Host Your Friends’ Websites for Fun and Profit! A Reseller Account Video Tutorial

A little over two years ago, I signed up for a reseller account with HostingZoom and I’m very glad I did.  I don’t host very many sites, but the ones I do host pay for my own sites, as well as some non-profit sites that I host for free.  Not only this, but my friends are getting a better price for the same service than they normally would with their own shared account.  Confused?  Too good to be true?  I’ll explain step-by-step how to host websites using WebHost Manger (WHM) and cPanel software available from most webhosting companies that offer reseller plans. (Video tutorial included) This article assumes you already know what a little bit about web hosting.  For example:

  • You have set up a website once or twice before on a web server
  • You have used cPanel
  • You know what a domain name is, and how to buy one

If all of these statements are true, then there is no reason you can’t sell hosting packages to your friends, family and clients.  Follow the steps below, and view the video to get a solid idea of how this is done.

Find a Reseller Account

Probably the most difficult step is finding a decent company with a good reseller program.  Many webhosts offer reseller programs that simply offer you packages at a discount, and allow you to mark up each package you sell.  This is not correct.  A decent reseller program will be one flat rate per month for an unlimited amount of sites. There are dozens of web hosting companies that offer reseller plans.  When choosing a host, the most important part is to find an established company that has been in business for several years, and offers top notch support.  Do not underestimate the importance of support.  Only choose a company that offers the following support options:

  • Telephone Support – Hiring people to talk on the phone is expensive.  A company with phone support is serious.
  • 24/7 Helpdesk – If your site is on the fritz at 3am, you don’t want to wait to find out what the problem might be.
  • End user support – This is important.  End user support means that the hosting company will answer support questions for your customers! This is crucial.  If you set up a website for one of your friends, do you want them calling you at 9pm on a Friday night because they can’t remember their cPanel password? No, give them a support email address and they can open a ticket that will be handled by your hosting company.

Once you’ve found a good, reliable company after doing your homework and comparing costs and features, go ahead and sign up.  I’m not going to list decent prices here, because hosting packages are constantly getting less and less expensive, and deals change by the day.  You’ll need to do some legwork on your own to find the best price. For the purpose of this tutorial, I will be using examples from the company I currently use, HostingZoom.  They have a standard WHM/cPanel setup and many prices and packages to choose from.  Some other companies have customized control panels (such as fasthosts.com).  These may be easier, and offer more or less flexibility.  The only real way to judge is try it for yourself (hopefully with a demo or free trial).

Sign Up For a Reseller Account

For demonstration purposes, I’ll be using ResellerZoom as a reference for this tutorial, although any company that uses Webhost Manager and cPanel (WHM/cPanel) will likely be the same.  If you look at the ResellerZoom site, you will see 6 different plans.   Most companies will offer similar plans.  I avoid Windows because most software I use (WordPress and Drupal) run best on linux, and Windows is often more expensive.  Also, take note that the Budget Reseller plan does not include end-user support or billing software, so that plan is to be avoided.  I chose the Advanced Resller plan because it was cost effective, and at the time the Failover plan was not available.  I may switch to the Failover plan soon, however, to provide increased reliability to myself and my friends.

You’ll likely have to prepay for a few months to get the advertised rate.  I go in 3 month increments.  This gets me a good deal, but doesn’t lock me into a long contract, so if something should go wrong, I can switch companies without losing too much money.

Upon signing up, you will likely recieve an email detailing all the login information.  This will be similar to the information you received when signing up for a normal hosting account, with a few extra bits – namely, the login info for WHM.  There might also be some info regarding custom nameservers and ClientExec or WHMCS, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Log into WHM

Once your account is active, go to http://yoursite.com/whm (or whatever is detailed in your activation email).  You will be prompted for a login and password. You’ll be greeted by a screen similar to the one below.  Don’t worry, it looks daunting, but many of these features you don’t need to bother with.  We’ll start simple, and work our way up from there.

Create a package in WHM

The first step is to create a package.  A hosting package specifies a disk quota, bandwidth quota and a few other specifics that will be set for your clients.  For small websites such as blogs and personal sites, a gigabyte or two of diskspace is usually more than enough.  This will store thousands of photos, hundreds of music files and a handful of video (although I highly suggest using a video hosting site such as YouTube or Vimeo rather than just uploading video files to a website, if possible). Setting bandwidth can be tricky, as you need to predict how much web traffic a site might be getting.  A small website with a few pages, or a personal blog with a few dozen visitors will use a very minimal amount of bandwidth.  Sites with more complex features, such as flash, music/video downloads, file downloads and other large items will use up bandwidth quickly.  Since this article is geared towards hosting sites for friends and family, we don’t need to worry about exceeding bandwidth very often.  Just in case though, try to encourage people to use sites like Flickr and Picasa to host images, and YouTube and Vimeo to host video, and embed them rather than upload them to their sites.  Always find out what happens if your bandwidth is exceeded.  Some disreputable companies will cancel your account if you exceed the allotted bandwith, while most companies have simple overage charges (like the cell phone companies) if you go over. The rest of the settings, such as Max (FTP, Email, etc…) Accounts, and Max Domains can be set at unlimited (unless restricted by your hosting company).  If you have a friend that needs dozens of FTP accounts or sub-domains, he or she should probably get their own reseller account.  Turn on FrontPage extensions and CGI just in case they are needed, and set the cPanel theme to x3 (the latest greatest, in my opinion). Click the Add button, and you should get a nice message saying the package was added successfully.

Create accounts for friends/family

Now comes the fun part – setting up the individual hosting accounts.  Each of your friends/clients needs their own account.  Start by clicking the Create a New Account link under Account Functions.  Type in the domain name for the website.  The domain name does not need to be purchased, but must be registered elsewhere for the site to become fully active (there is way to access the site before the domain name is registered, and I’ll go over it soon).  Domains can be registered at GoDaddy or name.com for about $10. The username must be 8 letters, and also must be unique to the server that you are on.  If you get an error message, it means someone else on your server already has that username.  WHM will suggest a username based on your domain name. It’s best to stick with that one unless you need something else.  Then pick a nice, safe password (lots of letters, numbers, and valid symbols). Type the email address of your friend/client in the Email field.  This address will receive notifications generated by WHM and cPanel. In the Package section, choose the package that you just created.  This will specify how much space and bandwidth can be used, as well as how many ftp, mysql, domain, etc… accounts they can have.  If you need to tweak anything, click the Select Options Manually box. The Settings section should be changed automatically based on the package you created.  Under DNS Settings check the box that says Use the nameservers specified at the Domain’s Registrar.  This will ensure that GoDaddy or name.com.  Make note of the nameservers, such as ns1.hostingco.com, as this information will be needed by your friend later. Click the Create button, and you’ll be greeted with a big screen full of text…

Send the Details

After creating the account, you’ll be brought to a page full of text.  There will be a section enclosed in a box with the title, New Account Info.  Copy the information in this box and paste it into an email to send to your friend/client.   The rest of the stuff isn’t really that important. You’ll also want to note the cpanel login location, and FTP information.  cPanel can be reached at http://clientdomain.com/cpanel  where clientdomain.com is the domain name of your friend/client.  The FTP address is simply clientdomain.com at port 21.  For cPanel and FTP, the username and password are the specified in the account information.

Set the Nameservers

In order for the site to be online, you’ll need to change the nameserver entries where the domain was registered.  If you registered at GoDaddy you can view the tutorial here. At name.com the information is here.  Usually it just takes a few minutes for these settings to go into affect, but it can take up to 48 hours for the domain to propogate throughout the entire internet.

You’re All Set!

Once the domain has propogated, that’s it!  You friend, grandma, second cousin, office buddy, or whomever now has their own shared hosting account thanks to you!  You can arrange to bill them whenever you like, or just share the space out of the goodness of your heart.  Additional help for WHM is usually provided by your hosting company.  ResellerZoom provides a number of instructional videos, or you can try the official WHM manuals. In a future post, I’ll show you how to use ClientExec to automate account setup and billing, so your friends can sign up themselves and automatically recieve their account information and first invoice via email, without you touching a thing! Neat!

Sale! $7.49 .com at Go Daddy GoDaddy.com 120x60

A Self Hosted Career Blog in 10 Easy Steps

It’s been said that blogging is an essential step for boosting your career prospects these days.  It can be a supplement to your resume, a good way to keep in touch with folks in your industry, a way to tout your knowledge, or gain deeper insight into topics you (think you) know about.  Business minded people say blogging is a way to ‘brand’ yourself, or market yourself to employers, clients, partners, friends, or whomever.  Whatever the reason, I decided that I needed a career blog.  If you make the same decision, here’s an easy way to get started…

  1. Make a list of your favorite blogs (at least 5) related to your career. Read these often to get inspiration, and to see how blogging is done.  You can see a few of my fav’s in my Blogroll.
  2. Learn about career blogging. Penelope Trunk offers some great advice and reasoning for starting a blog.  Dan Schwabel is a proven ‘self-promoter’ and recommends blogging as an essential career tool.  I saw Dan speak in person in Boston, and although I think his technical ability is a bit lacking, he definitely knows his stuff when it comes to self promotion and personal branding. His entire website has plenty of useful tidbits to think about when promoting yourself online.  Also, there is a free eBook from Rockable Press called, Rockstar Personal Branding that is worth checking out.
  3. Pick a name. Buy that domain. You’ll need an address for your blog.  Forget about free blogs like eric.blogspot.com or ect203093.wordpress.com – they are as unprofessional as you can get.  At the very least, you’ll want firstnamelastname.com, and perhaps .net, .us, and .org as well.  There’s much to think about when buying a domain name (or names), so check here, here and here for some useful advice.  Once you decide on a name, go to a registrar and buy it!  I’ve used name.com and GoDaddy to register domains.  They are both about the same price, and have similar features.  GoDaddy has pretty good telephone support, and you can click here to save 10% at GoDaddy.com.
  4. Get a web hosting account. Websites live on web servers.  For a small website, you generally want to rent a small portion of a server for your website.  This is called ‘shared hosting’.  You pay a small amount per month for a certain amount of space, bandwitdth, and software on a professionally configured web server.  I recommend HostingZoom (I’ve used them for years).  I’ve also had good experience with Dreamhost, and heard good things about Lunarpages, Bluehost, and HostGator.  Go to one of these sites and sign up for their basic linux plan.  They all have Fantastico, which easily allows you to install WordPress (among many other great webapps).
  5. Learn about WordPress and install it. After you sign up for hosting, log in to your web host account’s Control Panel (cPanel). Find the Fantastico Icon, click it, then follow the onscreen prompts to install the latest version of WordPress.  Here’s a easy video that shows you how, and here’s a more comprehensive video.  If you’re wondering why you need to buy all this stuff just to use wordpress instead of using wordpress.com, the answer is freedom and flexibility.  With wordpress.com and other free blogging sites, you are limited in what you can post, the plugins you want to install, and features you can use.  You often have to pay extra for ‘upgrades’ such as a custom domain name, and widgets for your blog.  With your own hosted installation of WordPress, the sky’s the limit!
  6. Get a new theme.
    1. Find a theme and download it. Tons of free themes are listed on wordpress.org. Find one to your liking, and click the download button.
    2. Learn to use FTP. An FTP program will transfer files from your computer to your web server (which is where your website lives).  Download FileZilla if you don’t have it already – it’s a free and open source FTP program for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  Type your site name in the “Host:” box, then your username and password in their respective boxes, and use Port: 21, then click the Quickconnect button.  You should connect to your web server and be able to see all the folders and files.
    3. Install your new theme. You must copy the new theme’s folder to /wp-content/themes/ on your web server, then activate the theme from your WordPress administration menu (click “Design” then “Themes”).
    4. Watch this video if you need help.
  7. Write an About page, 2-5 posts to publish immediately, and another 2-3 posts for the coming week (or two). Start by brainstorming a few blog posts about related to you and your work.  A mindmapping tool can be a big help, or just use good ol’ pen and paper.  Come up with a few posts before you publish any.  A blog with only one or two posts will not garner any readers or impress anyone, so make sure you start with at least five.  Type out the posts in WordPress, save them, put leave them as ‘unpublished’ until you are ready to unveil your blog.
  8. Be confident in your ability to proofread, or have a friend to edit your first few posts. A blog that is impossible to read won’t be read.  Use spellcheck, common sense, proper grammar, and spellcheck again.  If all else fails and you are convinced your articles are terrible, hire a copywriter on elance to proofread your work (more on this later).
  9. Post your content! Set the “Publish Status” of all your posts to ‘published’ and you are on your way! Tell all your friends and family about your blog and spread the word.  Don’t forget to write 1-2 posts per week until you become way to busy with all the new work you’ll be getting, or become a professional blogger and start posting every day.
  10. Share your content! The blog isn’t going to do much good if nobody sees it.  Let friends, family and co-workers know about your new site.  You can try the Wordbook plugin to automatically update your Facebook mini-feed with your blog posts.  The Sociable plugin is good as well. It allows you to put all those nifty little Web2.0 icons on your blog so your readers can share your posts on Digg, Twitter, Technorati, del.icio.us, and many others.  Be sure to take some advice from the pros on how to promote your blog around the internet. Remember those favorite blogs from step 1?  Engage with the authors, comment on their posts, link to their interesting posts, and maybe someday they’ll mention you on their blog. It takes time, but almost certainly gets people viewing your posts.

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