Working the Web

Learn how the Internet can benefit your business

Microsoft’s Bill Gates has been quoted as saying that any business that doesn’t have a “dot com” after its name by the year 2000, isn’t really in business. Five or six years ago, many of us might have balked at that, but today it’s evident that the Internet is turning out to be all that pundits said it would be. Last Christmas alone, 7.8 million people bought merchandise online, ringing up receipts totaling $4.1 billion. This season, the number of shoppers is expected to jump to over 24 million.

Still, for many black business owners, the lingering question isn’t whether Websites work, but whether they work for black businesses. To that question, experts answer, yes, they can. The number of black-owned businesses successfully leveraging the power of the Internet is steadily increasing.

Patrick McElroy, a former Website designer and creator of the search engine and directory www.everythingblack.com, is actively conducting research into the size of the Web’s black business population. He says that without a doubt, “It’s on the rise.” He strongly warns black businesses against waiting much longer to establish a Web presence. “The Internet is not a fad. It’s a proven medium, and it’s going to be an ingrained part of our culture.” There were 83.4 million adults ages 16 or older accessing the Internet as of April of this year, according to Intelliquest. And Nielsen predicts 132.7 million by the year 2000.

The size and nature of the World Wide Web can make getting started challenging. Rest assured, you don’t have to be a tech head to get involved. It’s easier now than it ever was, and the benefits are real.

STUCK ON THE NET
A self-confessed guerrilla marketer, Fatima Sokera of Atlanta says it never occurred to her that the Internet would play a part in helping her business, Fatima’s Beautiful Braids Inc., grow. She was content with old-fashioned sales and marketing techniques. She attempted to reach as many prospects as she could face-to-face. She’d work street corners or hand out fliers in the supermarket-whatever it took to increase consumer awareness and foster sales of her haircare product, Takedown, which aids in the removal of artificial braids and extensions and the restoration of healthy hair.

She would later learn that her prospect base was larger than she could ever physically touch, and to reach it would require a giant leap forward. “I started hearing that lots of women were online, and that’s my target customer. They weren’t just here in Georgia, they were all over the country.” Although she admits she’s “not a technology person,” that discovery convinced her she should set up an electronic storefront where customers anywhere in the world could find her products.

Unfortunately, Sokera was overwhelmed by the options available and she stumbled at first. For a $75 design fee and $375 site fee, she obtained a site through an online mall called www.blacksalons.com. It was a bare-bones site with limited functionality. Initially, she recalls, “We thought, ‘What was all the hype about? [The Internet] doesn’t really work

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ACROSS THE WEB