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Getting Started in Ebiz

By Mike Haye

People new to the internet often make the mistake of getting a website built without having first researched the purpose of the site. A common flaw with many business sites is a lack of focus. Website visitors come to your site for a specific reason and that is rarely to kill time. You need to know in advance who your website is there for and what you want them to do when they arrive.

This article is divided into two parts. The first part addresses people with a business they want to add a web presence to. The second part deals with the initial questions you need to ask if you are planning to create a new business from scratch that is entirely internet based.

Part 1 Existing Businesses

If you are an existing business planning to get online for the first time, you first need to look at what you want from your web presence. This means putting in some very thorough research regarding the expectations of your target market. It is a mistake to place an advertisement in a publication simply because everyone else advertises there and this is also true of having a website.

If you already have an offline business and you keep in touch with your customers by phone or mail, you could do worse than ask them what they would find helpful on your prospective site.

You will also want to take a look at your competitors' websites. Pay particular attention to the kind of interactive features the top ranked sites offer their visitors. Free downloads and newsletters are a good way of building a customer database. Updated multimedia messages and news feeds give visitors a reason to bookmark your site and return there.

Unless you are a webmaster, or have one as part of your team, you will need to find one, who can not only build, but also manage your site. Site management is a vital element in having a successful business website, but its importance is often overlooked. What often happens is a company has a very swish website built, but is unable to get it updated quickly enough when there is important news to announce, or a new offer to test.

When looking for a suitable webmaster, you must think of whoever you do hire as being an integral part of your marketing team. They may not view marketing the way that you do, but they must understand what part the website plays in your marketing strategy and therefore what features need to be included and the speed with which updates are required. If they cannot enter into this kind of relationship, it matters little how wonderful your website looks, it will be found wanting when you need it to pay its way.

Most webmasters will also help you with domain names and hosting services. It is a good idea to first get some notion of what you get for your money. You will also benefit from learning a little about keyword research as this is something you can carry out ahead of having your website built and will prove invaluable in attracting the right visitors. This is also covered in depth later in the course. As already mentioned, webmasters are not necessarily marketers and the more information you can give them, the better the job they can do for you.

Part 2 Internet Based Start Ups

The market for people wanting to set up a business online has been growing rapidly over the past decade. This also applies to businesses already established offline, requiring an online presence. The key difference is that whereas a business that has been built up in the traditional way will already have a customer base to draw on, the independent eBiz marketer will not necessarily have anyone to sell to at the outset.

The reason for eBiz's rise in popularity is due in part to developments in more user friendly and cost effective methods to put up websites. These sites can then be developed with programmes designed to attract closely targeted online interest groups to visit the site and make commercial transactions.

People drawn to this are on average aged 25 and over and actively seeking ways to open up new sources of income. Many will be retired or semi retired and in need of finding a business opportunity they can develop to compensate for an inadequate pension plan.

Often they will have a professional background and interests that have given them specialised knowledge over the years. They will generally be computer literate with some experience of using the internet.

If this sounds anything like you, the remainder of this article should give you a head start in setting up a potentially profitable internet based business.

The first thing you'll need to look at is your situation. Although you can theoretically run an internet based business from your kitchen table, there are a few essentials, which will greatly improve your chance of getting it successfully off the ground. Here's a checklist;

Tools of Trade Checklist for Online Business

Before embarking on any eBiz venture, it is vital that you have the key tools of trade in place. This list will grow, the more involved with this business you become, but here is a basic checklist that anyone wanting to sell through their own website must have;

1 > A reliable computer that you can use undisturbed for at least an hour or more each day. Many people starting out will be making use of their home computer where other members of the family are competing for time on it. If you are in this situation and rarely get the chance to use it undisturbed, you are strongly advised to invest in a separate computer (laptops are great as they can be used anywhere). Once your business is up and running, having a computer exclusively for business becomes less of a choice than a necessity.

2 > A reliable broadband connection that you can use undisturbed for at least an hour or more each day. As with the computer, you will probably need your own personal broadband account as your online business develops. Many towns now have business centers that rent out desk-space combined with a computer and broadband connection to cater for precisely this situation. This can work out far more economically than buying and renting everything yourself.

3 > Your own domain name. This has to be very carefully researched. Many online businesses fail because the initial research into the niche market they were set up to trade in was never properly done. Despite being a 'virtual' business, eBiz is a proper business where many of the issues involved in setting up a business offline also apply. Your domain name is your business name and is the first indication to any prospective buyer that you even exist.

4 > A professional web hosting service. This is something you really do need to get right at the outset. The reason being that once your website has been built, you'll need to work on it as you add new products and experiment with new offers. If you opt for a free or very low cost hosting service, you can be severely restricted in what you can do with your website. For example, if you are selling something, you'll need a way to take payments straight off the website. Few online shoppers want to be bothered with the time consuming business of writing cheques, sending them to you then waiting for them to clear before receiving their goods.

5 > A PayPal account. Although there are a number of options for taking payments online, PayPal is the simplest to set up and the most widely recognised. Most people, who buy and sell through E-Bay, use Pay Pal - in fact E-Bay is where it originated. Unlike many other merchant account systems, there is no charge to set up a Pay Pal account. The only requirement is that you to have a valid bank account to enable you to receive payments.

6 > Basic banking facilities. As your business grows, you'll need to link it to a proper business bank account, but even at the outset there are certain basic requirements that need to be in place. The first of these is your own current account. You need this primarily to be able to receive money through PayPal and other online payment systems and have somewhere to deposit it. Beyond this, however, you are going to need a degree of liquidity to buy the resources you need to run an online business. Most web hosting services and isp's require monthly payments via direct debit or standing order and whether paying through Pay Pal or other payment services, having a recognised debit card makes for quick and easy transactions when you need to buy advertising and marketing facilities.

7 > An open and communicative mind. This may not be something you have to find the money for, but it is an absolute must if you're going to succeed in this business. Often, when people think of how money is earned on the internet, they have an image of being shut away from the world. Whilst there is some truth in this, the fact is that internet marketing is very much a people business where communication with both customers and business peers is essential. The lack of face to face contact with prospective buyers means you have to work much harder and more directly in other forms of communication to compensate for this. Similarly, it's very important to develop relationships with people working in the same business. eBiz is one of the fastest evolving business mediums in the world today. You have to keep constantly up to date with new developments and challenges as they come along. Once you get a toe or two in the water, you'll find a thriving and extensive business community to be a part of.

When you can tick off each of these seven checkpoints, you'll be in a position to start building a business online.

Mike Haye publishes a course on eBiz, which can be freely accessed at http://www.ebizcode.com This course has been designed and structured specifically for people new to doing business online. The eBizCode Course takes you step by step through each stage of setting up an eBiz site from initial planning and research to growing your site and maximising its potential profitability.

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