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The World Wide Web is Waiting for You

Internet offers tremendous advantages to expanding your reach and marketing scope.

Not long ago, if someone invited you to look at his Web site, your eyes would automatically look for some dusty corner of the ceiling.  Today, of course, the World Wide Web is one of the most powerful sources of information in ... well, in the world. Businesses ranging in size from major corporations to one-person shops rely on the Web to communicate with current and potential customers, suppliers and the general public.

A Web site can be an important marketing and customer service tool for any small business. Here are some advantages:

• You save money. In most parts of the country, Internet service — including e-mail and Web access — costs $20 per month or less. E-mail is rapidly becoming the most efficient way to communicate instantly with the people with whom you do business, and those who want to learn more about your business. Instead of picking up the phone or writing a letter, it is much easier to type out an e-mail message. It gets transmitted in a flash, and the response is often just as quick. Best of all, e-mail allows you to communicate anywhere in the world for free, which means lower long distance bills — especially if you frequently call overseas.

• Your customers can reach you. The Internet allows you to personalize your business and communicate with customers. You can provide detailed listings of services and products, directions to store locations, and other valuable information. Your Web site also can provide a means for customers to ask questions, report problems or request information.

FYI

Santa Barbara SCORE meets every Wednesday, from 8:30-11:30 a.m., at 402 E. Gutierrez St., Santa Barbara. No appointment is necessary. For more information, call 805.563.0084, visit SCORE online or click here to register for counseling.

In addition, the Santa Barbara SCORE Chapter publishes a great tool for aspiring entrepreneurs, How to Start a Business in Santa Barbara County.

• You are open for business 24/7. Just because you turn out the light and lock the door doesn’t mean you’re closed for the day. With a Web site, people can learn about your business anytime — even while you’re on vacation or asleep.

• You can reach the world. The Internet is a gateway to markets and customers in all corners of the globe. To reach this diverse audience, you can translate your Web site into a number of different languages and offer a language option on your home page.

So how do you take advantage of this powerful tool? First, decide if you are going to design a Web site on your own, or if you’ll need to contact a professional who specializes in this area. There are many off-the-shelf software packages that make Web site design a snap. However, you may want special features and a look that can only be provided by an experienced designer. Not surprisingly, the Internet is a good way to find these talented people. As with other business services, be sure you compare prices and experience, and always ask for references.

Gather the material you want to place on your Web site, and think about how you want it organized. Remember that the purpose of your site is to attract interest in your business. Browse other Web sites to get ideas on content, presentation and overall appearance.

As you design your site, be sure it is easy for users to navigate. Sites that are too confusing will discourage visitors from wanting to learn more. Keep your message clear and direct. A visitor should immediately be presented with a description of your site, its purpose and its content. Keep the material on your site fresh. Update your Web site frequently so visitors will have a reason to return.

Once you have developed a great Web site, your next mission is to generate traffic. Have your site listed with all the major search engines. Many services such as 1 Step do all the work to ensure that your site will appear through all of the major search engines. Use traditional and Internet-based news releases to spread the word about your new site.

Form strategic partnerships with other businesses whose products or services compliment yours. You can promote a company’s site on your site if they promote yours. A lot of Web traffic comes from other site referrals.

You can plug into a wealth of business know-how by contacting your Santa Barbara chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE counselors offer free, confidential advice about every aspect of starting, running and growing a successful business, even mentoring.

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