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CYBER PROFITSóSTARTING
A BUSINESS ON THE NET
by Bob Brooke

There has never been a better time to start an Internet-based business than right now. The Internet is exploding, as more people have begun to use it regularly.

According to Jim Daniels, editor of the Bizweb E-Gazette, new Internet sites have been popping up at the rate of one per minute. As it expands at this pace, it's clear that the Internetís entanglement of words, pictures, sound, and motion is becoming more than just the most important new communication medium since television.

Many of the businesses now piling onto the Internet may totally misunderstand this new medium. They may end up losing millions of dollars and eventually decide itís not living up to its hype. Other businesses may totally ignore the Internet. Their competitors, meanwhile, will use it as a tool to literally steal their customers away.

Since it opened for commercial activity in 1991, the Internet is poised to turbocharge E-commerce. Market researcher Forrester Research Inc. figures that by 2002 Internet commerce among U.S. businesses alone will hit $327 billion, equal to 2.3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 2005, E-commerce could jump to as much as 6 Percent of GDP.

Analysts see E-commerce making up a huge portion--20 to 60 percent--of such industries as computers and software, catalogs, energy, and books. Thousands of companies are promoting and selling products ranging from food and beverages to cars and trucks to information and financial services.

Unfortunately, the high-tech world and the Internet in particular havenít caught on with Latinos. According to Rivera, less than two percent of the Hispanic population of San Jose, California, arenít in high-tech occupations. "Mexican Americans are more traditionally minded when it comes to business," said R. J. Rivera, partner in SiliconValleySquare.com, a new Latino marketing site on the Internet.. " ĎIf it worked for my father and his father, it will work for meí is the prevailing attitude."

"E-commerce must be seen as a regular business," he added. "But unlike a regular business, a highly technical partner is an integral part." While Rivera handles the technical and sales side, his partner, Larry Yiu, handles publicity, sales and accounting. What they need now is a webmaster to maintain their site.

Who should have a business on the Internet? "If youíre local, donít use the Internet," Rivera said. "But itís great for national marketing of a product."

The first thing an entrepreneur should do to be successful on the Internet is target who will buy his product. He needs to find where these people go when theyíre online? What do they do? What do they read? Can he reach them regularly and at a low cost?

Thereís no point in trying to sell to a particular market if an entrepreneur can't easily identify them and reaching them is a costly endeavor. If his market is so specific that in order to reach just one customer he has to advertise to thousands of people who would never buy what heís selling, then the Internet may not be the way to go.

As in traditional business startups, the reason for failure is often undercapitalization. Rivera planned on spending $10,000 a month on marketing. "Thatís not that much compared to high advertising budgets," he said. We had to look at our product, target audience, and our return on investment. Most new companies fail in their advertising--generating sales and sustaining business can be a problem without proper marketing."

"I canít stress enough the need to be well capitalized, as well as realistic," he added. "Weíve spent 50 percent of our capital on development and the rest on updates and marketing of our site, including 25 percent on media coverage."

The underlying battle with maintaining a business on the Internet is the ability to command and sustain the attention of consumers. To succeed, businesses on the Internet must invent new ways to market themselves, new ways to learn what customers want, new ways to forge lasting relationships with them.

Creating and mounting a professional-looking site takes some doing. Experience has shown that the design of a web site isnít as important as the words used. After all, it's the words, not the graphics that sell products! The words download almost instantly, while graphics take longer. The entire home page should be on a consumer's computer screen in less than 20 seconds.

A entrepreneur can bring consumers to his site and have sold to them. But is that all? Surprisingly, many business owners drop the ball right there, letting millions of dollars in sales slip away. Not only should a good sales pitch be designed, but also a back-end sales program. Once a customer buys from a site, it's just that much easier to sell to them again in the future by keeping in touch with them on a regular basis.

Remember, in E-commerce competition is always just a click away.

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