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So You're Ready for a Web Page

June 24, 1996|DANIEL AKST

A couple of months ago, I met Ron Barker, who had spent five months hunting for someone to help him get his custom furniture firm onto the World Wide Web. Most of the bids he collected were in the $5,000 range, although the highest reached $15,000. I wasn't much help to Ron, whose Burbank company, Woodpeckers, finally signed up with a firm that called him cold and quoted $900, including the coding of his pages, a domain of and space on its server.

Last week, Ron reported the outcome, which astonishes both of us: more than $20,000 in sales arising directly from contacts made via

In a matter of weeks, it has become his second-biggest source of business. (Newspaper advertising remains first.)

Not everyone profits so immediately from going on the Web, and I am loath to contribute to the hype surrounding this subject. Nevertheless, for the growing army of self-employed--consultants, lawyers, writers, contractors and others--having a World Wide Web page offers advantages.

The Web makes it possible to let the entire world know about you and your work at low cost and without being a pest. People who get a letter or electronic message from you may notice the Web address in your letterhead or e-mail signature. They can then go online to see samples of your work, find out where you went to school or even see what you look like. Or if they're scouring the Web looking for information on, say, furniture, they might stumble across Ron Barker.

Unfortunately, getting on the Web can be a daunting experience. More people lately are declaring themselves "Web designers," and small businesses in search of Web services are dismayed to receive price quotes all over the map.

That's not really so bad. In Barker's case, for instance, the higher figure probably wasn't a rip-off. Rather, it was for a higher level of design than he wanted or felt he could afford. Instead, he went with a low-cost strategy of producing a Web version of his newsletter about what to look for in custom furniture, how to choose the wood and so forth. Wisely, he emphasized education over promotion. "At least half the e-mail I get from my page is from people who thank me for this," he says.

What you want from a Web page will depend in part on what sort of business you are in. If you're a graphic designer, for instance, you'll want to be sure your pages have nice graphics and high-quality images. If you're a corporate communications specialist, you'll want a crisp, polished look.

Personally, I think too much attention is lavished on fancy Web design at the expense of solid content. It should go without saying that the latter is more important, as Barker's pages prove. By keeping things simple, you'll be doing a better job of informing customers, you'll avoid irritating visitors to your pages with all sorts of flashing signs and other design gewgaws, and you can cut your costs substantially.

So how do you get yourself on the Web? If you're a knowledgeable computer user and enjoy this sort of thing, just sign up with an Internet service provider that can accommodate Web pages, then create the pages yourself.

Basic hypertext markup language, or HTML, is quite simple. Instructions abound on the Internet, several good books can also be had, and decent software to help you create HTML pages can be obtained on the Internet for free. Users of Microsoft Word, for instance, can use Microsoft's free Word Assistant, available at (choose "software downloads"). It's also included with the book "Do-It-Yourself Web Publishing with Word" by Asha Dornfest (Sybex, $25).

Step-by-step instructions for creating a Web page are beyond the scope of this column, but some months ago I wrote a column explaining how I created my Web pages, and you can find this by visiting my home page at An advantage of doing it yourself is that updating your pages is easy and free.

If you don't want to do it yourself, and you follow my advice by focusing on content (read: text), you can hire somebody to do the job for a quite reasonable price. Fees vary (there are high school students doing this), but a friend of mine charges $25 an hour. Assuming graphics are kept to a minimum, I suspect he can knock out a basic home page and several subpages before lunch. Even if your project takes all day, $250 or $300 ought to buy you something reasonable.

Then you'll need someplace for your pages to live--that is, a computer connected to the Internet from which the pages can be reliably accessed. If you're not anticipating a stampede of traffic (and you shouldn't), the cost should be negligible. My pages are included in the $15 a month I pay for an account on the Well. Of course, I'm responsible for any housekeeping associated with them. The main thing is to find someone reliable. Ask if they keep the server in the kitchen, for instance, and if they do, look elsewhere.

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