The Business of Broadband

Commercial Services: Catering to your Commercial Customers

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business_montageTelephone and cable companies have a long history of addressing residential consumers, but not all have focused on the opportunity with their business customers as much as they should. Telephone companies have tended to provide more services to businesses, since businesses have always needed phones. So, Telcos were also the first who were connecting companies to the Internet, albeit with hugely expensive T1 lines at the start. Cable companies took a bit longer to notice the opportunities with potential business clients. And, you can see why that would have been the case. Not many companies need a basic cable TV feed, let alone HBO or other video services.

Today, though, broadband service stands on its own. Larger telcos and MSOs have been rolling out commercial services the last few years. Some smaller providers have started to address the market, but there are additional opportunities for revenue they may be missing.  Here are a few commercial services that independent providers should be offering or considering:

Network Connections

This is a natural, and most providers are already connecting up their local businesses. In addition to the bottom line revenue, it’s important for other reasons. First, it helps balance out usage on the provider’s network. You have to buy enough bandwidth for peak usage, which for many operators is between 5:00 PM and 11:00 PM when folks get home from work and hit the Web. That probably means you have an overabundance of bandwidth available during the day.  By actively selling connections to your local businesses you can use some of that excess bandwidth you’re paying for, and the usage patterns will match nicely with the residential usage peak that comes after everyone leaves the office.

Another reason you should be the one connecting up local businesses is because it’s the foundation of other services that you can sell over that connection. That’s you’re bread and butter. That’s likely how you’ll get your foot in the door if it’s not there already, and it’s going to be much easier to add on other services if you already have a relationship with the customer.

Network Support

Once you have a business customer with a connection, you’ll obviously need to help them if they have any issues. This can be fairly rudimentary support—such as “yes, the connection is up. It must be something on your network”—to more in depth support. For example, you could charge more to provide additional managed support of the customer’s router, or even provide some level of IT support for other devices on their network.

Hosted Email

Maintaining reliable email service can be a challenge for smaller businesses, which often don’t have a dedicated IT person. Managing an internal mail server like Microsoft Exchange can be complicated and expensive. If they already have Exchange, one opportunity is to take on that management for them, although capital expenses will remain an issue as server and software upgrades always seem to be looming over the horizon.  If they don’t have their own mail platform, or even if they do, another option is to help them move their email to the cloud. Microsoft offers Exchange Online, which is one option. If you, or they, don’t want to use Microsoft, Google Apps for Business is a great choice. For example, here at ZCorum we offer Google Apps for Business for companies that are looking for email service, calendar sharing and collaboration tools. It’s easy for us to support and manage and there’s no equipment to maintain. We help with setup, provide ongoing support for the company’s email admin; or, for an additional fee per mailbox we’ll support the entire staff.

Commercial Web Hosting

Your local businesses need a website, so you might as well provide it for them. The nice thing about the web hosting business is that the revenue comes in each month with little to no effort on your part. You don’t need to worry about buying and maintaining servers. There are plenty of companies that provide hosting on their equipment that you can resell. We’ve been providing commercial web hosting for small businesses and outsourced sites for ISPs since 1995, and there are a number of those websites that are still up and running on our servers. That’s some steady income. Why would the business go to you for hosting?  Again, you have the relationship with them. They would likely prefer to deal with one vendor, and you are a partner they trust. Just make sure that the company you use provides good technical support either for you or for your customers.

Managed Internet Security

Like email, setting up and managing a security server is above the pay grade for the “computer guy” at many small businesses. If you are outsourcing IT services, this is something you can take on for your business customers. Unless the company is pretty small, individual security licenses aren’t the best option, because there is no central management, and users could possibly turn off or modify their security settings. There are also cloud-based security options that take the security server out of the picture. At ZCorum we offer a Hosted Internet Security product that moves a lot of the processing to the cloud and provides a centralized portal to manage licenses and security settings from anywhere, no matter where the device is located.

Online Back-up

As with security on their network, small businesses can be pretty lax with their data back-up. Over 50% of small businesses surveyed don’t back up daily, and a quarter of businesses back up less than once a week (if ever).  You can provide on-line back-up services through one of the companies that make that service available, and you can be their back-up expert and provide support for the service.

Commercial VoIP

If you’re a Telco, you’re already set up to provide phone service for businesses in your service area. Cable companies don’t have to be left out. You can offer a commercial VoIP service and gain significant revenue from your business customers. You don’t need to worry about a purchasing a switch, although that is an option if you want to build it all yourself. Instead, there are providers of outsourced VoIP service that you can resell, so you won’t need to worry about equipment, carriers, handling E911, or managing all of the other underlying complexities of voice. At ZCorum, we offer residential and commercial VoIP services under our VoiSelect brand. We offer individual business lines, hosted IP PBX for companies that need a full-featured phone system in the cloud, and SIP Trunks for companies that have older PBX or Key Systems and want to take advantage of the lower cost of IP-based voice traffic.

As you can see, there are a lot of revenue opportunities available by addressing the needs of your local businesses. Don’t forget to offer a bundle of services, just like you would for your residential plans. For example, you might create a bundle that includes a network connection, Web hosting, and Internet security. Or, let customers create their own bundle, and give a discount on all services.

What commercial services are you offering today?

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About the Author:

Rick Yuzzi has over 25 years experience in sales, marketing and management. Hired in 1995 to establish the sales department for a fledgling Internet Service Provider that later became ZCorum, he is now a key member of the executive team, overseeing the company's marketing efforts. In addition to blogging on marketing and the industry, Rick also tweets as @ZCorum.

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