Josh (the blog)

Hey there. I’m Josh, a SydneyCanberra-based maker of Internets. I don’t update this very often.


Correcting course: change management for small biz

I’m currently in the process of trying to roll together a few hosting accounts of mine that have unnecessarily been running for the past few years as I’ve discovered ‘better’ services but not bothered rolling the old accounts over to. I’m probably losing around $700 a year because of this, and basically killing any revenue from hosting for other clients by making the whole process so unmanageable.

It’s frustrating, because it’s self-inflicted, relatively fixable, and a prime example of terrible stewardship on my part. It trickles out of my account in minor transactions of around $20, and I just don’t miss the money as much as I should. The problem is, if the transfer gets screwed up, various people dependent particularly on email (less so websites — they can withstand being down for a period of time, but for most clients of mine email is THE crucial application) cease to function until the DNS mends itself.

For this reason, I’ve not been brave (foolish?) enough to entrust the task to a service such as ODesk or RentACoder, even though either has the potential to totally take the headache away for a pretty minimal cost. I know that the odds of something going wrong between the exposure of core hosting passwords to strangers, in a process that is the web equivalent of a heart bypass, are pretty unacceptably high to simply palm off to some stranger for a chunk of change. Part of the problem is the kind of business continuity capabilities faced by many of my clients aren’t such that service notifications provide any particular benefit: it’s not as though they have any particular remedy for ‘scheduled maintenance’ in terms of notifying clients, as, unlike larger businesses, their websites are not frequently visited as first point of contact for vast numbers of existing and prospective clients of their own, and public apologies or notifications are meaningless.

Similarly, the scope of client education for such a minor undertaking is itself quite formidable — this sort of outage is highly occasional and the clients are so varied that there are no particular processes in place for dealing with it. Micro web agencies aren’t generally well equipped to do this sort of thing, simply as a byproduct of the nature of the provider/client relationship. In my work with larger businesses (especially where SaaS is a core offering) where the relationship is less provider/client and more embedded (i.e. I don’t end up functioning as an external party!) we have of course formulated plans for continuity and notification, but this cannot be the case as simply or readily for smaller, more fragmented organisations.

These issues have produced something of a perfect storm, where minor recurrent losses are the path of least resistance in a situation that requires a fair amount of (non-financial, tangible and intangible) investment to correct course. This, combined with the fact that I don’t have enough clients to justify writing migration code, and the general awfulness (particularly the glacial slowness)of WHM/other proprietary host management software, has meant I’ve yet to embark on an exercise with little visible benefit. Over 50% of this task is stuff you can’t outsource, or at least shouldn’t: client education and maintaining relationships.

Small business owners: how do you balance this need for process improvement and cost saving with the reality of day-to-day busyness and your obligations as a provider?