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A friend of mine (let's call him Brian) is a Wordpress developer/designer who wanted to reduce his hosting costs, so I set up a reseller account with a large hosting provider and now provide him with his hosting at almost cost price as a semi sideline/favour. I make very minimal money from the venture but it covers my time and helps him out. Brian is very successful in marketing and design, but has a relatively low amount of technical understanding.

A client of his (let's call him Derek) has complained directly to me that his site was running too slowly. I spent a short time testing the site and viewing logs and everything seems to be running perfectly. Average page load times are in the region of 1 to 1.5 seconds, which isn't unusual for a quickly built, low cost Wordpress site. Server load is negligible and the level of traffic is nothing to worry about. In fact the same server hosts several busier sites whose owners have not complained.

I explained this to Derek and suggested it might just be slow to load on certain devices due to the large javascript libraries and images that are in use. Derek understood this and has asked Brian to investigate. I explained my findings and some suggestions to Brian, who has completely dismissed it as a non-issue.

Now I find myself in an awkward position. I strive for client satisfaction, and Derek is sitting waiting for an answer from one of us. I don't want to throw Brian under the bus, but at the same time, there isn't really anything else I can do here.

I'd like to tell Derek that his site is fine and he should stop worrying about it, because frankly, I don't really want to spend any time on it, and it isn't really my problem. But I want to keep the tone positive and I would feel awkward simply ignoring him.

How should I approach this?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Lilienthal Dec 7 '17 at 8:14
  • @Lilienthal - Ow. I've certainly seen lots of SE questions with extended useless chat. But in this case, the majority of comments was quite good. e.g., Charlie's 2nd clarification, Chris's question. Ginger S. and Stephan provided resources, and smci's 1st comment was insightful. I specifically left off some info in my answer because it was in comments (or other answers) and didn't wish to duplicate. Moving quality content, to the land where stuff gets ignored/deleted, harmed the amount of useful info remaining here. I'd even say the move seemed inappropriate - please explain what improved here – TOOGAM Dec 7 '17 at 14:26
  • @TOOGAM The daunting wall of text is gone? Comments are ephemeral. Input from the OP should have been edited into the question, anything of value should by now have been converted to an answer. Comments on a question should not be answering it. – Lilienthal Dec 7 '17 at 16:56
  • Something the others seem to have not touched on, and that could likely benefit from you elaborating, is why/how Derek contacted you directly. What sort of impression are you giving end to clients as to your relationship and obligations to them? – Acccumulation Dec 8 '17 at 18:18
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I strive for client satisfaction

This is good and noble and all that and good on you - especially given you are operating at such low margins. Unfortunately you managed to miss the biggest thing here - Derek is not your client, Brian is.

The fact that Brian is your mate and getting a good deal on his hosting is irrelevant to this situation from Derek's point of view, he's paying Brian a fee for a hosted Wordpress site that Brian did the development on. Brian in turn is paying you for providing him with hosting. If Derek's got any issues he should be dealing with Brian who should then contact you if the issue seems to be relating to the server or the hosting.

Unfortunately you've already engaged with Derek on the issue (with the best of intentions), the up side however is that you've communicated back to Derek that there is no apparent issue with the hosting side of things so that's you done and dusted. There's nothing more that you need to do in this situation as it's totally in Brian's hands now, if he doesn't want to resolve the issues he might lose the client but that's Brian's problem. You don't have any business relationship with Derek and you have no obligations to him or to chivvy Brian into action on it.

In future I suggest not engaging with Brian's clients and politely directing them to contact him with any issues, obviously if it's something that is immediately apparent that it's a server issue (i.e. an outage or something) then you probably want to relax this a bit for the sake of expediency but I'd make sure you always keep Brian looped in on any communications you have with his clients - even if just as a CC in the e-mails.

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    +1 this is a great answer, however I will hold off on accepting it for a while to allow others a chance – Charlie Dec 5 '17 at 13:13
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    @Charlie totally understand.. it's fairly customary to give 24hrs or so to allow for more people to see it and post an answer - especially given the global nature of the site's userbase and timezones etc. – motosubatsu Dec 5 '17 at 13:27
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    You also need to explain to Brian that he gets what he pays for. He wanted to reduce his hosting costs, and you did that. If he now wants speed, he needs to pay someone with suitable skills for performance tuning. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 5 '17 at 14:06
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    With regards to your business relationship with Brian, draft up a requirement for your own sake, and make sure he doesn't guilt trip you using your friendship as leverage. If he's smart, he won't do that, but just make sure you understand what you're willing to invest before negotiations. – Nelson Dec 5 '17 at 16:08
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    I agree with this answer, I would only say that even if it IS an obvious server issue I would still direct the client to speak with Brian as a matter of consistency in technical support. Go ahead and fix the issue immediately if you want to, but maintain the public policy of "you need to direct your concerns to Brian" in all cases. – Steve-O Dec 6 '17 at 18:25
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Now I find myself in an awkward position. I strive for client satisfaction, and Derek is sitting waiting for an answer from one of us. I don't want to throw Brian under the bus, but at the same time, there isn't really anything else I can do here.

I'd like to tell Derek that his site is fine and he should stop worrying about it, because frankly, I don't really want to spend any time on it, and it isn't really my problem. But I want to keep the tone positive and I would feel awkward simply ignoring him.

How should I approach this?

Striving for client satisfaction is fine. But this isn't your client. This is Brian's client.

Brian gets to decide what to do in order to satisfy his client, and how much time and money to spend in doing so.

You need to stay out of it. Direct all of Derek's questions and inquiries to Brian.

And you and Brian need to work out a way to prevent future Dereks from complaining to you directly and to prevent you from giving site performance assessments to Brian's clients. Either that, or change your arrangement with Brian and take over his client support functions.

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Professional hosting companies do not optimize their clients sites; all they provide are hosting services. Any performance optimizations are Brian's concern, not yours.

If Brian decides (for example) that to improve performance he needs to introduce a separate database sever or a dedicated web server, then he has to make that decision, get it passed by his client, and then ask you to implement it.

If the server goes down for any reason, then that's your problem to fix immediately, and then notify Brian that the server was down, why it went down, and what's being done to prevent that happening again.

In no case should you be talking to Brian's end-clients. You don't get paid to do that, and by talking directly, you could be discussing items that Brian (for business reasons) doesn't want mentioned to the client yet (e.g billing).

If you want to run a hosting company, do it correctly and professionally. Or set up the accounts for Brian on another hosting companies servers, and then walk away. We've found to our cost over the years that 'Mates Rates' on hosting don't really work for anyone.

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You state this; bold emphasis is mine:

Now I find myself in an awkward position. I strive for client satisfaction, and Derek is sitting waiting for an answer from one of us. I don't want to throw Brian under the bus, but at the same time, there isn't really anything else I can do here.

Your problem is you have scoped this issue as spanning two extremities: Either the customer is “satisfied” by having the problem solved or you see Brian’s response to being told it can’t easily be solved as throwing him “under the bus.”

Look, sometimes the absolute best way to keep a customer satisfied is 100% pure honest. And going to Brian and saying, “Look, I did my best to communicate the issue… Please let Derek know…” is not throwing anyone under a bus.

If somehow your relationship with Brian is strained by an interaction like this, then you have bigger issues to deal with. In fact, I would explicitly state to Brian the following:

“Look, I haven’t talked to Derek about this, but I also don’t think this interaction sets a good precedent. You have your strengths and I have mine. The less we focus on them the worse it becomes for the both of us and nobody is happy.”

Which is all to say is in this case you are the client and you need to be satisfied by this arrangement for the long term.

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I make very minimal money from the venture but it covers my time and helps him (Brian) out"

coupled with

I explained my findings and some suggestions to Brian, who has completely dismissed it as a non-issue

sounds like he won't accept being helped, so it might be time for a (polite & friendly) parting of the ways.

No one likes criticism, so you can understand Brian dismissing you, but, if this is the first time that something like this has happened, I doubt that it will be the last, when you speak of Brian's work as

a quickly built, low cost Wordpress site

I would suggest finding a reason why you are too busy to help Brian with hosting any more, and spend some time teaching him how to do it himself, while explaining the financial benefits to him (he will be independent of you; won't have to wait until you have time to do it; you are giving him "mates rates", while he might be able to pass on more markup to customers).

With a bit of luck, it's a win-win situation.

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The Core Strategy:
It sounds like you are willing to go above and beyond for your friend Brian, but with some limits. The situation is souring, so the best thing you can do for yourself and for your relationship with Brian is to get out of the position of Derek having further expectations of you.

You painted the scenario of yourself being a middle man (since you're paying another hosting provider). So, enjoy the benefits of being a middle man. If,, at any time, you don't find yourself being a middle man, and you're the end resource that is obligated to provide a solution, but you're finding yourself unable to produce a solution yourself, then the solution you provide may be to transform yourself into being a middle man who recommends using another resource to reach a desirable solution. Using this strategy, you can always have an available solution in your back pocket.

This should eventually lead to a scenario where some technical expert manages to accomplish the desired goal, or a scenario where a possible solution appears to have a cost greater than what Derek desires. In the latter (less desirable) case, at least nobody will be saying that you're the incompetent person who only provided shut doors. (Instead, you offered a solution, which was simply not desirable enough. Maybe not good, but not as bad as not having a usable solution.)

More thoughts:
This answer is a bit lengthy because I do have some experienced thoughts on how this scenario can play out rather positively for everyone. So I'm sharing my thoughts. None of the following is meant to alter the shorter core answer that I provided above.

If the issue is actually with the hosting, you may be able to get support. After all, you're a customer in this scenario. You did say "I set up a reseller account with a large hosting provider."

So, as the customer, try tapping their support and see what the reseller does.

See if you can get them to resolve the situation. If so, great! If not, find out why not, and now you know an excuse/reason that a professional company uses to decline to perform that work. Then you will know know of a way that a hosting company can respond. You can decide whether that excuse is satisfying for you to be able to say. If not, consider how you'd like to polish that up, but at least then you're not needing to start your brainstorming from scratch. (Being a middle person can be a position with some advantages.)

Here is what you can then say to Derek (again, if needed) -

"Internal investigations has revealed no identified problems. I reviewed the situation and my findings are this...."
If there is any additional evidence that the issue is related to hosting, please let me know. Otherwise, this may need to be further reviewed by the designer (Brian) or investigated/handled by someone performing an IT role."

See, there are at least three possible roles here.

  • Web designer
  • IT/Networking expert
  • ISP Host

All three of these roles may be somewhat performed, loosely, by the alliance (currently consisting of you and Brian). However, if your non-expert attempts to resolve the situation aren't finding the issue, rope in more expertise.

It is problematic that the description of the issue is "his site was running too slowly." Determine tasks that are being performed, and precise numbers. Such numbers will need to be met in order to identify any cost for an improved situation.

If you can't find a technical cause for a problem, the next best approach may be to make Darek's requests for your free support go away, by letting him know how much a solution will cost. (And don't quote him final prices, as you don't want to be responsibly on the hook for an overall solution involving unknown territory.)

"It looks like this is the level of performance available with this solution. The other option I am seeing for improved performance involves getting this superior hardware, and/or roping in this other resource to provide additional specialized expertise."

You don't want to slam any doors closed, but what you can do is to show doors that are open when enough additional cash is provided. Then Derek can't ever say, "Charlie was the cause of a problem, with no available solution." All Derek can say is "Charlie wasn't able to deliver what I was wanting withing the budget of what I was wanting." The latter is far less awful.

And, if Derek does infuse the situation with more money, then you have another organization that is providing Derek with more resources for a solution. Let them handle the area of their expertise (or, if the situation grows beyond their control, let them figure out what to recommend next).

This is a key reason to make sure you're not promising any specific solution for any specific dollar amount. Eventually Derek will get what he wants, or Derek will hit some sort of financial wall that could have been resolved if more money was dumped into the picture, but he shouldn't ever be told that a resolution can't be reached.

If you try utilizing a provider and they pass the buck, hopefully they at least give you a direction where people can go, so you're not left holding any responsibility without an available solution that can be pursued.

By the time you get enough professionals involved, someone will be able to pinpoint that problem. Everyone in this scenario should be reluctant to toss Brian under the bus, because Brian is a partner with everybody involved in this solution.

But, what if Brian's web design is what is actually at fault, causing the slowness? Well, if there is still sufficient cause for technical experts to say that Brian's design seems to be contributing to the issue, then you can now have an ally point this out to Brian.

Now you don't have to jeopardize a friendship with Brian, because you can explain to Brian, "I didn't initiate any Brian-blaming. That was a conclusion reached by this other company. Please work this out with the other company, or else we can find a different company if you like." If Brian's the person who charges Derek money, then Brian can fix his own issues or Brian can change which technical partners he wishes to utilize. Eventually, if enough companies keep pointing the finger in the same direction (at Brian), he ought to realize that what he's doing is causing fingers to point in his direction. If your finger isn't the one initiating the pointing, Brian won't have much reason to be getting mad at you.

Such squabbling should, of course, happen behind the scenes, without Derek seeing who the responsibility is falling on. So, then, Brian doesn't look bad to Derek. None of that looks particularly bad on anything you're doing.

In the end, you can always provide a solution, even if that involves turning your role into that of being a middleman that gets additional resources involved (at additional cost to the client).

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As already mentioned in other answers, Brian is your customer and you should strive to keep the communication strictly between the two of you.

You've done due diligence in investigating the problem, but haven't offered a solution and that is what needs to be communicated to resolve the issue. It's your professional opinion that the hosting should be satisfactory, but Brian needs to offer an alternative because his customer isn't satisfied and so Brian is asking you (your customer) for an alternative.

Suggest that he be hosted on a dedicated isolated server and give an appropriate price for that, but also convey you don't think that this is necessary. It'll be up to Brian and his customer if they want to go down that path.

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