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Services Abound for Online Businesses

Special to The Times

Question: I need real-world assistance for setting up, developing and launching an information-services business online. Where can I find comprehensive help?

Answer: There are a number of resources and packaged services that can help get your online business started. Yahoo sells a comprehensive e-commerce service (smallbusiness.yahoo.com) that can be used by businesses of any size, said David Cieslak, principal of Information Technology Group Inc. of Simi Valley.

“Depending on your requirements and pocketbook, they take care of everything, from website development and hosting to order processing and payment processing,” Cieslak said. “This solution is often particularly attractive to businesses just getting started or those on a tight budget.”

If you’re comfortable doing things yourself, and you’re looking for freedom and flexibility, there are several accounting and order-processing software packages on the market that “provide all the tools needed to fully integrate complete accounting, inventory and order-processing with new or existing Web stores,” Cieslak said. Some of the popular vendors include Intuit Inc., at www.quickbooksmerchantservice.com, Sage Software Inc., at www.sagesoftware.com and Microsoft Corp., at www.microsoft.com/dynamics.

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Another option is to hire a consulting firm that has experience in setting up online businesses similar to your own. Ask to see their portfolio and talk to some of their clients before you make a decision, and make sure you have a formal contract spelling out what the company will -- and won’t -- do for your firm.

You will need to provide a consultant with preliminary information on your company, so do some research and make some decisions now. Think about who your customers will be, how they will place orders, where products will come from and how goods or services will be paid for. The answers to those questions will be vital to starting your online company.

Take Steps to Help Get Your Website Noticed

Q: I have written a great product and put it up on a website, but the site has never been hit by any online searchers. Do I have to pay to get my site displayed by search engines?

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A: No, you do not have to pay. The big three search engines, Google, at www.google.com/addurl; Yahoo, at www.search.yahoo.com (click “submit your site”); and MSN, at search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx each have Web pages where you can submit your site for free.

However, there’s a difference between simply getting your site visited by the search engines (and thereby listed in their results), and getting good placement in those results. It won’t do you much good to be listed if your product is on page 153,240.

“You may have to pay someone to help you get good ‘search engine optimization,’ ” said Susan A. Kitchens, an author and Web designer based in Monrovia. “But there are some very basic things you, or your webmaster, can do for starters.”

Make sure your site has relevant text on all its pages, including your home page. “Search engines love text. Not images, nor Flash [animation],” Kitchens said. Make sure your titles are relevant, since search engines display results by the Web page’s title.

“Results excerpt at least 25 words from the body of the Web page with the search terms displayed in bold. Make sure that your text includes words that people might use in a search,” she said.

Include plenty of links on your website. Sites linked to by other sites get higher placement in search results.

“Get others to link to you. What goes around comes around, so link to others from your site, too,” Kitchens said.

For additional help, Kitchens recommended the resources on Search Engine Watch’s website, www.searchenginewatch.com.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.


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