Making a Profit from Small Businesses Part 2

Another blog about a large business making money from my own little enterprise. This time, the subject is Internet Service Providers.

I’ve had some very poor experiences with ISPs over the years. In the early years of the Internet the problems were largely due to teething difficulties – providers and customers didn’t really know what our respective roles were. But now, the issue seems to be the commercialisation of the World Wide Web.

My needs from a service provider are quite simple – I want a basic website, which I can tailor to suit. I want an easy interface (I’ve done enough years of coding), a basic shop where people can order books direct from me and the ability to link to other websites. It’s important that the website is available all the time (or nearly so) and that I can setup multiple email addresses.

The two ISPs I’ve used in recent years both offered all of this for a reasonable fee. Or so they claimed.

One useful way for companies to make money from small business customers is to keep taking money, whether we still want the service or not. I cancelled one package, as a consolidation exercise – just redirecting the URL to a page on my main website. I cancelled the package and, for good measure, didn’t update my credit card details. So the ISP couldn’t “accidentally” debit my card for a renewal, as they’d done before. The catch-all redirection of my URL was included in my registration and I redirected it myself.

For several months, there were intermittent problems with my emails being unavailable – and the best answer I got was that they were taking securities and the email was only down “briefly” at quiet times of the day. (Over an hour one morning, starting about 3am, while I was trying to work.)

Then a few months later, I had to update my credit card, to make payment for my main website package.

The ISP also took payment for my cancelled service and reinstated a four-year-old version of the website without telling me. The first thing I knew was a friend contacting me to say a link was broken. Not surprising, as the website it pointed to had closed down years before. I queried this and was told my cancellation was invalid – I went to check the service tickets I’d raised on their website and found about two-thirds had vanished. I never did get an explanation for this.

At about this time, a folder in my main email suddenly emptied, losing me a lot of important emails. I raised another ticket, requesting that my email be restored to the latest backup – only to be told that they don’t take backups any more. Except for their “premium” customers. Something that used to be included in the cheapest package is now only available for an additional cost. Apparently they’d notified users of this change in an email – but I tend to delete their marketing mailshots without reading. Don’t we all?

Their premium service is also necessary for anyone wishing to sell anything from their website, or have a contact form that works. This isn’t clear until someone tries to do something and the transaction / contact forms just don’t do anything. No error message to the customer or myself.

Another handy way to increase your profit margin – downgrade the service you’re providing, hoping the customer is too stupid / busy / trusting to notice. I was all three.

Not surprisingly, I will be migrating my custom to a new ISP in a few months, when my contract expires.

Total cost to date: £60 plus wasted time plus income lost through unchaseable invoices.

And from now on, I will check that renewing my ISP each year is still a good deal. The price may stay the same, but I no longer trust that what it’s buying covers my simple requirements.

After all, I have nothing better to do with my time than check that companies are being honest with me.

One more blog to come on this subject – and it’s a doozy!

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Making a Profit from Small Businesses Part 1

First blog in a short series of how companies are increasing their profits from small businesses. Specifically me – an independent author.

Yes, times are hard and everyone’s trying to keep themselves in business, but I have my suspicions that some of the methods used are not entirely ethical. Possibly not even legal.

Firstly, I send a lot of parcels, mainly individual books, to lots of destinations, including International ones. I’ve been known to walk into a branch of the Post Office with more than a dozen packages to post. Royal Mail may not be the cheapest way to post a small parcel, but they have been more reliable than other courier companies and going into the physical High Street shop means I get a free certificate of posting. I even make it simple for the staff by printing my own table of addresses, so they can write in the price for each and stamp it. I’ve done this for several years and the staff are used to me handing over this form.

They’re also used to my always saying, “Cheapest possible, please” as I place the package on their scales.

So I was surprised to notice they’d charged me for first class post for a package when I’d got the correct (second class) payment ready in my pocket.

I checked back through my paperwork and realised this has been going on for more than a year. During this time, I’d been served by various staff members so I suspect it’s standard practice in this Post Office. I can’t be sure when it started, as historical postage rates aren’t available in any way I can access them.

Now, this may sound petty. A “Large Letter Second Class” charge for one of my books should be £1.17 whilst the same parcel as “Large Letter First Class” is charged at £1.24. If it’s sent as a “Small Parcel”, this goes up to £2.80 and £3.20 for the respective classes of delivery and I’ve had to argue that my packages are small enough for the cheaper category. (All prices current in April 2014 and for UK delivery.)

Yes, it’s quite complicated, and I haven’t worked it out in detail – but I reckon a small amount has been added to the price of each book parcel I’ve posted for at least a year. (Most are small, single book orders, the price increase is more significant on the larger multi-book parcels.) Over the last year, I reckon I’ve been charged in excess of £10 more than I think I should have been. At a conservative estimate.

And that’s with me always requesting, “Cheapest possible, please”.

Not a lot of money perhaps, – but I’m trying to make a profit here, folks!

The sneaky thing is that I’ve been provided with the service I’ve paid for each time. It just happens to be more than I asked for.

The way the Post Office works, a label is printed out and affixed to each parcel after I’ve passed it across the screen-protected counter. I never get to see these labels – only the buyers see that I’ve sent them “First Class”.

I’m aware that the Post Office as a whole is going through hard times and that individual branches have to make a profit. But I feel this is the wrong way to go about it.

I now have different arrangements for posting my parcels.

And two more blogs to come on this subject.