Easy-to-build Websites available to small PPDs – Brief Article
Byline: eric peterson
A few years ago, a small business Website was a costly proposition. During the dot-com boom, technical talent was at a premium, and the law of supply and demand led to sky-high hourly rates for Internet developers. And Web hosting was also far from cheap, resulting in a near-guaranteed inability for the small business to profit from e-commerce.
But times change, as they always do. The Internet bust led to a buyer’s market and, by and large, developers remain hungry for work today. This, alongside the ever-sliding price of technology, makes for a cornucopia of easy-to-build Website possibilities for the small business. This is especially true in the promotional industry, as suppliers have already made things simpler by providing clients with free online sales tools. By linking a simple but stylish home page with these supplier freebies, a PPD can establish an effective, adaptive, and profitable online presence without emptying the company coffers.
For the last few months, I’ve been subscribing to Yahoo! Geocities Webmaster package, a service that runs $11.95 a month with a one-time $15 setup fee. For that scant price, I’ve been able to set up a 50-megabyte Website with a user-friendly program called PageBuilder. As a freelance writer, I’ve used it to put together a site (www.kindguides.com) with my resume, a page with links to assorted online articles, and a password-protected section where I’ve been housing a book proposal and an unfinished script.
And I’m no programmer. I’ve written about the Web since the boom days, but this site was my first foray into design. I’m ecstatic about the results – especially considering the fact that the annual price (including $35 in registration for my domain name) is less than $200.
Dare to be different
In the past, inexpensive Websites have been mostly automated, and not very customizable. In the late ’90s, scores of startups launched massive automated web-building enterprises, targeting small businesses in specific industries. In the ASI space, several companies did so, including both tech-focused businesses and established industry suppliers.
However, the end result was generally less than interesting: hundreds of identical Websites with identical catalogs – essentially affiliate programs with automated virtual go-betweens in place of true distributor involvement. Sure, a fair share of mid-sized and larger distributors went out and bought a high-dollar company site that helped set them apart from the crowd, but this sort of investment was usually not an option for the mom-and-pop shop.
With Lycos or Yahoo! tools, however, money is not an obstacle. At $12 a month, Webmaster is actually one of the pricier packages on Yahoo! GeoCities. If you allow outside advertisers to advertise on your site, you can get a bare-bones site for free, and you can do the same through Lycos, another search engine, with its Tripod and Angelfire offerings. (There are also expanded versions of the latter two for just $4.95 a month.)
Of course, using PageBuilder and Lycos’ online Website design software requires basic computer skills – akin to those needed for Microsoft Word – but all of these packages feature good online tutorials to get beginners up to speed. In all cases, users can use basic graphic design tools (even the built-in Windows offering, Microsoft Paint), scanners, and digital cameras and then upload custom graphics or select from online galleries of clip art. A little elbow grease translates into a distinctive site with personality, something the mass-produced Websites lack.
Invest time, not money
With GeoCities’ password protection, a PPD could designate an area for approved customers only, then link that page to the prefab pages accumulated through suppliers. The cheap or free home page would then serve as a hub for online communication, company information, and creative features (decorating tips, new product profiles, promotional ideas) and integrate directly into the back end of suppliers’ online catalogs.
Using PageBuilder or its Lycos equivalents, someone who’s surfed the Internet on a regular basis will be able to build a Website in a day or two, and maintain it with a commitment of only a few hours a month. It sure beats paying a contractor $50 or $100 an hour to build a site, and then pay a host a monthly fee over and above $10 or $15 a month.
A unique online presence has slowly but surely become an increasingly affordable, convenient option for the small business. Not that free Websites like Tripod and GeoCities haven’t been around since the early days of the World Wide Web – they’ve just gotten better and better.
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