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Getting Online: Six Steps for Small Business Owners

by 

Jeanette S. Cates, Ph.D.
The Technology Tamer™
 


Putting your business online is not as easy as everyone says it is. There are multiple decisions to make and questions to answer. Things like:

  • Do I need my own dot com?
  • How do I get it?
  • Should I create my own site?
  • Should I hire someone else to create it and how do I decide who to hire?
  • If I already have a site, how do I know if it's working?
  • How can I sell my products online?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How much should I pay to a web host?
  • What is a web host?

These are just some of the questions often asked as business owners explore the idea of creating a website. After all, everyone says you need a website - but where do you begin? Basically, there are six steps that everyone must go through when putting a business on the internet.

Focus

As with any business goal you need a focus for your website. You'll need to look at your business mission, your objective for putting up a website, and how it will relate to your current business. You'll need to know your audience and you have to decide on what content you want on the site. Then you'll want to arrange that content in a way that makes it easy to find. In short, you'll determine the focus for your website.

Design

One of the best ways to decide how you want your website to look is to look at other websites. You'll want to look at your competitors' sites, large corporate sites, and small business sites. As you're browsing, note the sites that you like. Print the page designs you like and put them in a folder. Make notes of the ways you navigate sites and what you like and don't like.

Capabilities

Based on the results of your focus and the designs you like, you will decide what special capabilities you want. For example, do you have products you want to sell online? Or do you just need to show a catalog of products because your customers are going to call or fax their orders? (There is a significant difference in cost.) If you want to provide a message beyond text, do you need to offer audio or video? Each of your decisions about capabilities impacts your budget.

Creation

How are you going to create your website? If you plan to create your own pages you will have to decide between learning HTML (the language web pages are written in) and learning a web creation software package. There are numerous software packages for this purpose. They range from free to $10 to $2000. On the other hand, you may decide to have someone else create the website. Again the cost can range from free (that famous brother-in-law) to $10,000. And then, you'll need to set some criteria for how to choose a website creator. In order to do this, you need to learn enough about website creation that you can make a wise decision.

In addition to creating your site, you need to find a service to host your website. This service could be the same one you use for your email (your ISP or internet service provider). However, a business site should reflect your level of professionalism and have a domain name. So in addition to finding a web host, you also need to register your domain name. Many times your web host will do that for you, free or for a small fee.

Maintenance

After you've put up your website you need to update it. Frequently and regularly. Don't make the mistake of thinking that once it's up it will remain static. Web visitors expect new content each time they come to your site. If they visit several times and don't find something new, they won't return. So the long-term survival of your site depends on a good maintenance plan. Again, we're back to that issue of who does the maintenance - you or your web designer? At what cost?

Both creation and maintenance impact the budget that you set for your website. At the low end you can use your current internet service provider to host your site and create your own pages either with a software program or a word processor. At the high end you can turn over all of the work to a web design service and pay thousands of dollars. In the affordable middle ground, you can plan to register a domain name, get help in designing and creating your site, find a low cost web host, then learn to maintain the site yourself. There are an infinite number of possibilities.

Promotion

In the early days of the worldwide web you could put up a website and anticipate a few people coming, just to see what you had. That is no longer true. There are thousands of new sites going up every week. In order to bring visitors (and buyers!) to your site, you need to promote your site. You'll want to register it with search engines. Add the website address to all of your print advertising, as well as you business card and stationery. Offer special reports and other reasons for coming to your site. Change your content often enough that people want to come back.

 

As you can see, getting online is not a simple process. It may be advertised as such, but there are hidden questions that you need to answer. Here are some suggestions:

1. Take a class or find a knowledgeable person who can answer your questions.

2. Start small. It is better to have a good small site than an unused large site.

3. Plan to grow. It is easier to understand all of the issues in creating and maintaining a website once you jump in and start doing it.

Regardless of how you do it, it is important for your business to be online. Use these six steps as the starting point, then grow from there.

About the Author

Dr. Jeanette S. Cates, The Technology Tamer, works with organizations who want to use their technology more profitably and with professionals who want to reduce their learning curve. She offers Blast into CyberSpace: A guide to planning your website in one day. This website planning course is available in a live seminar and as an online course.

© 1999 Permission is granted to reprint this article in print or on your web site so long as the paragraph above is included and contact information is provided to www.TechTamers.com.

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