Do you get what you pay for with free Web site hosting by companies like Angelfire (http://www.angelfire.com), HyperMart (http://www.hypermart.net) and Xoom (http://www.hypermart.net)? Critics argue you won't look like a serious business, that the domain name is cumbersome to use, and that the ads placed on your site are intrusive. But satisfied customers insist the price is right for testing the waters, the community is excellent for networking, and extra attention to service can reassure customers your business is no fly-by-night operation.
Free Web hosting often means obscure URLs that are difficult for customers to remember and awkward to write on business cards. Paul Brown, 28, founder of Free Advertising Information Resources, hosts his site with Angelfire; his URL reads http://www.angelfire.com/biz/teamworks/index.html The long name isn't a problem, Brown contends: "The bottom line in business is offering something of value and delivering what you promise. Where your Web site is hosted is a lot less important than what you can do for your customers."
HyperMart offers a simpler name construction (http://www.hypermart.net) to the more than 100,000 business sites it hosts. If that's still too long for you, HyperMart offers free hosting even after you buy your own domain name. "We used our HyperMart subdomain name [http://giftware.hypermart.net] for at least seven months, with limited results," says Wesley Craft, 21, Web site administrator and marketer of Flintstone, Maryland-based Giftware Galore. "People were asking `What was it again?' over and over. So we purchased http://giftwaregalore.com "
Another trade-off to keep in mind: Whether you like it or not, the company hosting your site for free will place advertising on your site. While HyperMart contends its three options--banner ads, pop-ups and separate frames--aren't intrusive, you may disagree. On the plus side, free hosting saves you the $25 to $100 or more per month Web hosting services typically charge.
Shannon Kinnard (email@example.com) is the owner of Idea Station, an editorial services company in Decatur, Georgia, that specializes in e-mail newsletters. She contributes to Integrated Marketing & Promotionsmagazine and digitalsouth magazine, and is working on her first book, which discusses marketing via e-mail.
Master Of Your Domain
Don't pay someone to register your domain name . . . do it yourself! Visit Internic's Web site (http://www.internic.net/cgi-bin/domain) armed with your hosting company's domain name server (DNS) and Internet protocol (IP) information. Registering a domain name costs $35 annually; you have to pay for two years upfront. Simply fill out the page marked "New Registration"; Internic sends you an e-mail to confirm.
ICQ (short for "I Seek You") brings together users worldwide for instant messaging and chats. Easy to download and install, the free software program has gained popularity among business users since its release two years ago.
ICQ (http://www.icq.com) signals you when another online user wants to chat. ICQ reports your status to other users with a customizable message (such as "online" or "do not disturb"). If you're not available to chat, it offers instant messaging.
Eric Thomas, the 32-year-old founder of L-soft, a Landover, Maryland, software company, uses ICQ mostly when traveling, as an alternative to the phone. "Overseas phone calls can cost serious money, especially from a hotel," he says.
Thomas says ICQ can give users an edge in business discussions by eliminating nonverbal language, like nervous "ums" or hesitant pauses. "In negotiations, I may want more time to think or a neutral exchange with no voice inflection," Thomas says. If you're dealing with someone who has 20 years of negotiating experience but is a Net novice, he adds, "It's a good way to put them off-balance."
Although ICQ ensures accurate recording and recall of conversations, the program isn't glitch-free. Security is limited, so never use ICQ to share confidential data or for credit card transactions. The instant messaging isn't always instant, and the program is erratic at times, sometimes terminating a connection or even freezing up mid-chat. AOL's recent purchase of ICQ may fix those problems, though, and most entrepreneurs find the savings, precision and convenience of ICQ make its few drawbacks bearable.
L-soft, (800) 399-5449, http://www.lsoft.com