March 2008

Vol 7 - No. 9
 

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Internet and New Media | March 2008

 


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Ready to expand your business online? 
Here's what you need to know

So, you’ve decided that you want to take the leap and create a website for your business to boost sales. Where do you start? The first thing is to decide what you want to accomplish. Consider the following possible approaches.

Brochure site. If the primary purpose of your site is to drive consumers to your bricks-and-mortar shop, then a simple one- or two-page site, perhaps with the use of online promotions such as coupons or newsletters, may be sufficient.

A massage therapist who leases space at a studio, for example, may simply need to highlight his or her experience, provide contact information and directions, and offer a few healthy body tips.

Build brand awareness. If your goal is to build or expand your brand awareness, then you will need to develop a more robust marketing strategy using richer design, content, and functionality.

An author who’s interested in creating buzz around her publications or a budding filmmaker are examples where selling is secondary to publicizing the brand across different channels.

E-commerce. If your business is taking the leap to online sales, then you also need to develop a Web “storefront,” look into online payment applications, and open a merchant account with your bank.

A Web consultant can help you navigate the technical areas, and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may also be of assistance. Your first task will be to choose a name or Web address.

What’s in a name?

If you’re starting a brand new business, you’ll need to choose a domain name that will serve you online, offline, or both. Choose a domain name that’s easy to remember and that reflects your business in some way. Potential customers should be able to remember it and spell it correctly when they search for you.

For more information on registering your domain name, go to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) or speak to your Internet Service Provider.

Dressed for success

Unless graphic design is part of what your business does, it probably makes sense to get a professional to design your website. Ask friends and business associates for referrals. Be sure to check references and look at other sites they’ve worked on.

Look for someone who has experience designing e-commerce sites: If your goal is to boost your business, a clean, professional, and easy-to-navigate site may be more useful than one that is artistic and creative.

Don’t forget that the design should flow from your business objectives, not the other way around.

Your designer can also design a logo that fits your online vision. If your existing logo is tired and in need of a boost, have the designer refresh it.

If you’re not good with a camera, hire a pro to take great looking digital pictures of your merchandise. Consumers expect your site to be current and up-to-date, so be sure to refresh photos, product specs, and prices on a regular basis.

Gone shopping

In order to sell on the Web, you need to build an electronic “storefront” where customers can browse, put products into a “shopping cart,” and then pay for the items when they check out. The most successful e-commerce businesses make it easy for customers to do all this with just a few clicks.

If you already have a website and are selling a few items, a shopping cart application will help your site take those orders and then send them to a payment application service for processing. Full storefront solutions are also available if you don’t have an existing website.

Shopping cart and storefront solutions are often bundled with other services, including e-payment options, web hosting, and business email. Speak to a Web consultant about what’s right for you.

Business tip: Get the fulfillment right. Making the sale online is just one part of the equation. Having the inventory on-hand and getting it to your customer in a timely manner will help ensure repeat business.

Security first

If you accept credit card payments, you will need to ensure that the card information is secure during transmission and when the data are stored in your server.

Because security is such a huge issue, you probably should look into using online payment processing services.

These services securely process your credit card sales completely independently of your business. You will be charged a commission on the sale (often about 2%), a small transaction fee, and possibly a monthly fee. Depending on the type of service you choose, you may need a merchant account, in addition to your storefront e-commerce solution.

Even if you use a payment service, you will still need a way to protect your customers’ information — such as names, email addresses, and mailing addresses. Your Internet Service Provider may offer secure space on its server, and your storefront provider may also provide security measures as part of its package.

But your business still needs to be constantly vigilant about security. The following articles can help.

The nature of the online world means that things are constantly changing. Check out the forums on small business and entrepreneur websites. Ask questions about products and services, and find out what’s worked for others. And keep reading MyVault Business News. We’ll help to keep you up-to-date with the exciting world of e-commerce.

Your business banker is a good sounding board for your online expansion plans. He or she can also put you in touch with the right solution providers.

[Source: Scotiabank My Vault]

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Publisher and Managing Editor: Suresh Jaura
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