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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Website Required

In an interview just about one year ago Ilise (Lisa)

Benun, a marketing consultant with a specialty in Internet self-promotion,

said "some industries are behind in using the Internet, while

others already consider it a given." Now, in her opinion, "every

business needs a website."

Internet companies may be down or sinking, technology spending may

be a ghost of its former self, but consumer use of the Internet keeps

growing. Last year Benun said that businesses with a technology product

needed to have an Internet presence, and suggested that a website

was a good idea for businesses selling things "you have to see

and touch."

The bar has been raised.

Benun (found online at www.artofselfpromotion.com) is finding that

no business owner now feels comfortable owning up to the lack of a

website. Everyone casually asks: What’s your URL? No one wants to

admit to not having one. "They get sheepish," she says. "They

say `it’s not up yet.’"

Benun gives a free talk on "Is Your Website User Friendly?"

at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m.

Call 609-924-9529.

Benun, a graduate of Tufts (Class of 1984), founded her business in

Hoboken in 1988. Before that she was employed as director of operations

for a Kenyan safari company. When she was fired by the safari operator

she vowed never to be an employee again, a promise she has kept. She

started out as an entrepreneur by becoming a professional organizer,

helping the disorganized get their paperwork under control. In sifting

through piles of paper, she soon noticed a commonality in her clients’

clutter. Tasks having to do with self-promotion tended to languish

in notes at the bottom of the pile. Marketing, it appears, is no one’s

idea of fun.

Recognizing the importance of getting the word out, Benun began to

specialize in marketing, first in the portion of the universe we now

refer to as "offline."

When the Internet began to ripen, she added online self-promotion

to her areas of expertise. She is the author of Self-Promotion Online

and her new book, Designing Websites for Every Audience, has just

been published.

Her insights into websites for small businesses include the following:

Know your customer. This old "offline" idea is vital to online

success. Conduct surveys, look at the communities in which you do

business, and figure out just who might be likely to buy your products

or services. There are a number of ways to find out who is visiting

your website, but that is not all you need to know. You need a profile

of the person — or company — most likely to be in the market

for what you are selling.

Match your website to your customer. If you sell a fairly long

newsletter online and your customers are commuters, think about providing

printer-friendly copy they can take on the train. If you sell reading

glasses or retirement in the Arizona sun, make sure the typefaces

used on the website are good and big.

Honor Internet conventions. The graphic browsers that turned

the Internet into an Everyman tool are only a scant decade old, but

already there are standard ways of doing things. Web designers may

want to erase the underlining beneath links, but, says Benun, think

twice before allowing them to replace it with something more esthetically

pleasing. Already, surfers look for the lines (usually blue) that

signal a link. Take it away, and they may go away unsatisfied.

Think about connections. The broadband revolution has

not yet reached much of the globe, or even blanketed upscale North

American communities. Be aware that your customers may still be dialing

up. This means slow downloads, and a concomitant need to keep graphics

simple.

Create hierarchies. There is a tendency, says Benun, for business

owners to lay out everything they have on their homepage. However,

most surfers come looking for just one or two things. Put the really

important items front and center, and move the rest of your offerings

to subsequent pages, reached via homepage links.

Shop wisely. Benun hesitates when asked how much a small business

website now costs. "You can get a website for $1,000," she

says. "And you can get the same website for $5,000."

She proposes that small business owners decide how much they can afford

to spend, and then approach several website designers with that figure.

Ask each what he can give you for the amount you have budgeted. If

a website need only do a modest job — perhaps provide directions,

contact information, and operating hours — a low-cost Internet

set-up kit could be the answer. Benun says even one of the free websites

offered by some Internet service providers, including American Online,

could be a solution. At this point, she says, even one of these barebones

packages "is better than nothing."

What the smart business owner wants to avoid, at any cost, is

a business card that lists no URL at all.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring


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