What's stopping you from selling products and services on the Net? Is it that you don't know how to process credit card payments on a Web site?
Solutions to this problem are plentiful and pretty much fit any business owner's wallet and Web savvy. The fastest solution is to turn over transaction intricacies and site maintenance to a hosting service. America Online's (AOL) PrimeHost (http://www.primehost.com) is one possibility, with its optional flat-rate "Storefront Solution," which includes e-commerce transactions with real-time credit card processing and do-it-yourself storefront creation software. The cost is $199 per month for basic support and maintenence and an extra $100 monthly for the "Storefront Solution" e-commerce add-on; setup fees are $499.
Viaweb (http://www.viaweb.com) offers similar services (including software for fast setup of an online store) for a monthly fee of $100 to $300, depending on the number of products sold at your site. There are many competitors in the hosting marketplace, so surf around before inking a lease.
Want to avoid monthly service fees? Set up a dedicated computer and host your own site. Complicated? Not with software such as Forman Interac-tive's Internet Creator ($149; download a free, 30-day-trial version at http://www.formaninteractive.com) and Luckman Interactive's Web Commander Pro 2.0 (about $495; http://www.luckman.com). Both programs provide secure e-commerce transaction capabilities as well as easy-to-use Web site design and maintenance tools.
Want a simpler solution to Web selling? "Just use e-mail," advises Shannon Entin, founder of Fitnesslink (http://www.fitnesslinkpros.com), an online health and fitness information center with attached storefronts. Include a "mail to" link on a how-to-order page. This isn't perfect, but it gets your feet wet in online commerce.
Need to know more? Head over to the Electronic Commerce Resource Center for Small Businesses (http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~rwill/) and Electronic Commerce & Electronic Markets (http://www.brint.com/Elecomm.htm), two Web sites full of useful links.
No More Words
With newsgroup message boards littered with junk mail, users hungering for straightforward interactivity have been increasingly out of luck--but a hot, new Web outpost may offer an alternative.
Electric Minds (http://www.minds.com) limits access to registered users--keeping spammers at bay--but registration is free and "conversations" (real-time chats and message boards) are plentiful at this advertiser-supported site.
Many chats focus on high-tech issues, but there also are places for business, politics and international topics. Electric Minds' founder Howard Rheingold has gathered $2 million in start-up funding--and there's optimism that this will be the site where chat finally clicks with an adult audience.
Filling The Void
Are you ignoring web server space that's available free to your business to use for a Web page? America Online (http://www.aol.com), for instance, provides--at no extra cost--2MB of Web server space per screen name (five screen names are permitted under a single account) and throws in a first-rate Web page creation tool.
Allocations by other online services and Internet providers tend to be skimpier, but most offer some free space--for instance, Prodigy (http://www.prodigy.com) gives 1MB; Sprynet (http://www.sprynet.com), 5MB; and Earthlink (http://www.earthlink.com), 2MB. This isn't enough room to erect a full-scale commercial site, but even 1MB is ample for a company billboard along with a built-in "e-mail us" link for customers and prospects.
Ever marvel at a Web site's sparkling graphics? Get your own glitter at TuDogs (http://www.tudogs.com/), a terrific gateway to dozens of sites packed with mainly free Web art, including animation and eye-catching backgrounds. Tracking down exactly the elements you crave will take time, but keep hunting at TuDogs, and you'll snare just the Web art to give your site a special touch.
America Online, (888) AOL-1111, (http://www.primehost.com);
Fitnesslink, (609) 397-7664, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Forman Interactive Corp., (800) 299-9638, (http://www.formaninteractive.com);
Luckman Interactive Inc., (213) 614-0966, (http://www.luckman.com);
Viaweb Inc., (617) 876-2692, (http://www.viaweb.com).