Article: Amy Flynn


The Small Business Library

October 23, 2000

Seven Strategies for Building and Managing an Internet Business

By 2004 Forrester Research, Inc. estimates that business-to-business commerce on the Web will hit $2.7 trillion. It seems that everyday new companies are turning to the Web as a method of gaining customers and making money. It's true that the Web can be a highly profitable venture, but without careful planning, your business may flounder before it ever makes money. Following these seven steps can help you plan a cohesive strategy before you sell your first product.

Identify Your Internet Business

Ask yourself why customers would come to your Web site. Is it an extension of your bricks and mortar store? Or will it be a stand-alone operation? What can you provide that no one else can? Of what value is your site to customers? Even if you don't sell online, you need to answer these questions. Customers don't always come to a Web site to buy products. Sometimes they come for information. Tell them about the products you sell, give them your store hours and phone number, provide a map so they can find your shop. Even though you haven't sold them anything, you've given them value. Customers will come back to your site if you provide value.

Create a well designed, easy-to-use, fast, and functional Web site

Your Web site should have a clean, straightforward design. Customers don't like busy, cluttered sites. Make organization simple and make the steps through your site obvious. Keep your site easy to navigate. A customer should be able to find a product in two mouse clicks. Any more and they feel like they're being led through a maze. Or worse, they may lose interest and leave.

Keep the graphics and text simple and small. Animation and sound files can be interesting, but don't force customers to view these items in order to buy a product.

There are many options for managing orders. The most popular way to manage orders is through shopping cart technology. The customer goes through the site and picks items s/he wants to buy. At check out, s/he fills in billing details and purchases the items. Building a shopping cart requires programming knowledge or a software package that can manage the behind the scenes work.

How will you process sales? Sales can be processed online, offline or a combination of both. Each step a customer must take to order an item is a potential opt-out point. Does the customer need to print out an order form and mail in a check? What if s/he doesn't have a printer? What if there's not a stamp handy? Customers want an acknowledgment of their order. If a customer orders via email, will there be a confirmation auto-response email sent in return?

Can customers pay online with a credit card? They increasingly like the convenience of this. The order is placed quickly and they receive an instant confirmation receipt. However, your store must be enabled to accept online credit card purchases. This requires both a merchant account that accepts online orders and an electronic gateway that facilitates the transaction. Ask if this is included in your Web developer's quoted fees or look for a software package that can handle the establishment of online merchant accounts.

Select the right domain name

A domain name is an extension of your store. It is the first thing people learn about the store, so the name should be relevant to the business. If you own a store or a brand name, this should be the domain name as well. Make it easy to remember and easy to type. Many single words have been registered as domains already. New domain names can be up to 67 characters long, so choose a combination of words that describes your store.

Post your site to a trustworthy Web-hosting provider

Your site is effective only when people can see it. If your Web site is inaccessible, you can't do business. Use a Web-hosting provider that guarantees a high level of service. They should have daily backups and redundant systems. A good provider gives you access to your site statistics. This is more accurate than the number of hits. Statistics can tell you where customers are coming from, what they look at and what lead them there in the first place. Because you are dealing with sensitive information, your provider should use state of the art security to protect your site from hackers.

Promote your Web site

Promote your site every chance you get. Search engines are a great way to do this because they bring in a target market. Make it easy for people to find you by choosing relevant keywords. Add keywords and a description to the metatags and then register with the search engines. If you are unfamiliar with metatags, some software packages will help you add them and submit your site to search engines.

Self-promotion can be another effective tool. Put your Web site on your business cards, print it on receipts, put a sign in your store window, tell people you've started a Web site. Another way to generate traffic is to create relationships with other businesses. A link exchange is useful. Make sure your links are relevant and compliment your site.

Traditional advertising still works. Place ads in papers or trade journals targeting your audience. Write a column for a local newspaper. Offer a free Web seminar at a library. Go where your customers go.

For more information on site promotion, see:

  • http://www.bcentral.com/marketing/index.html
  • http://www.bannerbargain.com/
  • http://www.searchenginewatch.com/
  • http://www.thewritemarket.com/intro.shtml

Stay informed about your Web site

Provide a form or an email address so customers can include comments. What do they want from your Web site? Are they complaining about the pages or images? Can they order the products they want? Can your server handle the Web traffic?

Web statistics can provide important information. You may be getting a lot of visitors, but very few orders. Look at your site from a customer perspective and review the tips about Web design.

For an example of Web statistics, see: http://www.godaddy.com/gdshop/online_stats.asp

Change your business based on the information you receive and know

Customer feedback is like a free business consultation, if you know how to use it. Even angry letters can serve a purpose. When customers take the time to give you feedback, the underlying message is "We want to order from you, here's how you can let us." Do they complain that the site is too slow? Check your graphics and your Web server. Do they keep asking for related products? Maybe it's time to expand the product base. Maybe they are afraid to order because it's too complicated. Create a FAQ or offer technical support.

Because you need to adjust your site to better serve your customers, easy site maintenance is important. Ask a consultant the cost for changes to your site. Or look into software packages than can manage updates you make to your store.

About the author: Amy Flynn is a 'Net writer and Strategist with Go Daddy Software (www.godaddy.com) of Scottsdale, AZ. Godaddy.com provides tools for Webmasters to develop and manage online stores. In her free time, Amy enjoys running desert trails. You can contact Amy at aflynn@godaddy.com.