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Pulling the Plug

Almost two years ago, I decided to get my own virtual server to host websites. At that time, shared hosting was OK for certain clients, but other clients were having some issues that are common with shared hosting – emails being blacklisted and slow website loading times, to name two. I did a good bit of research and decided to rent a “managed” virtual server. This server would be located in Texas and be managed for me, but what I thought “managed” meant and what it actually meant lead to a good deal of frustration and stress on my end. I didn’t know that at the time, though, so I plunged ahead, set up the server, then started migrating clients to my server. Over the next year, I’d migrate about 40 websites to my server.

Things were going relatively smoothly, until I had my first issue and my server went down. There was a brute-force attack on my server (a group of computers just banged on the “door” of my server trying to hack into it and, while they didn’t succeed in breaking into my server, they hogged all of the resources and effectively shut my server down). This wasn’t a targeted attack on my server, specifically; it happens all the time in the website world. But the difference was that I was the one responsible for dealing with these attacks and getting my server back online after it went down. This attack happened late at night and I was up late working with the company that hosts my server to fix the issue. This was just the beginning. Because I hosted email on my server, I’d get requests to reduce spam, fix email issues, reset passwords, etc. None of these requests are abnormal, but I hadn’t thought about this kind of thing when I decided to host websites.

Running a server basically meant that I was doing way more tech support-type things than I wanted to. I love to develop websites and I thought offering hosting would be an easy way to help my clients get their businesses online without having to deal with a third party hosting company. It turns out hosting a website is way more involved than I ever thought. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

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Helpful Tips When Requesting Tech Support

This week’s tip is how to request tech support. I get a lot of support requests on a daily basis. These range from adding something to a website to fixing an email problem to connecting a website to Google Analytics. When a support request comes in via email, I read it, then decide if I have enough information to act on the request. Many times, I receive some but not all of the information needed to complete the support request. This means I have to reply back to the email and request additional info. This is the normal ebb and flow of support and it may take a few back and forth communications for me to understand the issue or request. Today, I read a great article on uncluterrer about being organized when requesting tech support to help speed up the tech support process. Here are the key points and tips when requesting support:

  1. Write out problem in detail. Be as specific as you can.
  2. Learn to take a screenshot. Screenshots can capture what you’re seeing on your screen and can help me understand your issue. If you can’t get a screenshot, write down any errors or messages you see.
  3. Have any relevant passwords, user names or login information on hand. If I need to connect your website to your Google Analytics account, I’ll need your login information to make this connection.
  4. Identify what browser and version you are using. Different browsers — Chrome, IE, Safari, Firefox — can all display or produce different results when viewing a website. It helps me to know what browser you’re using.
  5. Is this a new problem or has it happened before? If you can remember when you first saw the problem, it may help me pinpoint the cause.
  6. Can you reproduce the error? If you can reproduce the issue you’re seeing, let me know the steps you took to do so, as I’ll try to reproduce the error on my computer before debugging.
  7. What have you already done, if anything, to troubleshoot this issue? You can save me some time by sharing what you’ve tried to fix the issue.

I’m always happy to help add a new feature to a website or debug a problem and these tips will get us off to a fast start!

Image by Bes Z (CC BY 2.0) via flickr

Taking a Step Back

A few months ago, I wrote about growing my business and how I had come to a fork in the road.  I needed to figure out how to manage my growing business with my family’s needs, while maintaining my sanity.  I’ve implemented a few measures recently: hiring some help and enforcing a stricter email policy, to name two.  But, it’s still not cutting it.  Even though I hired someone, I continued to take on new clients and new work, while still maintaining the 40-some websites I already support.  It’s hard to turn down new work; I love meeting new people and learning about their businesses and how I can help them.  I also love the creative challenge of designing a new website.  But bringing on a new client is a lot of work and it’s very time-consuming.

Because of this, I’ve decided to temporarily stop taking on new clients.  This means I won’t be taking on any new website design work or even taking over sites that just need maintenance and occasional updates.  I did not come to this decision easily.  But, after mulling this over for a couple of weeks, it feels like the *right* decision.  At least for now.  I don’t know how long this hiatus will last.  At least 6 months.  Maybe a year.  Maybe more.  I have some definitive things I’d like to accomplish before opening the new-client door again.

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