Web site startup is well worth it

Web site startup is well worth it

American Internet use still on rise

By Stephen Windhaus
Posted on Sun, Sep. 24, 2006
Scripps Howard News Service

For many of my readers having a presence on the Internet is an assumed requirement. But many still haven't taken the plunge. Some think their customers won't be looking for their product or service on the Web. Others think be too expensive or technically difficult to maintain a Web site. I beg to differ.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project, a respected source of Internet usage data, notes some clear trends. As of April:

•Seventy-three percent of the adult population uses the Internet

•Pick any of the racial or ethnic categories; 61 percent to 76 percent surf the net; in fact, more English-speaking Hispanics are online (76 percent) than white non-Hispanics (73 percent).

•The lowest ranking, by community type, is 63 percent, in rural areas.

•The majority of annual household income categories register 80 percent to 91 percent online; 53 percent of those earning less than $30,000 use the Internet.

•A minority of those with less than a high school education (41 percent) are online.

The evidence is clear: The overwhelming majority of American households and individuals use the Internet. It has become a dominant source of information and communication.

What are they looking for? Again, I rely on Pew's supply of data to point out what Americans are searching for on the Internet:

•Eighty-four percent search for a map or driving directions.

•Eighty percent learn about a product or service before buying it, and 65 percent buy some products online.

•Fifty-four percent search for phone numbers or addresses.

What's interesting about this data is that it was collected in May and June of 2004. It is safe to assume these trends have increased, given the level of American online activity two years later.

How expensive is it? Years ago it wasn't uncommon to seek out the services of a Web master to develop your site and then go elsewhere to find a Internet hosting company. Web site development used to cost thousands of dollars and hosting was easily $50 or more a month. Today, that has all changed. I checked one hosting company that provides hundreds of templates and images. Domain name registration costs $1.99 for the first year. Simply follow the easy step-by-step instructions. If necessary, get technical assistance by phone. Then have the same site host your Web site for $4 to $14 monthly, complete with your personalized e-mail accounts.

So many of us lay people have learned to put together Web sites, going solo with on-the-job training. You would be surprised how many of your friends and business associates can help. In fact, a lot of people love to "strut their stuff," volunteering to help you develop that Web site. I know. I've been there.

Exceptions to the rule? Most, if not all, businesses add to their base of customers through referrals from happy, existing customers. Word-of-mouth referrals are usually the easiest customers to win over to buy your products or services the first time, but that is not to say having a Web site will not create more sales opportunities. I have a friend who opened his plumbing business last year. He is an honest, excellent plumber, and has very good people skills. But he relies solely on referrals. If my friend spends $60 for one year of Web hosting, that is equivalent to less than one hour of plumbing labor charges.

Stephen Windhaus is a small-business consultant based in Florida. You can contact him at steve@windhaus.com or at 772-871-0585. More information and resources about small business can be viewed at www.windhaus.com.


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