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Business Report #14

Should I Do Business on The Internet?

The popular news media has been glutted with stories about the Internet, so glutted that many people are skeptical about what the Internet can do for their businesses. This is understandable. Everyone is saying that the Internet is the "market of the future," that if you don't get your business on the Internet, you'll be left behind. What none of them seem to want to tell you are the real reasons you should do business on the Internet. Before I do that, though, let me dispel some inaccuracies that I've seen in many ads, flyers, and sales letters.

The most common piece of information quoted about the Internet, particularly by people who are trying to sell Internet "home pages" to business opportunists, is that the Internet is the most expansive market in the world, with estimates of 30,000,000 people or more currently using it, and tens of thousands more joining in weekly. Well, this is partly true, but not really 100% true.

The first question you have to ask is where the 30,000,000 number came from. Personally, I don't know. However, I do know that studies are showing a truer estimate is closer to 12,000,000. Where are the missing people? Well, a lot of hypesters count every single person who's on an online service such as America Online or Compuserve as being on the Internet. Unfortunately, not everyone on the online services uses the Internet. Many of them are content to remain in the "enclosed" portion of the online services, rather than venture out into the web. If they're only interested in stock quotes, or downloading files, they may never access the Internet (though they should - they'd find more and better material!).

Also, many people try online services, find they aren't interested, and drop the service after their "free trial month." The hypesters count these people as being among the fabled 30,000,000, as well as being part of the tens of thousands signing up weekly. They shouldn't.

Another interesting tidbit I've seen frequently is something along the lines of "you can easily sell anything on the Internet." Well, I don't know about that. While I've seen plenty of success stories about people selling tons of personalized T-shirts, coffee mugs, books, cookies, vacuum cleaners, antiques, and other "hard goods," I know that the percentage of success stories on the Internet are still far lower than in the "real world." The truth is, if you want to sell a product on the Internet and be successful, you should be able to not only sell the product, but also deliver the product on the Internet. Thus, information products are the best items to sell over the Internet. You can sell the other products I named above, as well as a myriad of others, but it's tougher. Why? Because of the number of people on the Internet, that's why.

Many hypesters make a point of the huge numbers of people on the Internet. This can work against you, because it makes it tough to target your market. Just because there's 12,000,000 people out there doesn't mean that all 12,000,000 are interested in buying an antique chair from you. In fact, maybe only ΒΌ% would be interested. That's still a very respectable 30,000 people, and if you could sell 30,000 antique chairs, I'm sure you'd make a great deal of money. However, you need to reach those 30,000 people with your message.

In the "real world," it might be easy to reach those people wanting an antique chair by advertising in antique-related publications. That's targeted marketing. However, on the Internet, things work in reverse. In the real world, the antique publication is delivered to the people. On the Internet, those people need to seek you out. Thus, if you want to market on the Internet, you'd better be willing to work the "publicity machine," with entries in online databases, advertising, press releases, etc. It's just like in the real world. Just because you put a home page on the Internet, you aren't necessarily going to get rich overnight.

So, now that I've probably discouraged you, I'll again ask the question that's posed in the title of this report: should you do business on the Internet?

YES!

How can I say that after sounding so much doom and gloom? Well, even if there are only 12,000,000 people on the Internet instead of 30,000,000, that's still a large group of people, and thousands are joining their ranks all the time. There's bound to be some people who are interested in what you have to sell.

Plus, it's the way of the future. Wal-Mart has just announced that they plan to make all of the products you'd find in a typical Wal-Mart store available for purchase over the Internet. It might be awhile before that happens, but if it's ok for Wal-Mart, it should be ok for you.

Another good reason is the equalizing factor of the Internet. Even if you're just running a small business from a single bedroom in your house, you can compete on even ground with a large corporation. If your website is designed well, you can be as impressive looking and as technologically advanced (maybe even more - there are a lot of major corporations with crummy looking websites out there).

If you're on the Internet, you're poised to have instantaneous contact with your prospective and current customers. Through the use of email and autoresponders, you can deliver product information around the world for little or no cost 24 hours a day. You can't do that on the phone or through the mail.

If you're on the Internet, you can greatly expand your market. If you're only marketing locally, you can now market nationally. If you're currently marketing nationally, you're now in the International market with the Internet. As long as you have a product or service that is useful to people in other countries, you have a chance at expanding your profit base. Don't forget the publicity factor behind being on the Internet. Having an Internet website for your business is still a status symbol, if you will. Once you're online, put your email and website addresses on your business cards, your letterhead, your envelopes, everything. Also, send out press releases to your local press and any other publications applicable to your line of work, letting them know about your website. It might be deemed newsworthy, and you'll get some free publicity for your website, as well as a bit of status from being "technologically advanced."

Finally, if you are selling information products, you can deliver the product immediately to your customer, and you'll have no printing expense, no delivery expense, nothing. That's a great profit margin. You need to go into the Internet with a clear head. Forget those overinflated promises and numbers that the hucksters are spouting. If it sounds like hype, and it smells like hype, it's hype, pure and simple. And very few things have generated the unadulterated hype that the Internet has. However, there are a lot of good, solid reasons to have your business on the Internet. You can be up in a week, so start today!