10 Things Everyone Should Know About Their Web Business (Especially Hosting)
10) Word of Mouth is Your Best Friend
Happy clients recommend your service to their friends. They post about it on web sites and they link to you from their web sites. In the long run, a satisfied customer with a big mouth will likely get you more customers than the best advert out there.
9) Learn to be Flexible but Set Your Limits
Every client is different. You're going to get whiny clients, you're going to get lazy clients and you're going to get belligerent clients. If it works for you, take each one on a case by case basis and try and adapt to their 'special needs.' You'll have more clients in the long run that way. But, you've got to know when to say enough is enough. It's ok to put the occasional client in their place if they're over the line. Clients who take forever to pay, gripe constantly or are outright abusive to your staff are going to end up costing you more in the long run than you may think. Sometimes a firmly worded email is all it takes to smooth out the rough patches.
8) Automate the Un-fun Parts as Much as Possible
I touched on this in a previous post about automating suspensions and cancellations, but it's true for any part of your business. If there's some task that you have to do by hand each day that no one sees or is able to appreciate, do your best to get that automated. You're better off spending the time up front, helping with the clients needs, offering that personal touch. If you're always described as the 'man behind the curtain' people most likely think you're just goofing off.
7) Fraud Screening can not be Undervalued
We often get the question, "What is the best way to test if an order is fraudulent? Should I use a third party system to get a fraud score? Should I call them to confirm their order. Should I go to their house and knock on their door and ask them if they really want to host with me?" The answer to all of these and any other "Should I" questions when it comes to fraud checking is Yes. It's the reverse of the old adage of it being better to let 12 guilty men go free than to let to let one innocent man go to prison. I'd much rather miss 12 legitimate orders that seemed shaky than take on one fraudulent order that gets me hit with a chargeback.
6) Charge What You're Worth
In web hosting in particular, we're in a race to the bottom, price wise, with each new company seemingly giving away more and more resources for less and less money. If you can make it work, great. If you can't, don't bother trying to. In the end you're going to work far too hard for far too little and there will always be someone who comes in at a lower price. Charge what you're worth and make sure your service is worth what you're charging. Work hard to earn and keep every client you have and they'll be happy to pay whatever is appropriate.
5) Quality Support = Quality Clients
Think about how to support your clients. Quality Support isn't always just holding the client's hand. Know what your customers need, the solutions to common problems, and make the answers readily accessible. You've probably answered the same question five times this past month, but haven't done anything to help the next guy who shows up with the same issue. An empowered client that just solved their own problem is also a happy client.
4) Get it in Writing
This is one that far too many people figure out after it's too late. Have a clearly written and easy to access Terms of Service on your site and keep it up to date. If you're taking on a new high end client, make sure you've got a signed contract that clearly lays out what you're going to do and what they're going to pay in return. Any emails between you and clients that may become contentious in the future, hold on to them. The same goes for chat logs if you've got them. Everyone is going to remember things differently in the end, but it's difficult to argue with someone whose got documentation to back up their position.
3) Know who has Access
Whether it's a particular server, your billing system or your office, make sure you know who can get in to every aspect of your business and make sure they can be trusted. It doesn't matter if your oldest employee retires and you throw him or her a going away bash, as soon as they're out the door, their logins to everything should be changed or deleted. If you've used the same company login on a server since day 1, then odds are every employee you've had come and go since that time knows the login. If/when something goes wrong, you'll realistically need to consider any one of them a possible source of the problem. It's better to keep the circle as small as possible at all times.
2) Your vendors are your best friends
A lot of online businesses tend to go through vendors like they go through socks. They strain the relationship until it finally wears out, and they chuck them and grab another pair. While you should always be looking out for what's best for your business, try not to burn bridges. Without vendors, you don't have any services to provide and without services you don't have clients and without clients, you've got nothing. Plus, just like a happy client, happy vendors are talkative vendors, and a great asset.
1) Web Hosting is Like any Business (Know Your Margins)
Web hosting may be one of the most rapidly moving industries out there technology-wise, but the basic tenets of business haven't really changed in centuries. You've still got to know where your money is coming from and where your money is going, every single day. Don't be afraid to read business books about other industries. The bottom line and the concepts are going to be the same in the end. Just because your Grandfather doesn't know a dual opteron from a hole in the ground, doesn't mean he can't offer some valuable insight from his own experience.