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ARCHIVED  October 1, 1996

Investigate your options before launching Web site

With everyone talking about the Internet and the World Wide Web, it’s easy for a small-business person to get caught up in the hype.The prospect of having thousands of people around the world dial up your local business and buy your products is tempting.
Theron Stallings, a Fort Collins chiropractor, has a friend in the Web-development business. This friend bugged him for months to put up a Web site, but Stallings didn’t think much of it because he doesn’t think people choose medical practitioners by shopping on the Internet.
In fact, 98 percent of his business comes from client referrals and word of mouth. His friend created the page anyway (www.fortnet.org/StallingsChiropractic/). It includes basic information about Stallings’ practice, such as conditions he treats, the address and phone number, and business hours.
So far, the page has seen just 62 visits since mid-July, and Stallings says it hasn’t generated any new business. It hasn’t cost anything either, because his friend is footing the bill for now.
So why have the site at all?
“I view it as exposure,” Stallings said. “The site is listed in a Fort Collins directory (www.fortnet.com), and on Chiroweb, a national chiropractic locator.”
Stallings is keeping the site because he thinks his friend did a nice job. He plans to link it to other sites that deal with conditions he treats – low back pain, headaches, etc., because he believes that links are the key to the site’s success.
William Portouw, owner of Vintage Clock and Watch in Fort Collins, decided to put up a Web site (www.fortnet.org/~clkmaker/) after reading The Wall Street Journal.
“I kept reading about the Internet, and how 40 million people had access to it,” he said. He thought the World Wide Web might be a good advertising tool for him because of his very specialized market, and he was right.
“I never expected the benefits to come so quickly,” he said. Portouw estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of his current sales are generated from his Web site, and it’s only been up since May. He has developed new clientele as far away as Tokyo because he puts pictures of his inventory online.
“I had an advantage over other small businesses, because I have a good friend who worked for Microsoft, and he developed the site for me,” Portouw said.
In fact, working with someone he could trust was a key deciding factor for Portouw in developing the Web site. It lowered his startup costs and allowed him to build the site the way he wanted to from the beginning.
Portouw publicizes his site in his other advertising tools – print ads and business cards – so that he doesn’t have to depend so heavily on the search engines (which he says took two months to register).
Portouw doesn’t think that every business can benefit from a Web site. “Look at it realistically. Do I really have a product I can sell on the Web? Don’t do it just because it’s trendy,” he said.
And, he adds, make sure you have someone you trust who knows what they are talking about create the site for you.
Lyle Butler, president of the Greeley/Weld Chamber of Commerce (www.weldnet.com/chamber/) agrees.
“We get calls everyday from around the country asking for our Web business. Be careful of so-called ‘experts,'” he warns. The chamber reviewed many proposals before deciding to go with a local Web-development company.
The key, he said, is to find people who know what they are talking about, look at other sites they’ve developed, and call their customers to see if they live up to their promises. That takes a commitment to doing a little research, something Butler says can be frustrating and difficult for small-business owners, especially if they don’t know a lot about the Internet.
The Chamber viewed going online as a natural extension of its role as a marketing entity for the Greeley/Weld County area.
“We provide information for businesses and people who are thinking of moving here, and the Web is a great communications tool for doing that,” Butler said.
Butler believes the Internet will become a main communication tool for the chamber as the World Wide Web grows. Still, the decision to go online was a process like any other marketing or advertising purchase.
“We did our homework before we hired a developer,” he said. “If you are putting your company out there, you need to analyze why – who is your audience, what information do they need or want from your company, what are your goals for the site, what do you hope to accomplish with it?” Butler believes these are critical questions business owners need to ask before talking to a Web developer so they can develop their own mission for the site.
Atrix Laboratories Inc. (www.atrixlabs.com) followed a route similar to the Greeley/Weld Chamber. Atrix, a biotechnology company based in Fort Collins, was considering a site but needed more information before making a decision.
Corporate communications officer Vicki Miller went to a seminar called “Strategic Uses of the Internet,” a seminar geared to corporate executives by Parexel/Barnett International.
When she returned from the seminar, Miller assembled a team to decide on goals and objectives.
“We felt the best audience would be investors and potential corporate partners,” Miller said. “The Web site could be used to manage data for this audience by providing current information about our products, their status in the FDA approval process, patents, and other scientific work.”
Miller priced different developers and hosting services and compared their work to make a final decision. After going online Aug. 1st, Atrix announced its site through PRNewswire and the major search engines to develop some interest in the site.
Atrix plans to expand the site, with a second phase focusing on marketing and a third on developing an Intranet. Even though they plan to expand the site, Miller concedes it is difficult to gauge its success. This means that each company needs to determine its own measurement of success in order to make decisions to create a site, maintain it or expand it.
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With everyone talking about the Internet and the World Wide Web, it’s easy for a small-business person to get caught up in the hype.The prospect of having thousands of people around the world dial up your local business and buy your products is tempting.
Theron Stallings, a Fort Collins chiropractor, has a friend in the Web-development business. This friend bugged him for months to put up a Web site, but Stallings didn’t think much of it because he doesn’t think people choose medical practitioners by shopping on the Internet.
In fact, 98 percent of his business comes from client referrals…

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