Net gain Featured

10:36am EDT July 21, 2004
There's little doubt that the Internet can provide any business with a powerful marketing tool that can tip the competitive scales in its favor, allowing it to compete on a global as well as local or regional basis with competitors large or small.

"The Web has leveled the playing field for small companies," says Karen Puchalsky, CEO of Innovate E-Commerce Inc., an e-commerce consultant.

But the advantages that smaller companies stand to gain can be squandered by offering an ineffective Web site. Few successful businesses would provide their existing or prospective clients and customers with outdated information about their products or services, yet many company Web sites display data that is old or of little value.

"This is your image," Puchalsky points out.

In some cases, a view of your Web site may be the first look that a prospective customer takes at your business. That first impression could mean the difference between acquiring a new client or losing it to a competitor.

Some of the key considerations, Puchalsky says, are how easy your site is to find, how quickly it downloads, how soon you respond to requests and your domain name. A successful Web site, she adds, will provide current, accurate and complete information that is easy to find.

One key factor to take into account when developing an Internet strategy is the nature of your business. If you have products that can be sold online, you need to make sure that you have the infrastructure to support Internet sales. Without adequate customer support and product fulfillment capabilities, you can do yourself more harm than good. If you can't make timely responses to customer inquiries, you risk losing future sales.

Sam Shaaban, CEO of NuRelm Inc., suggests that businesses with tight budgets build a site incrementally, adding capabilities over time. You may want to build an informational Web site first, then add e-commerce capabilities over time as you build your infrastructure.

More complex sites will be more costly, but it is possible to build an effective site on a budget. Shaaban estimates that a basic five-page Web site can be developed for less than $1,000. A NuRelm subsidiary, NuHost, offers what it calls a "value-oriented" Web hosting service that manages every aspect of a business Web site, from design to hosting, and allows businesses to easily update its content. How to reach: Innovate E-Commerce, www.innovateec.com; NuRelm, www.nurelm.com; NuHost, www.nuhost.com