The World Wide Web On A Shoestring Budget

Putting your company online doesn't have to be expensive

If you think setting up shop on the World Wide Web requires deep pockets and expensive technical support, think again. Many options are available for small business-owners with limited financial resources who are interested in gaining a Web presence. But the sooner you determine if– and how–to put your business on the Web, the better.

“This is the first time that minorities, particularly African Americans, have had a chance to be at the starting gate with their white counterparts,” says Larry Irving, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Depending on your type of business and what you expect to reap, there are many things to be gained from a Web site. You can expand your geographic market, service your customers better, identify potential clients and showcase new products. Your site can also serve as an educational tool if you provide information on your industry and provide links to related sites.

For Jeffrey Boyer, president of Century 21 University Real Estate in Philadelphia (www.libertynet.org/c21ur), his company’s Web site does all of the above and is an image booster, as well. “Our site is good promotion for the business,” says Boyer, who hired a consultant to develop his company’s site. “People know that when they list their house with us, it might be on the Internet. Even if they don’t understand what the Internet is yet, it will start making them ask questions about it. So we’re hoping to educate people along the way.”

The most important step in building a Web site is determining your needs and setting goals. Why are you building a site? What can you afford? Before you hire a consultant or write one iota of HTML (hypertext markup language used to create Web pages), your parameters should be clearly set. “You want someone who is on your side telling you the range of choices,” says Michael Hammer, director of electronic communications of the American Marketing Association. “While they may make suggestions about specific choices, it shouldn’t be predicated on their making money.”

Expect to pay a minimum of $500 if you decide to hire someone to develop your Web site. And as with any investment, research and shop around. Study the consultant’s online portfolio and check their references.

Derrick Jenkins, owner of Brevard Cardiovascular Imaging in Rockledge, Florida (http://members.aol.com/andecoinc/bci.html), took the barebones route to creating a Web page for his business by harnessing the free time of young relatives and downloading shareware and freeware from the Net.

There are many tools available for those who want to be their own Wehmaster. Learning HTML does not take much time. Hammer recommends Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 3.2 in a Week by Laura Lemay (Sams.Net, $29.99; www.lne.com/Web). For site management and HTML authoring, Microsoft’s Front Page ($139) consistently garners top reviews from industry publications for overall excellence and ease of use. But if you’re willing to forego the user-friendly perks of Front Page, AOLpress is the runner up site manager–and you cannot beat the price. Download it for free at www.aolpress.com.

If you

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