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How I Revamped My Web Hosting Business

During the past two months or so, I’ve pushed really hard to finish a project that I’ve been “working on” for the past year. The project was to rename, streamline, and solidify my web hosting business. This included registering the business as a trade name with the state, opening a business bank account, opening a post office box, designing a new website, and setting up and integrating the billing system into the website.

The hosting business originally started as a side-project — something I set up to host my own websites and those of friends and colleagues. I hadn’t anticipated the business growing and not putting much thought into setting it up properly from the start was a mistake.

As the number of hosting clients grew, I found it increasingly difficult to keep track of account balances, payments, contact information, account statuses, etc. I realized that I needed something that would automatically generate invoices and send them out, accept payments through my website, and handle new account signups.

I researched various billing systems and eventually settled with WHM.AutoPilot: It was relatively inexpensive and appeared to have everything I needed. However, after adding all my clients and reconciling the accounts, I struggled to get the system working just the way I wanted. There were many bugs and newer versions weren’t being released in a timely manner. It felt as though the billing software just made things more complicated rather than improving them.

All the while, my hosting business continued to grow. Despite bad accounting and being very unorganized, clients were continuing to roll in by word-of-mouth advertising. Every time a new client would sign up, I felt embarrassed that I didn’t have something more professional to present to them. I was beginning to dislike the thought of setting up new accounts!

That’s when I realized I really needed to streamline everything and make growth less of a burden. (Growth should be easy, not something you dread!) So almost exactly a year ago, I decided to change the name of the business to ActualWebSpace, open a bank account so clients could make checks payable to the business instead of my personal name, and get everything set up properly once and for all.

After researching billing systems once again, I decided on and purchased WHMCS. The developers seemed more “on top of things” and the community around the software appeared very active. It used a very simple PHP templating system that would make integrating the billing system into the website very simple.

So that I could offer domain registration and SSL certificates, I signed up for an eNom reseller account. WHMCS included full integration with eNom, so automating domains and SSL certificates was easy.

For the website, I decided to use WordPress as a back-end and design a WordPress theme from scratch. It was both the first time I had set up WordPress as a CMS and the first time I had designed a WordPress theme from scratch. While it extended the amount of time it took the launch the site, it was an invaluable learning experience.

Setting up the website was probably the most difficult part of the entire process for me. I’m a perfectionist and it’s difficult for me to create something and be happy with it. But, after much persistence, I discovered ways of getting out of my perfectionist state of mind and I made enormous progress in the past few weeks.

I launched the new website for ActualWebSpace yesterday. It has been almost a year in the making and it feels great to finally follow through with a project to the end. I’m going to use the lessons I learned to start, and finish, my next project (still deciding what that will be).

The biggest lesson I learned from this year-long project: When starting any kind of venture that has the potential to grow, set things up properly from the beginning. Plan for and anticipate growth instead of waiting until the growth begins to happen.

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  1. Hi Raam

    Congrats on the web site … minimalist without being clinical. Very nicely executed. Well done.

    I’ve found they always seem to take longer than expected and cost more than you’d like.

    I’ve been prodding at the idea of starting a webhosting biz and was wondering if it is a business that needs a lot of attention and how it could be managed whilst travelling.

    Do you get many narly tech issues? I note your emphasis and committment to outstanding customer service. Is that hard to deliver from afar?

    Thanks in advance for any feedback. Appreciated!

    • Hey Jeff! Thanks for the comment!

      Running a web hosting business is one of those things that definitely requires some technical know-how to run properly. While you could mask yourself from all the technical issues by paying another company to manage that aspect for you (i.e., get a fully-managed server with a reseller account or use a Virtual Private Server, VPS), you cannot possibly provide great service and quick workarounds to your customers.

      I’ve written a couple of posts over the years related to my experiences with running the web hosting business. Here are a few you might find interesting:

      http://raamdev.com/web-hosting-is-not-for-everyone
      http://raamdev.com/research-before-committing
      http://raamdev.com/googlebot-relentlessly-using-bandwidth

      The first one in particular shows just how challenging shouldering the responsibility can be.

      I’m not trying to play down or discourage you from starting a web hosting business, just trying to make you aware of what can be involved. 🙂

      Regarding the travel aspect: I’m only a little under two months into my travels, so I’m still in the process of figuring out what’s involved. For one, if you’re traveling in a country where free WiFi is not common, you’ll need to make sure you have a wireless broadband data card with you at all times. This adds to your expenses.

      I’m beginning to think that the only way I can travel and grow my web hosting business is to hire at least one person to be the first point of contact. Otherwise, I’m always going to be nervous about being offline for more than a few hours at a time.

      Good luck and feel free to contact me with any questions!