Reseller hosting - how to spot the reliable providers
Too often while participating in hosting forums I read about resellers looking for a new host for their business while they're still waiting for the server where they're hosted to get back up. The story is all too common. What looked like a great deal turned out to be a scam or what was a great service in the beginning went slowly but surely downhill until at some point everything went out of control. Pressed by their own customers they must find a new host fast, or they risk losing all their hard earned customers!
In 99% of the cases all this grief and sorrow could've been avoided, but too few resellers do a good job when searching for hosting. Too few realize that finding hosting companies that sell hosting reseller accounts is not the hard part. There are literally thousands of hosting companies that offer such accounts!
What is really hard is to find a reliable hosting company with reseller plans that gives you the highest degree of flexibility while keeping costs as low as reasonably possible. If read with care this article should be able to put thoughts in order even for the most experienced reseller.
While explaining things, I will refer to some of the hosts from my "Honest Hosts" list: HostGator (which hosts my websites with excellent uptime), Hostnexus who's owner is one of the most knowledgeable guys I know, UnitedHosting and Httpme, both of which are quite popular hosts at WebHostingTalk.com. More about my Honest Host Award can be read here.
Now, as you may or may not know reseller accounts are great especially for web designers who want to hosts their clients' sites, for anyone that owns many websites and for those who want to start a web hosting business.
This is not the average reseller guide though, this is the "how to get the best thing out there" kind of guide, the no compromises kind of guide, the clear guide to maximizing the changes of finding a reseller host to stay with for a long time to come. Changing hosts when you're a reseller is not easy and is not something that you'd want to do. Ideally you should never have to change hosts. At least not until you need a dedicated server!
Now let's just take things baby step at a time, shall we?
The big D - Downtime
The number 1 reason for which resellers are not satisfied with their providers must be downtime. Prolonged, repeated downtime often combines with slow performance during uptime and lack of timely support and makes resellers look for a new "home".
Occasional downtime is unavoidable on the long term for any host though. 100% uptime is impossible even in theory. Hard drives fail from time to time, DDOS attacks happen and all a host can do is react and minimize their effect and then there are scripts that run out of control and bring the whole server to a crawl. Anyone of these things and many others can and will happen to any host.
The important thing is how the company deals with such problems, how fast and efficient they respond to such urgent calls. The only way to find out about these things before you sign up for the service is from reviews freely posted by their customers on the Internet.
The Honest Hosts that I selected have received positive feedback all over the net. As you may know by now I value web hosting forums very much because reviews there tend to be much more valuable and trustworthy than in other places.
The big S - Support
Support is a very important part of a hosting package at any level: shared, reseller, VPS dedicated and so on. However, if for a small website on a shared account support rarely has to be lightning fast, for a reseller that has perhaps tens of clients in his own care, support must be available at all times and be very fast. 27/4 support is of utmost importance.
Many webmasters and resellers find that a telephone number is a must have, saying that they will never go for a host that doesn't provide one. I must say that talking with someone over the phone can be more revealing than just typing stuff and waiting for a reply. A toll free phone number is even better!
As I was saying, about support... Should the server fail it shouldn't take hours or days before you receive a response. You need them to get back to you within minutes. Live conversations via various means should make this whole problem disappear. Phone, live chat, instant messaging are things that should be available to ensure top notch support.
Not only that, but support has to actually be helpful. Your questions deserve clear, to the point answers. Anything less is just a waste of time. Your time and your clients' time! Don't sign up blindly, contact the host first and ask presell questions, see how they sound like.
A "secret door" to see how things are handled are the support forums, which I start to value more and more lately. HostGator, Hostnexus, UnitedHosting and Httpme, all have support forums where you can contact current customers, post presell questions, read how things were handled in the past etc.
Major differences between reseller accounts
Of course, reseller accounts differ in both size (space and/or bandwidth) and other features. Price is also a difference, but in my book price should come last in priorities. Only when all other things are equal selection based on price is reasonable.
Now, because differences like space/bandwidth very are easy to spot I will not bother you with them. I will bring into focus the other most important differences between reseller accounts.
Enabling overselling for resellers
Basically there are hosts that allow the resellers to oversell their accounts (bandwidth and space) and others that don't. The prices of those that don't allow overselling are usually lower, so from this point of view there's a trade-off. You could either go with a host that will allow you to oversell and pay more or go with a host that doesn't and pay somewhat less.
The big difference is the chance of things getting out of hand. I believe that overselling can be done in a smart way, but only under certain circumstances. A reseller can't really oversell smartly because smart overselling is a consequence of the law of large numbers.
Anyway, if every reseller oversells uncontrollably, at some point the server might bog down under the load. If your business relies on overselling to survive, be profitable and be competitive, you need to change your prices.
These are all reasons why, for the medium and long term, it's best to choose a host that doesn't allow overselling at reseller level. You need reliability as much as you need air to make it in this business. Customers understand occasional downtime, but frequent downtime caused by server overload will not be tolerated for long by any of your customers.
As I said in the beginning, the focus here is to ensure that the new host will be your "home" a long time to come. Changing hosts every two months is not how things are supposed to work. Ideally you shouldn't have to change hosts, at least not until you'll need a dedicated server and maybe not even then.
To keep things manageable, many hosts that enable overselling at reseller level limit the number of domains/websites that a reseller can host under an account. For example HTTPme used to allow overselling and an unlimited number of domains. To ensure long term survival however, Robert, the ex-owner, known as AussieBob at WebHostingTalk.com, had to impose limits on the number of domains that could be hosted on all new reseller accounts, while closely watching extreme overselling accounts and ask them to upgrade to bigger accounts at certain (undisclosed) points.
Some of their resellers were taking overselling to new extremes and if this would've become a trend the company couldn't've survived in the long run. A limit on the number of domains basically limits overselling. Not directly, but it does limit it quite effectively.
A tight limit of the number of domains that you can host is unfortunately a very important limit for the reseller too though. As a reseller you need as much flexibility as possible because by the very nature your business you have to be able to fill in special gaps in the market.
Big companies use strictly imposed policies and often don't offer custom plans because high numbers of custom plans become very hard to manage. This is something that smaller hosting companies and hosting resellers can capitalize on. This is why, if you're a reseller, it's best to be able divide the space and the bandwidth that you have in anyway you want: in as many slices as you want and in the sizes of your choice. This gives you a maximum of flexibility, of adaptability which are essential in any competitive environment.
As a reseller you basically buy space and bandwidth at a price and sell them at higher prices. It makes perfect sense not to make it very easy for your customers to find out who's your provider because they might think about going directly to you provider, which, obviously, is not a good thing for you.
Reseller anonymity however can be more or less strict. There are certain things that a reseller host can do to protect its resellers' anonymity. Private nameservers for example provide the highest level of anonymity and also project an image of professionalism.
Imagine you send the nameserver information to your clients. Which one of these variants looks more professional to you? ns1.yourownhost.com, ns1.nonsensename.com or ns1.yourdomain.com? I believe the answer is obvious: ns1.yourdomain.com, which is a private name server.
Some hosts charge a separate fee for private nameservers, so you might want to be careful about this aspect too.
Note that in most cases if someone really wants to find out who's behind you (who's the real provider) it's almost sure that he'll find this info. So don't brag about "your servers" or even worse, "your datacenter", when you're just a reseller. If someone asks "Are you a reseller?" it's better to tell the truth and admit it. As I've heard it a million times, honesty is the best policy. You can't be caught lying if you're not lying. Simple!
Out of the hosts I chose to feature in this article, Hostgator.com (which uses Cpanel) and Hostnexus.com (using Plesk) score points on all the things so far. Unitedhosting.co.uk does not allow overselling either, which would make it a good candidate, but the limit on the number of domains that you can host with them is a restriction that I find incapacitating. Other than that they would be a very good choice.
Tips to be successful as a hosting reseller
All successful hosts underline the importance of a good business plan. A plan has to include goals and the means to reach those goals. Sure, real-life doesn't go exactly as planned, but sticking to a good plan really helps to keep focus on what's important and not get distracted by fluff.
Knowledge is also particularly important. No customer will stick with a host that doesn't provide an answer when one is needed. Yes, you might be a reseller, but you'll be a host in your own right, and you'll have to act like one! Not knowing the answer is not an excuse. That's exactly what the client doesn't want to happen. You must be knowledgeable.
Sure, your own host will help you, but any host will frown if you're asking stupid questions when you're a reseller. You have to be able to guide your customers with things like how to setup a POP email account in Outlook or how to create an email account in their control panel or other common tasks.
Also, you must keep on learning new stuff everyday. One day a moment will come when a dedicated server will be more than feasible for your business. You have to prepare yourself for that day, for the day when you'll have to be able to administer your own server. To be a successful hosting reseller you have to prepare yourself to be a serious host.
Most people who run a serious and successful hosting business know quite a few things in a lot of fields. They know about software and hardware. They know how the Internet works, they know about computer networks, they know some web design and some programming , they know about internet marketing and most of them excel in one or more of these fields. This should tell you what it takes to be a successful host.
Unfortunately like in any kind of business, flair is also needed. And a little bit of luck too!