Child's play . . .
Necessity is sometimes the mother of invention for online opportunities
AS a mother, it was the frustration of trying to find products for her children's care that drove Martina Delaney to set up her online business.
Along with her sister, Suzanne Browne, Ms Delaney established www.handybaby.com three years ago to sell infant care items on the internet after identifying a gap in the market.
"If you are a working mother you don't really get the chance to go to the shops. It is much easier to log on and it is delivered straight to your door," said Ms Delaney.
"A lot of times, you will find a few different things online. Everyone is tapping in, whether for a research view or whether to purchase something."
Now employing two people and another part-time, she said the site has attracted between 600 and 800 customers a year.
"As a mother myself, I had problems finding stuff and myself and my sister have four children between us so we saw the opportunity."
The success of the internet over the last 10 years has been an unprecedented business phenomenon which has opened up a whole new realm of trading for firms.
However, with the internet bubble having inflated and subsequently burst, small firms setting up an online presence have been warned to play close attention when building an internet identity.
"I do believe having a website, no matter how basic it is, is essential to any business these days," said Colin Hetherington, managing director of Agency.com, an internet marketing company.
"The key to planning your budget is by having the project specifications clearly set out and documented before the project development commences.
"The level of interaction and functionality you require will have an impact on your budget.
"During the development phase a team of vested interests should be involved - from marketing, customer service, finance, logistics, production and other departments, depending on the structure of your company.
"The requirement of a full-time staff member really depends on the functionality of the site - does it have e-commerce functionality or is it a simple brochure ware site?
"As the site grows in traffic and sales, then there may be a strong business case to hire a full-time staff member."
David Carey, of web designers Silverink, said competitors should be analysed and how they implement their online presence considered.
It is vital, said Mr Carey, to receive multiple quotations for the development of the work which will be carried out on the site.
"Allocating a sufficient promotional budget is important and getting pricing for offline advertising such as mail-outs, flyers, magazine ads, relevant sponsored links, keywords and organic link-building campaigns," he said.
"Also, the possible phasing of development over a longer period should be looked at to allow for analysis and feedback of each stage and how this might fit into future budgets.
"Typically, web companies will quote for development and yearly hosting, consider these costs over a longer term."
Funding for websites is also available. The county and city enterprise boards offer grants for businesses to develop commercial websites.
"Selling products or services on the world wide web offers export opportunities for businesses based in Ireland," said assistant chief executive of the Dublin CIty Enterprise Board Eibhlin Curley.
"When setting up the websites, businesses should consider things from an international perspective in relation to the domain name, currency, deliveries and range of products - in some cases, this could be a marginal extra cost but could yield much higher sales revenues."
However, once the website is set up, it is vital to maintain it to a proper standard.
"Once live, it is critical not to leave it alone - only half the job has been complete," said Mr Hetherington.
"You need to drive traffic to the site in order to help meet your objectives. An online marketing strategy needs to be implemented as well as leveraging all existing customer communications in order to raise awareness of your new channel, promote the website in store to your existing customers.
"Customer service online is no different to that in the offline world - it needs to be prompt and friendly. This means having someone check emails and enquiries."
While it is not necessary to hire more staff to deal with a website set-up, said Mr Carey, once established, sufficient training is needed to effectively manage it as well as a promotional budget.
"The common pitfalls that companies fall into are over-scoping the project against their needs and neglecting the website and not maintaining and updating content as it changes," said Mr Hetherington.