Getting your business online: A three-step process
June 20, 1997
Web posted at: 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT)
By Jaclyn Easton
"The Web is a big mystery to me," laments Kelly Reno, owner
of Victorian Essence, a soap-making-supplies catalog.
"Customers ask us if we have a Web site, and at some point
I plan to put us online, but I don't even know how much it
A L S O
Businesses with Web sites offer some advice
Of the 7 million small businesses in the United States, about
300,000, or 4.2 percent, had a Web presence by the end of
1996, according to Access Media International Inc., a
research firm that specializes in small business. The figure
for year-end 1997 is expected to be about double that.
But Reno's situation is all too typical of the problems faced
by the remaining 6.4 million home-page-less small-business
owners. Most realize they could benefit from a Web site, but
have no idea where to start, how much to pay or what to
Research, build and launch
Fortunately, putting a small business on the Web can be
simplified into a three-stage process: research, build and
Many Internet consultants stress research as the most
"The business owner must decide the purpose of their site
first," says Annie Van Bebber, president of Digital Maven &
Associates, an Internet strategy firm.
"Their choices are supplementing the company's brochure,
emphasizing sales, extending customer service or a bit of
everything. The best way to help decide is to check
out competitors' Web sites and compile an exhaustive list of
what you like and want to have on your site."
Next comes the building stage, which starts with selecting a
domain name. Most businesses prefer a domain with their
company name, such as "acme.com," because it is memorable
Finding a unique Web site name
However, like phone numbers, there can only be one of each.
With more than 1 million ".coms" already registered, it's
likely that a common, or even a less-than-common, name has
If your first choice is already in use, Van Bebber suggests a
couple of other options. "If the company's name is not
available, focus instead on the company's core businesses or
branding," she says.
Sample uses of this technique include Tide detergent's
"clothesline.com" and Best Foods' "mayo.com."
To find out what's available, visit InterNic's "WhoIs"
database at http://rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois. For
detailed domain name information and news, visit
Internet Gold-Rush at http://www.igoldrush.com.
Once you select a name, you can register it yourself at
http://rs.internic.net/ or have the Internet service provider
(ISP) who will host your Web pages register it for you.
Now, this step in the process of putting your company online
can be a bit confusing. A business must have a host before
it can register a domain name.
In fact, finding a host is one of the most important
decisions in the getting-on-the-Web process. A host is an
ISP that puts your site on a computer that is hooked up to
When people type your Web address (say,
http://www.yourdomain.com) into their browser (i.e., Netscape
Navigator or Internet Explorer), the host computer system
serves the pages so the visitor can see them. If the host is
out of service, your visitor will get a message such as
"Server not responding." This point is especially critical
for Internet-based retailers.
"I was just arriving home from the hospital with our first
child, checked our e-mail and saw that we had no orders,"
relates Monica Lopez, co-owner of Hot Hot Hot, a highly
successful Web hot sauce vendor.
"We'd never had a dark day, so I knew something was
wrong. Turned out our provider had a hardware problem, no
money to fix it and our site was completely down for a week
... We lost a lot of money."
Look for a reliable host
At the time, Hot Hot Hot was being hosted by a local
provider. There are many arguments over which is the best
hosting option, a national "name brand" or a local operation.
Because prices are fairly standard, reliability and stability
are paramount considerations. For this reason, thousands of
small businesses have signed up with national services such
as AT&T's Web Site Services or with Pacific Bell, which will
officially launch a Web-hosting unit for small business this
The distinct advantage of these names-you-know is their
stability. But some believe that a large company is not the
best bet for people starting out, because local providers can
sometimes offer more personalized service.
There are literally hundreds of ISPs that host business Web
pages. You can find a comprehensive list with company
descriptions at http://thelist.iworld.com. As with any
service business, quality varies widely and word-of-mouth
recommendations may be your best bet.
"Ask a host, 'Who are your clients and how long have they
been with you?'" advises Jeannine Parker, a member of the
board of directors for the Internet Developers Assn. "Loyalty
is a great indicator of reliability and service on the Net."
Should you design the site yourself?
The final step of the building stage is deciding if you are
going to design your Web pages
or contract with a professional. There are persuasive points
for both sides.
Building it yourself saves money and gives you complete
control over the updates you'll inevitably be making.
"If you're the kind of computer user who truly enjoys new
software and always plays around with customizing it, you'll
have the temperament necessary to put together your
own small site," Parker says.
Web design programs such as Adobe's PageMill and Microsoft's
FrontPage 97 get consistently high marks for their features
and ease of use. For small-business owners who don't have the
time or inclination to do it alone, though, it's easy enough
to contract a Web page designer.
Hourly fees vary widely depending on your needs, but
generally range from $50 to $150.
Costs vary, depending on complexity
Hosting, design fees and other expenses can add up, and that
leads to the core question: How much does it cost? The term
"average" doesn't have a lot of meaning when it comes
to Web costs.
"It's like asking, 'How much is a house?'" Parker notes. "It
entirely depends on the style, location, how many rooms and
She estimates that a professionally implemented site can
run, broadly speaking, from $10,000 to $50,000.
Do-it-yourself pages (with a little help from an
independent designer) "run a few hundred dollars to a few
Launching the site
The third and final step is your payoff: the launch. Every
day more than 5,000 new sites register with Infoseek, one of
the top search engines.
"Since search engines function as a jumping-off point, you
want to be sure you are in the pool," says Van Bebber. An
efficient one-stop method to ensure your site is listed in
the most popular places is the free version of Postmaster 2
You can instantly register your site in more than two dozen
of the most high-profile search engines and directories
These listings, along with reciprocal links, Usenet group
announcements and other online publicity, are critical to the
success of a small business online.
Offline, experts recommend adding your Web address to
business cards, stationery, brochures and even your checks.
More radical promotion may include a flag emblazoned with
your URL waving in front of your office; one company painted
its Web address on the side of its building.
Putting together a Web site can seem overwhelming, and don't
worry too much about being in a hurry. Despite the media
hype, only 17 percent of Americans over the age of 16 are
using the Web, according to the 1997 CommerceNet/Nielsen
This gives small businesses time to launch the site that best
reflects their company. In the digital world, one analog
adage applies: Fast is good, but good is better.
(Jaclyn Easton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(c) 1997, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Los Angeles Times
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