2009 Small Business Guide
small business
Web sites for small businesses

Ideastox's Becker puts it like this: "As a senior manager of your business, to learn about a wheel that is already rolling down the hill is not the best use of your time."

Bertsch points out that if you want to start small, you can begin with a one-page Web site. "That can be done in 15 minutes at a very low cost, as cheap as $100," he says. "There are plenty of freelancers doing this. If you go to CraigsList, you can find people and check to see if others like their services."

If you want something a bit more extensive, "for starting level businesses there are sites like elance.com and 99designs.com where you can get everything you need, sometimes for less than $2,000, sometimes even for less than $500," Ressi says.

Of course you will want technology support in case your Web site ever encounters problems. "For an extraordinarily low cost -- as little as $10 a month -- you can find a variety of providers that will carry the expense of 24-hour backup so your Web site doesn't go down," Gelburd says. Often it will be the same company that sets up your Web site. Ressi uses GoDaddy.com for his site's Web maintenance.

An important point to keep in mind during this process: "If you do use a third party to build out your site, you want to get the schematics and codes from them, because if they go out of business, bringing someone in to figure it all out will be extremely difficult," Bertsch says.

Six keys for success
Ressi has several recommendations for the actual structure of your Web site. In general, "You don't need anything flashy or special, it just needs to be very clean and clear," he says.

1. Skip the flash: "You should have a simple home page that clearly explains what you do. That's probably the most important thing." Some companies make the mistake of adding too many bells and whistles to the home page, Ressi says. "The problem with overloading the page is that visitors don't know what you do."

2. Detail your product: He says a page or series of pages should give a comprehensive explanation of your product. "The one thing that drives us crazy is that in some cases people don't do that," Ressi explains. "I recently went to a Web site to inquire about hosting an event. They gave the price but not the capacity of their space. It could have said they hold up to 50 people."

3. List prices: Often prices aren't listed on Web sites. Many businesses assume that by concealing information they will force potential customers to get in touch with them. "But in the modern world, the reverse is true," Ressi says. "Instead, people will contact businesses that do give them the information."

4. Talk about yourself: Providing background about your management team also is crucial. "If I'm going to do business with this firm, I want to know who's running it," Ressi says. "A four to five sentence outline is fine, but it's critical to show who's running the company."

5. Give your contact information: He also suggests a thorough "contact us" page. "These pages generally have an e-mail address, a physical address and phone number," Ressi says. "But few have simple Web forms to allow people to send e-mails back right on the site. Generally, readers are more comfortable filling out an online form than picking up the phone or sending a separate e-mail. When we didn't have that form on our site, top CEOs from around the world asked why not."

6. Use blogs: Putting a blog on your Web site also can prove beneficial. "If you are trying to innovate in your category, then you should have a blog and talk about the innovations you are trying," Ressi says. "People will read it, learn what you're doing, and then you have real shot in acquiring customers. Blogs are viral, especially if you link to other blogs."

What business doesn't need a Web presence? "I can't think of any," says Becker of Ideastox. "More and more people are relying on the Internet for their consumption needs. If you don't have a presence there, you will almost certainly miss out on business -- whether you're a physician, an auto repair shop or a gardener."

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