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The Internet: is it for your business?

Many Coast businesses are making a valiant effort to keep up with the flow of new technology known as the Internet. Some have embraced the opportunity to market their image and products worldwide. Others are aware that they should be on the Internet, but have not yet taken the step of getting online access or having a Web site.

Why use the Internet at all? It depends on what kind of business you`re in. Many businesses use the Internet and the Internet community of the World Wide Web to market themselves and their products. Others find it vital as a communications tool. The common thread seems to be the Web site.

“Everybody thinks they can do Web sites,” Lloyd Kirk said. He is the owner of Gulf Coast Information Systems, designer of Web sites and the sole person responsible for maintaining his own site, a general resource site about the Gulf Coast and things to do and see.

Do you really need a Web site?

“Lots of people say they want a Web page even if they won`t benefit from it,” Kirk said.

Part of the problem is simple unfamiliarity with the Internet. Businesses are caught up in a Keeping-Up-With-the-Electronic-Joneses. Craig Waid, co-owner of Waidsoft, a Web site development firm, said that many coast business people are not sophisticated about the Internet. “They know there is an Internet, but that`s it. They find it intimidating. It`s new, very large, and it caught on so quickly.”

Kelly Tovey, design specialist with Gulf Coast Web Works, agrees. “Not every business is going to benefit from the Internet. I don`t want people to have false expectations. This is not a new Mecca for people to flood to and [then] find out it`s something different than they expected. It`s a great form of advertising, it`s a cheap form of advertising. But it`s not going to solve all of your problems, and some people are not going to benefit from it. But a great deal of them will, and it`s good to try it out.”

Tovey said that businesses unfamiliar with the Internet should begin by learning as much as they can. Some Internet service providers hold seminars, but she believes that the best way to learn is to sign up for Internet access and just “start playing around.

“Once you know how to get online, you can look up any topic, from heart disease to Aunt Edna`s new address.”

Do it yourself or hire it out?

Kirk acknowledges that Web site design software available to the public could cut into his design business, but noted that it`s only useful for basic pages. “Animation, for instance, is more complex,” he said. Many businesses large enough to have a graphics department will probably tackle Web page design on its own, rather than subcontract it out to a firm like his.

“Business has really gone up in the last six months,” Craig Waid reported. “I`m getting a lot more unsolicited requests for information.” Small businesses are finding out that online is the only cost-effective way to market products nationwide.

Although page design software is readily available, Waid said that he has not found that it has impacted his business greatly. Rather, he said it`s not unusual to get calls from people who say,

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