To access the Web, you nee a computer with a modem, a Web browser, and a connection to the Internet. Most telephone and cable companies offer package deals for Internet service, which can be convenient and cost effective. But when you rely on a single company for your phone, cable, and Internet service, you become more vulnerable to technical problems. Also, deals like these may prevent you from taking advantage of better offers.
The faster your Internet connection, the more you can do with it. Dial-up connections tend to be too slow for most uses, although they're better than nothing. Broadband services like DSL and cable are much faster, although they're also more expensive. Wireless connections can also be pricey. However, may towns are working on setting up free wireless networks in disadvantaged areas.
E-mail and E-mails Clients
An e-mail client is a software application that allows you to send, receive, filter, and organize your email. E-mail clients access your mail from a server, and download it onto your computer. the most commonly used e-mail client is Microsoft Outlook, but there are dozens of others. many of the best clients are free, so you can experiment and find one that works for you. Popular clients include Thunderbird, Eudora, and Pegasus.
Even some sophisticated computer users don't understand how e-mail works, and can't tell the difference between a client program like Outlook, and an ISP's mail server. The main point to emphasize here is that Webmail accounts are a bad choice for businesspeople. They have limited storage and sorting capabilities, and worst of all they can't be accessed offline. Even if you're using a Hotmail account, you should run it through an e-mail client. That way, you'll have a copy of all your mail on your computer, whether you're online or off.
As a general rule, you should assume that your e-mails are not private. think of them as postcards rather than sealed letters. Most e-mail messages are not encrypted, which means that they can be intercepted and read by third parties. Also, most ISPs back up copies of your messages for a few months, even if you delete them from your mailbox. In addition, there is no law that prevents an employer at your ISP from reading your e-mails!
Managing Business E-mails
E-mails should be answered promptly and professionally. They should also be backed up against loss and filed in such a way that you can find them easily. E-mails are important business records, and they can even form legally binding contracts.
Searching the Web
To find information on the Web, you need a search engine, like Google, Yahoo, Dogpile.
Websites especially ones that sell to the public go to a lot of trouble to make sure that they get a high rating in search engines. Just as your participants want to find what they're looking for with one click, Websites want people to find them with one click.
The most important general trends for microbusiness are these:
- Microbusinesses usually target niche markets, and the Internet increases access to niche markets all over the world.
- Just as you can sell all over the world, people from all over the world can sell to your hometown. (How does that change the competitive landscape?)
- Many consumers and businesses use the Internet to gather information about products, before buying them in a traditional store. that means a marketing site is a good idea even if it has no e-commerce ability.
- Customer service and security are increasingly central to successful online selling. Consumers expect as much or more service and security than they'd get at a conventional store.
On the Internet, a microbusiness can sell to customers all over the world. You can be located in a small town in Kansas and find that customers living in Mexico and England are interested in your niche product.
for little or no cost, simple online stores can test pricing and product mix strategies without a brick and mortar retail space. Discussion boards and blogs are perfect forums for testing ideas, and for getting support and feedback from other entrepreneurs. And even if decide not to sell online, a promotional Website an be terrific marketing tool, providing pre- or post sale information to consumers.
Planning Your First Website
Building a Website or a Web-based business raises the same questions as building a business offline. Consider:
- Short-term and long term business objectives
- Attractiveness of target market
- Marketing mix
- Customer needs
- Your business's strengths and weaknesses
- Your budget
The budget question is an important one. There's a wide range of costs for Web development. You could design and launch your own site almost for free. On the other hand, a well-designed promotional site with no e-commerce functionality might cost a few thousand dollars, and could take one to two months to design and build.
Registering Domain Names
If you don't register the name you want today, it may not be available tomorrow! Your domain name can be important to your branding strategy, and should be chosen carefully. Students should get input and feedback from management, staff, friends, customers, and Web professionals. Once a domain name is registered, it's unchangeable and nonrefundable, so spell carefully when registering!!
Researching Sites Online
Spending time online is the most important thing you can do while planning your Website. the only way to know what works is to visit a lot of sites. Which online stores are easy to use, and why? Which aren't, and why not? Which sites are visually appealing? Which sites load the fastest?
Basic E-Commerce Capabilities
Merchandising: People can touch or test your goods online. That makes merchandising very important for Web-based businesses. People want to be able to find what they're looking for easily, see some nice pictures of it from several angles, and read a detailed description of what it is and why it's worth owning.
Making the sale: In this stage, the customer must be able to select items, choose from different shipping options, get a price total that includes shipping and tax, and enter a billing address and shipping address.
Getting paid: If you're selling online, you may be able to set up a merchant account with your bank to accept credit cards. Otherwise, you can choose from a number of alternative e-commerce services. The most well know of these is PayPay. If you're a merchant who uses PayPal, your customers can click on a "Pay" button that brings them to a checkout form. PayPal collects the money, and credits it to your account (minus a fee). You can transfer money in this account to your bank, or access it with PayPal's debit/credit card. If you sell through an e-commerce host, they'll have a payment system in place.
E-commerce requires trust, which is why you must offer a secure a method of accepting credit cards. The standard security method is called secure socket layer (SSL) To implement SSL, you'll need an authentication certificate. This is a sort of digital ID card that confirms your identity. Studies show that sites with SSL certificates enjoy increased e-commerce sales, fewer abandoned shopping carts, and more repeat purchases. Again, e-commerce hosts should have high security standards.
Tax rates vary from state to state. This is a issue to bring up with your accountant or CPA.
Should the shopper be socked with a higher shipping cost for spending more money at your online store? Of course not. If anything, the shopper should be rewarded with a discount. Free, discounted, or upgraded shipping are typical rewards for big online spenders. Upgrade shipping is a very good incentive; the cost of upgrading from UPS ground service to 2 day service is not high, but it can make a huge difference in how your customer feels about your business.
Customer Service Online
Online customers expect the same level of customer service they receive offline, if not more. According to study done by BizRate.com, a firm that tracks customer satisfaction with e-commerce, quality of customer service was the top factor in determining whether a customer returned to a particular online merchant.
One of the biggest complaints customers have with e-commerce is that they can't get in touch with online businesses. They complain that phone numbers can be hard to find on Websites, and if called, may not be answered. Also, customer e-mails often get no response for days on end, or receive an automatic response that doesn't answer the customer's question.
Once again, we arrive at the issue of first impressions. Does your Website communicate who you are and how you feel about your customers to everyone who looks at it? Of course it does! Do your e-mail responses have to be just as professional, friendly, and punctual as you and your employees are in person? Absolutely!
To avoid making people mad, and to assure customers that your company is for real, be sure to have a phone number where customers can reach you. Many customers call simply to make sure that the company really exists. These calls present a great opportunity to promote your product.
Online Marketing Strategies
The Internet is very, very crowded. Somehow, you have to get your site noticed so that people can see what you have to offer. This means marketing. Always remember that attracting new customers is about six times more expensive than maintaining a loyal customer base.
There are two primary types of Websites marketing: passive and active.
- Passive marketing: means designing your site so that it's picked up by search engines.
- Active marketing: means using any and every means of information the world about your Website.
You must combine passive and active marketing to attract the greatest possible number of people to your site.
Online businesses are always coming up with new strategies for online advertising. Most experts agree that the usual ad techniques don't work well on the Web. Unfortunately, there's not much agreement about what does work.
Microbusinesses should focus at first on tried and true techniques of offline marketing. All your packaging, letterhead, and other business materials should have your Website's address printed on them. World of mouth is a powerful tool, too. Be sure to tell your customers and friends when your Website goes up.
Good Luck setting up your E-commerce.