Designing Your Web Site
•Use a domain name. If you don't have one, the name of your Internet service provider (ISP) will be included as part of your Web address or universal resource locator (URL). That is a potential drawback. Should you change your ISP or it goes out of business, you'll need to change your URL. Imagine the hassles.
Keep your domain name short so it's easier for people to remember. Then register it with as many popular search engines as possible so your Web site can be found more easily.
•Stand out. Let your Web site reflect your business personality. "You're creating an image," says Jay Steinfeld, owner of Laura's Draperies, Bedspreads & More, in Houston, TX. "The appearance of your site is just as important as the suit you wear for a sales presentation," he adds.
Attract people to your draperies and window coverings offerings with exciting graphics and enticing photographs of your latest products. "There's such a glut of Web sites out there," continues Steinfeld. "How can you differentiate yours from others?"
•Don't delay. The first page of your Web site is the most important. Because current technology generates sluggish graphics, avoid large and/or superfluous images that take too long to download. "Until bandwidth problems are solved, allowing graphics to travel more quickly on the Net, use thumbnail images. People can choose to click on these to link to larger, more detailed images," says Keith Thirgood, co-owner of Capstone Communications in Markham, Ontario, Canada.
While images are downloading, text should come up immediately. "You want it to be the World Wide Web, not the World Wide Wait," quips Glenn Parfitt, vice president of sales and marketing at Vicnet Communications, a managed ISP based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Start small and expand. The further someone goes into a Web site, the more they're hooked, the more patience they have. Announce new products, describe recent projects and don't forget testimonials.
•Use hot links. When visitors click on one of these links in someone else's Web site, they get immediate access to your Web site. In the Draperies & Window Coverings site (http://www. dwcdesignet.com), hot links take viewers to manufacturer and supplier listings in the annual Directory & Buyer's Guide, which also includes a listing by product category and a who's who in industry-related organizations.
•Install advanced e-mail capabilities. Interact with prospects visiting your Web site. When you use a mail-bot, or automated program, with your site your computer can automatically respond to requests for information.
•Maintain your site. Along with fixing certain physical problems such as broken links, keep your Web site up to date. "A Web site is a like a baby," says Steinfeld. "You've got to feed it with the right technology, nurture it with attention and dress it in bigger clothes every month. Let people know you care about your site. They won't return unless there's something new to see." Also, the more often you update your Web site, the more people will visit it.
Responding to Visitors
Although a mail-bot records e-mail addresses, don't send unsolicited bulk messages. Called spamming, this action is shunned in the culture of the Net. Instead, provide visitors with a method to request or refuse information.
Allow visitors to research their needs by providing forms that ask for information such as the dimension, material, color and price of the drapery or window covering products they are looking for. This information can be returned to the visitor automatically, or you can answer personally depending on how you set up your response mechanism.
Because it's instantaneous, convenient and personable e-mail is a powerful tool providing enhanced customer service. Check and respond to it daily. "Busy professionals who don't get home until midnight can send their messages then and know we're going to get it precisely in the manner they sent it," says Steinfeld, who spends about an hour a day responding to people from all over the world.
Part of a Bigger Picture
Steinfeld admits that "like any kind of PR, it's very difficult to show direct results from a Web site." Nevertheless, he has sold shutters to people as far away as the Caribbean.
Mostly, the Internet in the draperies and window coverings industry results in networking alliances, says Dian Garbarini, owner of Designs by Dian in Huntington Beach, CA. "It has opened up a whole new world for me. I've made a lot of contacts and gained a lot of exposure though DraperyPro. As a result, I'm now speaking to groups around the country in the industry."
It's exciting to be an active participant of the Internet, a dynamic, international community with unlimited possibilities. A well-designed Web site opens the door to a whole new universe of business opportunities. So take the time and spend what it takes to carefully plan, design and maintain your site. Make the most of your investment and your Web site will make the most of your draperies and window coverings business.
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.