This is a crosspost from reddit, the original post including Q&A is here.
Patrick Allen and I started indesigner as side project about a year ago. We have built our niche in the home improvement professionals industry. As we both have other full-time jobs that prevents us from spending each day focusing on it, the inner-workings of indesigner have to be lean. The past year has taught me how long it takes to work out the kinks in a small business like this one. Although it is not a science, the company can currently be broken down into sales, operations, and IT/Support.
Let’s start with sales:
First off - what are we selling? Website design and development for $65/hr and premium Wordpress hosting for $29/month. No upfront cost, billed once a week, and a free 30 minute intro call with your personal assistant to get you quote on how many hours your project will take. Once you approve the quote, work gets started. Our average project so far is around $1900.
The sales process begins with a cold email to a person in the home improvement industry through their contact page like this one. We try to send 1,000 of emails a week but sometimes don’t because nurturing the leads the respond is hands-on and takes time. Note:We will usually serve Facebook ads to these leads for about a week before the first email, maximizing impressions so that they feel like they already know our brand when we first reach out. We believe this causes a significant jump in our open/click rates.
We use Close.io as a CRM. If someone responds to our first email with interest, we reply answering their question (requests for examples, pricing, etc), we mark them in the CRM and take notes accordingly.
Usually these potential customers need to be spoken to on the phone. Our goal here is to get them through the pipeline as soon as possible. To sign up, they must go to our website, enter their email, click “get started” then fill out a short form that includes their billing information.
The process up to this point can take anywhere from a couple of emails and 1 phone call to two months and four phone calls (about 5-10 minutes each) to get people comfortable taking the next step. As we send up to 1,000 emails week after week, the hands-on sales workload begins to build up.
We have also began to test some inbound marketing by using an evil popup on our website which converts well when we place Facebook ads against it (people enter their email to find out “7 things every interior designer or home improvement professional should know when building a new website" , but we still haven’t had anyone close from it yet.
Operations is next:
Our back end is a piece of custom software my much smarter technical cofounder built. We screen freelancers or freelance companies, negotiate hourly service prices, give them the lowdown on indesigner (a bunch of onboarding docs), then give them an indesigner email, phone number, and login to our dashboard (think uber for website design). Once they complete this process, they are a certified personal assistant.
Once a potential client closes by entering their credit card information they receive an email telling them to hang tight while we match them with a personal assistant based on their needs. All of our personal assistants then receive an email telling them that there is a project up for grabs on the back-end
A personal assistant can log in and claim the project by typing ACCEPT into a terms box that basically informs them they are taking on responsibility for this project from start to finish and that the moment they press enter, this email will be sent from their indesigner email account to the new client. Our back-end then populates a wordpress instance along with a live beta link where the project can be seen while it is worked on.
The personal assistant calls and emails the new client within 24hrs to schedule or jump right into the welcome call. During this call the client gets specific on what they are looking for and the PA gives them a range in hours for the project.
After project kickoff the PA logs and details hours on the back-end that are billed weekly to clients through freshbooks. Once a week the PA fills out an update for each project they are on until completion
Last but not least, IT and support:
Most support needed comes from the PAs to my technical cofounder. Whether its fixing a bug, editing an instance, or just messing around with our AWS config to solve problems - he makes sure everything is taken care of immediately so tha the PAs are never waiting on us / have no excuses if something goes awry.
IT and support also includes facilitating the movement of a client to us as a host, helping them point their domain, setting up their email through google apps or fixing their current email config, etc
And that is about it. My cofounder and I are both entrepreneurs at heart and love the idea of a bootstrapped, cashflow positive business with operational efficiency and a lean workload. However, we have come to understand how hard it can be. We also have a big vision in which our software/web app/mobile app becomes the easiest way for people to get paired up with someone verified (quality control) to work on their web or mobile app.
Here are our current hurdles. We are cashflow positive with $11,250 in revenue over the past 30 days, but feel as if stagnation is approaching. The sales process is burdensome. IT/Support is burdensome. We don’t have much money to hire a sales person - about $1,500/month + commission. We have tried working with a student, but its hard to find a good one, sales takes a while to onboard, and our current student has a co-op next semester. We want to work on inbound marketing but have trouble coming up with a concrete plan that feels right. If you made it this far, thank you for reading all of this and feel free to ask questions/offer any words of wisdom you may have!