It's A Candy Store, But They'll Come Get Us
To start a small business on the Web, all you need is a site and a prayer

Oh, and keep an eye out for Pat & Mike

By Pat Dane & Mike Walter

Pat and Mike Pat and Mike know about small business. In fact, one business we ran was so small we shared a beeper. Which wasn't so bad, except that we live in two different states.

When we started our TuneUp business just two short years ago, everybody was proclaiming and announcing and predicting that the World Wide Web was going to become the marketplace of the future. Like many others we rushed in eager to find a good location for our business in the marketplace of the future. Pretty soon our websites got hits. 500 hits, 1000 hits, 100,000 hits! Nobody bought anything but, hoo boy, did they hit us!

In those days, there were few, if any, rules and literally no guidelines other than: "The media is the message." This was a very fine guideline except no one had any idea what it meant!

TuneUp Tip

Nice people, great atmosphere, and good advice for your small business

If you have your own business and you're looking for ways to move forward into cyberspace, a great place to start is The Idea Cafe.

This robust, flavorful site is designed to help entrepreneurs succeed in reaching their personal and professional goals by providing accurate, helpful, and timely information and advice in a supportive, inviting atmosphere. There's a real wealth of resources, along with valuable links that are sure to fuel ideas and help you grow your business. And have a little fun while you're at it.

Of course, if you were a big company, moving to the Web was easy: Just take 15% of that year's revenue and give it to a 19-year-old named Giro who opened his Web design firm last Tuesday. Viola! You're on the Web. But the rest of us didn't have millions of dollars to throw away on sites so huge that people are still waiting for them to download for the very first time.

So what can you learn from all of this? Not much. Well, maybe a little. After all, if the Kings of All Cyberspace can't help you open a small business on the Net, then who can, Smokey Robinson?

A return to basics
Used to be you built a business by developing lasting personal relationships with your customers. But, how do you do that on the Web?

Well, here are the basics:

  1. Do what made you successful up until now;
  2. Remember that the customer is the most important part of your business -- and without the customer you have no business;
  3. Re-think, in Web terms, some of your strategies with respect to marketing and responding to customer needs; and,
  4. Never forget: On the World Wide Web, it's not certain that anyone is wearing their pants.

Let's take a look at a couple of companies that made a successful transition to the Web, and how they did it.

Hot Tubs 'R Us
In late 1991, Long Island Hot Tubs and Paramount Pools almost went out of business.

Then they figured out that old paper towels were not the best materials with which to build pools and hot tubs. And business got better.

Then, in 1994, they opened a Web site that sells pool covers, chemicals, pump replacement parts, and hundreds of other items that pool and hot tub owners need.

Proprietor Dan Harrison says that the key to his success is the fact that the profile of people who use the Web conveniently matches the profile of people who own pools and hot tubs. Go figure.

Par for the courses
John Rendleman was a sports announcer for a TV station in Northern Carolina, which was a very good job. People would see him on the street and say, 'There goes John the Sports Guy from Channel 36!' Unfortunately, to keep the job, John had to pay the TV station a lot of money. So, in his spare time, he sold golf vacation packages.

Then the Web appeared. John instantly recognized the opportunity it presented and gave up his lucrative position as a sports announcer to start something called Coastal GolfAway, now one of the leading golf vacation sites in the Carolinas.

John's key success element was to move his business to the Web when the timing was right, and to target a niche market that had opportunity for growth. Of course, it didn't hurt that his aunt died and left him seven hundred and fifty-six million dollars.

Now it's your turn . . . ?
Well, there you have it. Small business and the Web do go hand in hand -- whether you've got a real storefront or just a virtual one. By the way, if you want more help from Pat & Mike in getting your online business started, just call 1-800-745-6655 any Saturday from 11 - 1PM, CST.

It's a candy store, but they'll come get us.

To hear Pat & Mike's weekly radio show, visit AudioNet. The show is broadcast live every Saturday and features The Last Word by our very own E Business editor.