to Build a Small-Business Web Site, Part 1: Nuts &
By Denise J. Deveau, TechNewsWorld
it comes to setting up your Web presence,
entrepreneurs are surprisingly lax. Depending on who
you talk to, about half of small businesses do not
have a Web site. Most of those will tell you that
it's just too complicated, time-consuming and
expensive a job to take on. With the availability of
free and very low-cost drag and drop Web building
tools, however, entrepreneurs have no more excuses
for being off-screen.
It's getting harder than ever for all those
entrepreneurial types out there to stay ahead of the
game. In a world where every penny saved can be a
matter of survival, it's good to know that not all
parts of running your business have to break your
bank account. Take your Web site, for example.
It used to be setting up a site was a major
investment and a lot of headaches. Staying on top of
content was time consuming, coding was impossible
for the technically challenged, updates were painful
and slow, and it tended to be a job that fell behind
the more important business basics -- like making
sales calls, ordering supplies, managing inventory
or handling your daily bookkeeping tasks. Paying a
few thousand dollars for a third-party service
provider to handle all the design, hosting and
content management for you was simply beyond
However, procrastinating when it comes to your Web
site is a big risk these days, Michael Schultz,
director of marketing for Microsoft Office Live
Small Business, told TechNewsWorld. "Independent
entrepreneurs wonder why they need a site, and think
word of mouth is working, but I can't see how anyone
can compete without being online. With everyone
using search engines and social media, if you don't
have a site, you're not in business."
The Tool Makers
Office Live for Small Business is a browser-based
service that offers the technically and fiscally
challenged of the world a set of free Web building
tools that are as easy to use as editing a Word
Standard services and tools, such as design
templates, site hosting and basic reporting are
free. Businesses can also opt for a number of
low-cost premium services, such as custom domain
name registration, premium e-mail and
marketing, keyword advertising and e-commerce
services. They can also integrate other services
such as PayPal for payment processing.
Vinnie Lingham, CEO and founder of SynthaSite, had a
similar idea when his company came up with its
browser-based tool for building sites a few years
"The whole idea was to remove the layers of
complexity," Lingham told TechnNewsWorld. "We
believed browser-based applications were the way of
the future. We also felt there was no reason we
couldn't put something out there to let anyone build
their own sites."
He equates the impact of this type of capability to
what Bill Gates did with Windows. "When drag and
drop came into being, it changed the game. We're
looking at the same kind of game changer. Users can
use drag and drop functions, write text, edit files,
hit publish and they're live -- just like that."
Capturing Customer Data the Easy Way
With a few minutes of extra effort, fledgling Web
site builders can also use free Web-based services
to create forms for
capturing customer data. Depending on your type
of business, this is a much more effective strategy
than posting a simple "e-mail us" link on a site and
responding on an ad hoc basis when inquiries come
To help the data capture cause, there are now
easy-to-use, no-charge forms services such as
FormAssembly.com and Wufoo.
With these services, users simply visit the site,
fill out the required fields, hit enter, and they're
ready to collect customer data from their Web sites.
So whenever anyone visits your site and fills out
the contact form, the data is captured by the
service provider and aggregated for reporting.
"A simple form only takes you a few minutes to get
up and running on your site. Then we take care of
the responses and capturing the data for you to use.
You can go to our site to see the number of
responses received, aggregate data from multiple
choice questions or surveys, and view it in chart
form," explained Cedric Savarese, founder of Veer
West, developers of FormAssembly.com.
"Basically you log in, drag and drop the on-screen
interface, fill out the form fields you want and
save it," cofounder Ryan Campbell told TechNewsWorld.
"Depending on the type of form and your technical
expertise, you can use various levels of integration
for your Web site, from pasting it on your site,
creating a link, or actually downloading source
You can also configure the account so that reports
-- including graphs and pie charts -- can be sent to
you via e-mail, an RSS feed or online reporting.
Even if you have it in your head you can track your
own customer data, Campbell said that a big plus for
services like Wufoo is that you don't have to worry
about privacy and security requirements. "That part
managing data can often be overlooked when you
do it yourself. Another thing is spam. You may not
have the measures in place when creating things from
At a time where competition is only going to get
stiffer -- and margins thinner -- it's more critical
than ever that you take the time to put yourself on
the map. Given that even the smallest of small
businesses can access free Web site building tools
that take a matter of minutes to master, the 50
percent that are behind the game already might want
to start rethinking their business strategy.
"Besides the fact that people need to find you, a
Web site is a wonderful way to differentiate
yourself -- and that's especially important in
today's economic environment," said Schultz.
TechNewsWorld Dec. 4, 2008 issue (www.technewsworld.com).