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Managed Website Solutions

The Small Business Owner

     
12:44 pm on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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After 13+ years of dabbling in this Internet stuff, I am convinced that many small to medium sized business owners need to give up their Internet presence to a professional, a Managed Website Solution.

My niche has been the small to medium sized business, I prefer not to work in the Corporate world any further, been there, done that. One of the common traits I've found amongst smaller business owners are their "intimate" involvement with their websites. So much so that some have caused more damage than they know.

For example, I brought on a new Managed Website client in 2007 February, we've just passed our 1 year mark and all is going well. For those first three months after we transferred everything over to our servers, set up the new store, yada, yada, yada, you should have seen some of the emails I received. I didn't realize how "gullible" my client was to the email barrage of marketing spam. Stuff like...

"Edward, should I go ahead and sign up for this search engine submission service? I've done them in the past many times."

Yikes!

"No Sir! Please don't do anything without consulting us first. And even then, you brought us on board to do this for you. So, get off your duff and go out and enjoy life, would ya?"

There were many other similar emails during those first 90 days until finally I just asked the client not to send them and to just ignore them when they came in. They got the message and got off their duff and now use that time more productively like they should have been doing in the first place. :)

Are any of you providing a 100% Managed Website Solution for your clients? How has it worked out for you? How about the client?

Managed Website Solutions = Long Term Business Relationships

1:37 pm on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I provide 100% managed website solutions with my All-Inclusive Small Business Package. Essentially it's everything a small business needs (CMS, email, intranet, extranet) for an affordable fixed price.

I completely agree that small business folks like to dabble with their websites; making small changes to dates, events and promotions. The fact that they can make these changes on their own without website html or programming knowledge has caused mostly problems as "my" typical clients like to copy and paste from word to the CMS. One client #*$!ized his site so bad that the general manager of the company pulled the plug on my company and moved to another web designer. All because the content editor used red/yellow/green text on an upscale golf and country club site.

This was a one-off and every other client has made minor modifications to their site without issue.

How has it worked out for me?

Well when you start throwing out words like "all-inclusive" and "100% managed", you are putting yourself in a dangerous grey area of endless updates and client appeasements. On the other hand I find that clients love the 100% managed approach and my sales wouldn't be the same without it.

The key is to have a well defined and finite scope of work that spells out exactly what will be done and more importantly when the project end date is.

4:12 pm on Mar 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

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The key is to have a well defined and finite scope of work that spells out exactly what will be done and more importantly when the project end date is.

I have a maintenance plan I offer, which grants so many hours per month of updates, some basic SEO, traffic reports, monthly marketing meeting/brainstorm and discounts on future projects. I am not sure this qualifies for what you are calling a Managed Website Solutions or not. I collect a reasonable sum on these plans each month, but not enough to pay the bills without additional project work rolling in.

My biggest issue with the plans is people not using the hours in the plan each month. This sounds like a benefit, i.e. cash with no work, but eventually the client gets tired of paying for something they aren't using and cancels. I have not found these plans all that easy to sell. Most small businesses I deal with don't want to pay a fee for ongoing solutions. They are ok with paying an upfront fee once and forgetting about their web site. I try and explain that a web site is something you change, tweak, add to, and grow over time, hence the need for the maintenance plans.

I would love to hear other ideas of how to set up a managed solution because I am always trying to find ways to make stable income each month for stable work and not always having to hunt for new projects to eat.

4:28 pm on Mar 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I didn't realize how "gullible" my client was to the email barrage of marketing spam.

I do take on "long-term" clients now and then, but try to educate them and give them the tools necessary to become self-sufficient after a year or two. It is amazing how many offers people fall for and not just the $79.95-$199.00 ones... many have spent/wasted thousands and tens of thousands of $ over the span of several years. Just untangling the rats nest of the site and tracking down what all has been done that shouldn't have is often a job in itself.

That's why I concentrate my work on a couple of very specific niches and 90% of my work is done for other developers (do the job, get paid, move on to next).

7:30 pm on Mar 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

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We used to for a couple of years - it was fun I have to say. I was able to "meet" a lot of different people from all walks of life.

But now into retirement, I find myself "working" more with people on the Internet and find it great that there are still some trustworthy individuals out there.

4:10 pm on Mar 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Well when you start throwing out words like "all-inclusive" and "100% managed", you are putting yourself in a dangerous grey area of endless updates and client appeasements. On the other hand I find that clients love the 100% managed approach and my sales wouldn't be the same without it.

If you have systems in place to make those updates and appease those requests efficiently, things go a whole lot smoother. :)

The key is to have a well defined and finite scope of work that spells out exactly what will be done and more importantly when the project end date is.

Hehehe, tried that. I don't think I've had one project that has remained "in scope", ever.

I have a maintenance plan I offer, which grants so many hours per month of updates, some basic SEO, traffic reports, monthly marketing meeting/brainstorm and discounts on future projects. I am not sure this qualifies for what you are calling a Managed Website Solutions or not. I collect a reasonable sum on these plans each month, but not enough to pay the bills without additional project work rolling in.

That would all be part of it. I let the Analytics programs in place do their thing and have the client generate their own reports. That is one particular area where I want them involved so they can see the success of their campaigns.

My biggest issue with the plans is people not using the hours in the plan each month. This sounds like a benefit, i.e. cash with no work, but eventually the client gets tired of paying for something they aren't using and cancels. I have not found these plans all that easy to sell.

Ah, but a "Managed Website Solution" puts the onus on the provider, not the client. It is up to you to present new ideas to the client for generating additional revenues. If you cannot prove your worth, then yes, there will be problems with the client sending you that check every month. That should never be an issue. The client should be glad, almost joyous when cutting your retainer check every month.

Most small businesses I deal with don't want to pay a fee for ongoing solutions. They are ok with paying an upfront fee once and forgetting about their web site. I try and explain that a web site is something you change, tweak, add to, and grow over time, hence the need for the maintenance plans.

Ever consider a PFP (Pay For Performance) model? Put the cart before the horse? Bring the business to them through your marketing ideas and then discuss a performance based plan with them.

I would love to hear other ideas of how to set up a managed solution because I am always trying to find ways to make stable income each month for stable work and not always having to hunt for new projects to eat.

Be proactive at all times! A Managed Website Solution entails that you be "on the ball" when it comes to that client's website. You should be looking for ways to generate new buzz, content, links, etc. You should be discussing marketing ideas with your client throughout the month. Get them involved in the "proactive" approach. Once they see your excitement and level of involvement, they too will get more involved. The more the merrier. And in the end, there is one thing that proves all of this works, the ROI! You have to spend money to make money. Don't wait for the client to dip into their pockets all the time, you have to do some of that yourself during a campaign. ;)

I do take on "long-term" clients now and then, but try to educate them and give them the tools necessary to become self-sufficient after a year or two.

I look at my long term clients of two or more years and they just barely have enough time to answer my emails let alone take over what we've done that is now causing them to not have any time. :)

9:26 pm on Mar 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I look at my long term clients of two or more years and they just barely have enough time to answer my emails let alone take over what we've done that is now causing them to not have any time.

I'm not saying they as in one person are doing this, they may very well have to hire or assign the work to others, but I would rather they hire others than me for mundane updates/tasks, reports, and day-to-day activities of maintaining the site and marketing.

Sorry, but I get bored to death very easily and really don't enjoy day to day tasks on the same clients sites. Others don't and to each their own, but it's not my cup of tea ;)

Again, I am most happy doing work for other developers as I get tired of the education process that always comes with clients...would rather do the job, get paid, move on...hehe

[edited by: The_Contractor at 9:30 pm (utc) on Mar. 25, 2008]

9:29 pm on Mar 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Be proactive at all times! A Managed Website Solution entails that you be "on the ball" when it comes to that client's website. You should be looking for ways to generate new buzz, content, links, etc. You should be discussing marketing ideas with your client throughout the month.

Maybe I am under charging for my plans, because while I enjoy a few bucks coming in from these plans I wouldn't say the fee justifies doing everything you are saying. That being said maybe we can discuss two things...

1. What specific items do people put into Managed Website Solutions?

2. What do people charge for these solutions?

9:38 pm on Mar 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

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How different from some kind of partnership is this fully managed website solution concept?
10:01 pm on Mar 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

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What specific items do people put into Managed Website Solutions?

Good question! Its all going to be relative to the types of services that you offer. I'd prefer to have my client dial my number by memory whenever they need anything "marketing" related. If I can't do it myself, or if my team cannot do it, I have a vast network of peers who can.

2. What do people charge for these solutions?

Ah, the million dollar question. There are many variables involved. First you need to determine your hard costs such as man/woman hours, software, hardware and license purchases, etc. Once you've got a handle on those hard costs, now you determine the value of that service/product to the client. From there, its a PFP based model and its up to you to determine the level of revenue that platform generates for both the client and yourself.

I know there are many who might say, Edward, why don't you just build your own sites? Well, I already have enough of those. I prefer to work with my clients and let them handle all the traditional business stuff while I (and my team) manage their Internet presence.

How different from some kind of partnership is this fully managed website solution concept?

No difference really. If I were to step back and look at what I'm doing, I'd say that I've become a "Virtual Sales Force" for my clients.

3:34 pm on Mar 27, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'd prefer to have my client dial my number by memory whenever they need anything "marketing" related.

Awesome idea! I offer a large portfolio of marketing services as well, but I guess I have never framed it in the language you just said. I think I smell a new tag line coming for my business.

If I can't do it myself, or if my team cannot do it, I have a vast network of peers who can.

I also do this as well. My network is great and has helped me do more than I could have ever offered on my own. Maybe I am a lot closer to this Managed Web Site Solution idea than I first thought and just never framed it quite the same way.

I like the pay for performance idea, but I am not sure how that would work. I just believe there are variables outside of my control that could cause a good solution I would put in place to not yield the best results because of something beyond my control.

For example, suppose you created an Internet lead generation campaign for a client and told them it would boost their sales [pay for performance measure] but the client doesn't do their part, i.e. help you build an email list for email marketing or spend the recommended dollars on pay to click ads, or their sales guys stink and they don't close the deal. In all cases they could say I didn't deliver.

Now I suppose you could have a contract that spells all this out, but I believe in cases like this if you get in a pissing contest with a client that believes it is your fault that something didn't work out even if the contract says differently you will lose.

Is there something you do that helps insure that the pay for performance model works better for you?

4:15 pm on Mar 27, 2008 (gmt 0)

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But the client doesn't do their part, i.e. help you build an email list for email marketing or spend the recommended dollars on pay to click ads, or their sales guys stink and they don't close the deal. In all cases they could say I didn't deliver.

Hmmm, I've not had that scenario just yet. I do pretty well at choosing which clients are on board in a Managed Website Solution. I take risks in this process.

Now I suppose you could have a contract that spells all this out, but I believe in cases like this if you get in a pissing contest with a client that believes it is your fault that something didn't work out even if the contract says differently you will lose.

Hehehe, I love pissing contests although they are few and far between. We've been fortunate in that everything has worked out. We've always had satisfactory to above satisfactory performance, it is more or less a given these days. For every action there is a reaction. We put as many actions into place that we can to avoid the above. :)

Is there something you do that helps insure that the pay for performance model works better for you?

I get involved. I have clients give me carte blanche with their internal staff when it comes to our campaigns. They know me/us well enough that we "will" get the job done if given the proper authority to do so. Things typically work out well for all involved and the job "gets" done.

There is a point in this process where PFP becomes supplemented by a monthly retainer fee. These are not your everyday business propositions but when they occur, it brings career security with it. :)

5:33 pm on Mar 27, 2008 (gmt 0)

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small to medium sized business

The more I read this thread, the more I wonder how you guys define small to medium sized business.

What you are describing sounds like it's got to be pretty expensive.

3:01 pm on Mar 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

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What you are describing sounds like it's got to be pretty expensive.

Expense is all relative. Most of my clients think along the lines of "Hey, if there is a return, let's spend it." Most of them are not afraid to take risks in the process. When I say "risks", I'm referring to financial decisions that may not achieve the desired results which are typically few and far between.

What's expensive? If you are generating $20,000 per month in sales from a "Managed Website Solution", how much is that worth to you? How about $50,000? Or $100,000?

Have you ever noticed that it "usually" takes a little money to make a little money. In some instances you can make a lot of money with a little money. We usually find that the more money that goes into it, the more revenue "it" generates. That may "not" always be the case but for the most part the outcomes are positive.

Define small to medium business? From 1-50 employees. When it comes to the Internet Entrepreneur, expect the number to be much smaller. Usually 1-5 people operating remotely from various home based locations. "You" become the core provider of it all and provide the outlet for those remote operators to do their thing.

I have a niche market, Baby Boomers, I'm one myself. I saw years ago that my Baby Boomer peers were having difficulty assimilating the Internet and how to make it work for them in their semi-retirement years and beyond. Baby Boomers have a wealth of information to share. Not only that, but they've collected some neat stuff over the years that could be their little nest egg if they capitalize on it properly.

All of us are here because we grasped the concept of the Internet. There's a whole generation out there that is just now starting to understand what the Internet is and how they can tap into its potential. I figure why not take my 18+ years (5 prior to the Internet) of marketing experience and assist those Baby Boomers in realizing their dreams. :)

7:11 pm on Mar 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

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price is only relevant in the absense of value

- fortune cookie.

8:56 pm on Mar 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Interesting topic.

POR you mention "we" quite often in your posts which leads me to point out that if you have a team of people already in place, a more robust package can be offered more efficiently. In the absence of a team, you alone must provide the services, build the tools, market the offerings, etc - or hire contractors to do the work. I am struggling with this issue right now. I have plenty of work but it's taxing me. I have to either choose to narrow my focus and do what I really want or keep the broader focus and hire staff. If I could find qualified staff locally, I'd likely hire them but... alas.

1:53 am on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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POR you mention "we" quite often in your posts which leads me to point out that if you have a team of people already in place, a more robust package can be offered more efficiently.

It was "I" for quite some time although there have always been "we" involved at some point in the process.

In the absence of a team, you alone must provide the services, build the tools, market the offerings, etc - or hire contractors to do the work. I am struggling with this issue right now. I have plenty of work but it's taxing me. I have to either choose to narrow my focus and do what I really want or keep the broader focus and hire staff. If I could find qualified staff locally, I'd likely hire them but... alas.

I feel your pain. Finding the right team members is the key to this entire process. You will need them, you cannot do "everything" yourself. I learned that the hard way and I'm still learning. I mean, if I could program, I'd probably do everything myself. But there are only 24 hours in the day and I like the balance I have now. :)

It took me years to build what I have, it did not come overnight. Nor did it happen in a year. I started dabbling in this back in 1995 and around 2000 is when it became a serious contender as a career path. Up to that point, it was more of a hobby and it supplemented my primary advertising and marketing career. Its taken me 8 years to get to this point. I could of done it much quicker had I the knowledge that I do today, back then. I'm still learning. :)

12:11 pm on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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>> It took me years to buil

I think I've spent those years waffling over whether to grow or not. I believe I'm about a year shy of having perfected what I do. Growth has been great but - well I've already finished that thought.

I've also been struggling with how best to structure compensation for the level of service you describe - though I don't manage my own servers. Would you mind sharing your compensation structure (I don't need the numbers - just the concepts).

1:27 pm on Apr 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I've also been struggling with how best to structure compensation for the level of service you describe - though I don't manage my own servers. Would you mind sharing your compensation structure (I don't need the numbers - just the concepts).

Basically I look at the number of hours that I'm, we're, going to devote to that client each month. I have a handful of clients in that type of scenario. I have other one off clients that come to me for URI restructuring challenges and other technical related issues. Those are billed per project.

Think about it this way. How much would it cost that client to hire someone to do the bits and pieces of everything that "we" do? You're going to need a; Designer, Coder, Programmer, Marketer, Writer, etc. If you look at the salaries of those folks in your area, that gives you a good starting point for what the hourly rates "might" be. We do very little hourly. Most is via a retainer and a per project billing basis.

In regards to those that have an ecommerce solution that you are managing, you have to look at the total sales being generated, profits, etc. From that you can effectively determine how much of a "bonus" and/or how much the monthly retainer fee may be. For example, $10,000 per month in sales? we're taking $1,500 for the managed solution right off the bat. Now, that could be higher or lower depending on the client's profit margins, cost per sale, etc. In addition to that, we're going to have "project billing". These are projects that are above and beyond the normal scope. They are projects that you've proactively promoted to the client and now that their website is generating revenue, they can budget funds for those.

Don't look at the work you are performing as a commodity. If you do, it will end up getting priced that way. No, charge a premium for your services. If you're good at what you do, the client will achieve an ROI. Its up to you to determine how much of an ROI. ;)