I provide web development and associated services to a small number of clients I’ve picked up over the years. This post is based on my humble experience freelancing and is aimed at those who, like me, are providing a service on a small scale.

Every so often I receive a question from a past client. I try to get back quickly and generally, I don’t mind as it feels good answering little questions and helping people. But those quick email exchanges add up and without an ongoing agreement, it’s a cost that I (and I imagine others) absorb because often those questions lead to billable work.

This lead to an interesting situation recently where I received a question worded with a subtle difference:

“Can you point me in the right direction?”

Many clients don’t understand the troubleshooting process that web developers and IT folk undergo in order to determine the nature of a problem. I imagine this isn’t unique to this industry. There’s value in knowing where to look and how to resolve a problem.

In many cases, it’s the troubleshooting process that accounts for the majority of time spent resolving an issue. Sometimes, the solution comes in the form of a simple flip of a switch, ticking a checkbox that’s buried deep within a settings interface. It might take an hour to find it, but it’s there.

Website owners should plan on paying a monthly maintenance fee to cover the costs associated with troubleshooting, updating and problem resolution. Unfortunately, this is easier to conclude with hindsight. My younger self wasn’t aware that these simple content sites might stick around for five, even ten or more years.

The takeaway? Make it a point to charge your clients for ongoing maintenance. I suggest discussing maintenance early on when you take on a new client. Bundle basic support along with CMS updates and regular backup. Then you can cover those quick questions which would otherwise be covered out of pocket.