Thinking of launching your existing business on the World Wide Web? Or, perhaps, finally pulling the trigger on your great idea for a web-based business? Either way, you better get busy because there just so happens to be an e-commerce revolution taking place while you're thinking about it.
But before you take the plunge into the new world of e-business, you'll need to do quite a bit of homework in order to ensure it's right for you and your company. Following are five things you'll want to consider before hanging your shingle out on the information superhighway.
1. Identify your customers/market. Knowledge of your e-business customers and assessment of their future needs will be your first priority and should correspond to your company's abilities, goals and marketing objectives. Ask yourself who are your potential customers? Where are the best places to reach potential customers? Determine what your customers want and need from your company and your products. Are they comfortable using computers and accessing the Internet? Does your product cater to any particular niche?
2. Evaluate your e-business readiness. Analyze your infrastructure and create a sound business plan. Get in touch with the local Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center for assistance and information on tax laws, industry, business planning and patents. Determine how your company will handle the Internet-generated revenue. Do your homework regarding the international tax laws for each country that you will be active within commerce. Ask yourself, what method is most effective in getting the product to the customer? How will you insure payment?
3. Solidify your marketing messages. What message do you wish to portray to potential customers? What do you want your customers to feel when they hear your company name, see your web site and view your products? Brainstorm. Get some imaginative people involved, and then create your image. Create a marketing plan to promote your site and your products. Stay consistent with that message throughout every medium, whether it is traditional print, radio, web site banners, search engines or newsgroups.
4. Analyze your financial investments and return. Do your best to determine all costs ahead of time. The era of the single page web site has long since passed. Today even the most basic e-commerce web sites integrate a variety of scripts, databases and several tools that make processing transactions easy and secure. But add to this the cost of design, hosting and the purchase of additional software. Consider shipping costs if your product can't be sent through the Internet. Calculate your costs and investments to help determine your rate of return. A well-run e-business is worth the effort. Several costs are minimized or eliminated, such as printing, mailing and handling costs for paper catalogs. An e-commerce site will compliment your distribution channels by bringing in customers from previously untapped regions without the overhead expense of running a mail order business.
5. Determine the level of your e-commerce solution. Depending on the nature of your business, you can set up your storefront in a number of ways. The more involved your online store, the bigger the investment. But, the benefits that arise with a bigger online store are bigger as well.
Here are 3 examples:
The Content Only Approach: Think of this as an electronic brochure that publishes information about your company and products. It is easy to set up and maintain but lacks interaction, hence customers have to order offline.
The Dynamic Catalog Approach: Your online business is set up to operate 24x7 and fill orders over the web. With this approach you will have to incorporate a scalable e-commerce solution. This will allow you to further integrate it with your business model in the future, without placing extra burden on your operations.
The Total Integration Approach: Plan well in advance in terms of time and money. This solution will fully integrate your web site with all aspects of your business-payment systems, order fulfillment, inventory control and all of your traditional business functions. The end result is a web presence that truly is a cohesive extension of your company.
Regardless of the approach, it is important to select the plan that meets the needs of your e-business in the near term. As your business grows, any good service provider will grow along with you, offering an easy migration path to enhanced services and support.
After you have done your homework and selected the best e-commerce plan for your company, you?ll be on your way to joining the thousands of other e-businesses competing in the new world of business.
Verio (nasdaq: VRIO - news - people), based in Englewood, Colo., provides web-hosting and other Internet services.