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Why You Must Sell Online

I don't know about you, but when I buy something for mail delivery, I'd much rather type the address myself than tell it to somebody over the telephone who then types it for me. I like to have the control in knowing that it's right. I prefer the Web store to the 800 number for many reasons including the interactive online catalog. There can be no doubt that electronic commerce (e-commerce) is where business is going. Is your business there yet? If not, here are some reasons you need to get there instantly.

Easy to Get There

It's almost always less expensive to set up than a bricks and mortar store or office. Consultants and website designers abound. Ask your colleagues for recommendations. Alternatively, find a website that you like of similar scope as the one you plan. Then, contact the company that designed it. These are just a couple of examples of how to jump-start your effort.

Faster and Less Expensive

Paper catalogs and product brochures are expensive to create and mail. When you need to change them the expense of reprinting and remailing can be prohibitive.

Your online catalog is inherently more dynamic and less expensive to modify. If you have a potential customer on the line, you don't have to follow-up with them after they receive your catalog. With e-commerce, you can take them on a guided tour of your website while you have them on the telephone. You might just close the sale right then. Maybe, they'll think about it and place the order at 3 a.m. your time while you're sleeping. Selling while asleep-now, that's the way to make money.

Improved Customer Service

The buzz phrase in the world of e-commerce is 24 by 7. (For the uninitiated, it refers to service 24 hours per day, seven days a week.) If you try to do customer service by telephone 24 by 7, you may find that you've busted your budget.

A website is the perfect place to provide detailed answers to common questions. Moreover, you don't have to limit customer service to peak hours. You can offer it all of the time. I demand that from businesses today and I'm not alone.

The Earth is Your Marketplace

While it's true that the U.S. remains the leader in Net usage, the rest of the world is catching up. Even today though, the Net gives you a global marketplace. It's hard to stare at the scope of the market and say, "Not interested."

You may need to think about your key target markets and consider "local versions." This might mean things like a website in more than one language or adjustments to the website to take into account local cultural factors.

Play with the Big People

The Internet is the great leveler of the playing field. Maybe you can't afford to build a superstore or have branches in every city, but you may find that you can do a spectacular e-commerce website.

On the Net, it's not immediately apparent that you're not a megacompany. Use that to your advantage.

Find yourself a unique niche or angle. Then market it to death. You may find that the Net is just what you need to compete against companies that you thought were out of reach.

A word of caution is in order though. Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you build a great website, the world will find it. You still need to market, market and market more. It's a big Internet out there. You'll need a significant budget for advertising, promotion and public relations.

Get yourself good advice on promotion, but make sure that your source is experienced in marketing an e-commerce website. It's a unique animal.

It's Just Plain Cheaper

Telephone calls are expensive. You have personnel costs, long distance telephone charges, and numerous other expenses that you incur for a telephone sales or customer service department.

Postage and printing can be a major expense for glossy brochures, information on specs, billing and whatever.

Put it ("it" should be as much as possible) on your website and watch your overhead go down. Then, share in the lower costs as you shift your customers from traditional business methods to e-commerce. For example, you might give them a discount if they place their order online.

Electronically Link to Your Customers

For business-to-business sales and relationships, it's time to consider Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). With EDI, you begin to take the next step in truly automating your business relationships. Let the computers talk to one another and allow the people to do things that only people can do.

Be aware, that a growing number of larger businesses are demanding EDI as a pre-condition to doing business with you. They fully understand how expensive it is to have their people call your people to place an order. They require that you completely automate this process.

Your Competitors are There

Simply put-you can't afford to be the business trailing the others in your field into the world of e-commerce. You have to be an absolutely blind computer illiterate (in which case you probably don't read columns entitled "CyberLaw" anyway) to miss the Internet and the related e-commerce explosion happening around you.

"WWW" is practically a word in the English language. The phrase "dot com" is synonymous with success. Almost every industry is being impacted by the e-commerce revolution. If you want to succeed into the next century, don't miss the boat.

Some Legal Caution

Yes, you should jump headfirst into the world of e-commerce. Still, that doesn't mean carelessly.

While it's true that e-commerce sites are less expensive to build than superstores, you should not assume that the costs are nominal and the path a clear one.

Building a website is like doing anything else in business. When it's expensive and it's not in the ordinary course of business for you (most businesses don't buy e-commerce site building services too often), you should invest in good contracts. A handshake is great until you're out a bunch of money and your e-commerce site doesn't function in the way you intended.

The handshake may be the most painful one you've ever had if you find out that you have no remedies because you have a poor contract. The simple fact is that website creation is an area that's ripe for litigation. Remember that you're trying to contract for someone to create something and yet, at the time of contracting, nobody knows what it will look like when it's done. That's not easy.

In choosing a lawyer to assist you with your project, make sure that he's experienced in website and software contracting. This is a highly specialized area and one fraught with danger for the general business lawyer.

Question them about their expertise in intellectual property. Many lawyers are quick to tell you that they're not knowledgeable in intellectual property law. In my experience, it's right up there with tax law as an area where lawyers are quick to acknowledge that they're not qualified to offer advice.

I caution you about the intellectual property expertise because it's an area with some traps for the unwary. I'll leave you with this example to make the point. If you pay your web developer to custom build a website for you and your contract is silent on who owns the copyright to the website, then the web developer, NOT you own the site. The answer is completely counter-intuitive, but that's the answer. Be careful.

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