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					E-Commerce For Small and Medium Sized Businesses
A Step by Step Guide to Getting Started with E-Commerce

Wilson Consulting Services Inc www.wcssolutions.com

Introduction
This guide has been written to help provide small and medium sized businesses with a step-by-step approach to conducting business over the Internet. The guide starts with an overview of the Internet and E-Commerce then has a section for each of the 5 steps. After reviewing this guide, you should have an understanding of how E-Commerce can help your company, and be in a position to plan and implement your own E-Commerce strategy. The intended audience for this guide is the businessperson interested in learning more about E-Commerce, or is responsible for implementing an ECommerce strategy. This guide is intended to provide the information required, without inundating the reader with technical details. For the purposes of this document, E-Commerce is the use of the Internet for conducting or enabling commerce. This will always include an Internet web site, and may also include the ability for visitors to your site to purchase online.

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E-Commerce Overview
Internet Primer
The growth in Internet use has been staggering, considering it has only started gaining popularity with the general public around 1995. It is estimated that 8.8 million Canadians now have access to the Internet, either at home, work or school. This is expected to double by the end of 2003! Other than the telephone, the Internet will be the most accessible communication and information tool available to Canadians. People access the Internet through an Internet Service Provider, or ISP. Users just require a computer with a modem for communicating, a telephone line and an ISP. The ISP in turn connects you to the Internet. The Internet itself is simply a giant network of computers. Web Servers are computers connected to the Internet that contain the files that comprise websites. Users enter the address of the server containing the website they wish to visit. The server then makes the website files available to the user and are downloaded to the user‟s browser. Any computer sold in the last few years came equipped with a „browser‟, which is just an application that reads the information from these web site files, and displays the website on your computer. The most common browsers are Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Near the top of the browser screen is an area where you enter the address of the web site you wish to visit. This address, called a „URL‟ (or Uniform Resource Locator) is where you typically enter „www.‟ and the domain name to visit a web site. Sometimes additional information is entered after the Domain Name to get to a specific page on the website.

Will E-Commerce Help My Business?
Not all types of businesses are well suited to take advantage of online purchasing, for example few people would want to purchase a home over the Internet. Does that mean you should ignore the Internet? Not at all. Almost all businesses will benefit from a web site that at least promotes their business and provides a professional image for their company. Increasingly the Internet will have a profound effect on your customers‟ purchase decisionmaking, even if they don‟t actually make the purchase online. A welldesigned web site will provide information to the prospective customer on which services are offered and give them a sense of the quality offered by your company. Numerous studies indicate that E-Commerce and online sales will make substantial market gains by 2005. Since this growth will take place at a

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much faster rate than the total economic growth during that period, we can see how E-Commerce will have a tremendous impact on traditional commerce methods as consumers make more of their purchase decisions online. Some industries, such as book sales and airline have already been greatly transformed by E-Commerce. Clearly businesses that offer online purchasing are in a position to profit from this trend and those that are not will find their market shrinking as they lose ground to companies selling online.

Planning and Budgeting
An important first step is to decide how E-Commerce can be used as a tool to help your company. As with other business initiatives, E-Commerce will meet with the most success if it is well planned and has specific objectives. Decide what you would like E-Commerce to do for your business and how much you should invest in it. If you are just getting started, you probably don‟t have enough information yet. This will take some research. Reading documents like this one will give you a better understanding of what is involved. Look at other companies web sites for ideas of what you would like, and what you think would work for your company. Don‟t concentrate on the „bells and whistles‟ in many web sites with sound and flashing graphic images. Instead look at the content; think of the objectives set for these sites by the owners. Budgeting will also take some research. The costs to get started in ECommerce can vary from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. Whether you go through a single source provider or decide to do more of the work yourself, you will need to get information from service providers and balance the cost against the functionality. Here are some sections to include in your plan:  Objectives – what do you need your E-Commerce project to achieve for your business and which elements of E-Commerce would you like to include  Budget – how much will this cost to start-up and what will your ongoing costs be.  Resources – how much time will you and other members of your company spend on this, and what skills do you have.  Online Purchasing – will you wish to offer your customers online purchasing of your products and services.

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Step 1. The Domain Name
The Domain Name is the address entered into the computer‟s browser to direct you to a Web site. The most common names end with .com but there others such as .org, .net, .ca, etc. Since one of the objectives of your Web site is to make it easy for your customers and prospective new customers to find you, choosing your Domain Name is important. The time and money invested in creating and marketing your web site is to get more prospective buyers to visit and make purchases. This means choosing a name that is easy to remember, and which reflects what your company does. Many Internet Service Providers (ISP‟s) provide free web site space with an Internet address as part of their service. The problem with this service is the ISP does not give you your own Domain Name. Instead your address will have their Domain Name, followed by a slash, then your web site name (e.g. www.yourisp.com/yourcompanyname). This essentially ties you to this ISP, makes it harder for customers to remember your name, and most importantly presents an unprofessional image of your company.

How do you find your Domain Name?
Can you just enter the Domain Name you would like to use into your computers browser to see if it available? Unfortunately this is not an accurate way to search for Domain Names. You will know if a Web site is found that the name is in use, but if you do not find the site it may still be registered to someone else, just not in use yet. All registered Domain Names are stored in a master database to ensure there is no duplication and to ensure Internet users are properly directed to the correct site on the Internet. Several sites, such as www.OpenSRS.com, offer a service called „WHOIS‟ that allow you to search for names to see if they are available. OpenSRS is a good site to use as it allows searches for almost all Domain types, even .ca names. Domain Names are registered in one year increments, for up to 10 years. If you let your registration expire, anyone can register the name and start to use it, but you should be notified a couple of months prior to the expiry date. If your company has an unusual name, you may find that the name of your company is still available. If it isn‟t, and there are few names left, then you may need to be more creative. There are many alternatives to your name, such as adding descriptive words at the start and end, for example „companynameonline.com‟ or „companynameInc.com‟.

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You may also look at using a different domain type, such as .ca, the domain intended for Canadian companies only. Caution should be taken if a competitor has your same domain name but with a .com extension. Most people naturally think of .com types, so you may inadvertently be directing potential customers to a competitor‟s website. You may also consider a Domain Name that will be easy to remember, easy to enter and has a close association with the type of service you offer. For example, a company offering incontinence products for adults chose the name LeakyBladder.ca. It is an easy name to remember and certainly conveys the types of products offered. What should you do if you find a name you want but don‟t have a web site available? Several companies offer a service called „domain parking‟ that will direct browsers to a temporary “Under Construction” page that explains the site is not yet ready. Remember, there are few rules to protect you against someone taking any name they choose, so act quickly of you find the name you are interested in. Generally the cost for Domain Names is $40 to $50 Canadian per year. Expect to pay $10 to $15 more per year for .ca type names. Here are a few things to watch out for in advertisements for Domain Name registration. Some offer free registration - this means there is no fee for the registration process whereby the seller completes the process of setting up your domain name. However, you must still pay the annual registration fee for the use of that domain name. Also, unless explicitly stated otherwise, assume the fees are in US dollars. If you are considering a new web site, the most convenient way to register a Domain Name is to use the same company that will host your site. The cost for the provider should be no more than $60 per year Canadian, even for a .ca domain name.

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Step 2. Online Purchasing
Why would you offer customers the ability to purchase from your web site when they could simply pick up the phone and call you to place an order? Well, there are several reasons. First, it is more convenient for your customers if they are already on the web. Second, since the online service is available 24 hours a day, even when you are asleep, it opens a whole new market for your company‟s products and services. Third, like many companies, you may find that it is less expensive to process orders placed online since staff aren‟t required to manually enter the order into your system. However, offering online sales is an involved process. Some considerations should be: (i) merchant accounts, (ii) payment processes, (iii) security, (iv) site design, (v) order taking systems, and (vi) order fulfillment. Each of these are essential elements of online purchasing and must be considered. Merchant Accounts The merchant account allows you to accept credit card payments. Your business may already have a merchant account through their bank, but if not you will need to get one. Once the merchant account has been established, a decision is required as to payment processing. Real-time credit card processing requires a program to run directly on your website and a connection to a processing service centre. The cost for setting up this process can be prohibitive so is not suggested unless you are confident that you will be processing a justifiable quantity of orders. Payment Processing PC software programs are also available to handle payment processing, although not in real-time as your customer is placing the order. The PC uses a modem to connect to the credit authorization authority. A credit card processing terminal can also be used, but you will need to enter the credit card information manually. Some banks also offer a touch-tone telephone interface for processing, but you would only consider this option if you expect to handle at most, a few transactions per day. Security Security is closely related to the payment process. Since online purchases require credit card information to be submitted, and people are wary of providing credit card information on-line, you need to take every precaution the information is not made available to others. Most on-line credit transactions now require the use of an encryption program called SSL (or Secure Socket Layer) to ensure information security. To use SSL on your site

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you will need a security certificate that lets callers know your site has been approved as a secure transaction provider. An added advantage to SSL is that users are advised as their connection begins using encryption, providing them with an added measure of security. If you are using a hosting package or one stop web service provider, ask them about their security arrangements and the services they offer. Website Design One aspect you will need to consider for online shopping is how you will present your product to visitors. Depending on the type of product, you may wish to include graphics as a sales tool or a means of showing what your product does or how your service is different. Some products and services may require a lengthy specification sheet to give prospective purchasers access to all of the information they require. Custom products of services may require a list of options for customers to fill in before making any purchase. Each web site should be specifically designed for meet the needs of the individual product and the organization. It would be wise to seek advice from a web design professional who can address how to bet tailor your website to meet your needs. Order Processing Systems Next you will need to decide how you will let visitors to your site select the products they want. Generally speaking, you will want to use a shopping cart metaphor that allows customers to add items as they browse through your site. Exceptions may be that if you have only a few products to offer a simple order form will meet your needs and will be simpler to set up. Custom products or services may be better served by a form designed to allow customers to specify what they need as part of the order process. Online shopping is maturing and evolving rapidly and since shopping cats are the de facto standard at this point they are the safest way to ensure your site is easy to use and will not quickly become outdated. The shopping cart allows customers to add and remove items, view which items they have already selected, and check the total cost of the items in their cart. When the visitor has finished browsing, they proceed to a virtual checkout where they are shown the bill for products and taxes and may be given a choice of shipping options. The simple intuitive interface has become the standard in online purchasing to the extent that visitors expect this interface when visiting an E-Commerce website. Making the purchasing process as easy as possible for customers should be paramount when designing your site. After all, who wants to buy from a store with dead-end aisles and hard to find checkouts? Shopping cart (or e-cart as they are sometimes called) programs also offer some sophisticated features for managing the online purchasing process.

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They can be tied to database systems so they can recognize when products are out of stock and send you a notification message, or discontinued or when new products are to be added to the site. Another consideration, if you plan to use real-time credit card processing, is to ensure the shopping cart program will work with the card-processing program. Despite the complexity that has gone into shopping cart designs, shopping cart programs are available at quite reasonable prices. If you plan to operate your own site, you will likely want to take advantage of free trial programs of a few programs to find the one best suited to you. If you are using a hosting service (see next section), then you may find they offer a free or low cost shopping cart service with a control panel for managing its operation. Order Fulfillment Once the order has been taken on the web site, you will need some way for systems such as your customer database to be updated and for the actual order to be filled and shipped. For low volume orders, an email can be used to send the collected information from your web site. The email would be sent using a form of encryption called PGP (Pretty Good Protection), which despite its ambiguous name offers excellent protection for sensitive information such as credit card information. A more secure alternative is to run a program on your site that pulls the gathered order information from the database. Once the information is gathered you will require a system or process for completing the order. This may mean manually conducting the credit card process, giving the order for someone to pick the item off a shelf, packing and sending the order, and entering the order information into the accounting program.

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Step 3. Web Hosting Service
Website hosting services provide a host for your web site files, and provide the connection to the Internet for people wanting to view your site. Although technically a web site can reside on almost any computer, there are several practical considerations to take into account. First, you will require a site with a permanent connection to the Internet. Domain Names must point to servers whose connection address remains the same. This is known as a „static IP address‟. Most dial-up connections and even high-speed connections such as xDSL and Cable connections do not provide this. Since your Domain Name is associated with an IP address, you need an IP address that will stay the same. Some business DSL services offer this, but the speed provided by a DSL connection tend to be quite slow for sending information to the Internet – they are faster at getting information from the Internet. Depending on the traffic to your site during peak times, you may need to consider higher cost dedicated services such as a T1 connection. An Internet T1 may cost as much as $2000 per month in the Toronto area. Some providers in downtown locations near fibre optic centres do offer the service at a substantially lower rate. Next you need a reliable computer to host the web site files. A web site that turns off when you turn your computer off at night won‟t provide very good service for visitors. You will want equipment that is very reliable and is monitored for problems. The systems will need to be set up to handle the security requirements of a web server and manage system back-ups to ensure no data is lost. You will not likely want to take on this responsibility unless you are directly involved in providing technical services. You can try to find a free hosting service for your web site. This is not recommended for a few reasons. You will not likely be able to use you own Domain Name. The service at peak times is notoriously slow. As these companies make their money from advertising revenue, visitors to your site are bombarded with banner ads, and annoyed with distracting pop-up messages. It also presents a very unprofessional reflection of your commitment to web services if you use a free service company. Finally, many of these companies after finding that their business model did not work, are now on the brink of bankruptcy. Getting free web space from your ISP, as was mentioned above, can also be problematic for an E-Commerce website. This free web space is intended for the low-traffic personal and family run sites. You aren‟t provided with your own Domain Name, technical support is usually quite poor and there is virtually no service level agreement in place meaning you may be hit with extended outages.

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Another hosting option is the services of Web Presence Providers (WPPs) who specialize just in hosting web sites. They charge a monthly fee and have equipment services that guarantee high levels of availability. Highspeed connections to the Internet reduce delays for loading information for visitors to your site. WPPs have the technical staff to design fault resistant environments and resolve problems quickly if they do arise. WPPs also often provide value-added features such as shopping cart software and secure connection options. Finally there are one-stop service locations that provide everything you need to get started on the web. Often their online shopping services and hosting are provided through a WPP, but they also offer Domain names and web site design. If considering this type of service, make sure the prices are competitive with other individual service providers

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Step 4. Web Design
Web site design is where all of your planning comes together. The web site design will be what the visitors see so it should encompass many of the goals you have for your E-Commerce Strategy. It should: present your company in a positive light to visitors, encourage more business, clearly communicate what your company does and be easy to use. There are many tools that you can use to build your website yourself. Some of these are available through hosting companies while others are standalone programs available for PC‟s. Many of these are fairly easy to use and provide pretty consistent looking web sites. Creating your own website is obviously the cheapest route. If you plan to do yourself, start by drawing out a chart of the pages you will need. There should at minimum be a Home Page, a Contact Us page, one or more pages talking about your products and a page about your company. Sketch out the look you want and how you will position the information on the page. Put together the text for each page and any graphic images you will want to include such as product photos or pictures of your facilities or service providers. Use the sketches you have created and think like a new visitor to make sure your design is helping you meet your objectives for this project. Is the design meeting your audience‟s need? Does it clearly present the products and services you offer and show an easy method to order these products or services? Here are some basics for good website design:    Limit the number of fonts used to 2 or 3 and use them consistently (e.g. use one font for page titles and paragraph headers and another for main page text) Present text in a size and colour that makes it easy to read. Concentrate first on the logical organization of your website content and then worry about the actual page design. Develop a consistent design for each page, each with links to key pages such as contact us, and the home page on the same place on the page. Visitors should always know that no matter where they are in your website, they are still in the same site. If you plan to have more then 10 pages, include a site map that acts as a table of contents. This allows users who become lost in your site to fid the page they are looking for. Minimize the amount of sound and graphic images. Extra graphics and sounds all make your website longer to download. If your website makes visitors wait too long to see the information they are looking for they will certainly leave your site and go elsewhere. Many sites now feature „Flash‟ music and animation effects, which appear when a user first visits the website. This type of imagery and sound can be an effective way of capturing the interest of visitors but should be used in moderation to avoid making users wait too long before entering your website. After all, you

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wouldn‟t force customers to watch a movie about your products and services when they have lined up at the front door of your store. Have a contact us page with all of the information regarding your company – telephone, fax, email and address. Many sites even offer maps with detailed directions to your location to avoid any possible confusion. This page should also feature a link to your email address should your visitors have any questions. Provide a clear message of what your company does and how it benefits the visitor.

Once you have completed your design you will need to test you computer with both the Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer browsers, since they display information in a different manner. This can be a time consuming process to undertake. An alternative to doing it yourself is to contract a company offering web design services. Experienced Web designers understand how to design a site to allow intuitive navigation for visitors, alternatives available to create the desired visual effect and how to estimate how a new element on a page may effect the overall usability of a site. When you consider the potential effect your web site will have on your business, it will usually be worthwhile investing in professional design up front. The designer should understand what you expect from your site and the image you are trying to portray to visitors. There are some companies that specialize only in web site design and others that offer all services as a one-stop shop, including web design, web hosting and domain registration. Either way, you will want to shop around and talk to several companies before making a decision. Look for a company that you feel understands your company‟s needs and offers the level of service you demand. A one-stop shop may offer the most convenience for a new web site, but you need to make sure that they have the expertise and commitment to meet your needs. Also, ask companies about their testing process as well once the site is finished. Most of us have visited a site with links that did not work or with missing pages or have waited forever while the latest and greatest graphically intense website downloaded. Look for a company you feel confident will provide the professionalism your company deserves.

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Step 5. Web Site Promotion
Once your Web site is complete, you need to attract visitors. The first step is to advertise your site. Most small companies will not want to take out a huge bank loan for a Super Bowl ad, so here are some no cost / low cost alternatives:  All marketing or advertising for your company already does should have your Web address prominently displayed.  Consider composing an email for your customers and leads announcing your new site.  Correspondence, forms and even invoices can have your web information added for their next printing.  Include the address of your site on your business cards  Mention your site when speaking to customers and leads as a place to get more information  If you have an actual store, put up signage in the store.  Use press releases to provide company information on your company and its new web site  If one company completed the majority of your project, offer to have your site used as a demonstration site, encouraging better quality from them and more visitors directed to your site. But you will want to get the word out to more people. The most popular way people search for a Web site is through Web directories, such as Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), or web search sites such as Excite (www.excite.com). This most effective way to get more visitors to your site looking for your products or services is to have your site near the top of the list when people do searches for the goods or services you offer. Unfortunately, this is the same goal as all the other companies offering your services, so it won‟t be easy. You can register your site on web directories directly. These sites generally have a page on their website to submit a site to be included in their listings. The operators of the directory will visit your site and classify it. This process will usually take months to be completed for a site like Yahoo. They classify based on keywords, the site title and content. Having a well thought out site must take this into consideration. Web search engines use a computer program to automate the process of scanning the Internet and classifying sites for web searches. Some web design companies will emphasize the importance of „meta tags‟ to help your site classification. Meta-tags are specially formatted pieces if information in web site files that are not displayed on the user's browser but contain information about the nature of the content of your website and a description of your company and products or services. Search engines once relied on

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these tags for classifying information on a site, but are now one of a number of important considerations. The main factors are web site page titles and actual site content. If you have used a web design firm to build your site, consult them for advice on how to get your site recognized by search engines. They should have the expertise to assist in this area as well. One of the most appealing aspects of web sites is their dynamic nature. They are easy to change and keep up to date with your latest company news. To make sure your web site is properly supported, make sure it is someone‟s responsibility to keep it up to date. Visitors to your site who see dated information will assume the site is no longer maintained and move on to another competitor‟s site. For the majority of small business owners, a one-stop web company will make the most sense. They should have the expertise to cover off each step of the process, and produce the results you expect. How do you choose a company to work with? Well, some things are universal - look for a company that is responsive and takes an interest is what your company needs. Ask the company about each step described here to see if they can manage all aspects for you. Make sure you have a reasonably clear idea of what content you want on the site. The web designer can help you choose the style and layout of your new site, but writing the content is not usually included. If you will need the content written for you, make sure that is understood and the wed company will provide that for you. If you plan to have an online purchasing, or content driven by information from your database then the cost for the site will be higher. Expect the web company to want to meet with you and ask lots of questions. Look for a web company that has asked you lots of questions and has taken an interest in understanding your business and what your future plans may include. The company should demonstrate a clear understanding of what is involved. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, go with a company you feel comfortable with.

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About Wilson Consulting Services
Wilson Consulting Services is a full service web solutions company offering a full range of web related services including website design, web hosting and domain registration. Our web design professionals and graphic artists work with our experienced programmers to offer a full range of web services for the small and medium sized business markets. Along with web services Wilson Consulting Services, the software consulting solutions group provides recruiting and telephony solutions to large international organizations such as Pitney Bowes and Manpower Inc. The recruiting practice provides permanent and contract IT staff, with an impressive list of companies including Glaxo-Smith-Kline and Research In Motion. Wilson Consulting Services prides itself on offering personal service and world-class solutions. We are proud to be located in Brampton, Ontario and have developed strong ties to the community.

Acknowledgement: Ebner, Joe. The Small Business Beginner‟s Guide To E-Business. WebSmart Hosting and Ebner Internet Solutions.

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