A reseller account is a standard business account that has been marked as a reseller, and is then able to create sub-businesses.
The main use for reseller accounts is for small IT support firms that manage the IT infrastructure of other small firms, but don't want to run their own email servers.
Consider Jims Legal Services, a small firm of 6 lawyers. As with all small firms these days, they need a good IT infrastructure. Each employee has a computer, which they connect to on a local network with a printer, and of course everyone needs an email address.
Rather than employing a fulltime IT person, Jims outsources their IT needs to a local IT firm, Andrews IT Management. Whenever they need anything IT related done, they call Andrews who do the work and then bill them for time and materials.
Since Andrews runs all the IT infrastructure for Jims, that includes supplying them with fast, reliable, spam free email. Rather than Andrews running their own email servers, they outsource to FastMail to provide the email service.
FastMail charges the usual amount for business accounts. Since Andrews is doing all the management of accounts (creating new accounts when new employees arrive, setting up email clients on new computers, etc), when the setup the sub-business, they just mark it so the parent business (Andrews) is billed for everything. They then on charge Jims for the email accounts with their own mark up added. The overall cost of email ends up being small compared with other time and materials based IT work.
Because Andrews manages everything, they don't give access to the management interface to Jims at all. Whenever Jims needs any changes done (eg new employee, upgrade storage space, etc), they call Andrews and they do the work for them, and bill as appropriate.
Alternatively it's also possible when setting up a resold business to bill another credit card for that business. In that case, Andrews could tell Jims, "Give us your credit card and we'll setup your account at FastMail. We'll give you access to the FastMail management interface so you can create/delete/upgrade accounts at will. This keeps your costs down. If you need any help, you can call us, and we'll charge our usual hourly rate to help you."
So to summarise, there's two general modes this operates in:
- Bill parent business. In this case, you do all the management work, and don't give access to the masteruser account to the sub-business at all, they call you to do anything and you charge them at your hourly rate to do that management work, and charge them for the accounts with your own markup.
- Bill sub-business. In this case, any changes bill their credit card directly, so you can give them access to the masteruser account to do their own upgrades/downgrades. This reduces your work, but you can't make any profit on the accounts. If they need help, they call you and you invoice them separately at your own hourly rate.
So the first step to being a reseller is that you create a business account for yourself, and then we mark your account as a reseller account, and you can create sub-businesses and manage those sub-businesses from the one screen.
So this is designed for businesses that manage the IT infrastructure of a number of other businesses and want to keep each business logically separated but be able to manage them all from one place.
The advantages of this over putting all accounts into one business are:
Each business gets a separate billing cycle, so when a new business comes along, you don't have to worry about being half way through a billing cycle
Each business has a separate name, user list, domains list, aliases list, distribution lists, global address book, etc. This allows you to keep each business nicely separated from each other
Because each business has a separate name, you can direct each business to their customised "Business login" screen
There's no extra cost in being a reseller, it's just the cost of the businesses + accounts you create. It just makes managing multiple businesses easier.
However, this does raise one potential issue about how customers are billed.
We did do a survey of customers when we were developing features, and we found that in the majority of cases, the resellers were actually paying for the accounts themselves, and then invoicing their sub-business customers separately. Basically, they would bill for the email accounts (plus a margin) and extra time and work they did (e.g., network setup, webpage design, etc.) and create one final invoice for the customer.
Of course, not everyone does it that way, but we had to decide on some billing system design limits, and so went with what the majority in our survey said they did and didn't add the ability to set separate prices and margins for sub-businesses.
Instead, we just made it so, when you create a sub-business, you can decide if the sub-business should have its own billing details, or if the parent business should be billed so CC details only need to be in one place.