If you're in business, you're on the Web. But how you're on the Web makes a big difference. Fortunately, "the Web hosting industry increasingly is waking up to small-business needs," says Shirley Siluk Gregory, senior analyst with the Ebi Group, a Web hosting consultancy in Navarre, Florida.
In the past year, leading providers such as Affinity Internet, Interlandand Verio have pumped up their small-business offerings. "The tools available from a good Web host are a lot more sophisticated, and a lot more point-and-click," Gregory says.
You still can start with a bare-bones service that provides a Web server and e-mail for as little as $9 per month. But pay a few more bucks per month, and services offer improved tools that make it relatively easy to create an attractive site, maintain it and upgrade it all the way to full-powered e-commerce.
More providers also offer promotional services so you can quickly optimize your site for Web search engines, submit the site to those engines, handle e-mail marketing campaigns, and generate coupons or gift certificates.
Additionally, Web hosts now make it a snap to link to established Web transaction services such as Amazon, eBay and PayPal. "You can start with a very simple PayPal application, and get the ability to sell online in literally just a few minutes," says Read Ziegler, Interland's vice president for marketing. Or you can launch your own e-commerce setup-starting with a simple shopping cart or small catalog, or upgrading directly to industrial-strength e-shopping.
While software tools have added polish and power, you may still want help from experts in design, marketing or technology-either from local talent or from your Web host. For instance, Interland's $95 a month Platinum service comes bundled with a dedicated team of coaches, which Ziegler calls "the added ingredient for success."
Whatever your Web approach, do some research on Web host directories like FindMyHostingand forums such as WebHostingTalk, Gregory says. She also suggests you try a service for a month before locking yourself into a yearlong contract, watch out when you see the term "unlimited" in a contract, and always maintain a plan to change your host-without losing your Internet domain name.