Source E-Business Live
These days, online business is booming. Without a web presence, chances are your firm could drop off the radar. To avoid your business becoming a casualty of the digital age, it's best to get online and open yourself up to a global audience.
A decent website doesn't need to cost the Earth; in fact, there are many packages out there that will help you put together a sophisticated site that doesn't look cheap and amateurish. The following points outline the essential steps needed in order to get up and running online.
Register your domain
You can't have a website without a web address. Don't be swayed by offers of free web addresses though, as they may be difficult for customers to find easily, or may make your firm look less than professional.
Register your address with one of the domain registries offering your chosen domain in Ireland. The dot-com (.com) addresses are cheaper, but firms doing business in Ireland might want to consider registering a dot-ie domain name, as some customers may perceive them as more trustworthy. Dot-eu is also an option for Irish firms, especially if they plan on doing business throughout Europe.
You can host the website yourself if you have your own server. However, most small businesses do not have access to a dedicated server. Thankfully there are plenty of firms willing to host your website, for a fee.
Choose your hosting provider carefully. Don't be tempted to opt for the cheapest one; do your homework first. There is also the question of whether to stick with an Irish firm or look abroad. Although you may be tempted by the seemingly lower prices that foreign hosting firms offer, there may be hidden issues that you should consider. For example, what happens if the server goes down in the middle of the day here, but it's outside office hours for your hosting firm? Is 24-hour support provided, or would you have to wait for tech support to come into the office for a response?
Plan your site
Regardless of whether you are going to design a website yourself or turn it over to the professionals, make sure you know exactly what you want to include on the site.
If you don't nail down these details at an early stage, the chances are you will end up with an ever-expanding project.
You should also have a rough idea of what the pages are going to look like, deciding on colour schemes, logos, and whether you are going to have eCommerce functionality.
Design your site
If you have enough skills and design experience to create your own site, it can save you some expense.
There are plenty of web design packages available, from Microsoft's FrontPage to more advanced programs such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, which provides a "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) view - meaning you don't have to deal with HTML programming language unless you really want to. The program you choose ultimately depends on your budget. Dreamweaver, for example, costs a few hundred euro.
There are three essential elements to a website:
- Clear navigation.
- Easy-to-read information.
- A definite focus for the site - will it be selling your products or providing a point of information for customers?
You should also keep the following points in mind when setting up your site:
- Keep it simple.
- Make sure the site works with all web browsers, not just Internet Explorer.
- Ensure your contact information is clearly visible on the site.
If you are not familiar with design, however, it is best left to the experts. A quick search on Google will reveal a number of web design firms located in Ireland. Check out their previous work before making any commitments; it also helps if they are familiar with your specific type of business.
If you are selling online, you will need to accept credit card payments. There are two basic elements necessary for this: a payments gateway and an internet merchant account.
While this may seem like a lot of trouble to go to, there are a couple of companies that offer merchant banking services and payments gateways to firms selling online, without the hassle and expense of setting up a dedicated merchant account.
For example, PayPal's Website Payments Standard combines the payments gateway with the internet merchant account. This will provide you with a secure server to accept payments, whether customers are paying by credit card or PayPal. WorldPay offers a similar service. You could also opt for a bricks-and-mortar financial institution to provide your internet merchant account.
Regardless of your business type, you will likely benefit from having an online presence - a port of call where customers and potential clients can find out more information about your products or services. If your competitors are getting online, you must ask yourself if you can afford not to do so.
Getting Business Online
The Getting Irish Business Online campaign will support businesses and sole traders to build a fully functional website by the end of the session which is the first step to building an online business. www.gettingbusinessonline.ie