I've read a few of the hosting tutorials, all while considering starting a small hosting side-project. I've read one statement that implies that you should go without automated billing and one that flat-out says that automated billing is a must and without it you're committing suicide.
First of all, is it really necessary? Second, if it is, what is the cheapest possible method?
No, it's not absolutely necessary. But if you're going to run manual billing, run everyone on the same day of the month to minimize the pain.
Are you referring to a prorated (SP?) billing setup?
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TommorowHosting: Who would you recommend I use for automated billing? Also, thanks for the suggestion about the 12 hours. Now that I think about it, if I bought some hosting I would be sure to want it up and running within that time period as a maximum.
cbtrussel: Thanks for the tip. If I skip on automated billing, I'll be sure to do everyone's on the same day.
Is automated billing a "must" ? That all depends, but in most cases I'd say yes.
Think about this for a second here:
Even if you charge everyone on the same day, let's say you have 30 clients. That's 30 times you have to charge someone. Automation can do this instantly.
Of course, don't forget invoices, late fees, late notices, suspension. Think it won't happen? Trust me, it will.
As for what to use? Take it from someone who's tried 'em all, it will always be best to do your own client. This way you have what you want in there. Of course, it'll be a bit expensive, timewise, but it'll be worth it, definitely.
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I tried manually billing clients for a while and it really didn't work out. I'm an incredibly organized person and things just really fell to pieces when I tried it. I'd highly suggest getting something to manage your billing - I use modernbill and love it.
Well, if you go with manual billing, you'll want some form of accounting solution. IE Quickbooks. You could then go with the quickbooks merchant account, and quickbooks can charge the credit cards for you.
However, you need to ask yourself, how much your time is worth, and figure how much time each month it will take you to perform billing. That is, inputting, processing, sending, collecting invoices and payments.
Have you thought about what control panel system you want to use? If not, I'd suggest looking at H-Sphere. H-Sphere comes with an integrated billing & support system. So you can let H-Sphere manage the recurring billing/invoicing of your clients. And it will also handle your trouble tickets etc with the support system.
Whether or not to go with automated billing depends on how large you plan on growing, and how fast. You mentioned this is going to be a "side-project". If you only plan on hosting a few customers, then perhaps manual billing is all you need. But if you want to grow larger, and if you don't want to spend lots of time manually billing your clients, then certainly, automation is the way to go.
I use ModernBill and it works like a charm. You may also want to check out WHMAutoPilot (if using CPanel) as it's a little cheaper.
My first web hosting venture did not include billing automation, and once I got up over 300 clients (half of which paid monthly, and half annually), monthly billing became a nightmare. And installing, configuing and setting up an automated billing system once you have that many customers, becomes extremely tedious, and depending on your circumstances, may be next to impossible. That's the main reason I ended up selling that business.... just became too difficult.
Well you obviously don't want to hold off on setups for a long time, automated setup is a very bad idea, IMO.
There are certainly drawbacks to offering automated setups... particularly in getting a large number of fraudulent orders (I know, I've been there), however with the proper systems in place, these fraudulent orders can also be caught automatically. We use ModernBill together with Fraud Guardian, and that's virtually eliminated fraudulent orders being setup automatically. Instead, fraudulent orders are either rejected completely, or set as "pending", which requires you to manually accept it or reject it (if the system is "not sure" if it';s fraud or not). A great system, IMO.
Its easier if you start with automated, I did manual or semi automated for about 3 months and after that I had to port everyone to modernbill. Take my advice and start with a quality billing solution you can stick with for a long time, converting people from Paypal, etc takes a long time.
So far I was going manual billing, and it worked fine.
Though I just changed to Automated Billing as the number of clients coming in are increasing / day, causing us quiet a pile of work (if done manually).
But thats just us, depends how well off your hosting is.
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