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By Frances McGuckin

As e-commerce becomes the focus of doing business, the question arises as to just how e-ssential an e- presence is for small businesses. Should the local plumber or a horse breeder have an Internet presence? 

There is no doubt that having an e-presence makes a difference as to how potential clients view your business. It seems that everyone who is serious about their business has a address. Our new age of fast communication has changed the way we do business to a behind-the-desk, keyboard, search-the-Web and answer e-mail society.

In fact, many people now request that you correspond by e-mail rather than by telephone. An e-mail can be printed off and a record of the contents kept on file, whereas messages are often forgotten.

There are many benefits to having a Web site and being e-connected, but your first step is to identify who your market is and whether a Web site will draw in more business. Otherwise, it can become an extremely expensive e-toy. And you certainly shouldn't blow your whole marketing budget on a Web site. To reach your market, you must use a mix of marketing methods, including the print media.

There are also many business directory sites, chamber of commerce sites and a myriad of e-commerce sites that will list your business. As these sites receive high-volume traffic, your chances of being found could be greater than your own stand-alone site.

Having a Web site allows you to silently market your business twenty-four-hour-seven. You can use the Internet to research potential clients, e-mail them with a personal introductory e-letter, asking them to look at your site.

Your site should contain corporate, contact and user information, client testimonials, and product or service information. This allows the surfer to research your company and make their decision from there. It is a cheap form of marketing to the whole world-if that's who your market is.

Small service industries still rely heavily on the Yellow Pages, and rightly so. That's where the average consumer looks for a plumber or an electrician. But a horse breeder could be wise to have an Internet presence, as equine enthusiasts will travel afar to find the right horse.

E-business is here to stay, so carefully assess the benefits versus the costs. It could open up a whole new world for your business-or eat a large hole into your cash-flow.

This weekly 'Business Concerns' column is available for Syndication. Please phone or e-mail inquires to 

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