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Essential E-Business Partners
What is E-Business, Anyway?
You may know that e-business is short form for “electronic business.” But
what does it really mean? Simply put, e-business can be defined as the use
of the Internet to conduct business. This includes buying and selling, serving
your customers, and working with business partners. For the most part, e-business
is about your company’s website and how you use the Internet to help operate
and grow your business.
E-business can range from a simple website that helps you market your business,
to an online store that enables customers to order your products 24 hours a
day. E-business also includes e-mail marketing, Internet-based software to
improve your business processes, and lots more. For most small businesses though,
e-business means having a good website that creates a positive impression of
your company and tells people who you are and what you offer.
The Role of E-Business in Your Business
E-business can help your business in many ways, and it can give you a significant
competitive advantage. Here are six important goals that e-business can help
- Supporting your marketing efforts and increasing your sales
- Reaching new markets and extending your reach
- Communicating with your target audience more cost-effectively
- Helping you get more from your overall sales and marketing budget
- Strengthening customer relationships and improving customer service
- Increasing productivity and efficiency
Your E-Business Needs a Team of Partners
A wide variety of business partners is required to create and implement a
successful e-business strategy. It is not recommended that you entrust this
project to a “friend who knows about computers.” Your e-business is important
and you should outsource the job to professionals. You also need to be involved
in the process.
An Overview of Your E-Business Partners
From creative professionals to technical partners, a solid team and your personal
commitment will ultimately determine the success or failure of your e-business.
Your partners may include the following:
- Internet Service Provider (ISP) – connects you to the Internet
- Website host – gives your website a home on the Internet
- Website development team – builds your website to meet your needs
- Application Service Providers – offer specialized turnkey solutions
- Computer services firm – set up and maintain your computers
- Professional services team – might include your banker, lawyer, and various
Each partner brings a particular specialization or skill set to the table.
It is important to recognize what each partner’s potential role and limitations
are. For example, an Internet Service Provider should not necessarily host
your website. Connecting your computer hardware to the Internet and maintaining
the technical aspects of hosting a website are different skill sets. Good partners
will have a core competency – something they are focused on and are very good
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
An Internet Service Provider (commonly called an ISP) is a company that provides
you with access to the Internet, allowing you to surf the web and use e-mail
on your computer. Often your Internet Service Provider is a large phone or
Different Types of Internet Access
There are a number of ways to access the Internet. Some of the most common
- High-speed connection through your telephone line
- High-speed connection through your cable television line
- High-speed connection through a satellite connection (useful in more remote
- High-speed connection through a wireless network
- Dial-up connection through your telephone line (much slower than high-speed)
For business users in urban areas, high-speed access (also called “broadband”)
through a phone or cable line is the most common type of Internet access. In
rural or more remote areas, dial-up access through a phone line might be your
only option. New wireless Internet access options are also becoming more readily
available, both in urban and rural settings.
Get High-Speed Internet Access If You Can
Business users should get a high-speed Internet connection if it’s available. “High-speed” has
become very affordable and makes good sense in the business world where time
savings translates directly to your bottom line. Your best choice for an Internet
Service Provider is likely going to be a fairly large company. Building and
maintaining a reliable Internet service takes a lot of money, resources, and
technical support staff.
Your Website Host
A website host is a company that provides space for your website and sets
it up so your site can be viewed online. You’re essentially renting space on
the Internet so you can put your website there, much like you might rent an
office. The website host will have a number of different packages available,
depending on how much space you need, how many e-mail accounts you need, how
many visitors your site receives, and how complex your website is.
Important Website Hosting Issues
There are a number of aspects to consider regarding website hosting:
- Get a good domain name – this is your site’s address (e.g., www.yourcompany.com)
- Make sure the domain name is registered under your name (or company) so
you own it. Helps if you need to switch hosts.
- Decide on the e-mail accounts you will need (e.g., [email protected])
- Keep your site login and password information (commonly called FTP access)
- Keep in mind that you get what you pay for – a budget website host isn’t
the best idea for a business site
A good website host can help you with these issues. In fact, it may be a good
idea to centralize your website, e-mail, and domain name with your website
host. Hosting is a fairly specialized service. You should choose a company
with a reputation for excellent customer service and a high level of technical
expertise. Your best option is probably going to be a specialized mid-sized
hosting company. While larger companies are often very good at providing Internet
access, they usually don’t offer the same level of personalized customer service
and specialization as a mid-sized company.
Your Website Development Team
In order to build a successful website, you need a team of experienced professionals.
The main players of your website development team may include the following:
- Web Developer
Your website developer is responsible for the overall project. The developer
will help you plan and create your website. This person is usually the
project manager, taking the lead role on guiding the development team (much
like a general contractor on a building project). Search engine optimization
considerations should be made throughout the project.
- Web Designer
The designer creates the visual concept for your website. A professional
designer will help you create an attractive website that is relevant to
your target audience. The designer will make sure your site follows design
principles, and fits well with your company’s identity. A good designer
will take into account accessibility and usability issues.
- Web Programmer
Depending on your website needs, a programmer may be involved in the project.
The developer will usually have a technical partner for programming or
have a programmer on staff. A programmer takes care of any actual software
development that is needed.
Your writer will help you create the content for your website, from profiles
of key people to clear and concise information about your products or services.
A good writer can save you a lot of time and will increase the value of
your website. Incomplete site content often holds up the launch of websites.
Define your content requirements and get to work on these items early in
Your photographer makes sure the photos in your website look professional.
Buying royalty-free stock images may also be a viable option, although
they may not be as relevant as a custom photo shoot for your company.
Your Application Service Providers (ASP)
There are many companies that offer online services or applications that can
help you with all various business processes, from tracking sales leads to
building an online store, and much more. These companies are commonly called
ASPs, or Application Service Providers. ASPs build an online service that would
be very expensive for a single business to develop, and they spread the cost
over thousands of users and offer a per-use cost that smaller businesses can
afford. An ASP is a lot like an airline. Business people fly all over the world,
but very few businesses own an airplane. It makes more economic sense to buy
travel services from an airline on a per-use basis.
Examples of Application Service Providers
There are far too many online services and applications to list them all,
but here are some of the more popular services that many businesses make use
- eBay.ca - online auction site that allows businesses to set up a store
- PayPal.com - provides online sales and credit card transaction services
- SalesForce.com - complete online customer relationship management
- WebEx.com - online meetings and video conferencing services
- E-mailLabs.com - email newsletters and marketing campaigns
- eFax.com - allows you to receive and send faxes via e-mail
The examples listed here are subject to change, but chances are sites like
eBay or PayPal aren’t going anywhere soon. Your website developer should have
some knowledge of ASPs and be able to help you decide if a service like this
is right for your company.
Your Computer Services Firm
Your computer services firm is the company that keeps your computer hardware
working properly. Without computers you can’t have much of an e-business. Your
computer services firm will help you set up your computers, maintain an office
network, help you install new software, and take care of pretty much anything
else related to your computers. They might also provide computer hardware or
recommend good vendors. Some firms may also offer related services such as
website hosting or custom programming.
The Importance of Maintaining Your Computers
Computers play a vital role in your e-business. They are used for accounting,
inventory tracking and sales, word processing, spreadsheet analysis, contact
management, and client communications.
Some important computer issues include:
- Keeping your software updates, patches and bug fixes current
- Having a good anti-virus program and keeping it updated
- Setting up a reasonable level of security on your computers and changing
- Cleaning your computer regularly – getting rid of old software or files
you don’t use
- Backing up your files on a regular basis and storing backups in a safe
- Setting up a rescue disk so you can restore your files if your computer
- Keeping all software information and registrations on file in your office
You may want your computer services firm to handle these issues. Messing around
with your computer when you don’t know what you’re doing is a good way to create
problems. And every minute your computer is not working there is lost productivity.
Your Professional Services Team
Your e-business will benefit from the involvement of professionals such as
your banker, lawyer, business or marketing consultant, and security specialist.
Each of these partners can add value to your overall e-business strategy:
Your banker can help you set up an Internet merchant account to accept online
credit card payments. Banks can also help you finance various aspects of
your e-business (website development, buying computers). You may also need
an Internet payment gateway, such as Caledon Card, PSIGate, Beanstream,
Soltrus, Internet Secure, and E-xact to process payments.
You may want to contact a lawyer who specializes in Internet law to help
agreements, trademark disputes, business and partnership agreements, contracts,
and other legal issues.
- Business Consultants
Professional business or marketing consultants can help you shape your e-business
strategy, to make sure it fits well with your business and your customers.
Consultants can provide new ideas and concepts that will help your business
- Internet Security Specialists
While small businesses generally cannot afford a full-time Internet security
specialist, they would be wise to have a computer systems engineer (P.
Eng.) or a certified security specialist audit their network, just as they
would have an accountant audit their books.
Selecting the Right Partners
Finding good partners is a very important part of your e-business strategy.
Below are two very important factors to consider when selecting your e-business
Examples of Work
There is no better indicator of the expertise or experience of a company than
the work done by that company. Look at their portfolio of work. A good company
will be able to provide numerous examples of work that directly relate to the
services you’re looking for.
Referrals and References
Good companies will have many references and will receive good referrals from
existing clients. Just by asking others in the business community, you can
get a pretty accurate picture of how good or bad a company is at what they
How Do You Find Good Partners?
The best way to find good e-business partners is to talk with other businesses
about the companies they have used. Good referrals are worth their weight in
gold. Get recommendations from people in the business community that you respect.
In any service industry, word-of-mouth is a key indicator of how good a company
is. E-business is no different.
What to Look for in Your E-Business Partners:
- Internet Service Provider (ISP) - reliability and speed
- Website host - reliability, expertise, excellent customer service
- Website development team - good past work and happy clients
- Application Service Providers - positive reviews, pricing, and secure data
- Computer services firm - expertise, excellent service, happy clients
- Professional services team - good references and referrals
Working Effectively With Your E-Business Partners
It’s important to understand that even though you are outsourcing your e-business
needs to a number of different partners, you still need to be involved in the
process. It is your job to take an active role and provide each e-business
partner with the information they need to do their job properly. In a way,
you are the project leader. It’s your business, you are in charge. You must
be clear about your business goals and what it is that you want to do. Knowing
what you want and communicating this vision to your partners is key.
Advantages of Working with External E-Business Partners:
- More time to focus on your business
- Highly skilled partners will deliver better quality work
- Work is done in a more timely fashion than a do-it-yourself solution
- Better overall return on investment than a do-it-yourself solution
Disadvantages of Working with External E-Business Partners:
- Higher initial costs than a do-it-yourself solution
- Poor supplier could deliver a poor quality product or rip you off
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips that will help you work more effectively with your e-business
- Get everything in writing – proposals, costs, deliverables, and all project
- Agree on the scope of work – who is responsible for what
- Talk about what happens if the partner doesn’t meet his obligations
- Agree on costs and the project timeline before work begins
- Be realistic – don’t expect a million-dollar website for three thousand
- Communicate with your partners often and clearly
Next Steps: Advanced E-Business Features
Most small businesses don’t need an advanced or complex e-business solution
when they’re just starting out. Features such as an online store sometimes
don’t even make sense for well-established businesses. For example, a high-end
homebuilder is unlikely to ever sell a half-million dollar home from a website
through online credit card payment. The sales process of the company simply
doesn’t fit with direct online payment.
When Do Advanced Features Make Sense?
It’s usually a good idea to keep your e-business strategy fairly simple to
start with. But do have measurable objectives and make sure your site can accommodate
growth later on. The idea is to crawl before you walk. You don’t want to get
into a situation where you spend thousands of dollars building an online store,
and then find your customers won’t buy from you online. A good rule of thumb
is that an advanced e-business feature makes sense when it can pay for itself.
Some common advanced features include:
- Online store – can facilitate online payment and credit card transactions
- Content management system – allows you to update your site easily
- High-end interactive website – can provide a rich customer experience
- Online training application for employees - can increase productivity
- Business intranet – a secure internal website to increase efficiency
Your website developer will be able to explain these advanced features (and
many others) in more detail and will help you determine whether they make sense
for your e-business. Resources There are lots of resources and information
available for anyone who wants to dive into the subject of e-business more
deeply. The Alberta E-Future Centre is a great place to start. You can also
find many good websites and books with useful information on this topic.
Domain Name Registration
- Starting an Online Business for Dummies
- Selling Online: How to Become a Successful E-Commerce Merchant
- The Complete E-Commerce Book
- Internet Marketing for Dummies
- The Big Red Fez: How to Make Any Web Site Better
- Business 2.0
- Fast Company
- Backbone Magazine