Websites for Services: What do you need? How do you get it?

Posted at 2:44 pm on 08/04/2014
Q&A with Rahul Razdan, CEO of Ocoos

What do you see as the unique challenges facing owners of service based businesses in marketing to potential clients?

Over the years, businesses focused on products have seen enormous leaps in capability with world-class platforms such as Amazon and eBay. These platforms provide a convenient marketplace, handle all aspects of payments/commerce, and even facilitate shipping/warehousing.  Along with these marketplaces, companies such as bigcommerce, shopify, weebly have provided excellent capability for individual websites.  However, we have not seen similar advances in services. Why ?   

  1. Services are in general more complex to describe, and very often involve a two-way dialog with the customer before a transaction can be completed.
  2. Services are more difficult to manage because they often require a management of the combination of space (where will the service will be delivered?), time (customer/service provider must coordinate), and capacity (there are likely limitations to the number of concurrent customers). 
  3. Services often have more complex payments relationships (deposits, pay after job complete, recurring payments, etc)
  4. Services involve more complex legal structures which range from on-premises liability agreements to sign-off on work-product.

Finally, services providers provide only a slice of an overall value statement, and they often have to interlock with other service providers to provide the customer with an overall experience. Imagine a wedding planner who works with caterers, limousine service, florists..etc. 

What are the essentials for any website/web presence for a service?

The most basic is that the core value statement of the company needs to be communicated on the internet in such a manner that it is available to customers. Technically, this means that the website should be optimized for the major browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari) and major devices (laptop, tablet, phone).  A common mistake made by many firms is to optimize for Internet Explorer and not realize that browsers such as Google Chrome have actually bypassed Internet Explorer in market share. Another common mistake is to forget about mobile devices even though internet traffic driven by mobile devices is fast overtaking that on laptops, and search engines have declared they will penalize websites which are not mobile optimized.  

Beyond the basics, service providers need additional features such as:

  1. support for a scheduling function which respects capacity/space. This capability allows customers to engage on their own timetable and service providers to balance workloads proactively. 
  2. support for more complex models for payments such as deposits, recurring payments, quote/post-payment, and point-of-sale transactions..
  3. integration of legal agreements for digital signature and storage (ex: liability agreements)
  4. enablement of  b2b marketing interlock where several small service providers can provides a powerful co-marketing solution to the end customer. Example: wedding planner, limousine service, caterer, and florist can go to market together.
  5. supports all of the above with an integrated database built for analytics, customized reports and data mining.

How much time and money does it cost to get a website up and generating leads?

Today, there is a large variety of technologies and services available to build websites based on comfort level with internet technology.  These include do-it-yourself (DIY) products (wix, weebly, shopify, godaddy) which can produce reasonable homepages. These products will typically run $10-20/month for real-life usage, but  will only offer a splash page and some support for product-like ecommerce.  Building a total services solution with these products requires a great deal of customization, and maynot be possible for anything complex.

Another alternative is to tap into the wordpress eco-system. Wordpress is a large open-source community which is popular with web developers.  Wordpress itself is free, but requires programmer-like capability to manage/run. Much like a tailor, a developer can build a custom solution using wordpress. The advantages are that over a few weeks, you will get exactly what you have specified, and depending on complexity will likely cost you $5-10K to build and $200-300/month to maintain.  Recently, services focused platforms such as Ocoos have come to the marketplace, and they can offer a custom solution for $500-1500 setup and under $50/month maintenance. 



How can an owner measure success?

Like anything in marketing,  success is a function of the use of the website in the context of an overall marketing plan.  There are situations where the customer uses the website primary as a reference vehicle. That is, most of the traffic will be driven by word-of-mouth or other vehicles, but they need a good website to establish credibility and early engagement.   There are other situations where the website is the primary driver for commerce, and a much more elaborate plan around content, internet advertising, and email marketing is required. 

In both cases, the metrics of interest tend to be traffic to the website, conversation of that traffic to engagement points as defined by the service owner (bookings, scheduling appointments, etc) with the actual magnitude a function of the overall marketing plan.

Can you recommend any other good resources for a services business wanted to ramp up his/her marketing and sales?

For the basic website, we obviously recommend our own company, Ocoos. Beyond the capability, customers can get a free ebook which gives an overview of the space of the use of the internet for small businesses. Because services are complex, our preferred engagement model is to have an intial free consultative discussion.

Layered over the website are other services which can be very helpful to the services company. These include:

  1.  This company publishes your website to a large number of directories, and keeps them up-to-date.  These additional directories create electronic bill-boards for customers to potentially find you.
  2.  This company offers a large array of specialized services such as logo design, social media content generation, video production etc  which can be layered over the website.

One caution we would provide is SEO/SEM merchants. In general, the adage “if its too good to be true, it is likely not true holds.”

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