get yourself a website

How is the internet changing? The overall trend is of reducing cost. The key areas are the widespread availability of cheap broadband access and the proliferation of Service Providers offering low cost hosting for websites which use scripting and databases. At the same time there has been an exponential growth of high quality open source software with active communities of developers and self-help user groups What does this mean for the average small business? Everyone is aware that the internet is hugely significant and that they shouldn't ignore it, but for most it doesn't seem directly relevant to their line of work. Sure, software vendors, mail order companies and auctioneers need to use it or get left behind, but for the average company hopefully it's enough to put up a page or two with some general information and contact details, beyond this it's hard to see what use it can be. Here are some pointers:

  • Your customers are increasingly using the internet to find suppliers. To keep a high search engine rating there are three key factors: content, content and content. You have to keep adding to and updating useful information on your website in order for other sites to link to it and for search engines to position it near the top of a search. The administration of this used to be a headache that many small companies couldn't afford to take on. However with the advent of Content Management Systems anyone can publish and edit web pages in whatever area of your site they are given permission for. Cost of software = nothing.
  • Web shops can be used to sell anything. The software is free and anyone with a valid email address can register with PayPal (and others) at no cost and start receiving credit card payments.
  • Put your production, stock and accounts system on the internet. It will then be hosted by people who run servers for a living, who can guarantee reliability, backups and upgrades to the hardware and software without you having to even think about it. The computers in your office can be as basic as possible providing little incentive to burglars and little damage if they fail. Customers and salesmen can check up on orders from anywhere at any time without wasting staff time. You can save costs by allowing office staff to work part of the time from home and by allowing your auditors to do some of their work remotely. Cost of software = nothing.
  • Put other database applications on the internet for the same reasons as those above. MySQL is one of the most powerful and widely used commercial database software in the world, it is free and can be used for any special applications that need to be added to the basic stock and accounts packages.

An advantage of using open source software is that you have a potentially vast reservoir of programmers to call upon should you fall out with your original supplier! You can do all this yourself with a bit of searching on the internet. If you would like some of the setting up done here are some examples of possible costs:

job direct
work cost of
Set up a web space with and content management software for you to enter pages. £ 50* 2 hr £ 100
Consultation and implementation of basic graphic design and web structure   4 hr £ 200
Set up web shop software to allow electronic payment to your email account   4 hr £ 200
Set up blank manufacturing, stock, accounting software   4 hr £ 200

* This is the kind of charge a hosting company would make to register a .COM domain name and give basic business level hosting for a year. Obviously work involved with modifying settings, entering data and setting up new database applications would depend on what was requested. In many instances this could be added piecemeal as the need arose. I would be glad to call in at your offices and spend a couple of hours talking about information technology, productivity, quality or anything else where I might be able to contribute something useful.