Starting a WISP: 7 Tips to Help You Grow
Whether you’re just beginning, or already have some momentum with your business, we hope these seven tips will put you on the path to success!
These tips are based on what we’ve learned from our WISP customers over the last five years. This article also features insights from the WISP Virtual Summit session “0 to 1000+ Subscribers: Getting It Right.” In that session, JJ McGrath, CEO of TekWav, and Susan G Myers, CEO of Eastern Carolina Broadband, shared their vast experience with up-and-coming WISPs.
So get ready to learn all about how how to grow your Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) business like a pro! Avoid common pitfalls while finding new opportunities to grow. Read on and see how to make your subscriber count soar!
Tip #1: Begin with the End in Mind
Make a plan with your long-term and short-term goals in mind. Be decisive when it comes to choosing which areas your WISP will serve and how you’ll go about serving them.
It’s important to have a concrete idea about what you want to accomplish with your business, and how you’re going to meet those goals. Ask yourself how you can realistically go about starting a WISP business.
This begins with considering what type of services you want to provide, and to whom. Will you be a fixed wireless ISP or are you open to considering other access technologies, such as fiber? The next question to ask yourself is what customer base you want to serve. The two main segments are business and residential, each requiring a different approach to how you’ll conduct your business.
Lastly, the structure of your WISP has huge implications for the future of your business. Making the decision between routing versus bridging your network, and understanding the implications of each option, will save you from difficulties down the road. Consider the example of JJ McGrath from TekWav. He said that “from the very beginning, I’ve had a routed network. It has done wonders for us to stay in that routed mode, and now we can keep layering on advanced LTE services.”
Tip #2: Invest in Automation
Save yourself the time and headaches of recurring processes in your network. Remove the worry of tracking down and managing services for delinquent and non-paying customers.
No matter what size your business is, there never seems to be enough hours in a day to finish everything you’ve planned. This is where automation can help. Consider investing in automation services in order to ease your workload. That way, you can apply your energy to areas of your business that need it the most.
WISP owners and operators typically invest in an automated WISP billing system—and for good reason! Being able to track customer payments and automatically turn off service for non-paying customers is indispensable.
Likewise, many WISP businesses also choose to automate their network monitoring to save time and money. Quality of Experience (QoE) Monitoring and Optimization services, like Preseem, can automatically enforce subscriber bandwidth limits and show you the real-time status of towers, access points, and subscribers. Also, being able to monitor outages and easily troubleshoot issues related to poor internet leads to cost savings and happier customers!
“Growing an Internet business is a cash-intensive business. The money you get coming in should be going right around and growing the network over and over again.”
Founder and CEO, TekWav
Tip #3: Buy and Try Equipment as Much as Possible
Don’t get caught up in the hype when everyone seems to be touting a piece of equipment as a “must-have.”
Facebook groups like WISP Talk are a valuable place to share knowledge and get recommendations on fixed wireless products. Vendor reviews can also be helpful. However, the best way to understand the effectiveness of various access technologies is to test them in your network. Because WISPs operate in different climates and landscapes, products can provide a vastly different experience from one business to the next.
While it’s understandable to go with a recognizable product or brand, you won’t know how well the equipment works until you try it yourself. Instead of committing to a single brand, buy from multiple vendors in small quantities and test the results for yourself! From Cambium and Ubiquiti, to Mimosa, Mikrotik, Baicells, and Ericsson, you have options—so make use of them!
Tip #4: Know Your Numbers
Knowing your stats is not just limited to understanding how your network equipment is performing. Having a firm understanding of your financials, levels of customer acquisition and churn, and market demand, is also fundamental to starting a WISP.
Earlier, we discussed how important automation is for business growth. These automation tools can also assist you in better managing your business metrics. WISP billing systems can help you keep track of customer growth and churn, while network monitoring platforms, such as Preseem, can tell you how well your network equipment is performing.
Additionally, knowing where demand for your services lies is essential in starting a WISP. This becomes even more important when you want to start scaling your business. Without attracting new customers, your business won’t be able to grow! Understanding your market can also help you get new sources of funding. Banks or government institutions will want to see that your business is viable for the long-term. Being able to demonstrate where you see current and future demand for your services is a must!
Lastly, one of the most important metrics to focus on is your finances. Starting a WISP and scaling it is a very cash-intensive process. As such, it’s imperative that you have a firm understanding of your finances. The more accurate you are in reporting your expenses and liabilities, the better equipped you’ll be to find ways to spend less and save more! This has the added benefit of also leaving you with more funds to reinvest in your business.
Remember those banks and government institutions we mentioned?
They’ll also expect that you understand the basics of your business finances before they issue any funding. As a result, read up on key concepts such as profit and loss statements and a statement of cashflows. Furthermore, understand that having a WISP billing system is not the same as having an accountant—especially for tax purposes! One of the best investments you can make for your WISP business is in an accountant/bookkeeper. They’ll ensure that your financials are in order and allow you to invest your time elsewhere in your business.
Tip #5: Stick to Marketing Basics
Customers can’t subscribe to your service if they’ve never heard of you. Marketing is an essential part of any business, but don’t feel the need to go all-in if you’re just starting out. Stick with a few basic marketing strategies which you can then expand upon as your WISP business grows!
Yard signs, door hangers, social media, and word of mouth advertising are all staples of WISP marketing. These methods are an effective and relatively inexpensive way to promote your WISP business. In fact, we even put together a list of 7 Proven WISP Marketing Tips to help WISPs supercharge their marketing strategy!
Aside from promoting your business, another key aspect of marketing your WISP involves community management. Staying on top of customer reviews, especially if you receive negative ones, goes a long way. Word travels fast, especially if you’re serving smaller regions. As such, ensure you have a plan in place for public-facing customer interactions and reviews. Encourage your team to respond to criticism with empathy and understanding. Furthermore, ensure that customers are acknowledged when they give positive feedback.
Tip #6: Don’t Just Focus on Your Strengths
As well as focusing on what you do well, it’s important to also identify areas of weakness. After recognizing deficiencies in your business, the next step is making changes to correct them.
As the old saying goes, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This is true in the fixed wireless industry, where startup costs are high and the margin for failure is thin.
As a small business, it’s important to cut your losses as quickly as possible. This is why it’s necessary to reflect on where business improvements can be made. Susan G. Myers, co-founder and CEO of Eastern Carolina Broadband, shares the following process:
- Identify your weakest link(s)
- Fix or fire your weakest link(s)
- Go back to Step 1 and repeat the process
This process of continual improvement will put your WISP on the fast-track to success. Of course, there will always be ways to improve your business, and there may not always be an immediate fix for every issue. What’s most important is that you put procedures in place to identify and resolve problems before they start hurting you.
“Often we are so concerned about what makes us great, that we forget about what makes us weak. The weak parts are going to hamper your growth and keep you from gaining traction.”
Susan G Myers
Co-founder and CEO, Eastern Carolina Broadband
Tip #7: Recognize that the WISP Industry is Specialized
Starting a WISP requires a lot of specialized knowledge. How you decide to acquire this knowledge will impact your business in a variety of ways.
Don’t underestimate the amount of technical knowledge that’s required to operate in the WISP industry. Aside from having the expertise to physically build and manage your network, you also need to know how to run your business well.
But what can you do if you simply “don’t know what you don’t know?” One option is to work with consultants. They can help ensure that you’re on the right track to meeting your goals. From technical consultants to WISP marketing pros, there are many options to help you grow your business.
Earlier we discussed how you can use the WISP Talk group to tap into industry knowledge.
The WISP community is full of people figuring it out as they go, just like you! There’s also WISPA, the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association. WISPA is the leading voice of the fixed wireless broadband industry, providing opportunities for WISPs to learn from one another.
So yes, the WISP industry definitely is very specialized! By making use of available resources and communities, however, you can work toward filling in your knowledge gaps.