Do you know the value of great presentation? Many local businesses, chain stores, and catalog enterprises have years of experience and a great deal of time and money invested in their reputations and products . . . merchants running businesses on the Web find a number of slightly different challenges. With numerous technological tools combined with free, often expert advice, new Web business owners can move steadily toward the time when they can begin making a profit. They are discovering what local business people already know: it takes time to create a business plan, obtain capital, then find the right support team to help put together and maintain a solid business. They understand the need to advertise, network, market their businesses and themselves. In much of America, when you walk into a store for the first time, you generally do so because it's attractive, clean, has professional signage, and good parking . . . but you still need to be persuaded to make a purchase. Does someone greet you with a smile and ask if you need help, or do salespeople avoid eye contact as you enter? Does management display merchandise well, or leave boxes stacked up in the aisles? Can you read the prices easily, or do you need to pop out your Sherlock Holmes Magnifying Glass? When you pick up a mail order catalog, you want to know you're using a reliable company. Does it offer clean, clear graphics and text? Does it tempt you with its descriptions and graphics? Do the prices and shipping charges seem reasonable? Do they offer a toll-free phone number? What about a return policy? PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER. Some Internet business owners have yet to learn the value of effective presentation. Of themselves.Those who want to be taken seriously may be wise to provide some type of a picture of who they are and what they believe. And presentation stretches into other areas of Web development. Like credentials. CREDENTIALS. Would you search the Internet for a professional (e.g., CPA, coach, psychologist, attorney) and, upon finding an attractive Web site, plunk down your hard-earned money without checking that person's credentials? Why not offer a business profile or resume, and/or an About Us area? This helps interested visitors know you better. Mention community involvement, such as service club membership and volunteer work (school, church, nonprofits, etc.). Note professional affiliations . . . hobbies, if they would help people know you better. TESTIMONIALS. Along the same lines: integrate testimonials (or comments about your site, product, customer service, etc.) onto your site. This isn't bragging . . . it's good business procedure. Be creative. When people e-mail you valuable comments, ask if you may use them on your Testimonials page. When designing the page, provide a link to their sites, and include their logo, if they offer one. Many of the most successful businesses, regardless of size, are known for their commitment to the community: local, national, and/or international. GIVE. When people create Web sites offering tutorials, tips, articles, discussion boards, e-zines, etc., what are they really doing? Giving. You can, as well. Many of us don't have products to give away in contests, or the funds to buy promotional items for giveaways. But you have courage, intelligence, and ingenuity, or you wouldn't be trying to start a business in cyberspace. Take those qualities and come up with something. Find something that grabs your interest, perhaps a hobby, a celebrity, an author, a subject of some kind, and set about creating a page that will be your gift to visitors. Example: let's say you love poetry, but you don't write poetry. Why can't you set up a page of links to the most expressive poetry sites on the Internet? Scour the Internet for just the right ones. Or maybe your hobby is collecting buttons. Can you create a page of links, and scan some buttons to use as graphic bullets on the page? The list is limited only by your imagination (or your ability to brainstorm with others!!). NEWS RELEASES. Try to get permission to put the actual text on your website, but if that isn't possible, link to the site of the media that published your interview, release, etc. Sometimes they'll send you a PDF of the article, which you can upload. And if you can't get permission to copy, you can always summarize, citing the date of publication, writer, etc. Keep all releases on one web page so visitors can skim and choose what they want. Think visitor, visitor, visitor. Convenience, convenience, convenience. Your site, in part, will be ranked by its outgoing links, so make sure you have good ones that in some way reflect you or your interests. You can also set up a page of links to websites you recommend. Be creative, and be honest. Don’t try to hoodwink the search engines. Doesn’t work. This unique gift, then, becomes another part of your business portrait. In my case, I have little to give away but information and a free tutorial on how to create an good ASCII ezine. I provide tips and carefully chosen links for people wanting information on writing, grammar usage, learning, site design, and site marketing. One last note on giving. Not everyone can give more than they are already giving in their lives. This includes time. If you have no extra time, that's okay. Don't waste time fretting. There is no magic formula for operating a successful Web business . . . just lots of proven ideas that seem to work . . . but not all at the same time, or on the same site. BECOME ACCOUNTABLE TO A GROUP. Consider affiliating with a group of ethical Internet professionals who will hold you accountable for your business ethics. There are some excellent organizations that require ethical business behavior of their members. Some will only accept an application after they have carefully studied the applicant's site. Membership in such a group speaks volumes about you. You reveal that you are willing to have a third party involved if a dispute arises in the process of running your business. CONCLUSION: The above suggestions, built around aspects of presentation, won't necessarily make or break your Internet business if implemented. They're not all vital . . . but they may be valuable. Keep in mind that the most valuable thing about your website is your attitude toward your visitors. Do everything you can to make their visit pleasant and efficient. Your visitors hold the keys to your success.
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