From the November 2000 issue of Startups
Ask Kim T. Gordon, our S.O.S. columnist, your question about starting, running or growing your homebased business.

Question: We launched our pre-owned jewelry Web site in August and need advice on the best way to promote it on a shoestring budget. We have sent out more than 100 press releases and tried to partner with major sites. We're also listed with top search engines. We would appreciate any help you can offer.

Laura
Dunedin, Florida

Answer: With hundreds of thousands of sites on the Web, you need an active marketing program in order to draw the right visitors, as well as an ongoing outreach campaign to keep them coming back. First, take an objective look at the site itself to be sure it provides a unique and trouble-free shopping experience. Consider adding a compelling reason to register right on the main page, such as by offering information and updates on new products. When you send out this information, you will give visitors a reason to come back. You may also want to add features that streamline the ordering process for repeat buyers.

Since your site offers pre-owned jewelry, credibility is a key to successful sales. Do you have credentials that would be useful here? Include content that specifies how jewelry prices are established and whether appraisals or guarantees are available. Above all, visitors must know they're making a safe purchase on your site.

To generate immediate traffic, participate in online discussion groups frequented by your target audience. Contribute helpful information and always use a signature that includes your URL and a brief description of your company. Another option is to set up an affiliate program, where you pay other site owners when their visitors click through to yours. For more information on affiliate programs, visit Refer-it.com, a search engine for revenue-sharing programs. Also, set up reciprocal links with sites frequented by your target audience. They don't need to be major sites, as long as their visitors fit the profile of customers who are most likely to buy from you.

When your budget increases, start an advertising campaign in well-targeted print media-perhaps in some of the same publications you've identified for PR campaigns. And if all else fails, you may want to move your site to a Web mall. For example, on Yahoo! Store, for a monthly fee, you'll have exposure to significantly higher traffic and be able to affordably promote your products through Yahoo! Shopping.