The number one question to ask when starting a business, whether on the Web or in a traditional setting, is why would people want to buy the product or service.
Somewhere in the world, one can find people selling anything so why would people come to you? Are you selling something unique, do you make or market something that no one can find anywhere else or would find it almost impossible to find elsewhere? Do you sell your product at a lower price then anyone else? Maybe your prices are competitive with other businesses but you offer superior service. Perhaps you have the ability to offer unique services that no one else can or will duplicate. Do you have some other advantage over other companies? The next thing to consider once you have settled on a product or service to market is a name. Names are very important especially when starting a business on the Internet.
The Web address or URL (Universal Resource Locator) of a Web page is an important part of becoming a popular place for surfers to shop. There are two ways in which an URL for a business Web page can de done: registering you own second level domain or being listed under some one else’s domain name. A URL is made of several parts. First, there is the root level domain: com, org, net, tm.
The root level domain can be many things; com, org, and net are the only root level domain names not associated with a two-letter country code. Any other domain name will be associated with a country: us, United States; de, Germany; tm, Turkmenistan. Some business names will lend themselves to easily become a second level domain name, that is the name before the root level domain name. Major brand names are easy to do such as www.
When people look on the Web for a certain company it is easy to try www.companyname.com but what should one type when the company name is Bob’s House of Flowering Plants? That is why one should choose easily remembered or recognized Web addresses. Since thousands of second level domains have already been taken, it may be easier to find what names are available and then choose the name of the business from the available choices.
To find out if a particular com, org, or net second level domain name has been registered, go to Internic (www.internic.com ). If you decide not to register your own domain name you can havea listing under someone else’s domain.
This can happen in one of three ways: as a third or higher level domain name, as a subdirectory on a domain, or as a user account on a domain name. Typically smaller business with less money to spend on Web housing will opt for one of these three choices. Many surfers will believe that a company that does not have it’s own domain name to be cheap and small time. Examples of being listed under someone else’s domain name can look like this: www.
com, and www.hostcompany.com/yourcompany. Now that you have decided on what type of Web address you will have, you must decide where the files that make up your Web page will be stored.
Again there are several choices. The most common method is to pay someone else who has computers connected to the Internet to host your Web pages on one of their computers. The second and third methods involve purchasing equipment. In the first of these two choices you buy a computer and have it housed at a business that is connected to the Internet.
In this arrangement you have total control of the Web site and the computer on which the files are hosted. The last and most expensive options is to have a dedicated Internet connection run to your business and install the servers needed to not only host the Web page but also manage many other operations that must take place in order to run your own Internet connection. Only large companies or individuals starting Internet service companies can achieve this option. There are many companies on the Internet that offer Web hosting, all one needs to do is search.
One of the best ways to find a reliable hosting company is to surf the ‘Net to find a page that always downloads quickly and is never out of service. Find which company provides their Web hosting and see if it is affordable. Web server housing should only be purchased by individuals with experience in Web servers or those willing to pay to have someone else manage the server. This option is one that most people will not find appealing.
The next decision is what should be offered on the Web page. Many different things regarding a business can be put on the Web page. Should the page list all the products offered? Will the page detail descriptions of all products, only the names, or something else? Some design choices should be made deciding how items will be sold. If items will be sold online, there are several ways to accomplish this.
They fall into two basic categories, those requiring user interaction and those that are completely automatic. User interactive systems can include Web-based forms and email links. With a Web-based form, a user indicates the items desired and other ordering information. When the user is finished the information is forwarded to an account representative who keys information into the ordering system just as they would if they were taking orders over the phone or by fax.
The second type of online system is one in which the person completes the online order from and the server takes the information given and automatically enters the data in the ordering system. This method can also do automatic creditcard verification and billing. The only time a person is involved with this system is when the order is shipped. One thing to consider when doing forms online with either the automatic system or user interactive system is security.
Is the information encrypted before it is sent through the Internet? Many Web hosting services offer secure severs for a small additional fee. Other forms of product ordering include having a person send an email to a sales representative. As in the user interactive system used in forms, the representative must again key the order into theentry system. More traditional forms of ordering can also be used, including phone operators, fax and regular mail.
The initial setup fee may be higher for a fully automatic ordering system but the recurring fees will be significantly less then that of user interactive systems. A mix of traditional and automatic systems is most likely the best configuration and will allow people who are uncertain of purchasing items online a way of obtaining your products. Now that you have a product to sell, a method of selling them, a Web address, and a place to store your Web page, you must create the pages. Web pages can be simple or very complex.
What yours will be depends on the things you would like to do with it. If you decided to have fully automatic ordering system, your Web page will be more complex than a page that just lists the products and a phone number or email address for customers to contact. Those who decide to have a complex system of Web pages offering many options will find professionally designed pages to be the simplest solution. One should focus on the business’ core competencies.
Unless your business is offering Web page services, you will want to stick with selling your products and not spending time designing and maintaining the complex Web pages. If you chose to design your own page, there are many applications available to assist you. Web pages are created using a language known as HTML, hypertext mark-up language. Microsoft is now implementing print as html in the newest versions of all their applications.
There are also applications that can be used to solely design Web pages; Microsoft FrontPage, Netscape Navigator Gold, and Adobe Pagemill are some of the most widely used. The best way to learn how to write html is to buy one or more Web authoring applications and practice. The last thing needed to complete your system is the customer. These are created through advertising.
There are two basic categories of advertising: the traditional offline media and online styles. The offline options consist of print media, including newspapers, magazines, and flyers and the electronic media, television and radio. The major thing to keep in mind when advertising through offline outlets is that your customer can not just click and be sent directly to your site. Where online surfing is dominated by impulse, a person must remember your Web link and purposely type in the entire address when they go to your site.
This could be problem if you decided to not register your own second level domain name. The second type of advertising is through online outlets. There are several ways in which you can present opportunities for your potential customers to reach your Web page once they are already on the Internet. The first system is to have banners posted on other Web pages.
Typically you pay a certain amount of money to the sites that host your banner every time someone travels from their site to yours via clicking on the banner. You could also pay the banner host sites when a person purchases your product if they originated from the banner host’s site. A third possible banner system is to trade with other sites – you host their banners, they host yours. One of the most popular systems for getting surfers to your page is to enter your Web address and information about your business in search engine databases.
There are now thousands of different search engines on the Internet. The most popular are: Yahoo, Alta Vista, Excite, and Lycos. To have your page entered into a search engine’s database, you can surf to the engines main page and look for a link to add URL. A faster and easier way to put your site address on many Web pages in a very short period of time is to use a search engine submission bot.
This is a program that, once told all the important information about your business, will automatically submit your information to the search engines that you select. The third option is email messages. This method can also be undesirable. Since many Internet users do not like UCE (unsolicited commercial email) also known as spam, it is not advisable to send email to potential customers unless they have requested it.
To conclude, when done well, a business based on the Internet can be a very profitable venture. If an automatic system is used, very little labor must be utilized to run the business. Many companies have proven that the Internet can generate a great deal of business. Possibly the best way to decide how you want to set up your business online is to surf to other businesses with Web pages and see which ones you would be more apt to purchase products from.
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Lange, L. (1998 Jan). The Internet. IEEE Spectrum, 37-42.
Internic (1998, April). What is a Domain Name [Online]. Available: http://www.internic.
com/info.htm [1998, April 28]. Dogpile (1998, April). Main listing of Search Engines [Online].
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