How long does it take for a Web site to turn into a cash cow? About four years, according to ActivMedia Inc. A recent survey conducted by the research group points to a correlation between the number of years your company's had an online presence and your site's profitability.
According to the study, 58 percent of businesses that sell products via online sites that have been operating for three or more years report profits. For sites operating from 1994 to 1997, though, only about 30 percent reported profits. So for now, in general at least, more than three years appears to be the magic number.
The study also reveals that business revenue from Web site sales now regularly exceeds $10,000 per company and, in many cases, more than $1 million. Business-to-business sales are also doing fine; the average sale there is almost $3,000. By 2002, the total amount spent via the Web is predicted to exceed $1.2 trillion.
Obviously, the study results only pertain to those who have put the necessary planning, money, time and resources into serious site-building. Still, when it comes to getting your business on the Net, there's no time like the present.
Bronwyn Fryer writes about technology for Newsweek, C/NET and other publications from her office in Santa Cruz, California.
If you travel for business and have a PC that's loaded with Windows 98, a new version of On the Go Software's Quicken ExpensAble 98 is worth considering. The new version ($49.95) comes with a built-in Web browser that automatically links to sites where you can book a trip online or check the weather. Even better, the product, which works with Quicken, comes with travel, hotel and currency "genies" that walk travelers step by step through each trip.
When you go on a trip, you use the software to open an "envelope" and then enter the information that's on your receipts. (If you have a scanner, you can scan the paper receipts and attach them to your expense report.) The product "memorizes" the numbers you enter and automatically calculates the total as you go along. When you're done, you can e-mail the expense report to your bookkeeper or clients.
A lot of people think the year 2000 debacle will result in food shortages, electricity blackouts, a worldwide recession--even Armageddon. Others think it will be about as memorable as last Monday's lunch. Either way, you can't lose by taking a little time out to take precautions.
Some entrepreneurs have decided to prepare for Y2K as they would a hurricane, earthquake or flood. It's never a bad idea to have a 30-day supply of cash, nonperishable food and water on hand. You might even consider purchasing a small generator.
To learn everything you need to know about the Y2K bug, check out the SBA's new Y2K Web site (http://www.sba.gov/y2k/), where you'll find arguably the best Y2K information for small businesses out there on the Web. Aside from a thorough, easy-to-understand explanation of the problem, the site provides a complete, step-by-step checklist for fixing your computer, as well as steps to take to protect your business. It also has a "business cards" listing of people in your area who can help you, plus tons of other resources. If you need money to fix your computer problems, the SBA even offers an easy-to-secure loan.
A Virtual Reality
Doing business in New York City, Toronto, Dallas and Los Angeles? The Net is making it possible for more and more companies to set up "virtual offices," so people in different cities can work with each other over the Web.
Take the case of Healthy Pet, a virtual company that operates veterinary and animal hospitals in Pennsylvania. The eight-member team running the company works from their offices in Trumball, Connecticut; Madison, Wisconsin; St. Louis; Boston and Philadelphia. Everyone uses an online service called HotOffice to share business models, financial reports and other documents at a dedicated HotOffice Web site.
HotOffice is one of several products (see "Join The Team," below) that fall under the general heading of "teamware," specialized software that provides a central meeting place on the Internet where team members can share work and projects. The HotOffice service, which starts at $19 a month for one user, is easy to set up. One member of the team performs administrative duties (setting up new user accounts and so on), but otherwise, there's no need for a lot of technical handholding.
The software also lets users attach documents to e-mail messages or post documents at the site, set up discussion groups, or participate in real-time, text-based chat sessions. HotOffice even has handy links to search engines, shipping companies like Federal Express and UPS, and Quote.com for stock quotes. Sure saves on travel expenses.
- HotOffice Virtual Office Service ($19 and up per month). HotOffice Technologies Inc., (561) 995-0005, http://www.hotoffice.com
- Netopia Virtual Office ($19.95 per month). Netopia Inc., (510) 814-5000, http://www.netopia.com
- Lotus Instant!TEAMROOM ($14.95 per user per month). Lotus Development Corp., (800) 343-5414, http://www.lotus.com