Delivering Sites and Project Files to Clients

Best ways to send files

Building a website for a client is exciting, especially as the project comes to a close and you're ready to turn over the project files to your client. At this critical juncture in the project, there are many ways you can deliver the final site. There are also some missteps that you can make, which would turn an otherwise good project process into a failed engagement.

Define the delivery mechanism you'll use for a project in the contract. This ensures that there's no question about how you'll get the files to your clients once you complete the site.

Send Files By Email

Email is the simplest method to get files from your hard drive to your customer. All it requires is that you have an email client and a valid email address. For most websites with a variety of pages as well as external files like images, CSS stylesheets, and Javascript files, you'll need a program to zip those files into a compressed folder that you can then email to the client.

Unless the site is massive with myriad images or video files, this process should get you a final file that is small enough to safely send by email (meaning one that won't be so large that it gets flagged and blocked by spam filters).

There are several possible problems with sending a website by email:

  • Clients might not know how to upload the files to their web server, how to detach the files from the email, or where to put the files when they do.
  • Some email servers consider HTML files (and sometimes ZIP files) as potentially harmful and may strip the attachments from the message. This is especially true when attaching JavaScript files.
  • Email is insecure. If the HTML contains sensitive data, it could be seen by hackers as you send it.
  • Dynamic pages like PHP or scripts like CGI could require changes to be made on the live server to work correctly, and your clients may not know how to do that.

Only use email to deliver sites when you know the client understands what to do with the files you send. For example, when you work as a sub-contractor for a web design team, you might send the files by email to the company that hired you since you know that the files will be received by people who are knowledgeable and who understand how to handle the files. Otherwise, when dealing with non-web professionals, consider one of the methods below.

Access the Live Site

Providing the live site is often the most effective way to deliver files to your clients—by not delivering the files at all. Instead, put the finalized pages directly on their live website using FTP. Once the website is finished and approved by your client in a different location (such as a hidden directory on the site or another website), move it live yourself.

Another way to do this is to create the site in one location (likely on a Beta server that you use for development), and then when it's live, change the domain DNS entry to point to the new site.

This method is useful when clients don't have much knowledge of how to build websites or when creating dynamic web applications with PHP or CGI and you need to make sure that the site scripts work correctly in the live environment.

If you have to move the files from one location to another, it's a good idea to zip the files just like you would for email delivery. Having FTP from server to server (rather than down to your hard drive and then back up to the live server) can speed things up as well.

The problems with this method include:

  • Clients don't always want to provide access to their site to freelancers, so you may run into some hesitation when you ask for site access.
  • Some websites are built behind a firewall, and freelancers may not be able to access those sites.
  • Clients might feel that you should be available for additional support and maintenance beyond what is in your contract because you have access to their site now.
  • When building or changing only a portion of the site, any mistake can cause problems for the rest of the site, and that can quickly become your problem, whether you caused the issue or not.

This is the preferred method of delivering files when dealing with clients that don't know HTML or web design. Offering to find the hosting for the client as part of the contract allows access to the site while you develop it. Then when the site is complete, give them the account information. However, always have clients handle the billing end of hosting, again as part of the contract, so that you're not stuck paying for the hosting after completing the design.

Online Storage Tools

There are lots of online storage tools that can store your data or back up your hard drive. You can also use many of these tools for is as a file delivery system. Tools like Dropbox make it easy to place files on the web and then give your clients a URL to download the files.

Dropbox also lets you use the service as a form of web hosting by pointing to the HTML files in the public folder, so you can use it as a testing place for simple HTML documents. This method is suitable for clients who understand how to move the finished files to their live server. However, it won't work so well with clients that don't know how to do web design or HTML.

The problems with this method are similar to the issues with sending an email attachment:

  • Clients may not know how to use the service.
  • Clients may not know how to get the files from Dropbox to their website.

This method is more secure than sending attachments through email. Many storage tools include some password protection or hide the URLs so that the files are less likely to be found by someone who doesn't know it.

Use these tools when an attachment would be too large to send by email effectively. As with email, only use it with web teams that know what to do with the ZIP file once they receive it.

Online Project Management Software

There are several project management tools available online that you can use to deliver websites to clients. These tools offer features beyond storing files like to-do lists, calendars, messaging, and so on. One favorite tool is Basecamp.

Online project management tools are useful when working with a larger team on a web project. You can use it for delivering final sites and for collaborating while building it. You can also keep track of deliverables and make notes on what's going on throughout the project.

There are some drawbacks:

  • Most online project management tools aren't free, and the free versions are limited. If you decide to use one, factor the cost into how much you will charge, and get it noted in the contract.
  • It is another website you need to check and another software you and your clients need to learn.
  • These tools are only as useful as the information you put in them. For example, if you omit a due-date, the program can't warn you it's nearly here.
  • Some companies don't like their corporate information (including websites) stored on a third-party site for security reasons. Be sure to discuss this with your client before you pay for an account.

Basecamp is useful for delivering files to clients, and then updating those files and seeing the notes inline. It's a great way to track a large project.

Document What Delivery Method You Will Use

The only other thing you should do when deciding how to deliver finalized documents to clients is to document that decision and agree to it in the contract. This way, you won't run into any misunderstandings down the road when you were planning to post a file to Dropbox, and your client wants you to upload the whole site to their server for them.

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