Starting an Online Business For Dummies®, 5th Edition
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When it comes to finding sources of support as you start your new business, the best place to turn is the Internet itself. The Starting an Online Business For Dummies Links page is a comprehensive Yellow Pages-style list of Web sites and other resources to give you a jump-start.
"You mean I have to keep track of all this stuff?" Yes, my entrepreneurial friend, owning and managing a small business, whether it's located online or not, requires good accounting practices and solid record keeping. Keeping close watch on your expenses in the current era of tight budgets is even more important. Here are some powerful, yet user-friendly, accounting programs that can help you organize and control your finances. The Web sites associated with these products often include links to related sites where you can perform financial operations online, such as basic record keeping or payroll.
Quicken 2007 for Windows isn't a single product but rather a family of accounting software packages, each with a different purpose. For example, you can order Quicken Home and Business 2007, which enables you to manage both your personal and business finances; to create business invoices with your company logo, reports and graphs, and business plans; and to take advantage of financial services, including online banking, online payment, and investment tracking. Quicken Deluxe 2007 for Macintosh is available for Mac users with OS 9 or later.
The QuickBooks products, like the Quicken products, are produced by Intuit, Inc. Whereas Quicken emphasizes personal finance and includes features that you can use to manage your home accounts QuickBooks is more of a straight business product. The software comes in four versions: Basic, Pro, Premier, and QuickBooks Online Edition. Another difference between Quicken and QuickBooks is that you can order a trial CD of QuickBooks Basic from the Intuit Web site or try QuickBooks for the Web, which lets you or your co-workers access your books from any location that's connected to the Web. Current users of QuickBooks can find plenty of support on this site, including user discussion forums, ways to contact QuickBooks Professional Advisors, free e-mail newsletters, QuickBooks training products, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and tips, tools, and advice designed for specific types of industries. You can also take advantage of a new Merchant Account Service that sets up businesses to accept credit card payments.
Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007
This is a surprisingly full-featured accounting program that is free at this writing (during the beta period). The application lets you post merchandise for sale on eBay, provided you sign up for one of two packages that determine how many items you can sell in a given month. You can order a version on CD.
Peachtree Office Accounting
If you're looking for accounting software that's specifically designed for a small business, Peachtree Software products might just be right for you. Peachtree Accounting and Peachtree Complete Accounting allow you to work seamlessly with Microsoft Office products, such as Excel and Word, and Peachtree Premium Accounting is available for businesses with advanced accounting needs. A new product, Peachtree First Accounting, is designed for businesspeople who are converting a personal financial system to a small business system. The Peachtree Software site is distinguished from its competitors' sites by providing easy-to-find business services built around its software. Services include payroll and tax filing, bill payment, banking, and Web site building. You can export product inventory directly from your Peachtree accounting program into your Web site catalog and process orders and customer information from your Web site into your accounting software. (Peachtree Office Accounting and Peachtree Complete Accounting are available only for Windows users.)
Microsoft Money 2007 Web Site
One of the distinguishing features of Microsoft Money is its level of integration with the Internet. You can get automatic updates on stock prices and other information, as well as suggestions of online resources, through this Web site. For example, you can check to see whether your bank is online and then set up online banking. You can find how to control your business finances through the Money Academy and Money Wise Web sites. You can also try a trial version of Microsoft Money 2007 Deluxe or Small Business, the version targeted toward small businesses. (Microsoft Money for the Pocket PC is available for mobile users.) Current users of Microsoft Money will find a set of FAQs, an offer for a free year of online data backups, and links to financial institutions that support Microsoft Money bill payments.
MYOB Web Site
MYOB accounting software comes in versions for Macintosh and Windows. From this site, you can order a trial version of MYOB AccountEdge, FirstEdge or Premier Accounting. Links to the MYOB eBusiness Gateway enable you to establish yourself as an American Express credit card merchant or automatically bill your customers. Accountants who use MYOB can join the MYOB Accountant Club, a group that provides products and services to help them advise and support their clients. Other users can find technical support in the Support Services area of the site at http://www.myob-us.com/service.
Advertising Your Site on the Web
Advertising on the Web is a broad subject that encompasses traditional banner advertising, the use of search engines and linking, as well as a variety of combined approaches that are unique to online business. What follows is a list of sample sites related to the use of two of the most important Web advertising methods banners and linking. I also include a reference page that provides a well-maintained list of Web advertising resources.
ClickZ Internet Advertising News
If you want the latest headlines about the state of Internet advertising and marketing at least, as it applies to big commercial Web sites this is the place to go. You can get news on industry trends that might apply to your small operation.
The Banner Generator
With the Banner Generator, you can create your own custom animated banner for free. Instead of using a graphics program to create the banner, you do all the work with your Web browser. You begin by specifying the textual message that you want the banner to convey. Then, choose the banner's size, colors, and typefaces. Finally, you're given the chance to add special effects, such as embossing. When you're ready, click a Submit Banner button. You can then save the banner to your own computer.
Online auctions give small business owners a place to find bargain equipment, unload excess inventory, and sell products in a location other than their online stores. Auctions give you access to the entire international Web community. Making a bid or offering something for sale usually requires a registration process. Trading is public, which adds interest and keeps the forum honest. eBay, for one, has a feedback forum, where users can indicate whether a trade was a positive or negative experience.
eBay is certainly one of the largest person-to-person trading areas on the Internet, offering millions of items in more than 1,000 categories of auction classifieds. eBay is known to many for selling precious or collectible items at auction, but you can also find computer equipment, phones, and other small business essentials. You can browse the listings or search by specific item, bid on anything, or offer something for sale. Viewing, bidding, and buying items are free; listing and selling items incur insertion fees and final value fees.
Yahoo! allows you to browse its auction categories in order to identify auction Web sites or search for a particular item available at a current auction site. It doesn't cost a thing to sell, bid on, or purchase an item.
Business Resources on the Web
The Web offers a vast resource for the entrepreneur. An overwhelming amount of information is available on every conceivable topic related to the starting and growing of a small business. So the question isn't "Does the Web have useful information for me?" but rather "Where on the Web do I find the best information for my needs?" The following sites are either guides to small business sites on the Web or are themselves some of the better business sites available.
CCH Business Owners Toolkit
This site offers model business plans and other business documents that you can download and use, an "Ask Alice" advice column, and useful articles about starting and running a small business. You can also find thousands of pages of articles from a guidebook for small office/home office workers.
About.com Guide to Small Business Information
This is a great guide to small business information on the Web provided you can endure the popup ads that appear whenever you click a link. The About.com guide presents links to a comprehensive list of articles targeted at small businesses/home-based business owners.
This is another site that collects articles about planning, managing, and marketing a small business. Morebusiness.com goes a step further, however, by also offering business tools that you can download or use online, such as a calculator, sample business agreements, business and marketing plan templates, and free newsletters.
OPEN: The Small business Network
This site is primarily devoted to giving American Express business cardholders a place to find out more about running a business and paying their credit card bills online. Perhaps the best thing about this site is the Open Dialogue area. You can post a question that other entrepreneurs will answer. Previous questions and answers are organized by subject so you can browse the list to see whether someone has already posed a question like yours.
This site describes itself as The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs, and it's affiliated with the Journal's Web site, WSJ.com. It presents a variety of columnists who provide advice on starting a new business. An online toolkit includes a MiniPlan tool that you can use before you write a full-fledged business plan, as well as a trademark search utility. The articles apply to startups whether they're online or not, but online business owners should find them of value.
Yahoo! Small Business
Yahoo! Small Business topics include Web Hosting, Marketing Tools, Domains, Business E-mail, Internet Access, Merchant Solutions, Recruiting Services, and Franchises. Other links on this page enable you to search for franchise opportunities, find business vendors and services, and track packages you've shipped.
The Web offers countless sources for advertising via classified ads. In this section, I've included guides to the many sites that offer this service, some of which are free and some require payment. Obviously, the beauty of the Web is that you reach a lot more people than you would by advertising in your local newspaper. On the Web, the whole world of online users can be your potential buyers.
The Grandfather of All Links Free Advertising Directory
This huge listing of free classified advertising sites takes forever to load, but it's kept current with regular updates. Sites are sorted alphabetically and grouped by how long you can run the ad and whether the ad is city- or state-specific. The Grandfather of All Links also includes a directory of non-English sites.
As usual, Yahoo! is a great starting point if you're looking for just about anything in this case, sites where you can place your classified ads online. Yahoo! allows you to browse by region or by category. Also listed are general classified sites that can include additional services, such as chat rooms, personal ads, and auctions.
Craigslist is a popular community-based posting board with categories for personals, jobs, events, and services. This site processes a large volume of traffic with regular updates.
Computer Equipment Bargains
Anyone who manages an online business needs to be budget conscious these days. You can save money by buying equipment at auction. Sometimes, the goods are refurbished rather than new, but the point is that you get what you need at a price that fits your budget.
Dell Small Business
If you're looking for a Dell, the Dell Small Business Web site for small business owners presents you with a variety of options. Specials are advertised on this site's home page. Check for the Shopping Alternatives section in the middle of the home page. You can also shop by the model name of the machine you're looking for or get a quote from a representative.
The online auction giant regularly sells computer and electronics equipment. In fact, such items are so popular that it's not always easy to find bargains. Try to do a search of items ending soonest, and search for Buy It Now items that you can purchase immediately.
uBid specializes in selling brand-name computer and electronics equipment at up to 70 percent less than the retail price. Sometimes the material is refurbished; other times, it's overstock items. But items are backed either by uBid or by the manufacturer's warranty. The format is a Dutch auction; a certain number of items are available, and the highest number of successful bidders wins. (For instance, if 17 items are up for auction and the 17 highest bidders have bid $135 or more, all 17 win and each pays just $135.)
Other Stuff to Check Out
Developing Compelling Content
As a fledgling Web entrepreneur, you might find yourself preoccupied with the technical issues of this relatively new medium page design, layout, graphic elements, icons, browsers, ease of navigation, animation but when it comes to the user, content is king. Bottom line: People go to the Web to find information. Studies show that users don't read, but rather scan the page, and that they prefer scannable, objective writing to the promotional and over-hyped language that's tolerated and expected in other media. The following sites contain guidance to help you create Web content that's concise and effective.
"Concise, Scannable, and Objective: How to Write for the Web"
John Morkes and Web-usability expert Jakob Nielsen provide this scholarly but very readable article on how to write effectively for the Web. It's as pertinent now as it was when it first appeared in 1997. Their studies suggest that effective Web writing has to be scannable, that users want to be able to pick out what they need in a few sentences, that the writing has to be short and to the point, and that it must provide factual information rather than marketing fluff.
Contentious is a Web blog primarily intended for professional writers and editors who create content for the Web and other online media. Contentious regularly examines key content-related issues, such as the differences between writing for the Web and writing for print, and what rules are emerging for the editorial aspects of online media. However, the readers of this journal aren't just writers but all kinds of online publishers, from ezines to business Web sites, and anyone interested in effective online writing.
The owners of E-write started the company when they realized that e-mail and the Internet were reinventing the way people communicate with their customers, co-workers, and suppliers. They understand that good writing is key to using e-mail effectively, as well as developing user-friendly Web content. The site includes articles for the small business entrepreneur on writing competitive e-mail that allows you to communicate quickly and frequently with your customers.
"Writing for the Web, Part I"
This down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts article by Jack Powers can perhaps now be called a classic because it dates back to 1996. Powers explains why text on the Web can't just be "re-purposed print material squirted out through an HTML word processor." He explains very clearly why print and the Web are entirely different media requiring entirely different writing strategies.
Your domain name is really an alias that functions as the online version of your street address and phone number. In the URL http://www.gregholden.com, for example, gregholden.com is the domain name. The suffix, or filename extension at the end of a domain name that is, the part that comes after the dot identifies the type of organization that owns the domain name. Dot-com (.com) usually means a commercial enterprise, and dot-org (.org) often means a not-for-profit organization.
Your domain name may or may not be the same as your actual company name, although most businesspeople like the two to be identical so that customers can easily remember the URL. If someone already owns the name you want, you may explore buying that name through a broker. Your chances of finding the name you want are better these days because many of the domain name "tycoons" who had been holding on to scores of domain names in hopes of selling them for top dollar have now had to let them expire. On top of that, new domains, such as .name and .biz, are now available.
FAQs on New Top-Level Domains
This page is a good place to start if you're confused about just how many domain name suffixes are available to put at the end of your own site's URL. Until recently, only six suffixes were available (.com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, and .org). Not long ago, a group called The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved new domain name suffixes (.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro). At this writing, all these suffixes except for .pro are operational. Check this page for the current status of the new suffixes and for links to a list of companies or registrars where you can pick a name and register it.
www.godaddy.com This is an affordable and popular domain registration service. GoDaddy.com provides total Web hosting services that are free of setup charges and require no annual commitment.
Microsoft Office Live
This online collaboration site is primarily intended to enable members of a workgroup to track schedules, share files, and access shared workspaces. But it's included in this section because it allows you to obtain a domain name, a Web site, and an e-mail service for free.
Years ago, Network Solutions was the only place where you could register a domain name for a Web site. Now, dozens of companies all over the world are certified as registrars, but Network Solutions is the oldest and best known of the bunch. You can perform a quick search for your domain name of choice here and see whether it's available. You can then register the name (or a similar one, if your ideal choice is taken) and even set up your Web site through Network Solutions.
A Whois search is a well-known technique for determining whether a domain name is owned or whether it is available. In addition, you can learn who owns a domain name and when the name's registration will expire.
E-Commerce Service Providers
You may be your online company's only employee, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself. A number of companies are offering packaged services and software to entrepreneurs who want to get their business online quickly and with the support of experts. They provide a broad range of services, from the simple to the complex, that include site hosting, shopping cart and credit card services, and consultation on design, content, and marketing.
Bigstep is a typical Web hosting service for small businesses. First, you can sign up to host your online store for a free 30-day trial period. Then, you can choose one of two hosting packages that cost $29.95 or $49.95 per month, respectively. The $29.95 per month option lets you sell 20 catalog items in an online catalog; Bigstep Pro allows you to maintain a much larger sales catalog. The advantage of using a service like Bigstep is that you get help obtaining a domain name, maintaining a backup copy of your site for security purposes, and marketing your business.
Microsoft Small Business
With the addition of Microsoft Live, get the same old Microsoft guarantees with newly added tools. The service provides a free domain name and Web hosting, 500MB of Web site storage, and even 25 company-branded e-mail accounts.
Use this site before picking a company to help host your business. Pitched as the "Consumer Reports" of Web hosting, Inspector, through independent test results, breaks down each hosting company based on disk space, bandwidth, and price. Each company receives an award based on all of the previously mentioned criteria, and after each company is reviewed, a ranking is given, and the list is updated daily and maintained for at least one year.
Yahoo! bills itself as the fastest, easiest way to open an online store. You create your site on its server, using nothing more than the browser you're using to read its page. This isn't a free service; hosting costs are based on the number of items that you sell per month. However, it's a good solution for those of us who are non-technical and want to get a presence on the Web in a quick, affordable way. Yahoo! Store has built-in searches, statistical tools, and flexible pricing options.
Need to receive a fax but don't have a fax machine? That's no longer a problem. These services allow you to receive faxes and view them on your e-mail. Some of these services have a free trial period, while others are advertiser supported, like all free stuff on the Web. Some services also send faxes for you for free. Limits often apply to the amount of activity you can perform, so watch for stipulations.
eFax documents look and work just like e-mails with attachments. People dial your eFax number on their fax machines and send documents to you. eFax receives the fax and compresses (optionally protected with a password) and sends it to your e-mail address as an attachment. You open the attachment by using eFax Messenger Plus software (which you have to download and install beforehand) and see your fax on-screen. You can then print it or forward it to other e-mail addresses (or save it as a graphic image that you can recall and/or edit with graphics editing software). You can send two trial faxes for free; after that, the service costs $12.95 per month.
CallWave gives you a personal fax number that you can use to receive faxes. The CallWave service receives the fax, converts it to a computer file, and sends it to you as an e-mail attachment. The service comes with a free 30-day trial, but you have to provide registration information to CallWave and after the trial, the service starts at $3.95 a month.
This site gives you free voicemail, e-mail, and fax, all in one place, through a phone number that you obtain for free from Onebox. You also get a Onebox e-mail address. You can listen to voice messages, read your e-mail, or view your faxes through the Onebox Web site or by dialing your Onebox phone number. E-mail messages are spoken, not typed. You can also send voice e-mail, e-mail, or faxes. Phone numbers may not be available in your home area code, however, so anyone who phones or faxes you at your Onebox number may be subject to long-distance charges.
You say you're brimming with great ideas but have no money with which to turn them into reality? Never fear. The Web has some resources to help you find the capital you need for your online business.
Idea Cafe's Financing Your Business
Idea Cafe offers more than 40 Web pages full of tips to help you secure the money that your business needs. This site provides a vast range of information on finance. Topics include how to borrow money, attract investors, or find alternate funding sources. It also holds moderated forums on credit card use, bank financing, government funding, borrowing from family and friends, women and money, and much more. Try the All-in-One Budget Calculator to find out how much money you really need. A must-visit site!
PayPal is a service set up to allow Web sites a safe and inexpensive way to buy and sell goods online. Traditionally, the service has been seen on eBay, but now, the service is available to all different kinds of sites. With over 103 countries and regions dialed in, PayPal helps your business safely buy and sell goods locally as well as internationally. The best way to get started is to click the Merchant Services tab at the top. Prices depend on location and local currency.
Small Business Administration
The SBA site offers extensive information on financing your business, including tips on taking out a loan and working with lenders. You can download an online library full of shareware programs designed to help you manage your small business. You can even enroll in an online workshop called "Financing Options: All You Should Know."
Free and Low-Cost Business Web Sites
This section is called Free and Low-Cost Business Web Sites because freebies are hard to find on the Web these days, but you can still get bargains. These sites offer affordable tools, links, information, or services tailored to online businesspeople.
Hypermart provides low-cost business Web site hosting, as well as solutions to other business needs. The turnkey, browser-based creation package allows you to make a Web site without HTML experience. Hypermart Web site members are required to display banner ads. Hypermart registers your site with search engines and also has a small business center that provides office supplies, books on business, communications services (such as cellular and long distance), professional services (such as trademark search and registration), and financial services to help you with payroll, credit cards, and the IRS. Other features include a robot that checks for dead links on your page, bad HTML tags and syntax, and browser compatibility.
CNET Advantage, part of the online news service CNET, hosts Web sites for businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations, and allows you to create a site in five minutes with no knowledge of HTML. You can try the service for $1 for 30 days and then pay $6.95 per month thereafter. CNET Advantage gives you 25MB of storage space and access to online courses in Web development. Banner ads are not displayed on Web sites.
FreeMerchant.com used to provide Web hosting for free; its hosting options now range from $9.95 to $99.95 per month. Most of the hosting options (except the low-cost one) include search engine submission and membership in an Internet shopping mall among the benefits for members. All hosting packages offer access to a secure shopping cart, an Internet store builder, catalogs, traffic logs, e-mail accounts, merchant banner exchange, discounted corporate services and offers, and tech support.
FreeNet Business Solutions offers services, such as application development, network advisory, an e-commerce consultant, Internet hosting services, and so on. Services aren't actually free, however hosting plans start at about $8 per month, depending on exchange rates. This Malaysian site (the .my in the URL stands for Malaysia) specializes in Web hosting for business sites.
For $4.95 a month, you get 250MB of Web space, e-mail service, free design software, and technical support. The catch? You're required to display banner ads on your Web site. You can also process Web page forms by using CGI scripts. For only $9.95 per month, you can remove the banner ads by upgrading to the Netfirms premium service.
Everything you need to get started with your online business can be found here. ValueWeb does everything from Web design to Web hosting, online marketing to ecommerce solutions. Since beginning in 1996, ValueWeb, powered by Affinity Internet, Inc., has helped over 170,000 online businesses get started. Plans range anywhere from $14.95 a month for an entire year, all the way to $250.95 a month. Each plan gets you a free domain name with disk storage ranging from 20GB to 100GB.
Free E-Mail and Newsgroup Accounts
Free e-mail and news accounts come in two flavors: Web based and non-Web based. Both options have their advantages. You can check the Web-based accounts from anywhere, and you don't need Internet access to use the non-Web-based accounts. Most services are semi-secure, and a few actually specialize in securing your transmissions.
Juno's free Web access service offers free e-mail service. Juno, however, provides you with a way to access your e-mail account from the Web. You download the software from the Web site and then dial directly with your modem. The Juno site itself offers numerous Web guides, features, and links.
Eudora Web-Mail is a free Web-based e-mail. Features include an address book, attachments without long downloads, automatic response to people when you're away, and the ability to create signature files. It also offers special filters that block incoming mail from a list you specify, from known spammers, or from all addresses except those that you pre-approve. You can also configure your Eudora account to access all your Post Office Protocol (POP) mail accounts, which allows you to consolidate your e-mail in one location. Eudora is pretty comprehensive as far as free e-mail goes.
Is there anything Yahoo! doesn't do? With Yahoo!, you can get free Web-based e-mail. With the account, you also get free Yahoo! Messenger instant messaging service, which lets you instantly contact friends and colleagues. You also have free access to other Yahoo! offerings.
Google Groups and E-mail
Google, the Internet search engine, also lets you access USENET discussion groups for free through this site. All you need is a Web browser; you don't need to install special newsgroup software. Amazingly, Google Groups not only presents current newsgroup postings, but it also maintains an archive of millions of newsgroup messages that stretches back a full 20 years. Google mail (Gmail) offers an excellent search engine for messages, and 2.8GB of free storage.
This site provides you with a list of servers that allow free access to newsgroups whether or not its administrators actually intend to permit free access. The list specifies which servers allow you to post news messages and which ones are read only. The list changes frequently, so check back often.
Hushmail is a fully-encrypted, free, Web-based e-mail service. Despite the convenience of giving you both a Web-based and secure e-mail account, however, Hushmail carries with it a number of requirements and stipulations. The encryption service works only if you send mail to another Hushmail user. Hushmail isn't available to Mac users, limits the size of e-mail, and the free version offers only a limited amount of message storage. (A premium version of Hushmail gives you more storage space.) Still, this service is worth checking for its incredibly detailed explanations of encryption and secure e-mail in general. It's also well received by the technology press.
Mail.com offers free Web-based e-mail that has a generous 2MB e-mail message limit and 10MB of e-mail storage space. Mail.com says it has anti-spam policies that (hopefully) keep junk e-mail from clogging your Inbox.
TeraNews is a news server that offers free access to all newsgroups, with a one-time setup fee of $3.95.
Free Forms Online
You don't need to be a programmer or have access to one, in order to create forms that actually do something that is, forms that accept user-submitted data, format it, and present it to you in a readable format. The following Web resources lead you painlessly through the process of creating your own form that comes with its own CGI script.
At FormMail.To, you can create your own Web browser e-mail form, and the data that you enter on this form is sent to your e-mail account. You don't need any CGI programming on your Web site to use FormMail.To. On your form, you can specify whatever data you need. You can use pull-down menu selections and check boxes to make your forms easier to use and to control the allowed entries. The form data can be sent to multiple e-mail addresses, so you can use FormMail.To as a private mailing list program. You can specify a URL to transfer to after your form is submitted or you can insert a form between two of your existing pages to capture information from visitors while they click through your site. FormMail.To is supported by advertising in the form of one banner on the bottom of your form.
Response-O-Matic allows you to use forms on your Web site without any programming knowledge or programming tools. Response-O-Matic works with any home page hosted by any Web host, including AOL, GeoCities, Earthlink, and others. After you create your forms with Response-O-Matic, you can move them to any Web site on any server. Response-O-Matic is free.
Free Internet Access
A few sites still offer free access to the Internet, which can come in handy if you're on the road and can't connect to your own provider or if you just want to save a few bucks and get online cheaply. You might get only a few hours of free access per month, and you might have to view online ads, but if you really want to get online for free, here are some options.
America Online (AOL) is big and successful enough that it can offer new members a substantial amount of time online in order to try out its software. At the time this was written, AOL was offering a whopping two months of free Internet access.
Juno offers free access to the Internet apparently without time limits. You don't use a Web browser, however; you download Juno's own software that's used to browse the Web and send and receive e-mail. The software is reliable and easy to use, but it isn't compatible with Macs.
NetZero offers ten hours of free Internet access per month with access numbers across the country. You have to download software from the Web site, including a dialer that makes the connection with the NetZero system and loads a floating ad window on your desktop. NetZero sells advertising that's displayed in the desktop window, which works just like the banner ads that you see on Web pages. NetZero also offers free e-mail.
Free Phone Service
These services allow you to get a few minutes of free phone calls to anywhere in the United States, sometimes in exchange for listening to ads. In some cases, you make a phone call through your computer, and the quality of your connection depends on your processor speed and bandwidth. If you don't mind a little echo or sound breakup from time to time or the ads, you can save substantially on long-distance phone charges.
Dialpad lets you download software for free that enables your PC to make phone calls to other PCs or phones around the world. Your computer needs to be equipped with a sound card, microphone, and speakers or headphones. You also have to pay the cost of the phone call. Check the rates on the Dialpad Web site before you have your computer dial that number.
Free Web Page Tools
In order to keep up with all the competition among e-commerce sites, you need to make yours work. You need forms that work, graphics that look professional, newsletters that are well designed, and more. The following Web sites allow you to obtain free tools to help you build your Web pages and make them stand out from the crowd.
The page design might look a little amateurish, but who cares? It's Web page add-ons you want, and this site has them in abundance. And they're all free, too. You'll find Java applets, DHTML (dynamic HTML) effects, software programs, and graphics.
Html Gear organizes its Web site add-ons by the purpose they're supposed to perform. You can find several options for gathering feedback from your visitors; for example, you can take a poll, create an interactive form, or send automatic responses. You have to join the Lycos Network in order to download the goodies, but membership is free.
Reallybig.com is a network of links to sites that offer Web site building tools. There's a very large collection of free Web page tools to be had. Resources include free clip art, CGI scripts, counters, fonts, HTML, Java, animation, backgrounds, icons, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors, buttons, photos, site promotion, Server-Side Includes (add-ons, such as the current time and date), log analyzers, hit counters, and tutorials. Really Big also has a newsletter to let you know what's going on in the Reallybig.com Web Builder network, and it offers interviews of top Web designers. This site can help you find out where to get pretty much anything and everything.
Other Sites to Check Out
Glossaries, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias
You may want to bookmark these handy reference sites for those times when you find yourself knee-deep in computer, Internet, or Web terms you've never heard before. Rest assured: New terms are being created even as we speak.
Enter a computer word or phrase in the box at the top of the page and click Search for free access to this online dictionary of computing.
Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com
These two sites are interrelated. When you search for a word on one site, you're given the opportunity to look it up in either the dictionary or the thesaurus. Dictionary definitions are gathered from a variety of different sources, which are given after each listing. Thesaurus listings are extensive and full of hyperlinked cross-references.
New York Times Glossary of Internet Terms
From Archie and ARPAnet to Zine, this list of techy terms is a useful resource for the Web entrepreneur. Terms are listed alphabetically and cross-referenced. Entries are thorough and up to date. You have to register to use the site by choosing a username and password, but registration is free.
The Webmaster's Lexicon
This is an easy-to-use alphabetical listing of keywords and phrases that you will inevitably come across in your new role as online business owner.
As an online businessperson, you at times need government information. The following are a few useful sites in this area. Be sure to check out the Small Business Administration site and the site run by the Secretariat for Electronic Commerce.
Internal Revenue Service: Forms
The new-and-improved IRS provides this Web site, where you can download or print any form you want in a choice of four different file formats. You have a couple of options for finding forms: You can either enter the name in the Forms Finder box near the top of the home page or click the Forms and Publications link farther down the home page under the Resources heading.
SCORE: Service Corps of Retired Executives
The SCORE Association, in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides confidential business counseling free of charge by e-mail. SCORE also offers workshops and free satellite conferences. The SCORE Web site provides many additional resources worth exploring, including a way to get business counseling by e-mail.
State and Local Government on the Net
This up-to-date site has extensive lists of links to state and local government sites, multi-state sites, and some federal resources. It also includes listings of national organizations related to government and other miscellaneous government resources.
United States Government Electronic Commerce Policy
This site is maintained by the Secretariat for Electronic Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce. The reports and documents that are available to read and download provide an important framework for understanding the phenomenal growth of online business and the emerging digital economy, both globally and nationally. This site also includes links to related international sites and links to examples of electronic commerce.
U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration site offers a huge amount of information useful to the small businessperson, as well as an online library and a listing of programs offering various kinds of assistance.
Other Sites to Check Out
HTML and Link-Checking Tools
Even though you don't have to actually know HTML in order to create a Web page in fact, precisely because you may not know HTML it pays to have a Web-based service do an evaluation of your pages to make sure that they're written correctly. Here are some Web page tune-up sites that you can try.
NetMechanic has three sets of utilities that analyze different aspects of a Web site's performance. NetMechanic HTML Toolbox is an online verification and validation tool that can help you find broken links or other errors in your site. Search Engine Power Pack helps promote your site, and Server Check Pro monitors your hosting service's performance.
You don't need to be in legal trouble in order to research the many legal resources in cyberspace. Small business owners often need to know about copyright and trademark issues, as well as international trade law and state laws.
The Copyright Website
This site endeavors to inject a measure of humor into the sometimes dry subject of copyright. It has a section on Fair Use and Public Domain and a chat group on copyright issues. You can use a Copyright Wizard to register your Web site content.
The Internet Legal Resource Guide
This is a good general starting point if you're looking for legal information. The ILRG includes an index of lawyers and law firms, in case you're in need of help. It also has extensive databases of legal information, articles, and links.
The Web site of this well-known publisher in the field of self-help law contains a number of Law Centers. The Small Business Law Center contains articles on starting and naming a small business. A page on copyrights and trademarks points you to lots of good information on intellectual property terminology, as well.
THOMAS (which is named after Thomas Jefferson) is the official Web site of the U.S. Congress. Administered by the Library of Congress, THOMAS lets you check the status of pending legislation before the Congress. You can search by bill number, title, or keyword.
The United States Copyright Office
This is an outstanding resource on a topic of interest to everyone who wants to start an online business. This is the place to go if you want to apply to register for copyright for your Web site. Registering your copyright gives you an extra level of protection for your business site contents, even though copyright law provides for online material to be protected as soon as it's published.
Other Stuff to Check Out
You say you don't have the money to employ a personal secretary? You don't even have the funds for one of those snazzy scheduling packages? You're in luck: The following Web sites help you record appointments and keep track of upcoming events.
ScheduleOnline is a service that lets you have your own private calendar, which lists meetings, tasks, to-dos, and notes about what you scheduled for yourself. You can access and update your calendar information online from any computer. For businesses that require group scheduling, different members of your organization can have different access levels to the scheduling information. Attendees can view their calendars, create their own to-do lists and notes, and schedule tasks for themselves, but they may not schedule meetings. Administrators can set up and administer departments, people, and resources with ScheduleOnline. The downside is the cost, $39.95 a month for five users.
Evite puts a twist on the online scheduling idea: It focuses on enabling users to invite others to specific events. If your guests are connected to the Internet, you can quickly assemble a list and invite them to gatherings (such as parties, TV nights, or movie outings).
At HotDiary, you can get an online organizer, community events calendar, Jazzed calendar management that runs on your domain, and a JiveIt site builder for custom calendars that run on any Web site. Features include an integrated online organizer, personal and group calendars, pager/fax/e-mail reminders of important appointments for both personal and group use, address book, personal and group memos, personal and group to-do's, group chat, event invitation capability, subscriptions to local calendars, summary lists, and calendar management and access control. You can promote and advertise your business by using the HotDiary public community event calendars. HotDiary is a winner of CNET/Windows Best Business Site Award.
Online Storage Space
Storing your electronic data on a server that's connected to the Internet is a good safety measure one that can help you rebuild your business quickly in case of fire, theft, or other disasters. Online storage space is also a great way to get access to your files from anywhere. You don't need to be on your home computer or even have a floppy disk. Online storage helps if you need to keep backups, need to send large files to others, or keep files in a safe place during a transition, such as when you're moving files between computers. Some online storage sites give group access to files so that numerous people can share a document.
At FilesAnywhere, you get 50MB of storage space for a free 30-day trial period. You can then upgrade to 100MB for $3.95 per month. (Larger packages are available.) Besides file storage, you can send large files with the E-Send feature, which confirms delivery. E-Send allows you to attach larger files than e-mail does, and it allows you to send multiple files at once. Custom messages can accompany files and appear in a user's Inbox, just like e-mail. The site has GroupShares, which are personal folders shared for private group access so that all members of a business team can work off the same document. FilesAnywhere has automated daily backup and a recovery service. With that, you know your files are safe even if you delete one by accident.
IBackup provides backup, storage, and file sharing space plus a number of innovative ways to access and manage your data. You can, for example, map your IBackup storage area as though it's a local drive on your own computer. You can also schedule file transfers for specific future dates and times. Data is protected with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. Storage options begin at 50MB for $3 per month or $30 per year. Both Windows and Macintosh systems are supported.
Other Sites to Check Out
You're probably familiar already with search engines from the standpoint of a consumer. You can find information on just about any topic by using an Internet search service. When it comes to running an online business, however, your perspective is different. Visit these sites to find out how to get your business listed so that customers can find you more easily. Each site has information that explains how to include your site on its index.
AltaVista is fast, and it provides a wide range of shortcuts to narrow down the information you want. Like other search services, AltaVista presents a directory of Internet sites on a topic-by-topic basis. Its Business and Finance category includes sites for Regulation and Government and Small Businesses. One nice touch is that you can search in a variety of languages other than English even Estonian, Icelandic, and Finnish.
This is my current search engine of choice. Search results tend to be very focused and useful. Google also maintains a good Yahoo!-style directory to Web sites and other resources throughout the Internet.
HotBot's colorful artwork reflects its creator, Wired Digital, which is now part of the Lycos Network. HotBot is especially good if you're searching for links to your own Web site: Enter your own URL in the search text box, and select Links to This Site from the first drop-down list under Options. If you're looking for your own free home page or e-mail address, HotBot even provides hosting, too.
Excite lets you create a personalized Web page so that you can receive the news and business information of your choosing. The Excite home page contains lots of current news, weather, and stock information, as well as an Internet search box.
Lycos is one of the oldest search engines on the Web. Lycos has a category listing for small business resources that you might find useful. It lets you search not only the usual categories, like the Web and newsgroups, but also stocks, weather, and even recipes. The site attempts to detect your geographic location so that it can present you with contents that are tailored to where you live, such as links to local newspapers and the local weather report.
WebCrawler began as a student project in 1994 and has since turned into a mini-industry of its own. One good thing about WebCrawler is that it lets you (or your customers) search through Internet classifieds for particular items. Look at the fine print at the bottom of the page for a surprise: The Excite search engine's owner, Excite, Inc., owns WebCrawler.
Yahoo! is probably the most popular and best-known site on the Web. It's the place to go if you want to find information about almost anything. Yahoo! is at once a search engine that helps you find sites on the Web and a well-organized directory to Web sites arranged by topic. In addition, Yahoo! Store is a good place to create a business Web site. I probably end up turning to Yahoo! once or twice on almost every surfing session, and I always seem to find something of interest.
Small Business Associations
There's nothing like a little help when you're sitting all alone at your kitchen table or in your office, wondering how to make your business a success. The following organizations provide information, support, and much-needed health insurance as well as other benefits for the self-employed.
American Home Business Association, Inc.
This is a friendly site from a friendly organization offering home-based business resources. You can get good deals on Internet access, long-distance phone service, and more. A Hotline area provides tips on running an online business.
National Association for the Self-Employed
NASE provides a variety of member benefits and advocacy efforts for the self-employed person, including health insurance, discounted delivery services, and tax advice.
According to SOHO (Small Office/Home Office), 43 million people work from their homes. SOHO was founded to provide reference tools and technical support, benefits, and news affecting small and home offices and to represent your interests as a small business owner.
Yahoo! Guide to Small Business Organizations
If you want to take the wide view, Yahoo! provides you with a listing of small business support organizations that you can join. Note that some organizations are regional or for specific ethnic or age groups.
Web Authoring Tools
An increasingly powerful group of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Web authoring tools makes it easier to produce your own Web page. Check out the Web Tools Guide for a comprehensive list of every conceivable Web tool, authoring software, and more. The most recent authoring products on the market are similar to print page-layout programs and allow you to design Web pages with special effects plus forms and other interactive features. If you want to master HTML, you have the option of using an HTML editor, such as BBEdit. Most of these companies allow you to download a preview copy from their sites before you buy the products.
The Bare Bones Software motto has always been, "It doesn't suck." Not long ago, the motto was revised to, "It still doesn't suck." BBEdit is a high performance text and HTML editor for the Macintosh. It's designed for editing, searching, transforming, and manipulating text. Features are too numerous to list, but they include a Web-safe color palette, drag-and-drop HTML tools, PageMill cleaner tool, and one-button preview in any browser. The Bare Bones Web site provides you with ways to download, purchase, and update the software. You'll find extensive technical support links, including links to discussion groups related to Bare Bones products, and a searchable archive of past discussion group comments.
Dreamweaver is a powerful (and expensive) professional design tool that includes a customizable interface and support for dynamic HTML. The Dreamweaver source code features color syntax highlighting and appears in a separate window so that you can tile your WYSIWYG and source views as well as watch the code appear when you add elements visually. The Adobe Web site leads you to a feature tour illustrating the program's features, areas to download a trial version or purchase a version of the program, and a set of extensions that expand Dreamweaver's functionality. These extensions let you add connectivity to databases, create music and sound, add e-commerce shopping carts, and perform many other useful tasks.
FrontPage 2003 is an inexpensive yet very complete WYSIWYG tool that works well with other Microsoft products. To really get the most out of FrontPage, you need a Microsoft Web server and your users need to have the latest Microsoft browser. This FrontPage site includes ways to order the product online, links to Web site hosting services, and instructions on how to use FrontPage on an internal intranet, among other things.
Like BBEdit for the Macintosh, HomeSite is a fine tool for working directly with HTML code. The program has a built-in tag editor, a tag inspector, and a find-and-replace tool. One advantage of HomeSite is that it's configured to help you work with some specialized versions of XML, such as Wireless Markup Language (WML) and Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL). From this site, you can download a trial version of HomeSite or purchase a fully registered version of the program.
Other Stuff to Check Out
Web and Business Publications Online
If you're relatively new to the online world, you'll want to know about the latest news and developments so that you can keep up with both your competitors and your customers. The following cybermedia outlets provide you with daily business news as well as the latest technological developments.
CIO E-Business Research Center
This print publication with an online presence provides substantive articles and resources for larger companies, but it also has much for the small business entrepreneur to use. Previous articles include "Designing Principles: An Online Catalog is Only as Good as Its Design," and "Flash is Trash: Forget the Spinning Logos and Blinking Lights. Real People Want Real Information, and They Want it Fast."
Down To Business
Down To Business is a no-frills online magazine for entrepreneurs and marketers. It's published by Shel Horowitz, author and publisher of Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring. This magazine offers articles from some of the leading lights in the entrepreneurial niche and is a gold mine for the small operator. You can find articles on the use of e-mail, Internet strategies, the World Wide Web, technologies and trends, speaking in person and on the media, marketing and sales, and interpersonal relationships and family business. Bookmark this site.
The online version of the print magazine Inc. provides great reading for the small businessperson. Expect good reporting on Web businesses and Web marketing as well as solid articles on all aspects of business.
Internet World is one of the best online publications for the online entrepreneur. All articles in this daily ezine are geared toward electronic business or Web development. Internet World deserves a bookmark and frequent visits.
New York Times: Technology
This is one of the best daily sources of current information on all aspects of the Web and the Internet. This section features original columns and articles produced expressly for the Web. Special features include CyberTimes Navigator and New Economy.
Wired offers an irreverent and hip look at new media, online economy, new technology, and policy regarding the Internet and the World Wide Web. You can browse the archives of past issues on these topics. Wired News, HotWired, LiveWired, HotBot, and Suck.com are all linked from this site.
Other Stuff to Check Out
Web Design and Graphics
If you're planning to design and create your own Web site, this section is for you. But even if you're planning to hire someone to do the job for you, it's still useful to find out as much as you can about Web page design. Understanding what goes into making an attractive and compelling site is crucial for anyone hoping to have a successful online business. Knowing some of the technical and design issues involved in the production of a Web site goes a long way in helping you communicate effectively with a designer.
A fantastic Web authoring resources site with a strange name and a great sense of humor, BigNoseBird offers tutorials on a huge range of subjects. This site boasts an overwhelming amount of information and is worth many visits. If you get lost, try the search engine.
Lynda Weinman, author of Designing Web Graphics: How to Prepare Images and Media for the Web, hosts this site. In addition to promoting her books and workshops, she provides information and links related to the use of graphics and color on Web pages. If you plan to develop your own graphics, her books are well worth reading.
With Media Builder, you can create your own custom animated banner for free. After choosing the animation effects and the type of text, you click the Make Banner button. You can then save the banner to your own computer. This site also offers a button maker and a host of image files, fonts, and software tools.
Jakob Nielsen, author of Designing Excellent Websites: Secrets of an Information Architect, presents some excellent advice about the art of Web design with an emphasis on usability.
Dr. Dodd's Journal
Dr. Dodd's Journal is a huge, important site for the Web designer/developer. Visiting the site is free, but you're asked to register to receive additional benefits, including a free weekly newsletter and special offers on new Web products. DDJ.com offers 30 different departments, all loaded with up-to-date, valuable information. An absolute must visit.
Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide
This comprehensive resource guide can help you optimize the look and efficiency of your Web page graphics. The Style Guide covers color displays, graphic file formats, GIFs, JPEG graphics, information on optimizing graphics, color backgrounds, and image maps.
Marketing and advertising are two different activities, in my mind, at least. Advertising involves spreading your URL and banner ads around the Web, either to a wide variety of sites or a narrowly selected audience. Marketing involves building credibility for yourself and your site through content, participation in newsgroups, effective e-mail use, and a number of other strategies. The following sites either market your online business for you or suggest ways you can spread the word yourself.
Clickz Stats is a reference desk for Web marketers that provides valuable statistics and demographic information as well as advertising, e-commerce, and site-building resources. This is a well-organized site for the online entrepreneur who wants an edge in understanding Web marketing. To access the service, click the Stats tab on the left of the page.
A handsome, well-organized site that inspires with its design as well as its content, eMarketer offers an impressive menu of resources and information and boasts having the best online statistics available. One of the most valuable parts of the site is eCommunity, a variety of discussion groups where you can meet other online marketers and compare notes.
Web Marketing Today
Wilson Internet Services is a Web consulting firm that provides a free and substantial Internet marketing resource with links to hundreds of online articles. This site offers a clickable index, a keyword search, and claims that its E-Commerce Research Room is the Internet's largest and most comprehensive e-commerce resource and portal site. This is an excellent, not-to-be missed site.
You can post a video about practically anything, and as you might expect, plenty of silly, crazy, and entertaining video clips are online. But there are business implications as well.
YouTube is media-company based solely on the uploading and sharing of videos online. It was founded in 2005 as a place for people to share their videos free of charge. With 70 million viewers a day, YouTube has redefined the Internet media outlet. A user can upload videos, share them with other viewers, search for any kind of video imaginable, and even join groups based on one's hobbies, likes, dislikes, and so on.
Google Video is a strong competitor to YouTube. But the emphasis is slightly different. On Google Video, you find more commercial video clips such as movie promotional trailers. But you can also upload your video work, just as you can on YouTube, as long as you have a free Google account established beforehand.