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Startup Flight Checklist #9: Direct Marketing December 11, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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There’s both an art and a science to Direct Marketing, which most often takes the form of e-mail newsletters.  Not every business needs or wants a newsletter, but it can be a potent element of your marketing mix and a wonderful way to engage your customers.

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent, integrated, cloud-based software platforms that you can use to cost-effectively manage your direct marketing campaigns.  Some of the better ones include MailChimp, iContact, GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, LetterPop and Vertical Response.  In the opinion of many experts and veteran users, probably the class of the field is Constant Contact.

Each of these vendors provides you with easy-to-use, customizable newsletter templates, e-mail address management tools, and a number of high-level administrative functions  to automatically manage editing, auto-send, opt-in, opt-out, bounce-back, and a myriad of other administrivia that you won’t think of until you immerse yourself into producing a newsletter – at which point you’ll be awfully glad you’re using a pre-baked software platform created by direct marketing experts.

Each e-mail marketing software vendor offers its own tutorial, how-to video, set of tips and tricks, white paper, etc., usually tailored to its particular software platform.  There are also a number of excellent bloggers out there focused purely on direct marketing.  From a number of these experts – and from my own experience overseeing marketing functions – I’ve culled the following step-by-step advice for you.

1.       Decide on the Topical Focus of Your Newsletter

Figure out what you want to say.  Choose your topical focus based on your company’s brand and your team’s expertise, and stick to that focus.

2.      Brand Your Newsletter

What are you going to call your e-mail newsletter, and what will it look like?  E-mail should reflect your corporate brand and corporate design schema (look-and-feel).

3.      Create an Editorial Calendar

Decide how frequently you’re going to send out the newsletter.  It ought to be on a very regular, predictable schedule.  Before you launch it, you should have a good idea of what you’re going to write in the first six to twelve issues.  (In my mind, you might want to consider having a lot of the copy already written ahead of time.  After all, the topical content of business newsletters tends to be information we know in advance – we’re usually not talking about news reporting here.)

4.      Create and Maintain an e-Mail Address List

First, emphasize quality over quantity; there’s no prize for spamming folks who don’t open your newsletters.   Second, use a double-opt-in subscription system; in other words, have people opt-in, and send them a confirmation e-mail containing a link where they can confirm their opt-in status.  Third, avoid, mistyped e-mail addresses (for example, having people enter @gogle.com or @yahoo.cmo) by requiring retyping.  Fourth, delete all addresses that are bounced, as well as any readers that are consistently unopened.  Fifth, encourage subscribers to add you to their white list (preferred contact list). Sixth, offer links to “Unsubscribe” and your privacy policy.  Seventh, create viral marketing by offering “refer to a friend” button and a “Like” us on Facebook widget.  And eighth, to avoid triggering spam filters with ISPs, avoid use of words or phrases such as “sale,” “today only,” “free,” “act now,” “discount,”  “promotion,” and  so on.

5.      Create Compelling Content

First of all, you need to be sure that each issue addresses a topic that’s truly germane to your audience.  Assuming that, though, you need to get your busy subscribers to open and read each new issue of your e-newsletter.  So think carefully about what you say in your e-mail subject line – does it grab their attention?  Then be sure to lead with your very best material in a preview pane.

6.      Continue to Engage Your Audience

Be personable; being stiff just puts people off. Create a clear call-to-action in each e-mail.  Consider surveying your audience from time-to-time.  As I mentioned before, send your issues on a consistent, predictable timetable.  And avoid sending newsletters during holidays.

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Startup Flight Checklist Item #8: Website Promotion December 6, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Checklist item number 8 for entrepreneurs is Website Promotion.  This is all about attracting Internet traffic – the right traffic – to your web presence, and by doing so gaining exposure for your products or services.  And ideally, generating sales leads and new customers.

How can you accomplish website promotion efficiently and inexpensively?   Through a mix of five complementary online marketing elements:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Social networking
  • Banner ads and other online advertising
  • Affiliate program promotion

If approached in a thoughtful, balanced way, an Internet marketing campaign for a startup venture can be remarkably effective at a very affordable price.  Let’s take a look at each of these five elements in turn.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of systematically adjusting your website in such a way that it ranks higher in “organic search” results in Google and other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo.  What are organic search results?  When you type a keyword – which can be a word or a phrase – into Google, three sets of results appear:

  1. The pink-shaded-box stuff at the top – those are paid ads, purchased using Google AdWords (see below)
  2. The stuff in the right-hand column – those are also paid ads
  3. All the search results below the pink box, that go for page after page – these are organic search results based on Google’s proprietary search engine algorithm

So SEO is a matter of researching and inserting the right keywords in your site to make you the most search-engine-friendly, building back links, creating fresh and appealing content, and overall ensuring high visibility with the search engines.  Site hosting services will provide a modicum of SEO service for a very modest monthly fee, independent services will provide more premium versions of the same, and marketing agencies know how to SEO-tune your site as well.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search engine marketing (SEM) really comes down to purchasing Google AdWords.  It’s a beautifully designed system for advertisers that’s really easy to use.  You write your ad, choose the keyword or keywords that are most related to your business – these are words or phrases that, when people search, you’d like your ad to pop up.  AdWords will tell you how much each keyword is on a per-click basis – they vary widely, so you can pick and choose, and narrow in on keywords that are very specific to your business.  For example, “jewelry” might be very expensive on a per-click basis, but “hand-made silver earrings” might be significantly less expensive.  Then, once you set up your ad plan, when people search for your keywords on Google, your ads will pop up.  If – and only if – a user clicks through to your site, you are charged the agreed-upon per-click rate for that particular key-word.  It’s all very transparent and low-risk, since you can monitor your Adwords plan in real time, adjust parameters, and cut things off that you feel aren’t working.

One cool thing to note is that AdWords can be tuned to just generate ads for online users in a local geography that you specify.  So if you’ve got an online presence for your sandwich shops in Decatur, Georgia, you probably only want your ads to show up on Google searches for folks who live in ZIP codes 30030, 30031, etc.

Social Networking

Perhaps the most crucial of these five is social networking links.  By providing standard widgets at the bottom of your homepage, you can encourage site visitors to spread the word regarding your products and services asking them, with a single click, to:

  • “Like” your site on Facebook
  • Follow you on Twitter
  • Add you to their circles on Google+
  • Follow your blog

The marketing leverage you gain by adding these links to your website can be significant:  users refer friends, who refer friends, etc.

Banner Ads and Other Online Advertising

In Checklist Item #4, we explored online advertising as a means to generate revenue for your business – using networks ranging from Google AdSense to AdBrite, 24/7 Realmedia, Chitika, and BurstMedia.  Flipped the other way – that is, not selling ad space on your site, but rather, advertising your site elsewhere on the web – can be a viable element of your online marketing mix.  Generally speaking, due to the expense, outbound, paid advertising is a marketing element that you may wish to hold off on if you are pinched for cash; the other marketing elements we’re discussing here are more cost-effective as baseline pillars of a startup online promotion program.

Affiliate Program Promotion

In Checklist Item #5, we discussed generating revenue through affiliate marketing.   So you get the gist of how these programs work: you can sign up to list other online merchants’ products for sale on your site, and when your site visitors click through to purchase, you receive a sales commission or finder’s fee from the merchant.

But let’s look at it from the flip side:  you can also consider using affiliate programs to promote, and drive traffic to, your website.  This approach is probably only appropriate if yours is an ecommerce-oriented site that sells consumer-oriented products.   But if you do have products for sale, a viable element of the online marketing mix is to join affiliate marketing programs.  If you’re a relatively small or unknown brand, you may wish to offer particularly attractive sales commissions to start, under the philosophy that any sales that affiliate partners might generate for you are likely to be sales you would not otherwise see.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #7: Operations and Logistics October 8, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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We set out a few weeks ago to examine the following thesis:  That it’s never been easier to cobble together your own business from scratch. That, with so many inexpensive outsourcing options and powerful and easy-to-use Internet-based tools available to the masses, you no longer need a whole lot of time, money or business expertise to get your new venture off the ground.

Let’s step back and see how we’re doing.  So far, we’ve zoomed in on six of the elements in the 12-step Startup Flight Checklist™ – and taken a closer look at efficient, cost-effective ways to address the following business functions:

  1. Branding
  2. Website Design & Hosting
  3. Content Management
  4. Generating Revenue Through Advertising
  5. Generating Revenue Via Affiliate Marketing
  6. eCommerce

Now let’s turn our attention to Startup Flight Checklist Item #7:  Operations and Logistics.  Yeah, I know, most of you think this is like watching paint dry.  But face it, keeping track of all of your product and parts inventory, shipping things in and out the door on-time, tracking those shipments, and so on and so on… can make or break the business.

For our discussion of operations and logistics, you ought to be able to can keep track of every unit or SKU you buy or sell, or that you ship in and out, through your accounting package.  Many eCommerce solutions enable you to interface with Intuit’s QuickBooks, the most widely-used accounting package.

And while we’re not going to delve into the topic of Finance and Accounting until my upcoming post on Flight Checklist Item #10, allow me to take a sneak peak ahead and mention that there may not be a better integrated small-business accounting package on the planet than Intuit’s QuickBooks, available in both online and traditional shrinkwrap software form.  You may also wish to take a close look at other packages at comparison sites such as TopTenReviews, SoftwareComparison, and SoftwareMedia.

As you grow, the task of tracking inventory and order workflow is the job of an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software application that would link into your accounting system.  For ERP, a good, cloud-based solution you can grow with is NetSuite, but I encourage you to comparison-shop.  Meanwhile, though, for businesses just starting out, ERP software can really be overkill,
and you can handle the job just fine with your accounting software (and maybe a spreadsheet or two).

As a startup business, once storage of product inventory has outgrown your spare bedroom, basement, or that spare cubicle, you ought to be able to outsource your storage and warehousing.  That is, you can find private warehouse owner/operators who will rent you storage space with the flexibility to grow or shrink based on your needs, saving you the trouble of having to buy or lease an entire building.  Some outsource storage providers will also handle soup-to-nuts, outsourced material-handling, providing packaging, drop-shipping, incoming and outgoing shipments and shipment tracking.  We’re talking a awful lot of in-ground business infrastructure that you don’t have to build from scratch, and a significant amount of capital expense that you can happily avoid as a startup.

Similarly, you can outsource small- to mid-sized shipments to UPS, FedEx, DHL, and/or the U.S. Postal Service.   Any of these services offer real-time, online parcel-tracking capability that has evolved to the point where entrepreneurial businesses can track the exact shipment status of each piece of inventory, finished-goods order or customer shipment in seconds on a single dashboard.

And finally, an important aspect of any business’s back-office operations these days includes the overall information technology (IT) function.  And once again, you’ll find that much of this can be outsourced or relegated to cloud-based services.  Just as you’re wise to do regular backups of your personal laptop or desktop on a cloud-based service such as Dropbox, as you grow your startup enterprise, you’ll realize that you’ll want to leverage the advantages of the cloud in similar ways.  You can look to rock-solid regional players such as Online Tech for offsite data backup, collocation and disaster recovery, or you can look to national players such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).

A Quick Note on eCommerce for Artists and Artisans October 4, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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A big thank you to artist/entrepreneur Kelley Heath Faley for this heads-up.  I mentioned Kelley in my last post with her wonderful Whim Z Designs online business of original watercoler-based products such as magnetic bookmarks, clocks, art cards and matted prints.  Another outlet for artists and artisans, she noted, is a site called Etsy (http://www.etsy.com/).  The best way I can describe it is an online Ann Arbor Art Fair or virtual New Hampshire Art Fair.  Very cool, and entirely complementary to an artist having her or his own eCommerce site.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #6: eCommerce October 3, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Let’s get back to the Startup Flight Checklist for Launching Your Business  that we started talking through back in July – and take a close look at Item #6: eCommerce.

Setting up your own Internet storefront is really quite easy – and inexpensive – these days.  So if you have products you’re interested in selling directly to your customers, whether they be consumers or businesses, you should think seriously about setting up an eCommerce site.  It’s quick, it’s inexpensive, and it doesn’t require technical expertise.

As I see it, there are four basic approaches you can take – all of which work just fine – that offer you everything you need to design, launch and operate a pretty high-quality store:

  • DIY (do-it-yourself) site-design software packages
  • Website design and hosting services
  • Amazon Webstore
  • Outsourced eCommerce design and hosting services

All four of these approaches provide you with the essentials you need for building and operating a high-quality online store:  many alternative design templates, shopping carts, secure payment processing including ability to use PayPal and credit cards, and so on.  Let’s take a look at each one in more detail:

If you choose the DIY site-design software package route, you have a number of of great options to choose from – to name a few,   Web Easy Professional, Web Easy Studio, Microsoft Expression Web (which recently replaced FrontPage), Microsoft Office Publisher, Intuit Website Creator, Adobe Dreamweaver Creative Suite 4, Macromedia Studio 8, Macromedia Dreamweaver 8, Adobe GoLive Creative Suite (Mac).

Check out artist/entrepreneur Kelley Heath Faley’s website, Whim Z Designs, a really nice example of the art of the possible (excuse the pun).  She and her husband used one of these inexpensive software packages and built this very elegant, professional website over part of a weekend.

A second basic alternative to consider for ecommerce is website-building and -hosting services services, which we first examined back in my post on Checklist Item #2 on July 12.  To be clear, these services – such as 1 & 1, JustHost, GoDaddy, iPage, FatCow, HostPapa, HostGator, etc. – offer the ability to design and host not just basic websites, but full eCommerce webstores as well.  They all give you the ability to design your e-tail site online, and go live with your ecommerce solution on their hosting service, with straightforward monthly pricing that scales up pretty modestly based on how much you want to do.   Many offer basic plans for under $10-15 per month, but be sure to read the fine print, because not all prices are what they appear:  there may be severe limits to how much you can do at that base price before escalators kick in.  (For example, if you get more than 100 customers in a given month, your hosting bill might surprise you.)

A third option to consider when building out your ecommerce site is to use all-in-one store platforms such as the Amazon Webstore or eBay Stores turnkey
solution.  Both of these are as good as or better than all the other alternatives in most respects – any number of of design template alternatives, secure eCommerce, an array of design widgets to use, rock-solid  hosting,  etc. – plus you have at least the ostensible marketing advantage of being in Amazon’s or eBay’s marketplace.  We’re talking only $14.99/month for Amazon’s service, and it’s highly scalable.  eBay’s got a different pricing model:  While its monthly subscription fee for hosting the store is roughly the same as Amazon’s ($15.95/month in eBay’s case for its lowest option), unlike Amazon or most other hosting services, eBay also charges variable fees as a slice of everything you sell, in the form of “insertion fees,” “fixed price format fees,” and “final value fees.”  These add up, so to choose the eBay Stores platform over other approaches, you obviously need to feel that eBay offers clear marketing advantages in other ways.

A fourth option you might consider that’s more high-end but more costly, is to work with a firm to develop a more custom solution.  One classy example is WebShopManager, which will work with you on a semi-custom basis to design an eCommerce solution that’s considerably more elaborate than what you’ll be able to accomplish with the first three options.  Hosting with a service such as this can range from $50 to $250 or higher per month, depending on the fancy features you choose to include –we’re talking not just custom site design, but features like multi-site live chat, Google Maps-enabled dealer locators, QuickBooks integration, UPS and FedEx shipping integration,  and other cool stuff that a basic starter-store doesn’t need.  But if you’re building a business that’s, for example, got more complexity – say it’s got multi-tier distribution such as selling through multiple distributors, multiple  store chains, etc. – you might consider going to the expense of a solution with this complexity.  But for most entrepreneurs just launching, this may be an unnecessarily elaborate starting point.

Skillshare is a Cool Startup That Will Spawn Many Entrepreneurs August 21, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Here’s an extremely cool site you should check out:  http://www.skillshare.com/learn.  Their tagline explains the value proposition concisely:  “Skillshare is a community marketplace for offline classes.” If you have expertise in a certain field and would like to offer classes in that topic (Greek salad making, mandolin repair, women’s self-defense, Ghanaian art appreciation, French language for lovers, poker for beginners, tips and tricks for the Kindle, still-life photography, etc., etc.), this site gives you an easy and classy way to promote your class offering, and for students in your community to find you.

You know how eBay and CraigsList created markets for the stuff lying around our homes that, it turns out, others wanted all along and were willing to pay for?  Well, I see Skillshare as doing the same thing for a lot of talented people — enabling them to better monetize their unique talents.

Last week, Skillshare closed an A Round of $3.1 million, which will accelerate their growth (see http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/skillshare-raises-3-1-million-to-turn-everyone-into-teachers/).  I hope this community really makes it big.  It deserves success.

 

Last week, Skillshare raised a $3.1 million Series A round (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/skillshare-raises-3-1-million-to-turn-everyone-into-teachers/).

Startup Flight Checklist Item #5: Generating Revenue Via Affiliate Marketing August 9, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Affiliate marketing is a great way to both add substance to your site while at the same time generating significant revenue.  Here’s how the business model works:

You join the affiliate marketing program of an online retailer – let’s say Bubba’s Barbeque – and choose which of their products you wish to promote on your website – let’s say you want to start with two things, BubbaSauce and BubbaTongs.  You select those
products, and their pictures, names and product descriptions appear on your site.  You can choose to write articles, blog posts or other information on these items to customize the information.  Then, when a visitor to your site clicks on one of the items and chooses to purchase it, they are automatically taken to the Bubba’s Barbeque site, while your site receives a predetermined sales commission for that sale.  Most affiliate programs plant cookies on the buyers’ computers, so that even if they purchase up to a month later, you receive commission credit for having directed a sale to the merchant’s site.

So let’s put ourselves back in the shoes of Adam and me just launching our mythical startup GemGuitars.com.  We want to generate some cool content fast, and we find that we can join Amazon’s affiliate program and almost instantly add great content on books on the care and feeding of old guitars, old jazz and blues musicians, great sheet music, and so on.   And we can be generating meaningful revenue and creating a quality site that attracts aficionado traffic, as well.

So how do you find affiliate programs to join?  Fortunately, there are intermediaries that organize and run everything for you.  Look up affiliate marketing networks – such as Commission Junction (www.cj.com), ClickBank (www.clickbank.com), AffiliateScout (www.affiliatescout.com), or Clix Galore (www.clixgalore.com), to name a few.  Each of these networks has as many as thousands of online merchants registered with them.

All you have to do, as a publisher or website owner, is join a given affiliate sales network once, and then select among its many merchants – and within each merchant, their many products.  Merchants’ commission structures vary all over the map, with the heavies such as Amazon or Target offering a fairly light 3-5%, while merchants with less market power are willing to offer 25% or more to get you to list their products on your site.

Once you’ve joined a program with a given affiliate sales network – say Commission Junction – you can sign up with as many as
dozens of merchants through that network, and if you choose list hundreds of products from those merchants on your site.  The network will do all the back-office work to track the sales and send you a single, itemized commission statement and check at the end of each month.  It’s that straightforward.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #4: Generating Revenue Through Advertising August 4, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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As you set up your new company, you may or may not run across what sounds like a technical question:  “What’s your business model?”  Your “business model” is simply your answer to the question, “How is your business going to make money?”

Now, it’s OK to have multiple answers to this question – that is, to have two, three or more complementary ways of making money.  And they don’t all have to start at once in a “big bang,” either.  Let’s look again at our GemGuitars.com example:  Here, it’s obvious that, as Adam and I launch our company that our primary business model is buying and selling high-end, used guitars on the Internet, and presumably making a nice profit by marking them up those instruments.  However, just because that’s our primary business model doesn’t mean that has to be the only thing we do, or the only way that we make money.  We can have complementary business models.  (Indeed, having complementary lines of business and business models can often result in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.)

Google AdSense

AdSense (www.google.com/adsense/) is Google’s ad serving program.  It provides website owners with an easy-to-sign-up and simple-to-administer way to generate revenue that is complementary to their other businesses or business models.  A given website’s primary focus might be anything from musical instruments to herbal cures to poetry to hotel reservations, but they can still generate complementary revenue through Google AdSense.  Once you sign up in the program, you can:

a) easily add a custom search engine to your site, and earn on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis from ads on the search results pages;

and/or,

b) display ads – text ads, graphical ads and/or video ads – on your site that Google automatically selects as being suited to your audience’s interests (and again, earn on valid clicks or impressions).

AdSense can also serve mobile ads as well as ads to your RSS feeds.  The nice thing is that once you register with the program and do a bit of initial set-up and website tinkering, it’s pretty much an autopilot kind of thing:  It’s an intelligent program that runs itself as far as you’re concerned.  You can go in and adjust the parameters to your heart’s delight, or just sit back, monitor
your dashboard, and collect your advertising earnings.

From my point of view as a veteran business-builder, one of the really cool things about AdSense is that it gives very-early-stage businesses a way of earning some revenue when they’re barely off the ground.  Additionally, it tends to provide a baseline of ad revenue as a buffer to a company’s other lines of business.

Ad Networks

As your business matures and your website traffic grows, you may choose to sell ad space on your site directly through an advertising network.  AdBrite (www.adbrite.com) runs the largest independent ad network, and it’s essentially a real-time auction that tries to optimally match advertisers – video, banners, rich media, and other formats – with publishers (that’s you if you’re a website owner).  If you’re thinking of going this route, other ad networks to consider are 24/7 RealMedia (www.247realmedia.com), Advertising.com (www.247realmedia.com), Chitika (www.chitika.com). ), and Burst Media (www.burstmedia.com).

Many publishers/site owners choose to hold off on approaching ad networks until their website has achieved fairly significant, reliably-documented traffic levels, since otherwise the CPM rates you can command (CPM = cost per mille, or cost-per-thousand-impressions ad rates paid by the network for your ad space) tends to be extremely low.

Site Sponsorship

Finally, we should mention getting companies to sponsor your website or certain key pages.  Just starting out, it’s probably not worth approaching companies about potential sponsorship.  Get your site up and running and let them come to you.  Extend the welcome mat to potential sponsors by placing an “Advertising” link at the bottom of the home page that takes them to a page providing contact information and the types of sponsorships and ads available.  Typically, sponsors pay a flat annual fee for their sponsorship.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #3: Content Management August 1, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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If you’re building an information-intensive business, you’re going to be concerned about what’s referred to as content management – that is, constantly writing, editing and posting new written material and graphically editing, laying out and posting new pictures and graphical material and/or video material to the site.

Bear in mind that, even if you’re not running what you think of as an information-intensive business – let’s take my buddy Adam’s and my mythical GemGuitars as an example – you may be surprised at the extent to which you’re constantly updating information with your public.  With GemGuitars, for instance, we’re going to be perpetually posting new products, updating prices, removing products that have been sold or are have gone out-of-stock, adding new blog posts by stringed
instrument experts,  adding new specials, adding links to articles topically interesting to our audience, and so on.  My point is that you don’t have to be running an online magazine like Zouch (http://zouchmagazine.com/ — where my son Ben Price serves as Literature Editor), or Stanford Magazine (http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/) to find yourself in the position of managing lots of content, and lots of rapidly-evolving content.

I use WordPress to publish the simple blog you’re reading here.  This blogging services review  (http://blog-services-review.toptenreviews.com/)   also lists as strong services, in rank order after #1 WordPress, TypePad, Squarespace, Blogger
(from Google), MySpace, AOL Journals, Windows Live Spaces, Xanga and LiveJournal.

What you’ll find is that most blogging services are quite good at providing you, as an editor/site owner, with great administrative tools and add/edit/change/update content.  Most are really good with written content, while some are better than others with managing graphical content.  In addition, pretty much all these services make it quite straightforward to link your blog into your website, as well as into various social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on.

And while we’re on the subject of content management, let’s chat a little about content creation.  As you’re building a business these days, it’s so much less important for everyone to be in one place.  I mentioned the upcoming cultural touchstone
Zouch Magazine, and their talented editorial staff and columnists are dispersed far and wide, from Montreal to Nashville, Ann Arbor to Dallas and even the Channel Islands.  How does an organization like this function?

With cloud-based storage and cloud-based document-sharing – Dropbox and its numerous storage and doc-sharing competitors,
Google Docs and its cloud competitor Microsoft Office 365, and so on – it’s becoming easier and easier not just to work from home, but to work from various locations.  Add to that the quick-and-easy – and inexpensive! – ability now to set up 3- and 4-way conference calls, face-to-face video-time conferencing and collaborative whiteboard discussions and editorial sessions… and it gives a geographically-dispersed team the potential for a true working intimacy and interactivity.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #2: Website Design and Hosting July 12, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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In most cases, the same online companies that offer domain-registration services also offer a complete menu of website-building
and -hosting  services.  Just Google or Bing “website hosting” and you’ll get a plethora of options to choose from, and the pricing is very competitive.

Basic website hosting can cost as little as $10/month and range up to significant multiples of that for higher-end sites that require, for example, unlimited data storage, multiple  servers, offsite backup, professional administrative  controls, and so on.

Website-building and -hosting services provide you with all the basic online tools and templates you’ll need to quickly build a site from scratch that looks pretty professional and fairly customized.  You don’t need any programming or graphics experience to do it, although patience and persistence certainly help.

Alternatively, you may can always hire a freelancer or small agency to build your website for you.  If you go that route, it’s a good idea to have them build the site using a widely-used framework or toolset, such as WordPress, Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Frontpage, so that you can take what they’ve built and edit it yourself (or hire someone in the future to do so).

As with most startups, time is of the essence, so my partner and I decide to put up our GemGuitars.com website as quickly as possible. With time and money at a premium, we decide at the outset not to worry about designing a unique logo or mark – that can come later. We find, instead, that it works just fine to select one of the many available site templates as our basic site layout, customize that with our own pictures and graphics, and to select a specific, stylized font for “GemGuitars.com” in the site header as our “logo.”  Later on, when we have more time and money, we may decide to hire a designer for $500-1,000 to design a logo for us, or perhaps run an online logo-design contest for even less.  But for right now, that’s not a top branding priority.

And remember, you don’t need to do everything at once.  You may wish to consider first launching a simple “brochureware” website just to quickly get something out there that tells people who you are, how to find you, and how to contact your business.  You can then follow up later with an expanded site that adds other features such as a blog, customer success stories, shopping features, and so on.