The Internet (Part II)

HOW TO GET STARTED

There are three major steps to effective Internet usage:

  • Get connected to the net
  • Learn to use the net (“surf” the net)
  • Create your own presence on the┬ánet

Getting Connected.

There are four major ways to connect to the Internet:

1. Your own connection.

This is not for the small business. This approach requires lots of expensive equipment and expertise.

2. Visit a library.

This is a neat way to try out the net without spending any money. Many large libraries now have one or more computers connected to the Internet that may be used by visitors. You obviously can’t use this approach for your business, but it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the internet and see what this tool might mean to you and your business.

3. Use a commercial service.

Commercial services such as America-On-Line and CompuServe provide some form of Internet access. The good news is that this approach is an easy and quick way to get on the net. However, in some cases, Internet access is limited in various ways and you can expect to pay more than with an independent Internet provider service. Furthermore, some of the internet “tools” provided by these services are not as good as what you can obtain free from other sources over the Internet.

4. An Independent Internet provider.

This is my preferred approach. It is easy to find a local “access provider” and get an “Internet account” which allows you to connect to the Internet. One way to find these providers is to check in the business section of your local newspaper. The cost is around $12-$20/month which will give you unlimited access. More good news: Required software for your computer is generally free or very low-cost shareware available from the provider (or you can download it from various hosts with help from your provider).

There are different types of Internet accounts that provide various levels of service. Suffice it to say here that you will need a “dial-in PPP” account which will allow you to take full advantage of the Internet at a low cost. (PPP stands for Point-to-Point Protocol)

Be careful when selecting your Internet provider since many are coming in existence to support the demand. Some are good, some are not. Use the following checklist to help in making your selection.

How long has the provider been in operation? (1-year minimum)

Are an adequate number of telephone lines are available to ensure you will not receive a busy signal when attempting to connect?

Is a local access telephone number available? (You don’t want to incur long-distance charges since you will find that you’re spending hours connected!)

Are 28.8Kbps modems (minimum) being used for dial-in accounts?.

Are personalized E-mail addresses available? You want this for identification. It is your “name” on the Internet. For example, my Internet E-mail address is “bobs@isquare.com. “bobs” is what I’ve chosen for my “name,” “isquare” is the name of the node of my Internet service provider, and “com” indicates a commercial account.

Will the software be provided? (It usually is).

Are there any restrictions on doing business?

Is technical help available? During what times? (This assistance should be free.)

What services are offered? You must have E-mail and FTP at a minimum. Will the provider be able to support your “home page” when you’re ready? (more on this below).

Equipment required

Hopefully, you have already decided that a computer is an absolute necessity for your business. Given you already have or will get a computer, the only additional piece of equipment required to support Internet access is a modem. This is the device that connects your computer to the telephone line. It is very important that this modem be able to transfer lots of data quickly. Fortunately, the cost of modems has come down considerably and for around $100 you can add a 28.8Kbps modem to your computer. 28.8Kbps defines how fast the modem transfers data and is the minimum speed you should use with the Internet for satisfactory performance.

Learn to use the net.

At this point, a lot of what you have read in this section may be confusing but believe me, once you get connected and start using the various tools we’ve described, everything will start to make sense.

When you are up and running on the Internet, start looking around on the WWW (called “surfing the net”) and get familiar with what’s there. You will quickly be amazed at what is available and the possibilities. Send me an E-mail!

Create your own presence on the net

Using the Internet to advertise your product or service is considerably different than traditional sales and promotional techniques. You must stand out in a crowd of millions! To do so requires you to carefully think through your strategy to ensure whatever you place on the Internet is very unique and interesting.

When using the net to advertise, and again contrary to the traditional, you must “give to the net” as well as utilize its capabilities. In other words, your advertising must also provide useful information to the reader. Also, note that the major unwritten rule for advertising on the Internet is to NEVER send unsolicited information to specific individuals.

The form of your presence on the net is dependent on your business goals and marketing specifics. In any case, I strongly suggest you learn more about the Internet and see how it might fit into your business.

Okay, you have an Internet provider, your modem is installed, and you’ve connected to the Internet by dialling up your local access number. Now try the following URLs, all of which should be useful to the small business owner or entrepreneur.

  • The Small Business Advisor: http://www.isquare.com
  • The SBA: http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov
  • US Business Advisor: http://www.business.gov/
  • Incorporation Assistance: http://incorporate.com/tcc/
  • The Federal Web Locator: http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Agency/fedwebloc.html
  • ATT 800 directory: http://www.tollfree.att.net/dir800/
  • Entrepreneur Resource Center: http://www20.mindlink.net/interweb/index.html
  • Central Source Yellow Pages: http://telephonebook.com
  • Home Office Executive: http://clickshop.com/HomeExec/
  • Home Business Solutions: http://mall.netmar.com/mall/shops/solution/
  • Inc. Magazine: http://www.inc.com/
  • Your Small Office: http://www.smalloffice.com/
  • Weather Map: http://www.mit.edu:8001/usa.html
  • Stroud’s List (software) http://cws.wilmington.net
  • Alta-Vista search engine: http://altavista.digital.com/
  • Yahoo search engine: http://www.yahoo.com