Should your business be on the Net?
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Computer Player, June 1998
While the Internet has been in existence since the
early 1970s, it?s
somewhat surprising to realize that as a mass phenomenon, the Net is
in its fourth year. In the time, we?ve gotten (to paraphrase Carl
millions and millions of Web pages, ranging from government sites, to
corporations, to personal pages (hear my dog Koko bark at:
I recently gave a talk about the Internet at the
annual conference of
BC?s Council of Tourism Industries?I started off by asking the audience
to put up their hands to indicate their familiarity with the Internet.
As I?d expected, nearly everyone in the room had used e-mail and
the Web. I was surprised, however, at the response to my next query.
many of their tourism-related companies had Web sites?
I?d expected that perhaps a quarter or one third of
the group would
put up their hands?instead, over half indicated that they already had
for their businesses.
Should your business be on the Internet? If so, how
should they go about
getting onto the Web? If it?s already on the Net, how can you make your
site more effective?
Business use on the Web tends to fall into three
categories. Most sites
simply present information?the online equivalent of traditional
and catalogues. Other sites allow users to gain information that would
otherwise be done by phone or fax. Computer companies, for instance,
answers to technical support questions. Fedex allows customers to track
Electronic commerce has gotten the most publicity,
direct sales to consumers (even though business-to-business commerce
for the bulk of Net transactions). Dell Computers, with $3 million (US)
in daily sales, and Amazon Books are frequently cited as online success
Setting up a secure online sales site is
possible?paranoia about Net
security is overblown. However, up until now, it?s been too complicated
and costly for many small businesses to attempt. This is slowly
out http://email@example.com for example, to view Strategic
?Turnkey E-Commerce Business Solutions? and make a token $0.01
For now, however, most small businesses are most likely to offer
about themselves and their products online.
Despite appearances, putting your business onto the
Internet isn?t about
technology?it?s a business decision. And like other business decisions,
you?ll be most satisfied if you figure out to expect beforehand.
Surprisingly, you may find that your business is
online without your
even knowing it, particularly if you?re a member of a business
For example, I went looking for tourism information for the lovely
town of Sechelt, BC. I found listings of Bed and Breakfasts, for
on a page posted by the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce. B&Bs were also
listed as part of a more general Canadian B&B site. Both sites
brief descriptions and contact information, and included links to email
and Web pages set up by individual B&Bs where available.
For the most control over the information provided, of
business should have a Web page of its own. This raises the question of
how to design such a page and where to host it. In both cases, there
two ways to go?do it yourself, or hire a professional.
Like designing your own brochures, it?s become easier
and easier to
design your own Web site. A number of software packages, such as
FrontPage, Claris HomePage, Symantec VisualPage, and Adobe PageMill are
aimed at making it possible to work with Web page design without
your hands with actual HTML code. Microsoft Publisher 98 allows users
repurpose their brochures? content and design into their Web pages.
But many of us don?t have the time, energy, or skills
to design our
own. There are many Web designers for hire?some advertising in this
issue! When looking for a designer, look for someone you feel you can
with?you?re going to be collaborating on this. Look at work they?ve
for others, and try to talk to some customers. Be clear that you want
of the finished product?none of the code should belong to the designer.
Similarly, you could set up your own Web server and
host your own pages,
but you probably don?t want to. There are national (and
Web hosting services, or you may want to work with a local Internet
Provider. Some services may offer a complete package, including design
and hosting, as well as registering your domain name.
Most businesses will want to register a unique domain
name- it?s certainly
easier for potential customers to find you if your page is at
then if it?s located at www.yourserver.com/yourname.html. You can
between being registered with the US-based COM domain, or as part of
less-populated CA (for Canada, not California) domain. It?s easier,
and cheaper to get a CA domain name, but for many, the COM domain has
synonymous with the Internet, making such names easier to remember.
Be sure to spend some time online, looking especially
at what your competition
is doing. And even if higher speed Internet access is available
you, spend time browsing using a modem and a phone line, just like most
of your potential customers will. And keep that experience in mind?when
you?re going over your pages, your designer will show them running
from a computer?s drive, where everything will load quickly. Try
to get a sense of what the experience will like for a typical user.
Fancy graphics, animations, and video clips look great
in your office,
but take forever to appear on a home users? screen. And if a page takes
too long to appear, your potential customer is likely to click on the
button, and go to one of your competitors. Aim for a Web site that?s
appears quickly on screen, is clear to navigate, and offers the
customer the ability to do something. (For example, check out
the Vineyard at Bowen Island, BC for a site that?s simple and clear,
Once your site is posted, don?t neglect ways to bring
to it. Add its address to your business cards, letterhead, and
Submit its address to the major search engines, using keywords that
make sure it appears when potential customers search. (Check out
to simplify that process). Repeat every six months or so, as your site
sinks lower and lower in the search engine returns.
Most of us will find that posting a site on the Net
make your business explode. But it is a growing way to gain exposure to
customers?and if you?re not on the Net, rest assured that your