHost, and InMotion Hosting. Do your own research to find one that best fits your needs and budget.

Setting Up the Account

Once you've selected a hosting provider, it's time to set up the account. As a freelancer hosting client sites, there are a few key steps to take:

  • Use client's business name – Set up the account under your client's business name, not your own. This keeps their brand consistent.

  • Separate accounts – Set up separate hosting accounts for each client. Never host multiple clients on the same account.

  • Client's contact info – When setting up the account, use the client's contact information, including for the billing info.

  • Get a reseller account – If the host offers reseller accounts, get one. This will allow you to create and manage multiple client accounts from a single login.

  • Add client as additional user – Add your client as a user on their hosting account so they have access as well.

Following this process allows you to effectively white label your services for each client.

Selecting a Domain Registrar

In addition to web hosting, your client will need a domain name for their site. This requires registering the domain with a domain registrar. While you can use your hosting provider to register domains, it's usually better to go with a third-party registrar.

Here's why:

  • Separate billing – Domain renewals will be billed separately from web hosting for easier accounting.

  • Lock in low pricing – Third-party registrars often have promotions for cheap first-year pricing on domains.

  • Easy transfers – If your client later switches hosts, the domain can stay with the registrar for seamless transitions.

When choosing a domain registrar, look for one that offers domain privacy/protection, easy domain management tools, and competitive pricing. Top options include Namesilo, Google Domains, Namecheap, and Porkbun.

The one exception is if you use WP Engine for hosting. Since their platform is highly optimized for WordPress, it's best to use WP Engine to register the domain as well.

Pointing Domains to Hosting

Once you've registered the domain, it needs to be pointed to the appropriate hosting server. This is done by updating the nameservers in the domain settings to the ones provided by your web host.

Exact steps will vary by registrar, but generally you'll log into the domain management dashboard, find the nameserver settings, and enter the hosting nameservers like, ns2.hostcom. The changes can take up to 48 hours to fully propagate.

As the freelancer, you'll need to handle pointing the domain whenever you set up a new hosting account for a client. Provide them with documentation explaining where their domains are registered and how to update nameservers if they ever need to switch hosts.

Setting up FTP Access

To upload and manage files for your clients' websites, you'll need FTP access to their hosting accounts. When creating a new hosting account, be sure to do the following:

  • Generate secure FTP password – Have the host automatically generate a strong, random password for FTP access. Never use a simple password.

  • Provide FTP access to client – Give your client their own FTP login so they can access and upload their own files if needed.

  • Use SFTP – Make sure you connect via secure SFTP instead of regular FTP. This encrypts the file transfer for security.

  • Setup IP restrictions – Restrict FTP access to only your IP address and the client's IP address to prevent unauthorized access.

  • Utilize a SFTP client – Use a dedicated SFTP client like FileZilla instead of the native FTP capabilities of cPanel. SFTP is more robust and secure.

With the right FTP settings and tools, you'll be able to seamlessly manage files on behalf of your clients.

Installing WordPress

For most small business websites, you'll probably use WordPress. Setting up WordPress properly from the start is critical for site security and performance. Here's what to do when installing WP for clients:

  • Limit plugins – Only install essential plugins to start. Too many plugins can slow down and break sites. Add cautiously as needed.

  • Better default themes – Don't use overly bloated themes like Astra. GeneratePress or OceanWP are faster options.

  • Leverage hosting optimizations – If your managed WP host offers things like customized wp-config.php or object caching, use them!

  • SSL certificate – Always install WordPress with an SSL certificate active. This encrypts connections and is a ranking factor.

  • Strong passwords – Use randomly generated passwords for WP logins, hosting account, FTP, etc. Never set simple passwords.

  • Password manager – Use a password manager! This lets you generate and store strong passwords without losing track of them.

  • Limit user accounts – Only create admin accounts for yourself and the client. No other user roles are needed when getting started.

  • Automatic updates – Enable automatic WordPress updates to always stay on top of security patches.

Following this process will help set your client's WordPress site up with speed and security in mind from day one.

Ongoing Maintenance & Care

The work doesn't stop after the initial website setup. As a responsible freelancer, you need to provide ongoing hosting maintenance and care for client sites. Here are some important practices to follow:

  • Daily backups – Backup client sites daily either manually or with automated host backups. Disaster recovery is critical.

  • Monthly performance checks – Run site performance tests monthly. Diagnose and resolve any speed issues.

  • Quarterly WordPress updates – Login to sites quarterly and run WordPress and plugin updates. Don't let things lapse.

  • Annual cleanup – Do an annual hosting and WordPress cleanup. Remove unused plugins/files and refresh sites.

  • Proactive monitoring – Use a service like Pingdom to monitor uptime and get alerts if a site goes down.

  • Communicate changes – Notify clients of any major hosting or site changes. Get signoff before migrating sites etc.

  • Documentation – Maintain documentation of hosting logins, domains, backups, etc for each client site.

  • Contract terms – Have a contract that outlines exactly what you cover and what you don't for ongoing site maintenance.

By being proactive and following solid processes, you'll avoid scrambling when emergencies hit. Your clients will appreciate your diligence!

Migrating or Handing Off Sites

At some point with client projects, you'll need to migrate a site to a new host or hand off a site completely to the client or another provider. This should go smoothly if you plan ahead:

  • Communicate early – Give plenty of notice about expiring contracts, migrations, etc so the client can prepare.

  • Follow a launch checklist – Have a checklist to walk through for site transitions like updating DNS records.

  • Provide login credentials – Supply all hosting account and domain registrar logins to the client. Don't hold their accounts hostage!

  • Export/backup site data – Before migrating, export the WordPress XML data and take a complete site backup.

  • Update documentation– Update your documentation with the new hosting details, registrar logins, etc for the client's records.

  • Review new provider– If the client is transitioning to a new provider, review the provider to ensure they are reputable and qualified.

  • Be available to help – Offer to answer any questions or assist with the migration if issues pop up. A smooth handoff maintains goodwill.

Letting go of client sites is part of the business. By handling migrations and handoffs professionally, you demonstrate that you have your clients' best interests in mind at all times.

Wrapping Up

Hosting client websites is rewarding because you empower business owners with an online presence. But it also comes with big responsibility. The tips in this guide will help you choose the right hosting providers, properly set up accounts, install and manage sites, and maintain long-term relationships with clients. Master these best practices, and you'll become the go-to freelancer for your clients' web hosting needs.

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