Anyone in the search engine industry has heard of WebPosition Gold, which was created by Brent Winters and his company, FirstPlace Software. No one can dispute the success of WebPosition. Brent and his team had a handle on the industry and on his target audience, and he gave us all what we wanted in his software.

After he sold the software in 2004, Brent and his support team disappeared to work on their next project. This project is finally ready to be released to the world.

I'll let Brent tell you about this revolutionary software, SureTime.

Increasing SEM Client Revenues through Billing Assurance

By Brent Winters

Those of you who have read MarketPosition for years may remember me as the original author of WebPosition and the MarketPosition newsletter from 1997 to 2004 until it was acquired by NetIQ/WebTrends. I'm pleased to be invited back to bring you the inside track on a how to improve your search engine marketing client revenues through an innovative new concept called billing assurance.

Winning any new client demands you first establish credibility and trust with your prospect. However, regardless of the degree of professionalism you portray, when the work is to be conducted away from the client's site as is typically the case in the SEM/SEO business, the client's first thought is "How can I really know that I'm not going to be over-billed for services if I'm billed by the hour?"

The fundamental problem with hourly billing, particularly for off-site services, is that the client traditionally has had no way to authenticate the accuracy of the time being invoiced. When you have an employee working in your office, at least you know when he or she came to work and when they left. When you're hiring off-site consultants or even employees telecommuting from home, they could easily pad a time sheet or invoice by 20%-30% or more and you'd never know.

Consequently, many SEM businesses are forced to provide services on a fixed bid per month, or based on the number of positions or clicks achieved. While this arrangement can work well for some projects, many times a simple hourly rate arrangement would be far more appropriate and expedient for some services. Hourly rates can also be great to provide extra services, support, or consulting on an "as needed" basis without drawing up new contracts or bids each time.

The problem is that clients have no real level of billing assurance for off-site work and consequently will tend to avoid or minimize purchases of hourly services. Even with fixed pricing the client often wonders if you're really investing the time you say to justify the fee you charge. Clients often explore other options first like hiring in-house, or limit their purchases to those based solely on result based metrics. Or worse, they'll hire your larger, better known competitor in the hopes that will give them the peace of mind they seek.

There's no question that the lack of billing assurance artificially limits service-based revenues. Not only that, despite rising gasoline prices, the lack of billing authentication tends to limit a company's ability to allow its own employees or subcontractors to telecommute, even part-time.

To address these problems, First Guarantee has recently introduced the world's first billing assurance software product called SureTime. Running as a toolbar on the user's computer, SureTime tracks billable time while also recording the associated computer activity. Traditional time-keeping products require the user to manually enter the time being billed. Ultimately, the person can enter and bill whatever they wish, and the client knows this.

In contrast, SureTime creates a tamper-proof encrypted log file that automatically records the time spent per application, document, or web page. All activities can be tagged to a client, project, or task in real-time. While SureTime logs the titles of the windows you open and the number of keystrokes, it does not record logins, passwords, or the actual text you typed.

Your privacy is further protected as you can disable logging for any non-billable activities. In addition, you can easily filter out any activity that does not apply to a client before emailing them a log with your invoice. The client can then open the log with the free SureTime Reporter application to verify that they've been billed accurately. This can provide your client with the peace of mind and confidence that they'd not otherwise have. This can help in growing loyalty towards your company and in encouraging the purchase of additional services.

Time keeping is much easier with SureTime's real-time system when compared to traditional solutions. For example, you can automatically bill time to a client, project, or task based upon the application or document that you open. Therefore, every time you open a web page or document in the "Smith" folder, for example, the amount of time you spend in that document can be automatically billed to the Smith Project.

In addition, when you leave your computer and come back, SureTime will prompt you to categorize the amount of time you were away. That way you don't have to remember how long you were at lunch, in a meeting, or on the phone with a client. Therefore, off-computer activities can be logged as easily as computer-based activity.

Learn more about SureTime and how your business can become billing assurance certified at www.suretime.com.

Brent Winters is the CEO and Founder of First Guarantee, Inc., previously known as FirstPlace Software. Brent was both the chief architect behind WebPosition Gold, the first product to track and to help you improve your search engine rankings, and the author of the MarketPosition newsletter. With over half of its workforce routinely operating off-site, Brent became an expert in SEO along with the benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting, thereby spurring the development of SureTime the world's first billing assurance software.

Note from Robin Nobles:

The potential of this program is amazing. Not only does it give you the accurate amount of time you spend on client accounts for the client's piece of mind, but it makes sure you're not under billing.

Plus, it serves as a time management advisor who walks beside you, keeping track of your time with each key stroke. If you're having a difficult time with time management and not able to get your work done, try this program. Maybe you're spending too much time on tasks that could be delegated, or maybe you're wasting time on phone calls that end up being non-business-related. With this little unobtrusive toolbar on your screen, you're much more cognizant of how your time is being spent.

The program is in beta at the current time, and you can download a trial version and test it out: http://www.suretime.com. You won't be sorry you did.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.


October 13, 2006





Robin Nobles is the Co-Director of Training of Search Engine Workshops, where they teach "hands on" search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe. They also provide a networking community for SEOs called The World Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers and have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK.








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