The 9 Systems You Need For Your Online Services Business

This is going to be a long form post discussing the different tools you will need for your online services business.  At AllInvoice we work with many virtual assistant and call center based businesses, so I’ll use a VA firm as the example in this post.  Depending on your specific business needs and requirements you might not need some of the tools, or need different ones.  Also I won’t be going into specific products, just describing the class of product you will need.  For example I won’t be doing a review of Allinvoice.com (you’re already reading our blog), but explaining why you need time tracking and invoicing software.

 

To get started let me explain the the imaginary business I’m talking about.  It’s a company offering virtual assistant services to clients all of the world.  The company markets primarily through online channels and its website, does its sales and client services in house and strives to provide top notch customer service and support.

 

Basically this company needs to:

  • Bring in leads from potential new clients
  • Manage those leads (follow up)
  • Sell its services to new clients
  • Onboard new clients
  • Provide customer support
  • Keep track of work being done
  • Rebill existing clients
  • Keep financial data
  • Pay its employees

 

Lets jump in and run through this list in order.  Some of the tools will cover multiple bullet points, and some bullet points will require multiple tools:

 

Getting New Leads

 

Even if you are new to online marketing you already know the biggest potential source for traffic to your website…Google.  Now there are two ways you can go about getting traffic from Google, coming up in Natural Search, or Paid Search.  Most companies have a plan to do both.  There are many different levels of investment you can make in either area.  Basically in paid search you pay a certain amount to have someone who has searched for a specific phrase or word clicks on your website.  In natural search you use search engine optimization (SEO) to get Google thinking your website is what searchers for that phrase want, and show you more prominently.  You can go after both of these marketing channels yourself, or hire professionals to handle this for you.

 

Before you do any type of marketing you need to figure out what your successful outcome is for getting a visitor to your website.  Are they going to fill out a form requesting more information, call in directly, sign-up for a free trial, or buy directly.  Then you need to figure out how you will track this data.  The goal of online marketing should be to track every interaction from the first time someone visits your website (and where they came from), to what they did when they were there, down to what they buy and how much they spend with you in aggregate.  When you know this information over time you can refine your marketing plan to spend less and earn more.  As a quick example if you are buying traffic from two different keywords A and B.  A has gotten you 50 clicks, cost you $5, and resulted in 5 leads and 0 sales.  B has gotten you 5 clicks, cost you $20, resulted in 2 leads, and 2 sales.  If you weren’t tracking all the way to the sale level you would probably pour your money into A.  Now imagine this example being run for a year, with thousands of clicks, leads and sales, the ability to track and refine over time can be very powerful.

 

Managing Leads (and clients)

 

The next major tool to discuss is a Client Relationship Management (CRM) software.  CRM is basically a database where you can store data on every potential and client your company has.  New leads will be fed into your CRM, and then converted to clients as needed.  A CRM is where you store all contact info, records, and notes.  Many CRMs today offer many ancillary products like email managers (mass email all or segments of your leads), live chat (have visitors to your website able to launch a live chat directly to your sales team), and many other add ons.  Many CRM systems also support 3rd party integration, so if you are using a different email marketing software and want to continue doing so, you can integrate it with your CRM.

 

Selling Services

 

Now that you have some business leads, and they are in your CRM you need to start selling.  Depending on your service there are a couple ways to do this.  Probably the most effective will be making a phone call.  Most small businesses are switching to VOiP phone systems, which are generally cheaper and higher quality than using a landline, especially if you are overseas.  You can also try to use emails to do the sales pitch, but for most price points a new client is going to want to talk to someone.  CRM systems are great for keeping track of where you are in the sales process and automate things like sending email answers to questions, or scheduling follow ups.

 

Onboarding New Clients

 

Once you have a prospect that wants to buy you have entered the onboarding phase.  You need to take their payment (if they pay before work is done), provide them with an invoice or receipt, and take them to the next step or set up phase of the transaction.

 

Since this transaction will probably be done online lets go over what it means for them to “sign up”.  For any type of service business you will want a service agreement describing what you are providing to the client.  You will want this agreement signed.  There are many e-signature software platforms available.  Decide if you will have a blanket agreement, which is the same for every client, or create specific terms every time you are hired.

 

After getting the signature you need to be able to take a payment.  There are many available options.  You can use PayPal, or pay for a merchant processor.  Do research and talk with some companies about your situation before choosing one.  If you are operating an online business a difficult or confusing sign-up and payment process can lose you a lot of money.

 

Once you’ve been paid you need to start providing service.  What are the next steps going to be and how will you communicate them with the client?  Getting them an invoice or receipt for their payment needs to happen immediately.  You can also that that contact as a chance to let them know what will happen next. Are you going to call them that day?  What should they expect?  Build trust now and retain more clients later.

 

Providing Customer Support

 

The way your business typically interacts with clients will dictate how your support is delivered.  If you primarily use email there are many great tools for using canned responses to FAQs.  If most support is done over the phone you might want to build out a wiki of FAQs and answers that your support team can use.  Keep track of interactions in CRM so you have a record of who has interacted with each client and what was discussed.  Use this information to streamline systems and improve processes.

 

Keeping track of Work Being Done

 

We’ve arrived at the time tracking section.  If you are providing hourly service you need to track the time that work is being done.  Using time tracking software allows each employee to start and stop their own time clock and lets you share that information with the client.  When you need to provide a record of payment you can also send an invoice.  I’m not going to linger on this topic since you can read all about AllInvoice and best practices for billing service clients in this blog.

 

Rebilling Existing Clients

 

Because you are running a service if a client is going to last after their initial purchase you need to provide a valuable service which they wish to continue.  You will also need a system that allows you to know when (or just before) they need to be billed again, and make that billing happen.  Most likely between those two steps you want some interaction with the client saying they authorize you to bill them again.  Most of this can be accomplished with your CRM and time tracking systems, but it does require some planning to make the transition from new client to recurring client as seamless as possible.

 

Track Financial Data

What post on business tools would be complete without a discussion on tracking financial data?  There are many tools to choose from out there, with Quickbooks being the most prevalent.  Talk to accountant before making a choice on what software to use, and make sure you get the right data.  Knowing how much your business is making is the most important thing you can know to stay in business!

 

And Finally…Pay Your Employees

 

If you want them to keep coming to work you will need to pay your employees.  There are many payroll software options out there to consider.  Make sure the software you use allows you to handle any type of deduction or taxes, especially important if your employees are overseas.  Also you will need to consider how employees will actually be paid, direct deposit, by check, in cash?  Think through your payroll system from start to finish as you build it.  Making something scalable takes time, and while manually tracking and paying 5 employees each month might not be difficult consider what will happen if you increase in size 10x.

 

Summary

 

I hope this post has been able to help you consider different systems you will need to develop to build your services business.  Doing the work upfront to build a strong team and training them to use software products the right way and using the best process will determine if your company is a success or a failure.  Diagram, build and test everything. Track as much as possible.  Do the work upfront and things will be easier as you scale.

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