Becoming a TEN7 Support Client: You Can’t Just Give Us Cash

TEN7 is a full-service digital firm, and our tagline is “We create and care for Drupal-powered websites.” Creating and building a website is the sexy visible part, but caring for a website over time is the just-as-important maintenance work. Keeping your site code updated, backed up, secure and performing well is the job of a support team.

Most of the clients we design and build websites for also ask us to support their site after it’s built, which we happily do. But clients with sites built by other companies often approach us to support their site as well. However, we don’t take on support clients lightly.

Why You Can’t Just Pay Us to Be a Support Client

If you want to pay us to support your site, why wouldn’t we just do it? Well, when we were just starting out, there was a time when we’d take on whoever came along and offered us cash.

We took on support clients without knowing anything about what was “under the hood” of their site. We had to scramble to figure out how a site worked as support issues came in, which led to increased problem-solving times. This resulted in subpar support of the client, and subpar support led to real unhappiness for our team members.

As you might have guessed, the impetus for a change in the way we did business was a particularly difficult client and their site. It took two years to effectively end the relationship. The experience was a turning point in our company’s existence: it led me to think about what we’d done wrong, and reverse-engineer a way to prevent it from happening again. You can hear more about this experience in my Drupal Camp talk, “Know Yourself First.”

As we’ve grown and matured as a company, we’ve learned the value of recognizing the right clients and building the right process to support their sites. This ensures that we do work that meets our high standards, that our team is respected and happy, and that there’s a good vibe between all parties. Our multi-step onboarding process for new support clients lets us accomplish all these goals.

The Audit → Improve → Care Process

Each step in this process is a separate engagement, and has its own pricing and contract. When a step is completed, either party can quit with no hard feelings. The three steps are:

  1. TEN7Audit: We perform a comprehensive site audit and present a report of findings and recommendations.
  2. TEN7Improve: We implement selected recommendations from the audit report (at minimum the most critical ones) based on budget and need.
  3. TEN7Care: This is the final part of the process, an annual support agreement.

Let’s learn more about each step.

Step 1: TEN7Audit

Before we’ll agree to support your site, we need to know what we’re dealing with.

To figure this out, we perform a complete audit for a flat fee of $2,500. We settled on this cost because while it’s not exorbitant, it’s high enough that it will disqualify anyone who isn’t serious. The entire process can take up to six weeks, from when a client first expresses interest until the day we present our findings report.

Site Audit and Analysis

The site audit starts with us making an exact replica of the site so that it can be examined without affecting its live operation. We run Healthcheck, a Drupal module sponsored and maintained by TEN7, to generate a baseline report for review.

Healthcheck is like your Drupal site's own personal physician and can run continuously after installation to keep tabs on the health of the site over time (hence its name!) It has a user-friendly, action-oriented dashboard that shows you issues, ranked in terms of urgency. We install Healthcheck on sites we support.

In the TEN7Audit process, Healthcheck provides the initial lay of the land and identifies things like whether module updates are required, or whether the site has been hacked or modified. Next, we get humans involved to take a deeper look at where the site is hosted, whether there is a version control workflow, whether continuous integration and automation exist, how the infrastructure is configured and more. For example, a Healthcheck-identified performance issue (slow page load speed) could have numerous causes, from giant images to caching being disabled. Humans have the best chance of ascertaining and reporting the causes.

Audit Results

When the TEN7Audit process is complete, we compile an audit report of findings with a prioritized list of issues and recommendations. We define critical issues that need the most attention, as well as recommendations for repair and optimization:

  • Tier 1 - Critical: Issues that need to be fixed as soon as possible for site security
  • Tier 2 - Best Practices: Improvements that will reduce technical debt, optimize the site, and won’t negatively affect the site if not immediately done
  • Tier 3 - Nice to haves: Long-term improvement goals you should consider for the sustainability and success of your site

Here’s an example of a TEN7Audit Findings Report.

While some companies might just send you the PDF of an audit report, we'll either present the findings and recommendations to you in person or through a Zoom conference. It's a lot of information, and we want to be sure to thoroughly explain it to you and be there to answer any questions that come up. This is also a chance for us to hear from you about how decisions or compromises were made for the site to get to its current state. 

What’s Next?

After a TEN7Audit has been completed, the next step involves determining which recommendations from the report should be implemented, and then doing so to improve your site. Of course, this also gives us an opportunity to evaluate our relationship with you and decide whether it makes sense for us to continue (and if not, no hard feelings!)

Step 2: TEN7Improve

You’ve decided you’d like to have TEN7 work on the improvements identified in the TEN7Audit, and we’ve also decided that we’d like to work with you to help improve your site.

The recommendations in the TEN7Audit report will be accompanied by an estimated number of hours to fix each issue. The total cost for TEN7Improve varies for every site, and is calculated by multiplying the number of hours estimated to fix chosen issues and our hourly rate at the time of the site audit. A budget for TEN7Improve starts at around $3,000 for a site with minor issues and can go up to $10,000 or more for a site in bad shape.

If we’re going to put ourselves in a position to care for your site in the long run, you'll expect consistent, high quality work. We require Tier 1 Critical Issues to be fixed to proceed with the TEN7Improve step, but we also highly recommend fixing Tier 2 Best Practice issues as well (and most clients do).

If you have budget constraints, items in the recommendations list can be cherry picked, and you can determine the order in which they should be addressed. Occasionally there will be issues found in the audit that can’t be fixed at any time—they may be so big, or so entrenched in the site infrastructure that it would take an enormous effort to fix. In such rare cases, a complete site rebuild is warranted and recommended.

What’s Next?

By this point, the hard work has been done—your site has had performance and infrastructure issues fixed, Drupal core and modules are up to date, and the site is as secure as we can make it. We’re now more comfortable with your code; we have a better idea about how the site is built and how it works. Hopefully we’ve been able to make a real difference in the infrastructure, security, performance and usability of your site.

After this longer engagement, we also have more information about what it’s like to work with you: how you communicate, how pleasant or demanding you are, and how quickly you pay your bills. You also know what it’s like working with us: how responsive we are, how important you feel, how much value you’re receiving.

We should now be in a position to offer a TEN7Care Support Agreement, in which we support a site we’ve audited, improved and are familiar with. It gives us the opportunity to take care of a site that we didn’t build, but that we feel comfortable being wholly responsible for. In some cases, we may not offer a support agreement, and of course, you may not wish to pursue one either.

Step 3: TEN7Care

Since we are now comfortable with the inner workings of your site, we can estimate how many hours per year will be required for site monitoring and maintenance. This includes time for periodic site updates, security patches, uptime monitoring and regular backups and archiving.

The TEN7Care Support Agreement starts at five hours per month, billed on a monthly basis. The agreement typically covers:

  • Drupal site maintenance: maintain and update core and contributed Drupal modules
  • 24x7 site uptime monitoring and response
  • Regular backups and archiving: automated nightly backups, weekly and monthly snapshots backed up to two offsite servers
  • Monthly traffic analytics insights
  • Guaranteed availability of your business’ critical paths after updates
  • Installation and use of a versioning system to manage multiple site environments
  • Regular releases of code with automated release notes
  • Support availability during business hours via email, video conference or Slack

Here’s an example of a TEN7Care Support Agreement.

What’s Next?

Yes there is a next, even here! Six weeks before the end of a TEN7Care Support Agreement, we meet internally to review the last year of work: how many hours we billed and how much work your site required. We’ll discuss whether to adjust the hours for the coming year, and whether a rate change is due, amongst other things.

That’s How You Become a Support Client!

As a company, we strive to do our best for our clients, and we set a high bar for quality work. I believe our success is directly proportional to our clients’ satisfaction with our work. Moreover, as a team, we have to be happy doing that work. If either of these two things don’t happen, we aren’t going to do our best, and there won’t be satisfaction in what we’ve created.

I think our TEN7Audit → TEN7Improve → TEN7Care process helps us accomplish all these goals.

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Ivan Stegic

Ivan Stegic

Words that describe Ivan: Relentlessly optimistic. Kind. Equally concerned with client and employee happiness. Bowtie lover. Physicist. Ethical. Lighthearted and cheerful. Finds joy in the technical stuff. Inspiring. Loyal. Hires smart, curious and kind employees who want to create more good in the world. His favorite things right now: the TEN7 podcast and becoming the next Björn Borg.