Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Every business should have some kind of presence on the web, but it's not always obvious how to start. I share a couple of ideas.

I am a small business owner and it's time to have a presence on the web. I'd like to do as much, if not all of it, myself. What would you recommend for someone that is not computer savvy and has no experience / expertise with creating and hosting a web site. All I want to do is list our products, a line card, contact info and monitor hits.

In this day and age, it's almost become a requirement to have a presence on the internet, even for the smallest business. Even before reading this question, I'd just looked up our local dry-cleaners on the web... not a web business, but the contact and other information I was looking for was right there.

More and more and more people expect at least that much.

So you're definitely headed in the right direction.

Let's look at what it'll take.

For web hosting there are two basic directions for starter sites:

  • Purchase your own domain (like I own "ask-leo.com"). I actually recommend this regardless of what else you do - even if you don't use it right away, you want to get it now to make sure you can use it later. Most registrars will provide you some amount of web hosting for a not too outrageous fee. Owning your own domain is the most flexible option because as your needs change you can move your site to another host without your customers noticing or caring - the URL will not change.

  • If you just want to dip your toes into it a little first, sign up for one of the free services - even myspace might be a good way to start. Other services like geocities, or even blogging services such as typepad can work well. Another option, if you're a retail store interested in selling on the web, is to set up a Yahoo or eBay store. I've seen businesses with presences on all of these, and it's most definitely better than no presence at all,

Now, I'll admit that having your own domain has a better 'cachet' than hanging off of some other domain - particularly a free service. But besides being better than nothing at all, these services also tend to help with the next issue somewhat as well.

You'll need to learn a little HTML.

"The amount of HTML you need to learn to produce a clean, efficient web site is typically small."

There are folks out there who'll disagree with me on that - and say that in order to put up a web site there are approaches using wysiwyg tools that would completely hide the HTML. My counter arguments are:

  • Wysiwyg tools rarely hide HTML completely. There are still some fundamentals that you'll need to learn anyway.

  • Most tools are limited in some way. Eventually you'll find yourself wanting to do something that you know can be done, that the tool doesn't support.

  • Most tools produce very inefficient HTML. Microsoft Word, for example, is often used in this fashion, and produces a horrible mess.

The amount of HTML you need to learn to produce a clean, efficient web site is typically small. The concepts are important, but once understood the details of HTML itself are fairly easy to deal with.

One of the advantages to the services I mentioned - like MySpace, TypePad, Yahoo's Geocities and others, is that they typically do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Most will give you a template with a lot of the base HTML already done. All you need do is complete your part to include your information, and customize your own look and feel.

Then, when you're ready to move on, you can take what you've learned, and even most of the HTML that you've already created, and move it to your own hosted domain and web site.

I mentioned earlier that I believe strongly that you should purchase your own domain name regardless of what approach you take. Owning your own domain gives you that much more legitimacy, prepares you for an eventual move to hosting on that domain, and protects you from someone else coming in and getting it. In the mean time you, or your domain registrar, can redirect that domain so that you can actually use it now - redirecting to the temporary solution until you move on. Print the domain you own on your business cards, and you're set no mater where you take your site.

Article C2882 - December 27, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
John H. Ross
December 27, 2006 4:20 PM

I would suggest that the person who is interested in establishing a web site for his business check out the free service offered by Microsoft: "Windows Live". A domain name is offered free of charge through this service. I have used it successfully for our church and my wife's small business. The tools are very easy to use.

Dan Ullman
December 28, 2006 1:49 PM

"Most tools produce very inefficient HTML. Microsoft Word, for example, is often used in this fashion, and produces a horrible mess"

DON'T USE WORD! The only browser that can read that mess is I.E.

Also, give some thought to your domain name. It can help you with the search engines. Using the dry cleaning example, bubbasSeattleDryCleaning.com is likely to score higher on a web search for Seattle Drying Cleaning then bubbasDryCleaning.com.

Eli Coten
January 6, 2007 5:26 PM

I strongly agree with the sentiment regarding the mess Microsoft Word (all versions at least since 97... perhaps even 95) makes with HTML code.

FrontPage is not much better. Occasionally the problem even shows up in email sent from Outlook Users who have Microsoft Word setup as their email editor. This makes the emails much bigger and 'heavier' than they need to be as Word adds it own useless convoluted code.

This often shows up when copying & pasting to/from word or documents that have been created into word to another HTML editor or email program. The messy code sometimes goes with and doesn't display properly.

Also the advanced features of Word won't work in Firefox or Opera (or any other non-Microsoft browser). The same effects can almost certainly be achieved for Firefox or Opera with much simpler methods.

If there's one message to take it is: Steer clear of Microsoft Office (Word, FrontPage, Outlook, Powerpoint, Publisher and even Excel - yes I've seen mess from each one of the aforementioned programs) for anything web/email/internet based.

profilepitstop
January 11, 2007 10:29 PM

Heard of myspace marketing (http://www.profilepitstop.com/articles/myspace-help/effective-business-networking-with-myspace.php)? It's actually a way of promoting your product or service to millions of Myspace users.

What's the significance? These 9 billion users and counting can be your potential clients, depending, of course, of your product. You can choose your target market, build your own friends list, advertise with them. Send them message. Myspace is free, so you only need to spare some time to apply all the marketing strategies.

Tobi
January 13, 2007 2:58 PM

Businesses normally donít use a paint brush to put their name on the company car or building. They donít use a copy machine to Ďprintí leaflets. They donít because they know professional looking cars, buildings and leaflets do look professional.

So why would one create a company website without knowing a thing about creating websites. If you like to learn something, start a weblog or a website about your special holiday. If you want a professional looking website just do a search for a company who knows about design, usability, search engines and all other important stuff you need on a company site.

Shelley Ross
March 2, 2007 8:49 PM

I have gone through this site it was very good i got more information on small business and i have seen similar site it is also a very good in giving the information on smallbusiness

www. businessbooming.com

Melinda Mcadam
February 25, 2009 9:46 PM

Hello Leo thanks so much for your advice in regards to HTML and how important it is to my business. You said the HTML that i will need to learn is very small. so what exactly do i need to know please advice.

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