The numbers are hard to ignore. According to the 2003 American Interactive Consumer Survey by The Dieringer Research Group, 80 percent of Americans expect to find product information online before they buy and 63 percent expect businesses to provide that information on their Web sites. The message to small businesses is a straightforward one. You better have a Web site and it better be packed with information.
Agreeing with that premise, of course, is the easy part. Dealing with it can be a dilemma. While you may know you need to present a professional Web face, you may not have the time and expertise to build it yourself. Even if you can build the actual site, you still need to find a hosting provider, incorporate an e-mail marketing service, add in analytics, and so on.
In order to help small business build it themselves with a little help along the way Web hosting provider Interland last week unveiled its Platinum Business Solutions service. For a $95 setup fee and $95 a month you get a 10-page Web site, consultation with a designer, e-mail marketing, keyword advertising, blogs, online gift certificates, analytics, e-commerce capabilities, a new domain name for two years, e-mail with up to 50 mailboxes and hosting services.
Horizontal Services With a Vertical Reach
While the service has plenty to offer all businesses, Interland also announced its first two vertical offerings: one aimed at accountants and one build for for restaurants. The two will be followed by other vertical market focuses, according to Dan Bricklin, chief technology officer at Interland.
Why restaurants and accounting? "We had to choose two. There are a large number of verticals. We decided to pick two that are different. One has a storefront, one doesn't. On uses Web-based coupons. The other doesn't," Bricklin said.
(If you follow computer industry history, you are probably familiar with Bricklin. In the 1979 he co-developed VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet and a product credited with helping to usher in the PC age.)
In developing the two vertical offerings, Bricklin said the company searched the Web looking at best practices. "We looked at restaurant Web sites and said 'they all seem to have these pages, we better have those'," Bricklin said. In talking to small businesses, Bricklin said Interland discovered that when it comes to building a Web site "They want someone to set up it for them and they are willing to pay for it."
Maybe. But Interland also recognized that the days of a small business shelling out thousands of dollars to a designer who builds a site that the owner can't maintain him or herself are over. Granted, $95 is not an insignificant expense to a small business. However, when you consider the package that Interland delivers, it's hard to not see value and a lot of it in the benefits the Platinum Business Solution service delivers for about $1,200 a year. "It's a change in the economic model," Bricklin said. "We are very disruptive."
The value of the service goes beyond tools and technology. For accountants and restaurateurs the service also provides access to industry-specific online sales and marketing tools as well as a resource center designed specifically to help small businesses succeed online.
The resource center includes industry-specific content as well as good overall advice for all businesses, including the following information:
- What an accounting firm or restaurant should do online in the first 30 days.
- How to profit from search engines and online advertising.
- Web site style guides.
- Step-by-step methods for developing an online promotion strategy.
- E-mail marketing tips and techniques.
- Recommended vertical, geographical and local directories.
- Online best practices.
Interland reports that the next vertical markets it plans to tackle are real estate agencies, law firms, consultants, contractors and hair/day spas.
Make the eBay Connection
One particularly welcome feature for e-commerce-savvy businesses is the eBay Connector. Many small companies maintain both a Web site and a eBay-hosted auction site. Thanks to the magic of XML and Web services technology, Interland makes its a quick menu-driven process to add a page to your Web site that maintains live auction updates.
After you enter your eBay user ID, you check off which items or categories of items you want to display. For example, you could tell it to display items up for bid in auctions that end in 24 hours. Or you could highlight specific items that you think will generate a lot of bids.
The Web's Too Wide to Brave Alone
Many small businesses are successful because the owners take a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach. While that philosophy can work when it comes to building a Web site, going beyond a static few pages to create a site that fully exploits the advantages of e-commerce and online marketing is job that calls for some outside assistance. Interland's Bricklin summed it up best: "Any thing can be learned in 15 minutes. But there are 1,000 things to learn."
|Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!|