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Ten Steps to Launching A Web Site on the Cheap
Sure, for under a $100, you can launch an Internet business that can support your bricks-and-mortar company and make the big firms take notice. My hope is that by integrating my online and offline strategies, I'll create value for customers and my overall revenues will grow.
But more about that later. My point is that you don't need millions of dollars, heavyweight corporate partners or lots of staff. Instead, you can do what I did: Spend little and burn the midnight oil to make it happen.
I got my Web site, AgentZ.com, up and running for $300, not including the time I spent creating it. These costs cover a year of hosting service plus $15 to register a domain name that I already owned. It took me three weeks to go live, and I'm not a technology expert. My costs for hosting are higher than usual because of the technology I utilize. You can find plans that run under $50.00/ year.
I didn't waste my time trying to interest a corporate partner who could give me technical support in return for whatever success we attained. I decided to go it alone. A few months after my launch, most of the bugs were worked out and I knew where I want to go with my online endeavor.
To help other entrepreneurs who want to start Web ventures but worry they don't have the resources to do so, here are 10 steps that worked for me:
1. Start with a good idea.
I have spent 17 plus years in the service industry making customers happy. I run several home based businesses. I manufacture (Arts and Crafts), sell, market, make my own promotional items, and do shows.
Unless you have deep pockets (or corporate backing or a rich relative) you need to control your costs. Learning to do the things you need to be able to do (website, brochures, flyers) takes some time but is rewarding and allows you to control your budget.
While sites exist to assist small businesses none seemed to offer a personalized approach. A user-friendly online site that will help entrepreneurs and seemed like the right niche for me.
2. Develop a business-value proposition early on.
While I wanted to provide practical information on going it alone for entrepreneurs, initially I wasn't sure how I would make money at it. I hoped that my online advice and knowledge would drive business to my host and design side. However, I also wanted the site itself to make money.
I needed to figure out the value I brought to the table -- what was unique about the site and me-- and sell it to potential customers on that basis. My feeling was that plenty of big companies would like to reach the market I decided to go after -- entrepreneurs and small businesses interested in getting started without huge start-up costs. Typically, these companies are risk-takers, aggressive and open to new ideas. If I could capture this audience, large companies might pay for advertisements, sponsorships and other promotions on the site.
3. Don't waste time initially courting large companies.
While still in the planning stage, I asked a large technology firm to partner with me. I wanted it to develop the site's infrastructure, while I created the content. Big mistake.
After four months of e-mail and telephone consultations, a senior executive turned me down with this memorable remark: "Our market research does not indicate that globalization is an area where our small-business customers are focusing their time and attention. Therefore, I have decided not to pursue any of the options in your proposal."
I regret spending so much time trying to woo a corporate partner. It only postponed my vision from becoming reality. Now that my site is up and running, I have something to show potential partners and it's easier to interest them in my idea.
Once you have a vision, you can create your site yourself and retain total control. If you do things right, potential customers will be impressed.
4. Don't fret the technology issues.
The main obstacle I faced was my lack of web technology expertise. I bought books and searched online for tutorials. I had a mentor that was big into the technology, a real visionary. This was back in 1994. I went to other websites and looked at how they coded their pages.
For weeks I worked many a late night and early morning at my computer, posting all the information I knew would be useful to people interested in getting started inexpensively. I listed all the tips I knew to help companies get started in this arena. To keep visitors engaged, I designed a newsletter and other features they could request or access.
The site went live in without too many glitches. It now averages 47,000 (low month of 17,000 - high month of 140,000)page views monthly.
5. Build a network.
Your network should include people whom you respect and feel comfortable with and who understand your industry. Sometimes, the team you assemble becomes more important than the initial business idea. To lend credibility to my venture, I set up a board of advisers. These include noted academics, consultants and other experts in global trade. I provide the board with monthly progress reports and members offer suggestions on ways I can grow this community.
6. Constantly market yourself and your business.
Did Richard Branson make Virgin or did Virgin make Richard Branson? To succeed, you must have faith in yourself and want to take on the world. You'll also need good sales and marketing skills to get noticed.
Every day, I network with contacts about what I'm doing, solicit companies to become sponsors on the site or try to interest the media in preparing stories that promote it. I'm also seeking sponsors of the site's monthly subscriber-based newsletter.
7. Execute your ideas.
Do what you say you're going to do. The best idea is worthless if it stays in your mind or on a shelf. For example, visitors can sign up for a monthly newsletter. No matter how busy I am, the newsletter is published every month.
8. Tolerate avoidance and rejection.
E-mail makes it easy to contact people -- and just as easy to reject them as well. I send about 100 e-mails daily and feel lucky if I hear back from 10%. Many of the companies I've solicited about sponsorships have turned me down, primarily for budgetary reasons, as did some prospective mentors. I don't take it personally. Everyone is busy and has different agendas.
9. Have money in the bank.
You don't know how long it's going to take you to begin making money with your site, so have a financial cushion to draw on in case of emergency. I've been fortunate to have a cash reserve and to continue making money from my other activities. Still, I tend to put more time into building the Web site and less into consulting, which means less income overall.
10. Maintain good health.
Starting a business can be draining emotionally and physically. The more energy
you have, the better. I work 14- to 16-hour days sometimes and need all the
stamina I can muster. For that reason, I do weight trainging 4 -5 days a week.
This keeps me mentally fresh, energized and ready to do what's needed to succeed.