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Beefing up your business
Sometimes I think being in the internet business must be like being a doctor. Once you tell someone what you do, everyone wants free advice and a painless cure for what ails their business. Mostly though, they are interested in beefing up their e-commerce site without lifting the heavy weights of cash.
Well you're not going to look like Mr. Universe without hitting the gym for a couple years and your business isn't going to be like Amazon without the 200 plus programmers, marketing departments and on-staff artists, never mind the hardware and software involved.
Let's face it. No pain, no gain. And in some case only a small amount of gain is initially seen. Keep in mind Amazon, just had its first pro-forma profit last quarter. Looking at their earning bar chart is like looking at a row of sleeping bats. But they are right is building loyalty and a huge customer base.
You get what you pay for
Times are tough and budgets are tight for all types of businesses, not just the small businesses or the startups are looking to stretch the dollar as well as the personnel. If you're not a dot com company, you really might be ahead of the game because your probably are running pretty lean already.
So why not take advantage of all this free stuff on the web, you say? If you scour the web long enough, you'll run across free code, free graphics, and even free email card service, but all these usually come with a price of sponsored-paid advertisements. Even if they don't have an ad attached to them, don't be expecting a fully-supported features or even the service to be around next year.
Start running the first part of the race
What you can do is think of the internet like a relay-race. You start off building up speed and just when you hit your stride, you pass the baton to the next runner. So too in business can you use this approach. It's called phasing in your web presence.
For some starting out immediately means getting a website up, well, don't always be thinking of outward appearances. When budgets are tight, spend your money on your most valued customers. If you have distributors, for instance, spend your money on your extranet to help them order and sell your products easier. Think of your suppliers and how you can streamline the paper and people work involved in ordering raw materials. Spend some money to save some money.
You can't give away strategic thinking
Always start off knowing what race you are running: cross-country, 50 yard dash, hurdles, etc. Plan your strategy of how you are going to be in the race: What do you need to do first before you can do something else.
If you hire a programmer without knowing what you'll be doing in the next 3 months, well then you might have missed an opportunity to reuse code or to reuse data collected. Same holds true for site design. Artists need to know how the site will be used and what it will offer to ensure that they design a flexible look and feel.
If you are working with consultants be sure that there is more talking in the beginning then there is in the middle or the end of the engagement. This will elevate the claims of scope creep that consultants tend to swing around like a big bat. Hammer out the strategy and don't be lured into performance-enhance programming when it really takes you off strategy.
Shaping up your personnel, company and data
Start collecting data to be used in the upcoming phases such as gathering customer email addresses for a future CRM program. Start training your customers and employees to use the web services you have already.
The more you practice conducting business on the internet the better shape you'll be in. You'll shed the excess pounds (people and programs/procedures) and become a finely honed runner (better skilled personnel and more multipurpose data usage) in the internet world.
Elizabeth White is the Director of Interactive Marketing at Experienced Design, an internet business solutions company focused on helping its clients maximize the internet to its full potential.
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