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The Web made it possible to start a business on a shoestring.

 

The following article is provided by SCORE, a nonprofit association of business counselors who mentor small business owners across the U.S. For more information, see the SCORE Web site: http://www.score.org

Thanks to the Internet, companies now routinely conduct business on a global scale without far-flung personnel networks or overseas operations. In fact, some of the fastest-growing businesses exist entirely in cyberspace.

The virtual business movement has transformed the way millions of small, successful firms operate. Under the virtual model, business owners outsource nearly everything. Driving the trend are increasingly sophisticated and affordable technologies and Web-based services.

As with conventional businesses, however, success in the virtual realm depends in large measure on effective management practices. Staying connected and working in unison are vital to virtual success. Cell phones, email, follow-me-anywhere messaging, and shared workspaces on the Web are invaluable in this regard.

With people interacting electronically from remote locations and face-to-face contact at a minimum, you’ll need to make an extra effort to foster trust and bonding among team members. Talk by phone, use Web conferencing, and try to meet in person on occasion.

Leverage the strengths that a virtual business affords, including flexibility. Virtual firms often can offer customers a shorter turnaround window and lower prices due to lower overhead costs. You should also tout the credentials of your virtual partners.

Here are a few of the Web-based services that can help you establish and run your Web-based business:

    • The Microsoft Small Business Center (www.microsoft.com, click on “Small and Midsize”) is a portal site that offers nearly everything you’ll need to get up and running. This site, previously known as bCentral, has been reinvented as a suite of small business tools, and includes information on everything from Web marketing, payment processing and online catalog creation to list building and banner ads.
    • Yahoo Small Business and Hostway assist virtual small businesses with such tasks as securing a domain name, selecting a Web hosting service, marketing and site design.
    • To keep your internal collaboration processes up to speed, WebOffice and HotOffice.com both specialize in services for sharing calendars, document exchange and tracking and multi-location online conferencing.

Virtual businesses can be very successful! Remember, however: Face-to-face interaction remains vitally important. Use it whenever possible.

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