RETAIL & E-COMMERCE: Point and click your way to profits

The Internet is the great equalizer in the pursuit of profit. Small businesses can compete head-to-head with corporate giants and win. So how do you, the aspiring “Netrepreneur,” get started in the virtual world? Here are seven steps you can follow to create your own online success story:

1. Get a name. Your domain name is how your customers locate you on the web. There are two items you should keep in mind when selecting a domain name for your business:

a. Get a short or theme-based domain name. The shorter the better. Unfortunately, many of the good, short domain names have already been taken. If you can’t find a short domain name, select a theme-based name.

Also, select a domain that is easy to remember and describes your business. For example, if you have a retirement planning site, a good name might be www.planningforretirement.com. It’s easy to remember, to spell and it’s theme-based.

b. Purchase a “dot com” name. These are the most valuable and prestigious names on the Internet. Plus, customers are most familiar with “com.”

2. Don’t use free hosting services. Free services are great for a family page, but not a business. The main reason for not using them is you will have a long, complicated domain name. A domain name from a free service would look like: www.freeservicedomainname.com/yourname/.

The cost to purchase a “dot com” name is very inexpensive; only $35 per year. If you don’t purchase a domain name for your business, how can your customers take you seriously?

3. Select a good Internet service provider. A good ISP should provide 24-hour customer service, alias e-mail accounts, adequate disk space and Microsoft FrontPage Extensions, (if you are creating your site with FrontPage). The Yellow Pages or your Chamber directory should give you several companies to choose from.

4. Select a niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people. There are over 38 million Web sites on the Internet and growing at an additional one million new sites everyday. Your site will be unable to provide the best selection at the lowest price on every product and service in the world. Select a niche and dominate it.

5. Design your site with your customer in mind. Surprisingly, many sites are designed for the owner rather than the customer. For your site to be successful, you must do these three things: make your site appealing to the eyes, make it easy to navigate, and provide up-to-date and valuable information.

6. Create a marketing campaign to promote your site. Combine e-zines, banner ads, search engine placements and off-line advertising to promote your site.

7. Test your strategies and track your results. Tracking your statistics will tell you where your visitors are coming from. Continuously test and change your strategies until you maximize your marketing efforts.

Andrew LaPointe is president and CEO of www.youronlinebusiness.com, dedicated to assisting Web entrepreneurs. He is also the author of the Internet course “Your Online Business.com,” a step-by-step guide to building an online fortune. Contact him at andrew@youronlinebusiness.com. BN

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