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Your Own On-line Business

Before you can put your website on the Internet you will need someone to Host it. There are quite a few out there who provide this service and I would prefer not to recommend one over another. You will have to research those available and pick the one which suits your needs. However, what I will say is that the most expensive is not necessarily the best, neither is the cheapest the one to avoid. We elected to go with a relatively local host, mainly because we were new to the scene and felt sure we would require frequent, customised support that we might not get from a bigger company half a world away. The decision turned out to be the wise option and we are happy to pay a little more for the privilege of being able to pick up the phone and speak to a real person in our capital city who gladly fixes our problems straight away. You might like to consider how much confidence and satisfaction this level of personalised service brings and maybe extend it to your own customers.

What are you intending to sell, anyway - children's toys, secretarial services, holiday-home rentals, joy flights...? There isn't much that can't be traded on-line, but each category has its own parameters which existing customers have become used to, and these will need to be researched by checking out similar businesses on the Internet.. You may decide you want to be different to the rest, which is great, if it works. How will you know this? Well, you might think, if the presentation is good and the merchandise is known to be in demand, volume of sales should be the barometer. Unfortunately, the on-line market place is very different to its real-world equivalent. You don't just have a store in a busy street which hundreds of people walk along every day. You have a web address, one of millions buried somewhere way down a list that would stretch to the North Pole and back. This is the street buyers are flitting along, surfing they call it, and they don't have time to check out every shop window along the way. Even if you could stick "AAAAA" at the beginning of your domain name, it still wouldn't guarantee you top spot. To test it out, forget the website - nobody knows it even exists yet. Instead, try a search for one of the items you have for sale - maybe rolltop desks - and see how many results you get. You may be surprised, especially when you discover that the list contains not only items for sale, but also general information and references to wherever those specific words are mentioned, in whatever context. You are a microscopic fish in the world's ocean, and somehow you have to attract attention.

Here's where SEO comes in. That's geek-speak for Search Engine Optimisation. What it means is: making the most of search-engine practices to get your name and merchandise as high up their list as you can. Organisations like Google and Yahoo use 'Bots' and 'Spiders' to crawl through every website, recording any descriptive words they find. The more often a particular reference appears on your pages, the higher your listing climbs. Most important is the meta data which describes both your website and your pages. This is similar to the index at the front of a newspaper or a magazine. Check out SEO and meta data on the Net to see what they mean, and plan on making them work for you. If it's too mind-boggling to tackle yourself there are agencies prepared to help; but like you, they are in business and rarely give their time and expertise for nothing.

Even with the SEO covered, you will still need to formulate your own promotional strategy. Whatever the category of your stock in trade, there will be places which will advertise your wares, but it won't be for free. Maybe there are groups or associations whose members might be interested in what you have to offer. Email them to find out. They may not even entertain your proposal, but someone will read the email, and that person might just be in the market for your merchandise, or they may know someone who is. You may consider this to be a waste of time. In the big picture, it is small potatoes, but it's an example of how you have to start thinking. Try to come up with something better, send out press releases, use as many ways as you can to reach out to more than just a few prospective customers. It's as important as the quality of the goods appearing on your website.

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