"Trouble is, most everybody still thinks of it as a get-rich-quick scheme,” says David Mason. “But E-commerce is no faster, nor does it take any less work and planning to turn a profit.” As area director of Fast-Teks Onsite Computer Services and founder of HMG Publishing in Skillman, Mason has recently partnered with PNC Bank to market a new E-commerce package that coordinates directly with the user’s account.

To explain this and many other strides forward in online business, Mason will present his free seminar “Running a Successful E-commerce Program in Your Business,” on Wednesday, June 11, at 5:30 p.m. at the PNC Bank on Nassau Street. Call 609-497-6780.

A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Mason attended Norfolk State University, graduating with a bachelor’s in chemistry in 1970. From college ROTC he stepped into the U.S. Army, where he remained a career officer for 31 years. As an information officer, Mason gained his first acquaintance with the new and ever-evolving computer systems.

Mason came to New Jersey to become vice president of regulations and marketing of Hatco Chemical Corporation in Fords. He later founded HMG Publishing (Heavenly Media Group — www.heavenlymedia.com) and added the Fast-Teks franchise capabilities to enhance HMG’s offerings.

Mason preaches a deceptively simple-sounding, three step formula to E-commerce success. First, build up traffic to the site; second turn that traffic into hits and site explorers; and third transform the explorers into customers. “Too many people are doing one or two aspects of this formula,” says Mason. “They operate on the theory that if you make it they will come.” Rather, just like any face-to-face sales encounter, the potential customer must be guided along a very straight forward, understandable process.

Q & A yourself. E-commerce is still commerce, and financial success still depends on a foundation of solid marketing plans. What is your product niche? Who are the competitors? How can you brand yourself to deal with them? What is the business’s potential market share and expected profits? And finally, the most neglected E-commerce question: How am I logistically going to invoice and fulfill the orders that come gliding through cyberspace.

“Inherent in the planning process is the building in of scruples,” says Mason. The Internet has become notorious for unscrupulous deals, sending quivers of trepidation through many potential customers. It becomes more incumbent in this medium than any to show an ostensible sense of values that forge customer trust.

Provider choice. It takes a surprising amount of due diligence to select a reliable provider. The biggest, or the one with the best deals, may not offer the prime advantage for one’s specific firm. When scoping out providers, Mason suggests checking references within your business area, and that of your potential clients. Ideally, service and troubleshooting should entail an individual who deals with you face-to-face, all day, every day.

Alluring sites. The greatest trend in sites today is seeing how many items can be crammed onto that prime real estate of the home page. Company owners and designers want to make sure every single offering they have, in every conceivable mix, is thrust at the browser instantly. But like a restaurant menu with too many entrees, the reader quickly becomes overwhelmed, feels put off, and goes to the simple local diner.

“Don’t slather that home page with all the bells and whistles,” warns Mason. “Instead concentrate on making it attractive to the eye — something that makes the visitor say ‘Oh, I’m interested.’”

If done correctly, the home page will lure visitors into the website. This means that navigation must be intuitive, not for an experienced computer pro, but for any casual browser. People who come to this site typically are seeking information first, and product second. A good designer can achieve the connection between the two with a single click.

Site ads on and off. Promoting an E-commerce site online takes creative brainwork. Offline promotion demands legwork; and both are necessary. Finding just the right keywords for online search optimization is trickier than one might think. The goal is less to spark the interest of the mindless webcrawler hunting for some appropriate site than it is to discern the thought patterns of the human browsers that set them crawling. What is the potential customer looking for, and in what words is he going to put it? Registering with directories also provides another armchair way to drive traffic to your site. Paper and online press releases must be strategically placed, then backed up with phone calls.

This done, it is time for the business owner to get up and sally forth among his peers. Haunt the trade shows, visit the professional organizations, and give your spiel. If the meeting is being held at a hot spot, have the laptop conveniently open to your site for all to see. While at these meetings, work on link swapping. “By creating a nest of interactive links, you not only attract that group’s visitors, but you automatically excite webcrawlers in that nest’s direction,” says Mason.

Once the site is up and running, constant analysis and tweaking is demanded. “Every time people go to page three on the site, they add something to the cart. What is that page doing right that the others are not?” a client once asked Mason. Conversely, many an attractive site can lure in 35,000 hits weekly and get virtually no customers. A great fan of open source software, Mason recommends downloading one of the many available web tracking analyzers that can help owners make upgrade decisions.

Like any other business method, E-commerce must be fertilized, watered, and sweated over to grow a profit. But in the end, online still holds the basic allures of an inexpensive startup and the chance to make money in one’s pajamas.

— Bart Jackson

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