The Basics of Wireless Connectivity
32. When You Need It Faster
As we explained above, unless your office happens to have no walls, furniture or people, you won't get anywhere near the transfer speeds or range attributed to 802.11g networking devices. But there are new adapters that transfer data several times faster and farther than 802.11g devices. Some claim performance beyond that expected from the next-generation 802.11n protocol, though that standard is far from being ratified. MIMO (multiple input, multiple output; also called pre-N adapters) works by using multiple radios to send multiple data beams that get picked up by multiple antennas. And the signals can ricochet off walls, furniture and even people. Vendors claim they're eight times or 800 percent better than regular radios, but don't expect those multiples when broadcasting to nearby access points--it's out on the edge of your network where MIMO -n adapters reduce dead spots and boost throughput the most. They also cost less than $100, so if you have a large area to cover with your wireless LAN, it's worth the investment.
33. Make Sure Your Network Is Secure
Because wireless communications are transmitted through the air rather than over a closed cable, you'll need to implement some wireless-specific security measures to ensure that your wireless communications are secure. Wireless solutions use three primary tactics:
2. WEP encryption. It's essentially a complicated software algorithm that scrambles data as it's sent and unscrambles it as soon as it's received, keeping it safe in transit. It also ensures that you can easily upgrade your access cards as new wireless access standards emerge.
3. VPN (Virtual Private Network). This works by encrypting data before it's sent over a wireless link, so even if someone intercepts the transmission, the data is secure. This allows users outside of your system to have access to it, and it's a must if you plan to use public 'hot spots'.
34. What Do You Need to Set It Up?
To maximize the interoperability of your hardware, buy all your equipment from the same manufacturer. To set up your wireless network, you'll need the three following key network components:
1. Wireless network interface cards (NICs), which are adapters for use
2. Wireless access points, which are wireless hubs for wireless enabled devices
3. End-user devices, such as PCs, handheld computers and WLAN phone handsets.
35. Wireless Standards
Companies with existing 802.11b wireless LANs (WLANs) likely will want to migrate to 802.11g, given the fact that 802.11g is backwards compatible with 802.11b. 802.11g is a good choice for companies with no existing wireless LAN, because it offers a 54Mbps maximum data rate, far greater than 802.11b. But it still has the same number of channels (three) and operates in the same 2.4GHz radio spectrum as 802.11b, so it can be used on 802.11b WLANs (like those that are used in hotels and hot spots in coffee shops and airports). It also supports the same robust wireless security capabilities as 802.11b.
Before you go shopping, figure out how many users need access to the network, which will determine the number of access points and NICs you'll need. You should also plan on where you'll connect your wireless LAN to your wired LAN. You may want to run a small amount of cable to a central location and in an open environment, the goal being to maximize the access point's wireless range. The quoted range is a maximum of 300 feet, but that's very dependant on the existing environment--walls, water pipes, furniture and other obstructions can decrease the range. Assume a maximum range of 150 feet, as 300 could decrease throughput. Once you purchase your wireless devices, configure them to work with your network.
36. Why Go Wireless?
Wireless networking is affordable and offers the benefit of making your environment more flexible. A wireless infrastructure allows you to easily reconfigure your office space as your company grows and changes, to extend connectivity and to allow employees to be more mobile. And if you're in a leased building with no existing wired network, setting up a wireless network is much simpler than knocking holes in the walls. There are even wireless printers and printer adapters nowadays, so your entire office can go wireless.
Finding the Best Tech Consultants and Service Providers
37. Finding an E-Mail Service Provider
Every business needs e-mail, but there are a wide variety of offerings on the market. So take your time, ask the right questions and conduct a thorough investigation of what's available. It's worth the extra effort to select the e-mail provider that's right for your business.
When searching, you'll want to interview several potential providers. Although the questions you'll ask them will be specific to the needs of your business, this list should provide a good starting point:
- How long have you been in business?
- What features do you support beyond basic send, receive, reply and forward?
- What kinds of security do you offer?
- What is your pricing structure?
- How are backups and restores handled?
- What kind of service level agreement (SLA) do you offer to ensure e-mail reliability and availability?
- Can e-mail be accessed remotely?
- Is live customer support available?
38. Choosing a Web Host
Selecting a web host can be tricky. Thousands of services charge countless fees, make all sorts of promises and raise seemingly endless questions. To help choose one that'll get the job done, here are key questions to ask:
- How reliable is your service?
- What kind of performance do you offer?
- How good is your support?
- What will it cost?
- How do you handle security?
- How much control do I have?
- Can you handle the technology I'm using?
Actually comparing hosts can be difficult, so a good policy is to quietly set up an account and test the host--kick the tires, so to speak--for several weeks before announcing your presence to the world. Isn't that expensive? You bet, when setup fees are factored in. But more expensive--and embarrassing--is to make a big push for traffic, only to have your host drop the ball and leave you with cranky visitors who can't quite make it in. Better to know your host is operating smoothly before inviting guests to the party.
39. Doing Due Diligence
Here's a word of caution: Finding a website consultant can be tricky. Although the web continues to grow at a rapid pace and has become a useful tool for both buyers and sellers, it's also quite unwieldy. As a result, very few organized associations or websites exist to help people find reputable web design firms. So when you do locate a potential design partner, make sure the company you want to work with is reputable. Just how can you do this? Check out a list of sites the company's worked on and look closely at its own site. Ask about arrangements for maintaining the site, and make sure your new designer is interested in your company and its goals.
40. Getting Your Website Built
Countless small businesses rely on web consultants every day to design and build their websites, enhance existing sites, and put together the pieces of each company's distinctive e-commerce strategy. If you're trying to get your company's site up and running, you can choose among independent site developers, web design shops, technology consulting firms, system integrators, traditional advertising and PR firms, and interactive agencies. Some of these outsource the website hosting and site promotion functions, while others keep these functions in-house. In addition, web design and strategic consulting are often provided by web hosting companies.
And like the web consultants themselves, the variety of prices that consultants charge for their services are extreme: They can charge several hundred dollars for a simple site consisting of a few pages to $1 million or more for a more sophisticated e-commerce site with such features as easily updated product databases, search engines, animated product demonstrations, secure online transactions, and audio and video enhancements. In addition, web consultants vary in how they price their services: Some consultants, typically individual designers, charge by the hour; others, usually web design firms, charge by the project. In general, however, experts say that consultants or web hosting companies can put together a basic, professional-looking website for $1,500 to $5,000 (not including monthly hosting charges), and an e-commerce site for about $10,000 to $50,000.
41. Hiring IT Consultants
You wouldn't dream of tackling your accounting on your own, so why take on your IT strategy by yourself? Fortunately, there are thousands of service companies dedicated to helping with that problem. IT consultants, or technology solutions providers, can decide which hardware and software you should use, where to host your website, or how to protect yourself from hackers or viruses.
How much can you expect to pay a solutions provider? It depends. An electrical contractor asked one consulting firm to troubleshoot problems with its billing system. The firm found that the contractor's tape backup wasn't working, its antivirus software was outdated and its network printer was not set up efficiently. The proposed solution cost $3,000. Another small company, a seven-person firm that helps larger companies outsource HR functions, invested in three high-powered servers with a firewall with the same IT consultant. Such solutions can start at $5,000.
Improving Your Website
42. Use Autoresponders
Autoresponders are pre-written e-mails that are automatically sent on your behalf so they'll help you provide great customer service and free up your time to do other things in your business. You can use autoresponders to confirm orders placed online, as well as to notify customers when their order ships, so customers are reassured that their order's been placed and processed without problems and they won't have to call or e-mail to check on their order.
You can also fulfill orders through autoresponders if, for example, you sell downloadable software, subscriptions or e-books, you can set up your system to automatically send e-mails that allow access to a password-protected area of your site via a link in the e-mail or by including a password to access the content. This "instant gratification" factor is a great incentive for impulse buyers and impatient online shoppers to purchase your product. You can also send follow-up e-mails like thank-you notes, one of the most effective after-sales techniques. Sending individual e-mails to customers thanking them for buying from you and inviting them to come back would be too time consuming to be efficient; autoresponders can make it happen with little effort from you.
43. Easy Navigation
Make it easy for site visitors to find what they're looking for by making navigation on your site simple. Make sure the following information is easy to find: 1. Contact information, such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses and physical location.2. Product information, including detailed descriptions of your products or services, including prices.3. Samples of your products or previous work.4. Support, including product information, troubleshooting help, FAQs, etc. 5. Shopping, so customers can buy the products online or find a physical location where your products are sold.6. Company information, such as background information on the business and the management team.7. News and announcements, including press releases and updated product or service enhancements.8. An easy way to get back to your home page. The home page is where all paths begin in the customer's mind, and they want to be able to get back to your home page easily.
44. Use Web Analytics
Web analytics track the behavior of your site's visitors. What pages do they visit most? What are the popular paths through your Web site? On which pages do they leave? When customers visit your website, they want information and they want it now. If they can't find what they're looking for, they can get frustrated pretty quickly and leave, or worse--they could wind up looking to one of your competitors for what they need. Site-surfing patterns will show you what pages to modify to better serve the interests of your potential customers.
Web analytics solutions can also usually track search engine positioning, e-mail campaigns, banner ads and other promotional programs. Some solutions provide sales data in addition to visitor data. This enables you to enhance ad campaigns and the corresponding site pages for maximum sales, not just traffic.
45. Simplify the Checkout Process
A key reason customers click off a site before they checkout is that the checkout process often takes too long. Reduce the number of pages needed to complete the transaction and be sure to include the following in the process: 1. Remind people of what they're getting as they're checking out. If possible, include hot-linked product descriptions so shoppers can review their choices one last time.2. Provide shipping costs early on so there are no surprises. 3. Show stock availability on the product page, and offer an estimated delivery or ship date. 4. Include a prominent "Next Step" or "Continue With Checkout" button on each checkout page, along with a progress indicator and a page number to each step of the checkout. 5. Provide an order confirmation so customers know their order's gone through.
46. Use Dynamic Imaging
Also called rich media, it's made a comeback among e-tailers as the number of DSL and cable modem subscribers has grown and the technology is easier to use now, too. It enables website visitors to zoom in on images to see product details, spin product photos to view items from all sides, or render different colors. Companies that sell products where visual elements are critical to the sale such as furniture, accessories, jewelry, gifts and high-end apparel would most benefit from using the technology. You can invest in high-tech solutions that can cost thousands of dollars, or you can take the inexpensive approach by buying a digital camera, taking several high-resolution pictures of your products and adding a detailed description of the product to list by the photos. These may be all the special effects you need for a successful site.