Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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How To Gain Exposure on the Internet - Part 2

Last month we explored a variety of methods key in gaining exposure on the Internet. This time around we will continue our discussion with an examination of e-commerce options and strategies that will give you an edge on the competition and enable you to tap the vast commercial potential of this powerful medium.

WebAds

Most small companies seem content to utilise the Internet as another means of delivering standard marketing messaging — an electronic mock up of traditionally disseminated printed material. Perhaps they believe that their firms are too small to be concerned with extending their sites to address more complex business processes... perhaps they think the associated expense will not be offset by increased revenues... perhaps they fail to think outside of the  box. Let's take a look at a possible example:

Ed's Organ Emporium

Ed had been running his small mom and pop music store for 30 years. He did a good business within the community during the 70's and 80's but the organ trade had seemed to have fallen off lately. Ed had tried to introduce synthesisers and digital samplers into his store, but his customer base was older and not inclined to go in for that new-fangled stuff. He failed to attract younger clients who thought of Ed's showroom as "that dusty old place with the cheesy organs". Being well established in this sense was a definite detriment to conducting business.

Ed thought about totally renovating his store with an updated look and modern inventory. While this idea was possessed of some merit, the costs involved were prohibitive and after all, he was still Ed — and not very popular with the younger set. One day his son-in-law convinced him that he had to get on the Internet... everybody was doing it — a sure fire way to revitalise his business! So, Ed learned how to use MS FrontPage, slapped together a web site and posted it to his new web address: www.localISP.com/~edsorganemporium. In it he included product descriptions of his current inventory, his store hours and contact information. He even had a feedback section for his clients. Ed sat back and waited for the new customers to start streaming in. He waited a long time.

KeyboardStop.com

After nearly giving up on his Internet effort, Ed ran into a musically inclined IT consultant at an organ trade show. Explaining his web difficulties, and the fact that the shop was doing more poorly than ever, Ed listened as the consultant briefly outlined a plan to effectively  utilise the Internet to dramatically enhance his market position. Intrigued, Ed agreed to engage the consultant to draft a proposal detailing specifics of the scheme. After a couple of weeks, the proposal having been reviewed, Ed decided to go with the recommendations. Despite the fact that they represented a relatively substantial investment (compared with current expenditure levels on the exiting site), they seemed to make sense and Ed felt he had nothing left to try.

Getting right to work, the first thing Ed did was register his new domain name "www.KeyboardStop.com" and purchased a virtual domain server package from localISP.com. Next, he hired a reputable web design firm via the consultant to give his site a makeover. They created a web presence that reflected the leading edge, fast paced, hi-tech sales environment Ed wished existed in his shop. On the Internet, nobody knew that Ed was 62 or that he only owned a small organ shop... all they would see was this impressive site and make their own assumptions regarding its ownership.

Ed's new website design was not overtly sales oriented, but more geared toward providing valuable services to his intended clients. He had sections for new equipment reviews, online tutorials for programming synthesisers and samplers, instrument specific discussion groups and downloadable patches and samples. He contacted sheet music publishers and struck a deal by which he would digitise sheet music and pay them a royalty on every electronic download from his new sheet music section wherein customers could search for and purchase individual songs via credit card over the net. He advertised his new site on all the music related newsgroups and registered repeatedly with all the search engines.

As traffic increased on his site, Ed approached equipment manufacturers and enticed them to purchase banner advertising on his site. Next he struck a deal with the manufacturers to ship product just-in-time to the end client in order to eliminate inventory costs and associated obsolescence risk. This enabled Ed to offer new equipment at substantially discounted rates as he was in time able to close down his high rent store front and move to an office within his home. All transactions were handled over secure sockets by way of  the net. As Ed's site grew, he introduced streaming video music tutorials and branched out into other lines of musical equipment...

I could go on and on but the potential of this medium should be quite obvious by now. If you can think of innovative ways to be of service to your prospective client base over the Internet, you will be seen as not only a good netizen but the natural choice when it comes to making a buying decision.

Originally published in Monitor Magazine, lan ConXions column, May, 1999, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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