Whether you’re just beginning, or have already gained some momentum with your business, these seven tips for starting a WISP are sure to put you on the path to success!
These tips are based on learnings from engaging with WISP owners and operators over the last five years. Moreover, this article 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 an abundance of experiential knowledge 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. Moreover, be decisive when it comes to choosing which areas your WISP will serve—and how you will go about serving them.
It’s important to have a concrete idea about exactly what you want to accomplish with your business, and how you are going to go about meeting those goals. Instead of just having the general goal of, “GROWTH, GROWTH, GROWTH,” ask yourself how you can realistically go about starting a WISP business.
This begins with considering what type of service you want to provide, and to whom. Will you strictly function as a fixed wireless ISP, or are you open to going the hybrid-ISP route by 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 will conduct your business.
Lastly, the structure of your WISP has huge implications for your business’ future. Making the decision between routing versus bridging your network, and understanding the implications of each option, will save you from encountering difficulties down the road. As JJ McGrath, CEO of TekWav, says, “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 headache, involved in carrying out recurring processes in your network. Moreover, never worry about tracking down, and managing services for, delinquent and non-paying customers again!
Whether you are your WISP’s sole employee, or have a team of staff behind you, it’s a shared feeling that there never seems to be enough hours in a day to finish everything that you have planned. This is where automation can help! Consider investing in automation services in order to ease your workload and 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 in order 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! Moreover, being able to monitor outages and easily troubleshoot issues related to poor internet not only leads to cost savings, but also 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
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype when everyone seems to be touting a piece of equipment, or a brand for that matter, as a “must-have.” As JJ McGrath says, “don’t just drink the vendor Kool-Aid.”
Facebook groups like WISP Talk are a valuable place to share knowledge and get information and recommendations on fixed wireless products. The same is true for reading through reviews from fellow WISPs in vendor forums. However, the best way to truly understand the value and effectiveness of various access technologies is to actually test them in your network. WISPs delivering service in different climates and geographical landscapes means that a certain product can provide a vastly different experience from one operator to the next.
While the easy route involves simply going with the product or brand that everyone seems to favor, you genuinely will not know how well the equipment works until you try it out for yourself. Instead of committing to a single brand or product line, 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. Indeed, having a firm understanding of your financials, levels of customer acquisition and churn, and market demand, is fundamental to starting a WISP.
Earlier, we discussed how important automation is for business growth. The fact is that these automation tools can also assist you in better managing your business metrics. WISP billing services 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, and becomes even more important when you want to start scaling your business. Without attracting new customers, quite simply, your business will not be able to grow! Understanding where there’s a market for your services will not only assist you in attracting new sales, but this knowledge can also enable you to acquire new sources of funding. Banks issuing loans, or government institutions dispersing grants, 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, which applies to any business, is your finances. Starting, and growing, a WISP is a very cash-intensive undertaking. As such, it is 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 will 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.
Recall those banks and government institutions we mentioned?
These same entities will expect that you understand the basics of your business finances before they dole out 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 will not only ensure that your financials are in order, but they will also enable you to invest your time and specialized knowledge into more relevant areas of your business.
Tip #5: Stick to the Marketing Basics
How are customers supposed to subscribe to your service if they have never heard of your company? The answer is—they won’t. While marketing is an essential part of any business, do not feel the need to go all-in if you are 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, and for good reason! These methods are relatively cheap, but effective, in promoting your WISP business. In fact, we even put together a list of 7 Proven WISP Marketing Tips to help WISPs supercharge their marketing strategy!
But 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 are serving smaller regions. As such, ensure that 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 in order to motivate others to do the same.
To help you with get your marketing efforts started, we’ve created some free, customizable door hanger templates!
Tip #6: Don’t Just Focus on Your Strengths
It’s important to not only focus on what you do well, but to also identify areas of weakness. After recognizing deficiencies in your business, your staff, or yourself, the next step involves making changes to correct them.
As the old adage goes, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This could not be more true than in the fixed wireless environment, where start-up 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 is necessary to reflect on where in your business improvements can be made. Susan G Myers, Co-founder and CEO of Eastern Caroline 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 better your business, and there may not always be an immediate fix to issues that arise. What is most important is that you put procedures in place to identify and resolve deficiencies before they turn into troublesome problems.
“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 go about acquiring this knowledge will impact your business in a variety of ways.
Do not underestimate the amount of specialized, technical knowledge that is required to operate in the WISP industry. Aside having the expertise to be able to physically build and manage your network, you also need the necessary know-how in order to run your business effectively.
But what can you do if you simply don’t know everything there is to know in order to successfully operate a WISP? One route to go down is to work with outside agencies and consultants. These external parties can help ensure that you are on the right track, and can assist you in developing strategies that will help you meet your goals. From technical consultants, to network management geeks, to WISP marketing pros and customer service call centers, there are many options to choose from in order to outsource some aspects of your WISP business.
Earlier we discussed how you can use the WISP Talk Facebook group to tap into a wealth of industry knowledge.
Indeed, the WISP community is full of owners and operators who are figuring it out as they go, just like you! In addition, 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! However, by making use of available resources and communities, you can work towards filling in your business’ knowledge gaps.
Learn even more tips about starting a WISP business!
Fill out the form below to watch a 40-minute discussion and Q&A featuring JJ McGrath and Susan G Myers on the topic of growing your WISP. Plus, you’ll also get access to 11 other expert-led sessions, for free!
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