By : William T Lasley
A successful Internet marketing campaign requires more than Microsoft FrontPage or a brother-in-law who knows HTML. Careful planning is required. The first step in planning your online venture is to define your goals. This can be done by asking yourself a few questions:
What do I hope to accomplish with the online side of my business?
Are you seeking a new customer base or would you like to simply find a way to serve existing clients? Would you like to provide a service or generate direct sales? Will the sales be handled online or would you like to advertise an 800/888 number and handle sales through mail order? Would you like a full-blown portal type Web site with a bulletin board, chat room and paid advertisements? The possibilities are endless, but that’s all the more reason to decide what you want to do in advance, make a plan, and then follow it.
How much time must I dedicate to this venture?
This part is often overlooked by eager beginners who hear how “cheap and easy it is to build a Web site”. In reality, successful sites are seldom “cheap” and “easy”. While a Web site can be developed and maintained for little expense, lots of time and an ongoing effort are required. If you are already overworked in creating your products, you may want to consider hiring a third party to manage your project. If you are going to perform the work yourself, be sure you are ready to set aside enough time to do it right.
After defining the goals of your site, the next step is to decide which path to take to achieve these goals. Many options are available to craftspeople that are ready to begin their online venture. Pricing can range from free to thousands of dollars.
Free and Paid Listings on Another Site:
There are a multitude of places that offer a free ad or an inexpensive one page listing. While this is the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to get online, it is also an area where promises made by “online malls” often fall short. This refers only to paid listings/pages, try all the freebies you like!
If you pay for a listing in such a place, be sure to find out how much traffic the site brings. Always contact other craftspeople that are listed in the area you are considering. Many places claim to have millions of visitors, but not all are being 100% honest. Traffic is usually measured and reported in-house, so it is very easy to hike the numbers. If you find a site that yields high numbers of visitors, is inexpensive and has good reports from other exhibitors, it may be worth a shot.
Free Hosting of Your Own Site:
Many places offer “free” Web sites. Since many of these spots offer easy-to-follow instructions for designing a simple site, you can perform the work yourself. This is a great way to get started and many people maintain successful Web sites this way. This method can also be a great first step in getting your business online. As time goes on and you “learn the ropes”, you may want to get your own domain name with professional hosting.
(It’s worth noting that many search engines and directories will either not list or limit listings from these places. There is a multitude of free site hosts and the maintainers of indexes do not want them to become cluttered with thousands of “sub-domains”. This can severely limit free traffic from portals like Yahoo.)
Your Own “Dot-Com”:
Recent surveys show that visitors will almost always take a site more seriously if it has its own domain. This means that your Web address would look like: http://joeswidgets.com As opposed to:
A more professional image on the Web promotes trust, which leads to patronage. This is a major advantage to having your own domain. Once you register a domain, it is yours as long as you renew.
You will need a “host” to hold your site. A host is a company who maintains the server (computer) where your Web site resides. Pricing can range from a few dollars a month to hundreds a month, depending on the service you require. Most craftspeople do not need features as CGI access (server-side programming), tons of storage space or a secure server, so the low side of this pricing scale is usually sufficient for starters.
After a site is created, it is imperative that you maintain (add new content, update links, etc.), and market your site. Without this step, the best looking site is left in cyberspace unreachable to the masses. Worse yet, many semi-successful sites become “ghost-towns”, abandoned by bored users tired of seeing the same content and dead links. If you have time to design and place your site online, but do not have the time to market and maintain it, hire or appoint someone in-house to do this.
Hiring a Web Developer:
If you know little about Web Development or do not have time to do it yourself, the most effective way to achieve results would be to hire someone. If you were to run a radio or television ad, you would hire a production manager, so it makes sense to hire a professional if possible. Of course, this is also the most expensive way to the Web, which is a major drawback for those with little to spend.
Pricing can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the size/features of a site. Expect a standard price to build the site, and a monthly fee for maintenance. (Recommended) This is a very new industry, and the service you receive varies as much as the pricing. You don’t always “get what you pay for”. If someone tells you that they know all there is to know about Web Development, do not hire them.
If someone promises “overnight retirement” and “instant riches”, get away from them as fast as possible. Even for professionals, a successful campaign takes time and perseverance to grow. Your best bet would be to try to find a recommendation from a fellow artist. Find out how much they paid and how satisfied they are with the service they received.***