Home-based e-business - an option for the self-employed?


  4.1. Technical Aspects

•  Web site design

 The design of the web site is very important in order to give a favorable first impression to prospective customers. If the potential customers get an unfavorable experience at the site, they are unlikely to make a purchase at your site. A virtual shop web site should be designed in the following manner in order to attract and retain more customers:

•  Easy to navigate - The web site should be user-friendly and easy to navigate, customers are able to access to any page and accomplish whatever they want within three clicks. There are no deeply buried pages. As a result, shoppers will find this site very easy to use. This site is also easy to maintain where products or prices can be changed quickly.

•  Quick download time – research indicates that 80% of web users cite download time as the number one problem (Terry Sullivan, 1999). Most customers nowadays are still connecting to the Internet via slow modems and recent studies indicate that slow-loading web sites cause online consumers to abandon up to 50% of online transactions (Keynote – http://www.keynote.com) . A web site should be clean, simple and direct, with no fancy element such as whistles, glitz, moving words and flash animation. There should be no excess graphic and the resolution of all necessary photos is reduced to a minimum so that the loading time of each page is only a couple of seconds.

•  Clean and accurate product information and presentation - Since customers cannot actually see, touch and feel products in person, the presentation must be clear and visually accurate. All products are described in simple English with clear specifications and photos. It is better include a FAQ section in its Web site so that most of the common questions were already answered in advance, it also save a lot of labor hours to answer repeated questions.

Although designing a web site could be daunting for the beginner, professional help is readily available in Hong Kong at a low cost, and shop-front solutions are now readily available (see TURNKEY approaches below)

•  Web hosting

  Once the web site is designed, it needs to be hosted with an Internet Service Provider. There are basically three options on web hosting. The first choice is to buy one's own server but it is very costly both in initial hardware, software and maintenance, and therefore not suitable for a small home business start-up. The second choice is to use a free web hoster. There are a lot of free web-hosting services on the Internet but in return, most of them require placing some form of advertisement on your site. These could be quite disturbing to the potential customer and affect the image of the web site. Besides, the performances of these free web-hosting services are often unstable, and can seriously affect the business should the hoster go down. The third choice is to rent space on a paid web hoster. All it requires is to pay a monthly fee and there are technicians to set up and maintain your server regularly. Many web-hosting companies have a 99.9% uptime guarantee and this could be critical for success.

The standard and charges of web hosting service providers varies greatly in the market. Generally speaking, those from the developed countries such as United States , United Kingdom and Hong Kong are very reliable. The charge range from a few US dollars to several hundred dollars per month, depending on the services you choose. Normally, for a new start up small business, the package with minimum services is good enough and additional services can be added on later. In selection of the service provider, make sure that it has adequate space, bandwidth, reliability, knowledge and capability to handle a fully functional e-commerce site. In general, the author would recommend a free-hosting company in the initial start-up phase, but switch quickly to a paid web hosting company once the business takes off. The following is a comparison on free and pay web hosting services: