French Internet City Label have been attributed
The most dynamic local authorities for citizen Internet have been awarded the "Internet City Label".
Le Journal du Net
The web eases small business daily business
The Bureaux et Commerces magazine incites SME to use the Internet on a regular basis and puts forwards benefits they can get.
Carrefour breaks new ground by promoting its operations online
Carrefour has opened a mini-site fore the launch of its operation called "The Carrefour Month" ("Le Mois Carrefour").
Having a web site : why and how?
Having a web site : why and how?
The current economic situation does not look favourable for small businesses to develop an Internet project. Downturns in the new economy, bankruptcies of Internet companies drive "traditional" companies to a more cautious approach of the creation or re-design of their web site. All the more so as they do not master the necessary human nor technical means for this type of project. Nonetheless, the Internet has become a common business features. To be present on the internet is as natural and common as being featured in the yellow pages or having a fax number. In this sense, having a web site can be a simple solution for "traditional" businesses, at a limited cost and bringing real benefits in terms of image and communication. It is also a marketing tool answering very precise needs and that can drive visitors to the physical points of sale. According to the activity and strategic objectives of the company, its web site can also become another distribution's channel.

A web site: what for?

8,5 million of French people - i.e. 14% of the population - regularly use the net at home. In 2001, 73% of French SMEs are connected to the Net and 23% of French professionals use the web from work at least once a month for professional or private purposes. According to Ipsos, 47% of professionals view the web as the best tool for business information searching .Professionals as well as consumers connected to the net are becoming a norm: without having to opt for online selling, each company must consider this new way to buy, but also to get information before and after the purchase.

A communication tool

A web site is above all an effective mean to communicate about one's company. According to a Pouey Research study , 74% of French SMEs consider that the first benefit brought by their web site is to give them an increased visibility on the market. A web site enables the company to be known beyond its geographical market. If correctly referenced, the site can really help the company finding new clients. A web site is also a good communication tool serving the image of the company. With the site, its mastering of new technologies. Graphics of the site also make a lasting impression of the company. You can use design to address adequately your audience: clients, suppliers, current or potential investors, etc.

A promotion medium

A web site directly reaches the various audiences the company is targeting. It is therefore a powerful direct marketing tool.For instance, the web site of a point of sale can promote clients' traffic to the shop by offering promotionr displaying company's news. Web marketing methods also are a good mean to get in touch with prospects: sending personalized emails s or vouchers. Regular use of newsletters increase customer's loyalty by keeping a regular contact and informing on new products o(for instance at specific dates like birthdays) or displaying sales and products according to the profile and interests of the visitor, etc.

A customer relationship management tool

The web site is a precise information support both before and after the sale. Clients have access to product information, users' guides, technical support tools (FAQ etc.). The web site can also retrieve information on how the product is used or conduct consumer survey.

A web site gives companies new tools to considerably improve their image, promotion actions and customer relationships. Nonetheless, difficulties in setting up their web site could give them the impression that they will not get any return on investment.

Web sites creation tools: an inventory

According to a BNP-Paribas study, 40 % of French SMEs have a web site in 2000 and 38% of those which plan to set it up in 2001. These figures hide a more contrasted reality since SMEs can meet real financial and psychological barriers.

Equipment barriers

According to an American study, main barriers to the set up of a web site named by SMEs are:

initial set up costs (31%),
maintenance and update costs (28%),
lack of technical competencies internally (27%) ;
and to a lesser extend, security and confidentiality problems (14%).

These grievances are real though they correspond to a classical conception of web sites' creation: it implies the support of a web agency or a computer consultancy firm which offer tailor-made web sites.
Another possibility is to create by oneself a web site with "Do it yourself" solutions, though the result is often pretty limited in terms of functionality and graphics. They might imply the need for a person with web competencies, who is often not available in a small business.

The market offer: a typology

A small company who wants to have a web site or to reshape its existing one has the choice between 3 methods: it can charge a non-technician employee with the project, hire a qualified person, or use the services of an agency. Numerous offers exist for each method.In the following typology, whatever the method, we will address "all in one" solutions only, which include creation tools, update tools and hosting (and possibly additional services). These solutions deliver 3 different types of sites: static web sites, static web sites dynamically published, and dynamic web sites .

Ready-to-use offers made for the end user

"Do it yourself" applications are ready-made solutions for non specialists. They feature web sites' creation and update tools (HTML editor integrated to a remote publication's system), a hosting system and additional services such as domain names booking, referencing in the main directories, ad banners' creation, etc.These applications can be distributed in an ASP (Application Service Providing) mode, i.e. accessible on the Internet through a mere navigator. In this case, no software is installed on the company's computers. Applications can also be displayed as client software to be downloaded and installed; in this case, the company must maintain and update the software, while in ASP, these tasks are taken into care by the supplier and included in the subscription to the service (usually on a monthly basis). "Do it yourself" web sites creation systems for small businesses are blossoming: in ASP, 123 Votre site by Wanadoo Pro or Esqualite by Networth Partners, in client mode, PME-Studio by Isotools . From a functional perspective, this type of solutions does not permit to update a web site: sites are static, their page number and navigation tree are limited and graphical choices (pages' layout and colors) are restrictive and little creative. Besides, no interactivity with web surfers is possible.
These solutions are not as easy and simple to implement as they first seem, since they imply that at least one dedicated person spends a large amount of time on the web site's creation. Initial costs are low but due to difficulties in update and evolution, total cost of ownership (comprising among other things manpower for update and evolution of the site) can end up much higher.

Ready-to-use offers made for the webmaster

Webmasters can have access to more elaborated tools for web sites' construction - provided that the company can afford qualified people. Some solutions are available in the ASP mode and associated to hosting offers, thus presenting interesting ready to use solutions.Solutions such as Dev2Go by iDune or Atomz Publish feature advanced functionality: dynamic publication, connections to databases, forms' generation, monitoring of modifications, integration of existing or new graphic templates, etc. Some programs in these solutions also have interactivity features (polls, votes, etc.).
With these solutions, set up investment is higher, partly due to the fact that mastering the tools requires some time. The type of employee required also implies heavier costs which input the TCO . Resulting sites are more evolved and refined than those offered by ready-to-use solutions for end users, but paradoxically they miss key marketing appliances such as personalization of the layout.

Web agencies offers

It is natural for a non-Internet company to use the services of an agency to have its web site done. Two solutions are possible: agencies can build a completely tailored-made site, or provide a packaged offer.

Packaged offers

More and more web agencies offer ready-to-use solutions to SMEs. For instance, the ODA agency (Pages Jaunes) offers packages including the creation of a few static pages, hosting and a limited number of updates.Other web agencies use an "industrialized" application similar to Tekora (in ASP) or EasyCommerce by EasyBusiness, to be installed on the provider's computer. These appliances made for professionals rationalize the web sites' production. The sites can be managed globally on a syndicated architecture.
Ready-to-use packages by web agencies offer quickly and without the client's investment a refined web site though with little originality and with fixed content. Content can be updated by the agency only.Professional applications of web production used by web agencies feature similar advantages and drawbacks, except for offers which provide an administration interface made for the end user. All of them produce static web sites, either statically or dynamically published, with little interactivity with the end user.

Tailor-made offersWith tailor made offers, web site's creation is totally in line with the precise needs of the company. It is possible to have a complex web site, with top-class graphics, and which content can be managed by a member of the company through a user-friendly interface. Content management can be automated through CMS or interface with business management applications used in the company (for example with the stocks management to update the online products catalogue). The site can evolve as much as the company is ready to pay for, but remains dependent of the agency. TCO is very high and set up duration very long since the project follows classical phases of any project (needs definition, specifications, development, integration, etc.).
This type of solution is necessary when projects demand to set up e-commerce sites integrating back and front office. It implies software licences' (among which the purchase of a CMS, at a very heavy cost) and servers' purchases. It is therefore not suited for most SMEs. Besides, it does not answer their needs in terms of swiftness, deployment easiness and cost.
For a small business, a web project driven with a classical or "do it yourself" solution can end up with a low if not negative return on investment. An overview of the solutions available on the market confirm this observation.

A solution for each objective

Web sites' creation solutions on the market are overabundant and highly different. They produce sites very different in terms of functionality but none of them is really adapted to the needs and demands of small businesses. The best method is to precisely define one's objectives before opting for the solution best fitting these objectives.

A shop-window site

The shop-window site is generally the first step of a company on the Net. It is used by companies which activity does not need a constant contact with their customers, prospects or providers. On a shop-window site, the company introduces itself, its team, its products and know-how, its technology, publishes its news or news of the market, etc. The visitor can find practical information to contact the firm. Though simple, a shop-window is not easily managed with a solution producing static web sites. Though the interactivity aspect is not visible, content needs to be updated on a regular basis if one wants visitors to come back on the site. A system with real time updating and simple and user-friendly content administration interface is therefore necessary.

A marketing web site

A marketing web site helps the firm establishing privileged relationships with prospects, clients, partners, providers or VCs. It acts as an additional media supporting the existing communication or marketing actions. According to the target audience, it may integrate to the site several content management features such as newsletters, real time publication, visitors' profiling, statistics, FAQ, etc.In this perspective, it is necessary to use a tool building entirely dynamic web sites and managing them in real time. A content management system application is also essential to handle all web marketing functions.

An e-shop

E-commerce web sites are made for companies ready to move part of their activity on the web. The web site can become an additional if not the unique distribution channel. It can act as a substitute for part or all communication, promotion or clients relationships tools. In this case, the web project demands a thoroughly thought organization since is calls into question the entire value chain of the firm, form stocks handling to accounts management and logistics. The services of a system integrator are necessary to integrate the web content management tool with business administration tools already in use within the company.

Nowadays, new solutions give small businesses the possibility to have a web site with features typical of a complex web site, but with a much lower TCO compared to classical set ups (monthly fee, no upfront cost).Thus, Everydeck can generate in a few clicks entirely dynamic and interactive web sites on the base of a template. The template can be chosen among a wide range of templates or personalized for the company's specific needs. The resulting sites can be customized (graphics can be changed anytime) and content is administered by non technician users, through an adapted interface. The sites feature a content management system similar to traditional CMS. Everydeck is perfectly adaptable to SMEs' needs and to their objectives for their web site.
 Related article 
  Static, dynamically published and dynamic: 3 web sites generations
  Local web sites: let's be pragmatic!
  EVERYDECK : a large variety of applications for useful dynamic web sites
  Creating E-Tail Sales Out of Thin Air
Company  Solutions  References  Documentation  News