Last week and today, I’ve been setting up databases for clients on a number of large hosts. I’m really amazed at the variety of upload speeds as I’m FTP’ing a big batch of files for each of them. Looks like the larger the company, the slower the service (these are all shared hosting situations).

Feeling even more pleased with Hostgator now. Even when I had shared hosting, FTP was never at a crawl like this one site I’m working on right now. I think 12 minutes is a bit too much to upload a fresh copy of WordPress!

Sometimes an application may ask for an absolute path to a folder/file in your hosting account. Finding that can be hard – you often have to dig around on your host’s site or contact them for that info.

Here’s an easy way to do it: create a new .php file and upload this to the account.

Then just navigate to that file in a web browser and it will display your absolute path.

Since I decided to take the plunge and get a dedicated server for my hosting company, I’ve been working on ways to focus on and improve my offerings as a full-service small business host.

Of course, I’m a one-person company right now – the main reason design clients and others host with me is that they want personal service. My goal now is to make the hosting decision as easy as possible for them by offering both hosting and other services as a one-stop shop.

In the past few weeks, I’ve implemented a number of changes at NOCO (not including buying the dedi):

  • set up an affiliate program for hosting clients in WHMCS. If a new referral comes through a NOCO text or image link on an existing client’s site, the current client gets a credit on their account.
  • replaced my static FAQ page with a new dynamic one using the phpMyFAQ system. Now clients or potential clients can post a question if they don’t find the answers they need, and I can add new items to the FAQ more easily.
  • added two SSL certificates with free installation. I’m thinking about adding more – my domain provider Enom offers quite a few but when I tried to set one up in WHMCS I had some issues.
  • added free trial accounts – a prospective client can check out NOCO for seven days. I’m using a module from WHMCS Gold to manage free trials. They’re automagically removed from the server at the end of the trial if the prospect decides not to sign up.
  • added daily offsite backups through bqbackup, to supplement the onsite ones. Just for my peace of mind.
  • added Plesk Sitebuilder for those new hosting clients looking for a simple templated site.

That last item required some serious consideration – was I possibly cutting myself out of work by offering a Sitebuilder system? But I don’ t think so. The hosting clients that come to NOCO on their own – through searches or ads – may be looking for a quick fix, the kind they can get with site-building tools at the big box hosts. But if they’re looking for a local hosting company with those kinds of tools, then NOCO can meet that need.

When I started NOCO Hosting I only made mention of Red Kite once – on the About Us page. But I’ve rethought that; I’m now advertising the availability of professional custom web design and development services on NOCO’s site.

I think I’m on the right track with my goal of repositioning NOCO as a boutique hosting resource for small businesses, primarily local ones, but I do have a number of clients in other states now. I plan to continue adding new services and goodies for clients as appropriate.

About three weeks ago, I decided I’d had enough with all the recent troubles on my reseller hosting account. The shared server I’d been on for about 3 years had become slow and crowded; lots of crashes, IP blacklistings and email bottlenecks, and way too much time spent answering to upset clients about the latest problem.

One of the long-time dedi owners at my host posted ‘The 6 Stages of  Dedi Ownership’ a while back.

  1. Apprehension
  2. Anticipation
  3. Confusion
  4. Bargaining
  5. Bewilderment
  6. Acceptance

Right now I’d say I’m somewhere between 5 and 6.

While I’m no stranger to WHM, the huge array of extra things to do and look at was a shock the first day. It was like being thrown from 1st grade to freshman year in college with nothing in between. I’m a web designer, not an IT person, and though I’d call myself pretty much an expert with PC’s, this was a whole other ballgame.

Getting some initial help

I spent a well-worth-it $125 to have ConfigServer install their cPanel service, including a better mail program (Mailscanner) that includes antivirus. The long explanatory email they sent me, plus their forums, have been very helpful for a dedi noob.

I also was lucky to run across the book Web Host Manager Administration Guide from Packt Publishing. I read this from cover to cover, taking notes about specific things I needed to do with my WHM setup.

All those email alerts were rather frightening at first, but I’m getting used to them and have enough understanding now to be able to pick out the truly important ones. I had some DNS issues too but the tech support guys at my host have been quite helpful.

Making my own best management practices

I started a document I’m calling Hosting Notes a few weeks ago; it contains common procedures that I’m learning – like how to copy a site from one cPanel server to another; how to decrease propagation time when moving a site; how to edit php.ini.

I’m also (with the help of the WHM Admin Guide) putting together a checklist of things that need to be checked frequently. These two documents together will be the basis of competent server management on my part (thank God it’s a managed server – I would have gone nuts with an unmanaged one by now).

How’s it going so far?

I’ve convinced about 95% of my shared server clients to move to the new server (at a small fee increase per year, since the box costs me 4 times what my shared server did each month). That’s pretty good. The few clients that don’t want to pay the fee are going to find a new host next month when I close down the old reseller account, and that’s fine.

The new server is SO much faster, just like I thought it would be. And no issues whatsoever with email slowdowns. Now I need to think about redoing SEO on my hosting site to start bringing in more clients – up to a point. And when I get there, I supposed I’ll be buying my second dedi…

Issues with slow or nearly nonexistent email services for my hosting clients during a RAID rebuild earlier this week scared me – enough to start investigating some new ways of managing and growing NOCO Hosting. This was only the second time in almost 3 1/4 years that I’ve had a problem that couldn’t be fixed very quickly, and it was a really frustrating few days (both for me and my clients).

A few changes I’ve already implemented:

  • Compiling an offsite contact list that I can use to reach clients in the event of an emergency. I already had this in place, but many clients had never responded to my requests for an offsite email address – they’re still using ‘me@mydomain.com’ for their account ‘www.mydomain.com.’
  • Creating a new Gmail address for NOCO, primarily for sending out notifications.
  • Compiling a list of SMS/text message contacts for clients who prefer to receive their notifications that way.

And some other things upcoming:

  • I’ll be adding some dialogue and changes to the hosting registration form that require an offsite email address as the primary contact address for any account.
  • I’ll be splitting client accounts between several servers to reduce by 50% the chance that any one client will b affected by a server issue.
  • I’m investigating DNS failover services now, and will be putting together a pricing package to offer to all my clients. I want to see who might be interested in such a service before I formally get it, but I think it might be a good additional offering for NOCO even if no one wants it now.
  • I’ll definitely be implementing one of the DNS failover services for my own business sites; I’ll probably try ZoneEdit because they offer their services for free for the first 5 domains

I’m also connecting with other hosting resellers and hosting providers in the Meetup group I co-founded, Fort Collins Internet Pros. Brainstorming with those guys might lead me to some other ideas I haven’t even considered yet.

Frustrations like the one this week make me take a step back and consider whether it’s really worth it to even offer hosting. But I think that it’s a value-added proposition for my clients (one-stop shopping, so to speak), and it’s nicely profitable. Until that changes, I just need to continue what I’m doing – communicating early and often with clients when the extremely rare server issue does come up, and doing what I can to lessen the impact.