Q: I am a webmaster in the Silicon Hills of Austin, Texas. From what I read and what people tell me, the skills I have for creating Web sites and Web applications are still in high demand. I have been successful working for others and making them money, but I'm confused as to how to use my skills for my own gain. How can a Web professional market themselves and their homebased start-up?

A: Because you evidently have a number of Web-related skills, the first step for you will be nailing down precisely the kinds of services you wish to offer. The actual business start-up and marketing of that start-up come after that. For purposes of this article, I'll just talk about Web design services in general, since that seems to be the area that interests you the most. But these ideas can be applied to almost any homebased business.

Although several Web-related businesses have failed over the past couple years, there is no doubt that the Internet will continue to be a major influence on 21st century business. So you are correct in thinking your skill set will continue to be in high demand in the years to come. Compelling Web sites that are both pleasing to the eye and highly functional are essential to any business's success, regardless of whether they are involved with e-commerce. Web design software might be enough for a skilled business owner to put up a decent Web site, but those seeking something more sophisticated will turn to people like you. Therefore, you need to have a command of both front-end and back-end design-or have access to specialists and resources that can help you integrate both elements.

Here are some major issues to keep in mind as you plan your business:

  • Internet service providers. Find out who can support what so you can match their offerings with your client's needs and your site design.
  • User needs. If you aren't already familiar with what users want when they visit a Web site, from colors to navigation, find out. This will help you approach potential clients confidently-you'll be able to explain why you would design something a certain way to attract customers.
  • Client needs. Potential clients want to know that you understand what they want to accomplish with their Web site. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of a client's company so you can present solutions to their problems.

When you're ready to start marketing your business, there are several ways to attract clients. In The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century, Paul and Sarah Edwards suggest the following:

  • Create a Web site of your own with links to other sites you've designed to demonstrate your abilities as a Web designer.
  • Identify potential clients, and contact these companies directly to express your interest in working with them.
  • Contact local ISPs to describe your expertise-these firms often offer Web site design and hosting services to their clients and subcontract out the design work.
  • Network through local and national organizations, chambers of commerce and other business groups.

For more on starting a homebased business, visit our e-zines, HomeOfficemag.com and BizStartUps.com-you'll find even more information on launching your new business and marketing it effectively.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

1. Create a Site
How to Name Your Business
Securing a Domain Name
Creating a Content-Rich Website
A-Z of Legal Issues
A Site for Your Service Biz

2. Drive Traffic
Exploring E-Commerce
7 Ways to Turn a Profit Online
Payment Options
3 Ways to Boost Online Sales

3. Sell Products & Services
7 Deadly Sins of Online Marketing
New Ways to Market Online
Attracting Visitors to Your Site
21 Ways to Promote Your Site
Promote Your Biz With eBooks
Marketing Your Home-Based Biz

1. Google AdWords: Two of the most useful features Google AdWords added are:

  • The ability to include or exclude specific sites from your campaign. Google already tries to keep your ads from appearing on competitors' pages, but there are plenty of unsavory websites out there that you don't want to be unwittingly associated with.
  • Different pricing for having ads on search sites and content sites. Search ads get more eyeballs on them, but content ads are on sites that are more relevant to your customers and generally have a higher click-through rate.

2. Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions(formerly Overture): Overture, the previous industry leader, has been revamped and streamlined. In an effort to unify their brand, Overture was renamed Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions. Their next move was to simplify their entire sign-up process--formerly one of their customers' biggest complaints.

Yahoo! has also made some changes to their program that should be welcomed by small businesses and online entrepreneurs: the deposit has been lowered from $50 to $5, and the monthly minimum of $20 has been scrapped, so even the tiniest internet business can get in on the action. This brings them into line with Google's pricing.

Things are looking up for the new Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions in 2006. Even though Google's AdWords seems to drive more traffic, advertisers point to better conversion rates in some markets for Yahoo!, especially younger demographics. Try testing your pay-per-click campaign on both services to see which results in higher profits for your business!

3. The Challengers: Although Google and Yahoo! are the clear industry leaders, it can still pay to look at the smaller service providers. Although the traffic isn't as heavy on these sites, it's far easier and cheaper to get #1 rankings on these up-and-comers. Depending on how competitive your market is, you may want to test pay-per-click advertising with:

Remember that new advancements in pay-per-click advertising are developed every day--so pay attention to the industry headlines! For example, MIVA, one of the smaller providers listed above, is now offering pay-per-click advertising in e-mail format. MIVA Mail allows pay-per-click ads in newsletters and HTML e-mail communications. Watch for the bigger players to follow soon.

Strategy #3: The Hottest Online Marketing Strategy for 2006
2005 was the year of the "blog explosion" on the internet. The number of blogs more than doubled between June and December, and will double again this year.

Blogs (short for "weblogs") are a simple way for anyone to post new content in an easy-to-read website format with the newest information always on top.

Blogs are absurdly easy to start and even easier to maintain. Some even let you post with your e-mail--just sit down, write a letter, mail it to your blog address, and you're done. It's so easy that some people post a dozen times a day.

But how can a blog benefit your business? Your blog can boost your ranking in the search engines, increase your traffic, and improve your credibility--all of which will ultimately lead to more sales!

Search engines love the content-rich element of blogs. If you blog about a specific subject, like your industry or hobby, people interested in that topic will visit your blog and read it often. With a well-written blog, it's easy to establish your credibility by demonstrating your expertise in your subject area. Over time you'll develop relationships with your visitors--which ultimately lead to more customers. Links to your sales site and product pages are a natural fit here, too.

Final Thoughts
2006 is shaping up to be another record-setting year for online business, with 200 million more customers, 20 percent more sales, and more exciting developments that'll undoubtedly change the way we do business on the internet.

Just remember: All it takes is one successful technique to start seeing real growth in your sales and profits in 2006. Don't think you have to do everything at once! Choose one strategy, implement it, and start making money from it today--then move on to the next strategy.

1. Create a Site
How to Name Your Business
Securing a Domain Name
Creating a Content-Rich Website
A-Z of Legal Issues
A Site for Your Service Biz

2. Drive Traffic
Exploring E-Commerce
7 Ways to Turn a Profit Online
Payment Options
3 Ways to Boost Online Sales

3. Sell Products & Services
7 Deadly Sins of Online Marketing
New Ways to Market Online
Attracting Visitors to Your Site
21 Ways to Promote Your Site
Promote Your Biz With eBooks
Marketing Your Home-Based Biz