How your business can benefit from the Internet

Assured Angel By Assured Angel, 31st May 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>IT & Ecommerce

Businesses are looking to grow, develop and innovate. They have many weapons in their corporate armoury to enable them to do this. One of these is the Internet so here is an introduction as to how they do it.

Business and Technology

Technology has been, in most cases, a friend to business - big and small. Having the right equipment, technology and software can help a business grow and expand, access useful information, improve efficiency and cut costs. The most important innovation in this area is the advent and development of the Internet and email. When used correctly, the benefits for an organisation are huge. In order to understand and realise the full potential of Internet and email, it is important that the key aspects and factors of both are examined and their effect on a company's ability to do business.

Using the Internet for personal use and using for business is completely different. Thus there are issues that one must consider:

Website - Having a website not only allows for a business to have a presence on the Internet but it also allows easier contact and relationship building with (potential) customers, suppliers and subcontractors. Make sure you think before getting a website. Even the most basic website can be costly so decide what it is that you want on it. Some important information to include is:

* Contact details
* The location of your business/company
* What products and services you provide
* A brief introduction


Think about the reasons for having a website - do you want to sell online? Do you want to show off what you care capable of? Or is it just because you want to cut costs? Having a clear idea of why you are having the website will enable you to focus on what it is going to look like, what the layout is going to be and what you are going to say in it. Think about how you will attract people to the website and how you will keep them coming back for more. Also think about hosting i.e. what Internet service provider you will build your site on. Make sure it is safe, quick, reliable and cost-effective.

Connecting to the Internet - the best way to ensure fast connection to the Internet is by using a broadband connection. Although dial-up is still available (and there are some good programmes out there), broadband is by far the speediest. Nowadays, thanks to mobile broadband and wireless connection (Wifi), you do not have to be stuck in the office to do business. You can take your laptop anywhere and be able to access the Internet, helping you and your customers connect in a way that was not possible before.


Making the Internet work for you and your business

As stated before, the Internet can present many opportunities for your business - to sell more, to provide information to and for your customers, increase brand awareness, reduce costs and improve how your business operates. Here are just two examples of how the Internet can help:

Virtual Private Networks - these allow you to access your business network from anywhere in the world by helping you (and your employees) securely access it no matter where they are in the world. It means that for example:

* An engineer can send and receive information that will help him to make a quick but informed decision
* Students and pupils have access to documents, journals and articles that will help them with their research
* An company accountant can keep an eye on the budget, cashflow, profit margins and other financial information
* A sales person can check that they have something in stock before making a presentation.


The vast majority of these come at a cost i.e. annual charges and connection fees so check them out before shelling out.

Intranet - Simply put, an intranet is a business' own private website. It is secure (well it is supposed to be!) allowing the flow of confidential and important information between the employees of a particular company. It is protected using certain protocols like passwords, user-names and strong firewalls. They help facilitate communication and provide a way to access knowledge, data and news which will enhance the way that work is done in the company. They enable staff to work from home or when they have to travel abroad to meet a client. All they need is a web browser. This encourages flexibility and adaptability for big and small businesses alike. They can even cut overheads by allowing people to work from any location.

Extranet - An extranet has the same kind of modus operandi of an intranet. The main difference is that it is accessible to a wider range of people that the company does business with. This includes suppliers, key clients, partners and contractors. It enables them to share data and information remotely. This is useful if employees and staff spend much of their time outside the office. Extra care has to be taken in terms of identifying people and making sure security is not compromised.

There is so much more to be said on this subject so tune in for part two where Internet promotion and marketing will be discussed and examined...

Promoting your business on the Internet

How your business can benefit from the Internet: Promoting your business using the Web

The Internet plays a key part in the lives of almost every individual. You can shop on it, you can download music from it, you can find out about your ancestors on it, you can file your tax returns on it and now...you can even have business meetings on it. Something that was not even possible 20 or 30 years ago is now de rigeur in the corporate world today. Businesses are harnessing the power of the Internet and using it to drive through innovation, connect with customers and stakeholders and open up a world of endless possibilities. This is obvious in the world of business marketing and brand promotion. The Internet has added an extra dimension when it comes to advertising and this article will show how it is done and how to maximise the power of the World Wide Web.

Promoting and advertising your business on the Internet

As discussed in the previous article, a website can help you to establish a presence on the Internet, enabling you to compete more equally with your rivals whilst allowing you to reach more people. Using online marketing (known as electronic marketing or e-marketing for short) is a string in a company's corporate bow. For a fairly small investment, your company can make giant strides. Before embarking upon this, it is important to have a plan in place. This will allow you to focus on whom you need to reach and how you will go about reaching them. Having goals and objectives in place will enable you to track your progress and facilitate quick changeover if things are not working.

So how can I promote my website?

There are several methods open to the canny businessperson. Some are more costly than others and some work slightly better than others. What you use will depend on your customers and more importantly your budgets.

You can pay for advertising on search engines (such as Google) as well as other websites. Advertise on websites that you know that your (potential) customers will visit. This is known as pay per click advertising.

You can structure your website so that it appears higher up on the list when someone searches for your products and services online. When someone searches for something online using a search engine, thousands of results come up meaning hundreds of pages to go through. The average person will probably stop after the first 5 or 6 pages. If your business or service is not there, you are missing out on potential clients. So this is very important. So when designing your website, make sure you pay attention to keywords and how you describe what you do. This is known as Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. I know that it can be time-consuming but that does not mean that your content has to be. I have seen some SEO-rich stuff online that appeared on the first page of the search engine but bored me to tears. Make sure you strike a balance.

You can use social networking. As sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon become more popular, you can harness their power and reach a huge audience. Millions of people use these applications and companies are beginning to use them to market to their clients. As a small business, it is easy to set up with no fees. Build up a following and see where it takes you!

There are other methods such as viral marketing (sometimes known as 'buzz marketing' because word spreads creating a buzz about your product) and mobile marketing. Be careful when doing implementing and using mobile / cellphone marketing. Not everyone appreciates it and treat it like email spam.

A professional, interesting and attractive email can help drive traffic to your site. You can encourage people to sign up for a newsletter with promotions, news, information and events.


Using your website to attract customers

The name of your website should not be overlooked. It is a very important part of your online marketing strategy. It should not only be something you pick out at random, it should be something that reflects you and your business in way that will attract customers. Here are some pointers for you:

Do not choose something that is offensive, racist, sexist, illegal because it may seem funny at the time but it will get you very few customers.

Do ensure it is easy to spell and remember.

Do make sure it reflects your business and your personality.


Furthermore, think about what top-level domain (TLD) names you will use. These are the parts at the end of a website e.g. .co.uk, .com or .net. To maximise your presence use several so that when people guess the name of your business, they get redirected to it. So for example, if your business is called XYZ, then register using XYZ.com, XYZ.co.uk (if based in the United Kingdom) and XYZ.net.

As the Internet continues to develop, then the methods to promote your business must do the same. Those that are slow to innovate will be the ones to miss out on what is out there. These pointers are a good start for those who are just starting out and are a timely reminder to those already established. Millions of people log on to the World Wide Web everyday, if you had the opportunity to reach only a fraction, is it not worth it for your business? Answers on a postcard . . . .

Protecting your business

As mentioned in the previous articles, the Internet and email bring with them many benefits and advantages that organisations can exploit. However, with these also come some drawbacks and problems. The law has struggled to control and regulate the world wide web simply because it is too big. The instances of bullying, stalking and harassment by way of emails and on social networks show that there is still a long way to go and that more needs to be done. The Internet continues to grow and websites are playing a bigger part and in presenting a face and a presence for many organisations. The (potential) revenues generated by e-commerce and e-marketing means that companies are becoming more reliant on them as they are key pillars in corporate strategy. The dependency upon websites and e-commerce systems means that it is crucial that they are protected from attacks and threats posed by hackers, viruses (Trojan, worms) and fraud. It is absolutely vital that businesses take steps to secure their systems. If this means getting outside help, advice and support, then I would strongly recommend doing so. The cost may be slightly off-putting but it costs more to fix problems caused by a hacker. Ignorance is certainly not bliss when dealing in this area and thus, this article will show the common problems and how they can be minimised.

The threats and risks posed to websites - hackers and viruses


Threats come from all sides within and without a system. These include:

Hackers trying to gain access into a system in order to read or change the information that it contains

Emails received by employees or authorised users that have hidden viruses in them. This can take the form of an attachment, link or even the email itself

People trying to imitate authorised users to gain access or information. They may even try and use a similar website. This is known as 'phishing.'

So make sure you assess your system carefully to make sure that your system holds up to security scrutiny. Ask yourself:

Where the threat is likely to come from

What tools would someone need to present a threat to your system

What levels of protection do you have in place?

Are staff aware of protocol should a breach occur?

The threat from hackers

Hackers are individual in their methods of causing havoc and are becoming more sophisticated in what they can do. The threats the pose include:

Stopping authorised users from accessing the service which could have disastrous consequences for a business
Gaining access to personal, sensitive and confidential data altering it or, worse still, destroying it
Redirecting people from your business site to another one which means potentially losing customers
Introducing viruses that can ruin data

What this means for your business is:

Financial loss resulting from fixing the problem or worse legal action
Loss of reputation
Loss of position in the marketplace

So an attack on your site is an attack on your business, your assets, your finances, your health and your sanity!

Threats from viruses

Viruses, worms, Trojan horses are just some of the computer programs that are designed to infect computers and corrupt data. There are several types of virus. The main kinds are:

Trojan - This is a program that appears normal but has a sting in the tail i.e. contains malicious software or code that looks ok.
Backdoor Trojan
- This one that allows a hacker to gain control of a system. They do this by bypassing the normal access codes of a computer. Once the computer goes online, the hacker (or person who sent the backdoor Trojan) can modify things, upload more harmful files and access personal data.
Worms - these work by replicating themselves on a system and corrupting everything on a hard drive
Botnet - this is a group of infected computers that are operated remotely. What happens is that the hacker sends out a virus, worm or Trojan to ordinary computers. When they come online, then the hacker gains full control. When they have done this, they can wreck all sorts of havoc including stealing identities and data, commit fraud, stop authorised access and send spam. They are the most difficult to deal with so take extra care.
Spyware - this is placed on your computer when you visit certain sites. It secretly gathers information whilst you browse and sends it back to other parties. It can seriously affect your system if they are not dealt with

With the increase in popularity in social networking sites, hackers and spammers are finding new ways to increase their influence. Take care when downloading stuff and when asked to click on a particular link. These links could lead to fake sites that look real. These sites will ask for your data which is then stolen from you and used to commit fraud.

What you can do to prevent and minimise attacks

Technology is continually being developed to counter problems and threats to people and business systems. Here are just some of them:

Access control
- this means that users are restricted as to what data and information they can access

Anti-virus and Anti-spam software
- These must be updated constantly because new viruses are being developed all the time. Get the patches and updates and never think you do not need it. It can be a hassle to download but it is worth the inconvenience.

Authentication
- using certain methods to verify users before they can gain access to any information

Encryption
- what this does is to 'mix up' any data being sent so that it is protected and in code that no-one but the sender and receiver can decipher

Firewall
- this is a device - nowadays software - that helps to filter going between networks. It helps to control access to the Internet by the person using it and stops outside interference to the system being used.

Detection devices
- this notifies the user if there has been a breach (or an attempted breach) of the system.

There is a lot to learn but it does have to be learned in this area. It is something that you - as a business person - have to take very seriously. Underestimating it and cutting corners is very bad for your health! You have to be proactive or else you will hand the initiative to those who want to do damage and you would not want to do that, would you?

How your business can benefit from email

In addition to the Internet, email has become a vital part of business strategy. It is not only used to communicate within the company but used to attract and build relationships outside of it. Its use as a marketing tool continues to expand and is an important part of a business’s e-marketing strategy. To maximise its use, it is important to know how it works. Overzealous entrepreneurs who overuse this area will find their efforts go to waste - almost literally as their marketing emails find their way to people's junk mail rather than their consciences. So balance as well as professionalism and creativity are the keys when utilising this.

The advantages and disadvantages of email

As well as being one of the speediest ways to communicate information, email has other benefits:

* It is an excellent way of keeping a permanent record of messages, data and information that goes in and out of a business.
* It is extremely cost effective. It does not matter whether you send an email to your local supplier or an overseas customer. The price remains the same, i.e. free.
* It is very convenient - you can send the same email to numerous people, you can store it before sending it, you can request confirmation that the message has been received and read. This saves confusion in the future.

However, email does have its drawbacks especially when it comes to business. They include:

* They can be quite impersonal in nature and this can sometimes lead to misunderstanding
* The harmful viruses that some email attachments contain e.g. Trojan, worms etc
* Emails - especially those with confidential or personal information - being sent to the wrong person
* Marketing emails can increase, leading to problems with spam
* Potential to be harassed or bullied using email
* The storage of large files can become problem if it is a regular practice of the business to send them

Some of these can be managed and dealt with. For example, having good antivirus and anti-spam software which will warn you of any potential harm; having a limit on the amount of data that can be attached to a file; limiting the type of emails that can be sent and received.

When using email for business, it is important to know that although it has many benefits for your company - easier communication, improved customer service and better cost management – there still remains etiquette associated with it. It may be less formal than a letter, but that does not mean that you dispense with the professionalism. It is the simple things that make all the difference; make sure it is spell-and grammar-checked; does it strike the proper tone? A simple statement made in an email can be deemed libelous or defamatory, so it is important to take care.

Email Marketing

This is one of the most cost effective ways to market your product. You can reach many people will fairly minimal effort and you can even encourage the people you send it to, to forward it to others. This is known as viral marketing, word of mouth or buzz marketing. With an email, you can also personalise the advertisement depending on the recipient. It is very important not to overuse it or else people will delete it or filter it into their junk mail. In order to minimise this, make sure you:

* Avoid jargon and 'spam' keywords
* Set clear and measurable goals and objectives
* Target the correct demographic
* Check that the people you are sending it to have agreed (opted-in) to be contacted

Email and customer service

As mentioned before, email can play a significant part in building, maintaining and improving customer service. This is because not everyone has the time to stay on the phone in order to get a response. Not many people have the time or discipline to sit and write a quick email outlining what they need. So this not only helps them but also helps the business. This is because the organisation does not have to respond to the query immediately which means more freedom to do more which has a positive impact on productivity. This does not mean that you ignore the emails. Make sure you have a set response time or else customers will not appreciate it. You could implement an automatic reply system which will tell the person querying that their email has been received and when they are likely to receive a response.

The development of technology and its increasing impact on business and strategy means that companies have many more opportunities open to them. Email can be a great communication and marketing tool, but one has to learn to use it properly. It does not replace the need for face-to-face contact, but it does make the creation and maintenance of business relationships easier. It should not replace but should complement other forms of communication in order to maximise the benefits to you and your organisation.

Tags

Business, Business Startup, Information Technology, Internet, Technology

Meet the author

author avatar Assured Angel
Talented and experienced freelance writer/ businesswoman with a legal background whose engaging, confident but professional attitude is reflected in her writing.
I have also written extensively (over 100 articles) and continue to do soon many subj...(more)

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author avatar Retired
7th Oct 2010 (#)

Thanks for sharing

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