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Where to go from here?
Ways to win in a slow market
As I write this in Spring 2003, the economy continues to be weak and the DOW has reached a five month low. Most small businesses are competing with behemoths that seem to have an extreme advantage due to economies of scale. They also face strong threats from other small businesses hungry to regain business that has become more scarce in the last two years.
Click Here to be Jacked...
In the '90s, hucksters seemed to have everyone convinced that the internet was the magic wand that would end the business cycle, replace traditional stores and give you whiter teeth. Of course, things turned out different. In the aftermath of the internet and telecom crashes of '01, many people decided that even if the internet was good at selling porn and get-rich-quick schemes, it couldn't help their business.
If they're talking about web-only businesses, they're not too far from the truth. Although online retailing continues to grow, most people still prefer to fondle the package before they hand over their credit card. Most people will only buy online when they have a compelling reason. Beyond the small group that simply doesn't have time to drive to the store, there are two markets where web-only businesses can succeed.
The first is products like pornography that have a social stigma attached. Customers for these products often don't want other people to know what they're buying. When that product can be purchased (and preferably delivered) through the internet in the privacy of your home, the sales are very significant.
The other is composed of speciality products that have small markets with widely dispersed clienteles. The market for things like archival-quality paper, scientific books, professional-grade video equipment and bondage gear is small enough that there few markets can support a retail operation. In these markets, a properly managed internet-only business can succeed.
It's all about Communication
During the internet gold rush, people forgot that Tim Berners-Lee didn't envision a shopping mall but a place where information was connected and available to anyone anywhere. Whether people using the web are fully aware of that or not, that's exactly how they're using it.
People come to the web to learn and evaluate. Your Customers want to research their options, compare the value of the alternatives and, often, make their final decisions from their computer. Then they'll come into your store or pick up the phone to schedule an appointment. At that point, your biggest worry may be treating the potential customer right so they don't change their mind. Many times they've already decided to buy. Most businesses won't make their money from the web, but their website will often be the first --and all too often the last-- impression they make with potential customers.
In business terms, a website is your most used communications center and also your most efficient. The effectiveness of your website will play a larger and larger role in how effective your standard business functions are in generating revenue. That doesn't just mean convincing people to buy. The public now expects a number of standard business functions to be handled primarily through your website.
After the sale, customers expect certain materials to be available on your website. On Christams Eve, when Dad discovers the manual isn't in the bike's box, your website better help him download a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) version of the manual or he'll let you know exactly how he feels when he returns that bike. Or worse yet, he'll bumble through and go somewhere else next time.
When your company ends up in the media spotlight whether for good or for bad, reporters expect to find your company's stand on your website. Where's the owner's bio? What is your response to the accusations in yesterday's paper?
Beyond those benefits, think of staff levels. A medium size company might go from a full-time Public Relations staffer to a part-time contract employee. Instead of two phone support people, perhaps you can handle those calls with one. By providing what people need on your website, you can focus on your business and spend less time repeating yourself to the outside world.