Our market research tells us that most of you readers are a bunch of tech-savvy young entrepreneurs. But not all of you are starting up the next big Internet portal for IT or aspire to run Amazon.com out of the market. Few of you dabble in C++ or build your own desktops for fun in your spare time. If you make cookie bouquets, who cares about the latest version of HTML or whether G4 processors are faster than Intel processors?
For inherently nontech businesses, your daily dose of the latest technology is going to differ. We talked with Leslie Gardner, founder of clothing company Smashing Grandpa, about how she tackles the tech challenge.
Smashing Grandpa (so named because Mick Jagger is a grandpa, but he's still "smashing") features a line of rock 'n' roll shirts with the likes of Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on the front. Previously a stylist who worked on rock videos and MTV specials, Gardner launched Grandpa full time in January 1999. "When I bought myself my scanner, my computer and Adobe Photoshop, I just cried every night struggling to learn Photoshop," Gardner says. "Now I wouldn't say I've mastered it; I'd say I have my way of doing it."
There are ways to ease the pain. Training books like the Dummies series are a low-cost, effective place to start. (Call 800-434-2086 or visit http://www.dummies.com.) Online training courses for everything from Microsoft Office to Internet surfing are also cropping up on Web sites like http://www.headlight.com and http://www.tutorials.com. And don't rule out local computer stores and community colleges.
What about going online? Do you really need a Web site? Smashing Grandpa started out with a one-page site built by a friend. Gardner admits, "I'm so clueless about certain technical things. I'm not a cyber junkie. I don't spend a lot of time on the Web, but now I've seen what it does . . . it's amazing!" Rather than try to learn HTML, Gardner hired wondrous Web designer Julie Nugent to turn the drab http://www.smashinggrandpa.com into a glittering haven for her popular T-shirt designs with links to retailers and pictures of the latest sightings of her goods in fashion magazines.
Gardner still stays involved with the site's content. "Every month, I give [Nugent] a Zip disk or e-mail her all the updates I want and she'll post them on there," she says. "It's pretty smooth." It's important to have a professional-looking Web site. If you can't build it yourself, hire someone who can. Software packages like Adobe PageMill ($79) and Microsoft FrontPage ($140) can get you well on your way if you decide to go it alone.
It's too easy for small-business Web sites to get lost on the overcrowded Web. A large part of http://www.smashinggrandpa.com's success comes from magazine mentions driving traffic. "Get in the big magazines, and then everybody gets to the Web site and it escalates from there," Gardner says. Regular e-mail newsletters keep her customers updated. If you don't have fashion-magazine appearances to fuel your Web presence, try a search engine service like Submit It! (http://www.submit-it.com) which, for $59, lists your site on about 400 engines. Ads in alternative or regular news-papers can be a big boost if your customer base is local.
A strong Web response has encouraged Gardner to take the next step: e-commerce. But she's not making the mistake of jumping in too fast. Gardner is taking care of her own order ful-fillment by adding a printable invoice to the Web site. "I'm doing things really low-tech to start out. Send the order form with the money," Gardner says. Once all her guitar strings are in a row, http://www.smashinggrandpa.com plans to offer a shopping cart with credit card acceptance.
"The way I feel is, I'll never be a numbers person. I'll never really understand the computer," says Gardner. "I'm able to use it in a way that suits me best. I'll never be one of those people who's a computer entrepreneur because I don't think that way." Smashing Grandpa, powered by a Mac and a user-friendly Web site, has settled successfully somewhere between no-tech and high-tech: We'll call it "mid-tech."