From the Kenosha News on 2-13-05

Low-cost Web site is good for business

      If you have a small business or are starting one and have been deciding if you need a web site, this column is for you.  Not having a business site of my own, I talked with my sister-in-law Michelle, who recently set up a web site for her business, Keepsake Rosaries, which creates hand-made rosaries from flowers from a wedding, funeral, or other special occasion.  Her web site at keepsakerosaries.com is a very good example of what a business web site can be without a lot of expense for the business owner.  She'd tell you that it does take plenty of effort, however!

      These days, people search the web before they even pick up a phone book, and if your business doesn't have a web site, prospective customers might wonder if you're still in business.  What you put on a web site depends on what kind of business you have.  For example, if you own a roofing business, then a simple site with contact information and a description of your services is probably all you need since you can't really take orders over the internet.  On the other hand, if you sell something that can be delivered by mail to any location, then you may want to add an e-commerce component (an electronic order form) to your site.

      The first thing that Michelle did was to find a host for her site.  She did a simple on-line search for "business web hosting service" and investigated some of the options.  She settled on Yahoo because it was cost-effective and a reputable name.  She pays $8.95 per month, which includes five e-mail addresses, 25Mb of web storage space, and her "domain name" keepsakerosaries.com.  The domain name is important since most people will be confused by an address like www.geocities.com/carolsbusiness.  It just won't sound legitimate or professional.

      Once she chose a host, Michelle tried the free development tools Yahoo offered to create her site, but she found they didn't give her enough flexibility or a refined enough look.  She now uses Microsoft FrontPage to create and modify her site.  To get a really polished look, her business partner, Tara, searched for site backgrounds and purchased the template that they use for $6.  Michelle surfed other sites for similar businesses to get ideas and identify ways to be distinctive.  She uses professional photos of her actual product plus non-copyrighted images for a high quality look.  She identified commonly-used language like "Contact us" and "FAQ" to create a list of quick links in the left-hand margin, making the site easier to navigate.

      Finally, she learned from on-line forums how to get her site to come up on common search engines using search terms that potential customers would most like likely use.  This is done primarily by using strategic page titles and keywords and is a very important step if your business is in a competitive field.

      Michelle estimates that she spends 2-4 hours per week managing her web site.  Since she's just starting out, she considers the 8 sales she gets per month through her web site to be a good start.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 2-13-05