It's a call you don't want to receive from a client: "Our website is down and, oh, email isn't working either." A quick bit of research reveals Internet traffic is being routed improperly; something has happened to the DNS records. Strange. So you log in to the domain registration account and check it out. Oh wait, the client's domain isn't registered to your consultancy's accounts.
No big deal, right? Just call the client and obtain the domain account username and password. Except the individual who originally set up the website no longer works there, and no one knows that information. Two hours later, after a long call to the registrar's customer support staff, the account is reset, and you're finally able to log in. Only you discover the domain has expired and, subsequently, has been registered by a South American agent.
Learn from experience
I used to advocate that a consultancy should assist clients in tracking their own domains, but no more. Experience shows that clients left to manage their own domains don't —they forget. The person responsible leaves the company. Another person misplaces the information. Still another person disregards expiration notifications.
You can fight to win a domain name back, but email and web traffic are still going to suffer downtime in the interim, though. And then particularly troublesome clients will ask why you weren't managing their domain in the first place (even if they never brought it up or resisted your office's initial attempts to secure the domain).
Or, the client's Web developer, in making changes to the website or moving website hosts, may inadvertently change name servers or even delete MX records. The first thing your consultancy will hear is irate users who are unable to receive email and maybe blame your office for failing to "maintaining the email server."
Seize the opportunity; seize the domain
Consultants should review domain administration responsibilities when performing initial due diligence with a new client. The consultancy should explain its recommendation that the consultancy maintain control of the domain and provide examples of errors (expired domains, lost domain names, inadvertent DNS record changes, failed email routing, etc.) that commonly occur when clients manage domain registrations themselves.
While it's not a requirement that a client permit the consultancy to seize the domain and transfer domain administration responsibilities to the consultancy's control, consultancies should request that clients sign documentation acknowledging the consultancy is unable to secure domain renewal, protect against unintended DNS record changes, and implement MX record changes as required if the change is not made. With such documentation in place, if the previously mentioned telephone conversation were to occur, at least the consultancy can show it attempted to prevent the breakdown but the client declined.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.