Why Are You Promoting Someone Else's Business?

When you get your company letterhead printed, would you put an ad for someone else on it? When you answer the phone, would you tell who your phone company or mortgage holder is before talking to the client? Of course not, you want your business to be about you and your connection with your clients and vendors. Then why are you letting your Internet service provider come between you? Why are you buying advertising for the company you buy your Internet connection from?

email symbolWhat I am talking about here is your email address. Even if you don’t have your own website, which you should, you should have your own email address. Why should you be advertising AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, GMail or any other email provider instead of yourself? It is a very simple matter to set up a rule with whomever your web host is to forward any mail that comes to your domain’s mailbox to the mailbox you are currently using. In other words, if your domain name is “mydomain.com” then you could have “president@mydomain.com” as an email address that simply forwards to your current account on AOL, Yahoo or wherever. And as long as you make sure to set your return address in your email program to “president@mydomain.com” no one will ever be the wiser.

Another thing you can do is map multiple address to a single end account. This means that you can make your small business seem large by having different addresses like “support@mydomain.com”, “humanresources@mydomain.com” and “complaints@mydomain.com” all as valid emails, but in reality they just go to your one main account. This is great for a growing company because as those positions actually come into existence the address can just be re-pointed to the new hire. The outside address never changes.

And that brings up another reason to do this email mapping. How many times have you changed email providers? Perhaps you moved out of Comcast’s area and now use AT&T. So your email address changed. Or maybe you simply outgrew the smaller residential service and needed a truly robust solution. Whatever the reason, every time you change your email provider then your customers need to be notified, your business cards need to be changed, your letterhead has to change, your website has to change… well, you get the picture. But, if you use your own domain’s email addressing, then you are always in control. If you move email providers there is no problem. The pointer for “president@mydomain.com” is redirected from “me@comcast.net” to “me@att.com” and nothing for your customers, vendors, or other contacts need to change.

What does all of this cost? If you own your own domain name or website you are probably already paying for it. If you need someone’s help to do the work there may be a small charge, but it would be very small. Of course there will be that initial change when you let all your contacts know your new email, but you can tell them that this will be the last time you will ever do so. What a relief to everyone involved. And, from then on, when they see your emails your brand will be reinforced – and you will be advertising yourself instead of someone else.

Before Building A Website

One of the most common questions I am asked as a computer consultant and web developer is “how much would it cost to build a website for me?” While this is a perfectly legitimate and understandable question, it is very much like asking “how much does a car cost?” Again, it sounds reasonable, until you start to think about it. Are we talking about a commuter car or luxury car. Are you wanting to win a Formula 1 race or maybe you really just wanted to drive cross country or haul some passengers and luggage for a living.

Designing WebsiteAs you can see, that simple question of car cost is really not so simple after all and the answer could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars for an old fishing car to hundreds of thousands for serious racing equipment. So the conversation around websites should begin not with cost, but with purpose – what are you trying to do with your website?

To make this a bit easier, lets start by breaking business websites down into three different categories. And again, we really are talking just business sites here, large or small, but not about personal or social sites.

The first type of site you might consider is a business card site. A business card site is how we refer to a static site of just one or two pages that includes the basic information about your business. These sites will tell what you do, how to contact you, your hours of operation and other standard information. As the name would imply, this type of site is basically a business card on the Internet. Or you might think of it as an overgrown Yellow Pages ad. The lure of this first type of site is that it is simple and cheap to setup. You can get one up quickly either by yourself or with minimal help. The bad thing is that it doesn’t do you a lot of good other than putting a stake in the ground for your domain name. That is about it. There is nothing in a site like this that will get you noticed by search engines, get you new customers, or really connect you with the market.

The second type of site is about real communication with clients and customers. We will call these interactive websites. There is a lot of leeway as to what can be in these site, but generally here you are talking about a site with content management so that regular updates like news and events can be posted easily. Also these site are tweaked for search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure they are indexed by search providers like Google and Yahoo. Finally, these sites are dynamic and menu driven. That means it is fairly easy to change things around, add features, and grow the site as needs arise. There may be blogs on interactive sites or customer feedback forums or scheduling and multi-media. Because there are so many options with an interactive website, most implementations will start with a smaller feature set and only implement, and pay for, additional features as they fit the business model. Again, when you think of these interactive sites, think of extensive search features, improved navigation, social networking tie-ins to services like Facebook or Twitter, automated RSS feeds, and streaming video.

The third and final category of websites is the ecommerce site. When you think about ecommerce sites, think about Amazon and eBay. These are the sites that concentrate on selling things, processing payments, inventory presentation, stock management, and customer accounting. Ecommerce sites are the most complicated and expensive to develop. While there are many systems that can make the process less painful, a full ecommerce site should only be considered when there is a strong business case for it. Typically you are not trying to pull in new customers with a site like this but to service existing customers. Pulling in new customers and winning them over is the job of an interactive website, which is why you will often see ecommerce sites paired with an interactive site to deliver the full continuity of customer service.

You will see from this over simplified breakdown that what you want to do, like when you buy a car, is to determine first what you are trying to achieve. If all you want is to hold your domain name and prove that you exist, then the cheap and simple business card type site will do you. But if you want to attract new business, provide value to your customers, and establish a communications tool that will engage your customers, then you need to move on to interactive content driven site. And finally, only when you have significant online sales to warrant the time and expense should you move into the ecommerce sites.

A note on net neutrality

The following is summarized from a notice posted on Google. I couldn’t have said it myself, so I won’t try…

The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat. There’s a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called “net neutrality” – and it’s a debate that’s so important Google is asking you to get involved. We’re asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom.

In the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill, and one that may come up for a key vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, would give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.

Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.

Thanks for your time, your concern and your support.

Eric Schmidt

This is a very important issue and one you need to be aware of. This will fundamentally affect how we use the Internet and whether or not the little guy can compete. From freedom of blogs and bloggers to post news to how something like Craig’s List competes with eBay, it is all wound up together.

For more information on net neutrality, check out the wikipedia entry. And to help support the efforts, check out SaveTheInternet.