Doing business on the Internet
People you have never met face to face or even spoken to can become your best customers or suppliers. So how does it happen, and where can you find them? This article looks at doing business on the Internet.
One of the amazing things about the Internet is the way that it allows us to communicate with people all over the world in real time. Software technology such as VOIP, instant messaging and business collaboration tools have made it not only possible, but quite easy to work “side by side” with remote professionals.
Whether you are looking for legal advice, someone to program a Microsoft Access application or a writer to produce a couple of hundred words of copy for the front of your website, there are people out there just waiting for the chance to win your business. Equally, there are thousands of potential customers searching the Internet for people with solutions to their problems.
As business people are becoming more and more comfortable with doing online business with strangers, the opportunity for doing business on the Internet is growing steadily.
How to make the connection
One of the best known service marketplaces is Elance.com. At the time of writing, this website boasted over 80,000 registered professionals and over 24,000 available projects. Elance.com is a market place for buying and selling services where one can create a profile to find customers, or upload a project description to find a supplier. To find out more, visit the Elance.com home page, and click at the top of the screen on “Get Services” and “Provide Services” to see the two sections of the site.
"As business people are becoming more and more comfortable with doing online business with strangers, the opportunity for doing business on the Internet is growing steadily."
Classified ad websites like Gumtree.com.au allow you to post your ads for free and have a huge directory of ads to search through.
Many suppliers will have websites that can be found by searching in Google or Yahoo, but often it’s better to look for a forum post where a recommendation is being made, so you can gather a little background information before doing business on the Internet. Try searching Google for the service you are seeking with the words “looking for….” at the front of you search. This is likely to show you forum posts where other people have been looking for the same thing.
Different industries seem to prefer different platforms for communication, but the most popular would be Yahoo messaging, MSN Instant Messenger and of course, Skype. Skype is hard to beat as it allows voice, video calls, conference calls and instant messaging all in the one interface, and has good call rates as well as the free “Skype to Skype” service.
Another useful service is yousendit.com, which allows you to send files that might be too large for email.
Want more articles like this? Check out the online marketing section.
Watching out for sharks
Whether you are trying to connect with a customer or a supplier, it pays to be careful. In the case of suppliers, once you have a name or business name, run some searches in Google to try to find any other references that might give you a hint of their track record . Ask for references and examples of their previous work.
When it comes to selling your own services, you need to be sure that you will get paid. Always ask for a deposit, even if it’s just 10%. If possible, break the job up into parts and ask for progress payments. For example, breaking a project down into four parts, and being careful not to start the next part before the previous part has been paid for can reduce the potential for being ripped off.
There are risks on both sides of the transaction when doing business on the Internet. Keep that in mind when you are in the early stages of negotiating with a new online contact. They are likely to be just as careful as you are when it comes to the question of payment.
Things to keep in mind…
When selling services on the Internet:
- Consider listing your service in classified websites and/or freelance directories (e.g. elance.com, gumtree.com.au).
- Before dealing with a customer, make sure you know who will be paying the bill. Sometimes you will find people ordering work on behalf of others, even though they don’t have the authority to spend the budget.
- Break the project into progress payment to minimise risk.
- Always ask for a deposit.
When buying services:
- Do as much research on the supplier as you can.
- If possible, send a small test job.
- Don’t pay too much up front.
What experience have you had doing business on the Internet?