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The Evolutionary Stages of Web Business

New Year's resolutions are easily made but hardly kept. The vow to build or enhance your Web business is probably more vital to your success, but no easier than sticking to a new diet into February. If your best intentions to develop your site have fallen victim to fears of mounting resource drains, consider whether moving into the next logical stage of Web presence offers an easier, cheaper alternative to launching a fully functional eCommerce operation. Web businesses don't always pass through each of these stages as they grow, but the fact that they can take any of these forms may make it easier to fulfill a New Year's promise:

Phase I: Web business card

Visitors get just the facts: who you are, what you do, how to find you. A Web business card may seem like a modest first step, but it enables your business to begin using the Internet to find customers. It also establishes an address for your future development, and perhaps more important, a unique, professional domain to use for your email address.

Total monthly cost (with email) at*:

Phase II: Self-hosted site builder

This next step creates a full site where visitors can find more information, pictures of products, detailed descriptions of services, and a professional environment free of distractions such as other companies' ad banners. The tools to create these sites are typically non-technical, and use templates to simplify page design.

Total monthly cost (with email) at*:
$9.50 (five-page site)

Phase III: Basic hosting

When you're ready to use applications such as Microsoft® FrontPage, or HTML to design and upload your own pages, it's time for a Web hosting account. Aside from providing FTP access to add and edit pages, a hosting account allows you to create forms, incorporate sound and animation, and use more complex applications to customize your visitors' experience. You can even employ some creative solutions to accept payments online. Most hosting packages include some type of site-building software, but it's usually more limiting than other page design options.

Total monthly cost (with email) at*:

Phase IV: eCommerce hosting

When many entrepreneurs envision a Web site, they see a fully transactional operation where visitors shop, compare features, read product information, and complete their purchases onsite with credit cards. ECommerce hosting packages typically include shopping cart software to organize purchases, and processing gateways to connect to merchants' credit card accounts, as well as compatibility with advanced site design software and database applications. The cost is higher than for a non-transactional site, but infinitely cheaper than a traditional retail operation.

Total monthly cost (with email) at*:
$40.37 (plus merchant account fees)

*including domain name registration, based on regular pricing for one-year terms

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