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Starting Out As a Web Hosting Reseller: Gaining Your First Customers

Posted 28th August, 2013 by Darren

It's not easy starting from scratch. Zero. Nothing. Nada. Without a brand, a website, an existing customers base to talk about you or any kind of online profile to speak of, it can be a massive uphill struggle to gain momentum and get a business rolling. Once you have a core nucleus of customers, you can start moving forward and building on top of that. In this blog article I will explore ways in which you can build that initial base of customers to get you started. For some people, getting that core nucleus might take three months, for others, it might take a year. Every business is different. This article is written from the perspective of a web designer or developer looking to add a hosting side to their business, but you could apply many of the principles to other industries.

Positioning

The key message you communicate to customers should be what you can do better than everyone else - a more personal service, a faster turnaround, or even just a “one stop shop” with regards to user’s websites. Many people would love to use WordPress or Joomla to create and manage their content for example, but want the added reassurance that there’s someone there who can run updates, install new plugins and keep the theme up to date and secure. Whilst pricing should be competitive (don’t price yourself out of the market entirely), your focus should be on the high level of service you can offer, rather than how much disk space or bandwidth you can offer at a tiny monthly price, because it’s a battle you can never win.

Sharing Knowledge

A big part of getting things started involves marketing your services and getting the word out that you exist. A good place to start doing that is in online forums and communities, but you have to be careful that your input on those communities is adding value and not being 'salesy.' Help people with web hosting, design or SEO related areas, even if they’re not actually using your service. Some forums will allow you to add your website to your forum signature, and this is a great opportunity to win business by simply helping and offering your advice for free. Developers forums and mailing lists for WordPress, Joomla, Magento and so on are also good outlets for sharing your knowledge on a subject. Using Twitter or Facebook is another good way to engage with potential customers about different issues, and you can either choose to engage either on a technical level (about web design, development and coding, SEO and so on) or you can engage at a local level - perhaps via Facebook groups dedicated to small businesses within your local area, where you can help, assist and ultimately win the trust and business of locals through your knowledge and service.

In addition, you need a website that conveys all of this information to prospective customers. Whilst the website needs to reassure visitors that they’re in good hands, it shouldn’t lie - if you’re not a 24/7 operation, then don’t pretend to be one! Make sure you have accurate contact information and avoid hiding your address on WHOIS. If you don’t want to share your home address, then a PO Box or a virtual office address is a better option than no address.

Advertising

Paid advertising can be a very fast way to spend a lot of money, with little or no results. If you intend to spend money on advertising, start small and build up slowly. Pay Per Click advertising (e.g. Google Adwords) can be very expensive, but it at least allows you to track sales and conversions to monitor its effectiveness. The main advantage of PPC is that you’re only paying for qualified leads to your website. Conversely, you can buy 100,000 banner impressions very cheaply, but you don’t actually know how many visitors you’ll actually get through to your site. It must be said - don’t rule out offline advertising, but be careful with what you spend because it can be difficult to track return on investment. There’s no harm in going to local business meetings or networking breakfasts and handing out business cards though. At such an early stage it is likely that you’ll be time rich and cash poor, so anything that is free or low cost but involves an investment of time is worthwhile.

Automation

Talking of time, as you do start growing and adding new clients to your business, it's worth automating various aspects of your business as much as possible. In the hosting industry, we are quite fortunate that there exists a lot of (very cheap) software to handle different things, for example automatically creating new hosting accounts, as well as managing the billing and invoicing of your clients. Using systems like WHMCS or HostBill means you can automatically invoice your customers each month or each year, as well as take payments through PayPal, Google Checkout, or other online services. You can keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t, and automatically send out reminder notices relating to domain names or any other services.

Whilst these systems are great for recurring billing and automation within a hosting environment, you can also use the invoicing features for web design or SEO or any other services that are more one-off in nature.

Categories: Tips

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