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Taking the Mystery Out of Getting Your Business Online

How-to: A three-step process of research, construction and launch will get you there.


"The Web is a big mystery to me," laments Kelly Reno, owner of Victorian Essence, a Glendale-based soap-making-supplies catalog. "Customers ask us if we have a Web site, and at some point I plan to put us online, but I don't even know how much it costs."

Of the 7 million small businesses in the United States, about 300,000, or 4.2%, had a Web presence by the end of 1996, according to Access Media International Inc., a New York-based research firm that specializes in small business. The figure for year-end 1997 is expected to be about double that.

But Reno's situation is all too typical of the problems faced by the remaining 6.4 million home-page-less small-business owners. Most realize they could benefit from a Web site but have no idea where to start, how much to pay or what to expect.

Fortunately, putting a small business on the Web can be simplified into a three-stage process: research, build and launch.

Many Internet consultants stress research as the most important of the steps.

"The business owner must decide the purpose of their site first," says Annie Van Bebber, president of Digital Maven & Associates, an Internet strategy firm in Glendale. "Their choices are supplementing the company's brochure, emphasizing sales, extending customer service or a bit of everything. The best way to help decide is to check out competitors' Web sites and compile an exhaustive list of what you like and want to have on your site."

Next comes the building stage, which begins with the selection of a domain name. Most businesses prefer a domain with their company name, such as "," because it is memorable. However, like phone numbers, there can only be one of each. With more than 1 million ".coms" already registered, it's likely that a common, or even a less-than-common, name has been taken.

If your first choice is already in use, Van Bebber suggests a couple of other options. "If the company's name is not available, focus instead on the company's core businesses or branding," she says.

Sample uses of this technique include Tide detergent's "" and Best Foods' "" To find out what's available, visit InterNic's "WhoIs" database at For detailed domain name information and news, visit Internet Gold-Rush at

Once you select a name, you can register it yourself at or have the Internet service provider (ISP) who will host your Web pages register it for you.

Now, this step in the process of putting your company online can be a bit confusing. A business must have a host before it can register a domain name, just like one must have an office before ordering new phone service.

In fact, finding a host is one of the most important decisions in the getting-on-the-Web process. A host is an ISP that puts your site on a computer that is hooked up to the Web. When people type your Web address (say, into their browser (i.e., Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer), the host computer system serves the pages so the visitor can see them. If the host is out of service, your visitor will get a message such as "Server not responding." This point is especially critical for Internet-based retailers.

"I was just arriving home from the hospital with our first child, checked our e-mail and saw that we had no orders," relates Monica Lopez, co-owner of Hot Hot Hot, a highly successful Web hot sauce vendor. "We'd never had a dark day, so I knew something was wrong. Turned out our provider had a hardware problem, no money to fix it and our site was completely down for a week. . . . We lost a lot of money."

At the time, Hot Hot Hot was being hosted by a local provider. There are many arguments over which is the best hosting option, a national "name brand" or a local operation. Because prices are fairly standard, reliability and stability are paramount considerations. For this reason, thousands of small businesses have signed up with national services such as AT&T's Web Site Services or with Pacific Bell, which will officially launch a Web-hosting unit for small business this fall.

The distinct advantage of these names-you-know is their stability. But some believe that a large company is not the best bet for people starting out because local providers can sometimes offer more personalized service.

There are literally hundreds of Southern California-based ISPs that host business Web pages. You can find a comprehensive list with company descriptions at As with any service business, quality varies widely and word-of-mouth recommendations may be your best bet.

"Ask a host, 'Who are your clients and how long have they been with you?' " says Jeannine Parker, a member of the board of directors for the Internet Developers Assn. "Loyalty is a great indicator of reliability and service on the Net."

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