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by Claire Sykes
If you're not already doing it, you will be. It's just a matter of time before everyone finds their way onto the Internet. Like telephones, soon we won't be able to imagine life without it. And business won't be business as usual without your own site on the World Wide Web.
Once MasterCard and VISA secure consumer on-line credit card transactions (due early this year), commerce on the Net will soar, and impact nearly every type of business. A well-planned and carefully designed Web site boosts your image, reinforces your credibility and allows you to network with anyone -- worldwide. Eventually, it can bring increased sales for your window coverings business.
"Look at your Web site as a new business venture, not just another marketing channel," says Keith Thirgood, co-owner of Capstone Communications in Markham, Ontario, Canada. "You're participating in the infrastructure that's preparing consumers who eventually will make many of their purchases on the Net."
But don't market on the Internet with the hopes of making lots of money, warns Jay Steinfeld, owner of Laura's Draperies, Bedspreads & More, in Houston, TX. "The latest catch-phrase these days is 'If you build it, they will come.' That's just not true. They won't come unless you give them a good reason to, " he says.
Part of your total marketing strategy, your Web site presents your business to today's 40 million Internet users worldwide. For draperies and window coverings retailers who rely mostly on local business, a properly maintained Web site showcases your products and services to prospects -- at their convenience.
Dian Garbarini, owner of Designs by Dian in Huntington Beach, CA, puts it this way: "Any more, it's becoming the norm to have a Web site. If you're not on the Net, you simply don't exist. And though it may feel overwhelming at first, once you have a Web site, you'll see the advantages immediately."
Planning Your Site
Your answers will help determine the most appropriate approach to designing your Web site including size, complexity and cost.
Hire Out or Do It Yourself?
"Then again, what's your time worth?" Thirgood asks. "Are you better off investing that time doing traditional marketing and sales, and running a business, or developing a Web site that may not pay off for a few years?"
Says Glenn Parfitt, vice president of sales and marketing at Vicnet Communications, a managed Internet Service Provider (ISP) based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, "There are lots of bad sites on the Net. Don't let yours to be one of them. If you don't have the skills, you're likely to create something that you think looks good, but isn't."
Net-savvy people can tell. "If your Web site doesn't impress them right off, they're likely to move on to the next one," says Steinfeld. He served as his Web site's layout artist, designing the format, structure and navigational elements. Then he hired writers, graphic artists and production and technical people. His team maintains the site every other month.
Complement Existing Marketing
You can have the flashiest Web site on the Internet, but if your traditional marketing materials aren't topnotch and doing their job, you won't get the most out of it. Together, both give you results.
Brochures, advertising and direct mail target a specific, local geographic or demographic market. "Your Web site attracts people who search you out because they're definitely interested in what you have to offer," says Thirgood. "At the same time, they come from a broad geographic market, which may or may not be conducive to your business."
To attract local customers, make sure your Web site address (called a URL for Universal Resource Locator) is included on your stationery, business cards, brochures, direct mail, advertising and other promotional materials. Says Garbarini, "Whenever I include my Web site address with newspaper advertising, more people respond to the site."
Editor's Note: In next month's article, Sykes discusses tips for designing a successful Web site and some of the benefits of networking alliances.
Claire Sykes is a free-lance writer living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Her articles appear in dozens of trade and consumer magazine throughout the United States and Canada.