Long live the small host!
I've read so many articles for so many months now about how the small web hosts are being gobbled up by the hosting giants and that in no time flat there will only be a few huge web hosting giants and no smaller operations at all. At the same time, I see hosting companies focusing more and more on reseller programs, and more and more small hosting companies coming into the mix. OK, what the heck is going on here?
Actually it's not that complicated, and this industry does still provide lots of room for the small business. So, before you let the huge marketing budgets, the high dollar ultra redundant systems, 24x7 staff of support technicians and a fancy data centers of the hosting giants discourage you too badly, let's identify the things a huge host can't do that a small one can, and apply it to your business.
First things first. Although we all want more customers and more monthly revenue - there's nothing wrong with being a small host, so don't take it personally. I know several small hosting owners that are putting more money in their pockets right now than some of the folks behind the hosting giants. With that being said, let's look at how to work being small to your advantage.
As with any business, marketing is a huge issue. As a small host, you most likely do not have the cash to spend $5 a click for your traffic on places like Goto.com, nor can you cough up $50,000 for a full color spread in PC Magazine. With brand awareness being so important to new customers, perhaps your should not try to market to such strangers anyhow. As a small host, you need to get as many miles out of your personal contacts and relationships as possible. Here is where your clients are! I don't mean sign up just your friends and family, but consider focusing your marketing efforts on a certain geographical area, or a tightly focused niche. You be amazed at how much more you can get for your marketing buck when you really define some specific targets.
Personal contacts and relationships are the easiest way around the expenses of making your company a household brand. The most common reason why a person chooses a service provider that few have ever heard of over a famous brand is because they "have a contact there that has always treated them right". One of the largest challenges of any growing business is maintaining the level of personal relationships that business had when they were small. Exploit this fact as it can be your best weapon! While the giants are out advertising, go make contacts! Settle for introducing your business to individuals, or small groups at a time rather than to thousands in one expensive advertising message. You will be more effective in gaining the trust it takes to earn a client, not to mention stabilizing your business by cutting out those hail-Mary advertising blitzes that are barely breaking even.
While on the topic of personal relationships, I might as well stress the importance of maintaining these relationships once they are your customers. There's nothing worse than buying something based on your perceived relationship with the seller, only to call him in 2 weeks for some service and he does not remember your name. In addition, don't accept attrition without working this personal relationship once more. Make it a point to contact each and every customer you lose personally, and ask for an explanation and the opportunity to fix whatever it is that's making them leave. You'd be amazed at how many people get frustrated with their technical service providers and just need to hear a voice saying "I give a SH@%$#" to make them happy again.
With all due respect to the hosting giants, do you really think when they lose an account it has any effect on the person who's handling the issue at that particular time? By the time the news of the loss of the customer reaches someone who really cares about the company's revenues, it is in the form of a statistic or in a column on a spreadsheet. And NO, it is not handed to management in the form of "Mrs. Brown felt she was treated rudely by a support member", which is easily fixable, but is categorized with the dozens of others as "didn't like the service". Again, personal relationships are your greatest weapon!
Finally, if you've worked this relationship and still cannot save the customer this time, then leave a VERY open door. Don't get angry and shut their account off a week earlier than requested (as so many smaller hosts just love to do!) and don't just lay back and laugh when the domain gets moved before the site files do (as well all love to do!). Be upstanding until the very end, and then beyond. By doing this, you will be the first person this person will call when something does not go their way with the new provider. Treat the customers you lose harshly and they will tolerate bad service from a new provider in spite of you before requesting to use your services again.
As web hosting providers it is easy to take for granted the worlds knowledge and use of hosting. It's easy to get wrapped up in the search engines, the online sign-ups, and the vicious race to gain new hosting customers we all see online. It seems everyone and their mother is signing up for hosting and the small hosts are missing out. I say turn off the computer and leave your office. Go into the streets and into the general business community and start talking to some folks. I think you will amazed at how much business is still out there, and how easy it is to gain if you just get out of everyone else's race and into your own.