The Web Revisited
When contemplating an online presence, revenue is a top concern, however, saving time, money and other resources are significant benefits that should be considered as well.
Full news press
Nearly every business can benefit from posting press materials online. To provide those seeking information about a company, an entire press kit can reside on a Web site, including a company history, the biographies of senior staff, contact information, news releases, a map—free maps are available from MapBlast.com and MapQuest.com—and office or store hours. All of which can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A print version of a press kit, with folder, photos, article reprints and copied fact sheets can cost $3 or more to produce and mail but the only expenditure associated with an online version is a one-time cost for scanning and HTML coding. The materials are delivered immediately at no cost whatsoever.
Have it in writing
In addition to press kits, there are many other documents that can be posted online to aid clients and customers to reduce budgetary pressures. Both publishers and potential authors benefit when publishers post guidelines, informing aspiring writers as to the types of books and submissions requirements they preferred. "I meet so many people at sales shows that I send to the site for writers' guidelines," says Laurie Kelly of Career Press. Kelly says that 75 percent of the Franklin Lakes, NJ publisher's writers' guideline requests are now handled on its site at www.careerpress.com Referring interested writers online saves phone charges, printing and copying costs and time for everyone involved, especially if potential authors are directed to the site from an introductory phone message.
A simple form on a Web site can also help prequalify sales leads or potential employees. Although having a form with too many questions is not advisable, a questionnaire can include name, address, phone, e-mail and short query fields Such forms allow businesses to focus on their needs rather than spending time on administrative details. If retrieval of specific information is desired before speaking to prospects, "required fields" can also be created, preventing the form from being sent if the information has not been entered.
Sometimes, however, there are forms that need to be printed for best use, such as employment forms for job applicants. Construction Trades Press Publisher Johnny Hamilton, whose Pipefitters.com generated nearly six figures in 2000, offers hard-to-find books and tools for pipefitters online. Because his customers often work on busy construction projects, Hamilton has a downloadable Adobe PDF order form on the site in addition to a secure, interactive form for online orders. "We often gets these forms, filled out by a project boss or with multiple orders," says his business partner and wife, Margaret. Hamilton produces the PDF document from a simple word-processor document.
Pixels over print
Publisher Bob Adjemian features more than 400 titles on Vedanta Press' Web site [www.vedanta.com], yet he still mails a paper catalog to customers around the globe. Taking advantage of the global nature of the Internet, his press now saves money by omitting those books that have modest but steady sales. from the printed catalog The printed catalog encourages customers to go to the site for the company's complete list of titles, especially those no longer in the printed catalog. Adjemian has been able to cut his printing and postage costs significantly because posting the books online required just a one-time investment of time and money, while the catalogs incur recurring costs and resources for design, layout, printing and postage.
One of the best ways to save money online is through effective use of e-mail. Not only is e-mail the most common tool associated with the Internet, but a January 2000 survey by card company American Greetings indicated that 60 percent of respondents preferred e-mail to paper mail for communication, and 34 percent preferred e-mail to the telephone. E-mail is popular because it's free, it's immediate and it puts information into writing, making it preservable and copyable, and it can be relayed and read at the convenience of senders and recipients.
While e-mail is superior for shorter documents, long documents such as manuscripts, databases and large images can also be sent electronically. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is usually the method of choice for distributing large files. FTP is used by many companies to download and upload pages that require editing and changes, but it can also be used to place materials on the Web for transfer to collaborators or customers. A user can download specific materials by going to a specific Web address that need not be linked anywhere. FTP programs such as CuteFTP and WinFTP for Windows or Fetch for Mac are generally priced around $40 per copy.
Business at warp speed
The advent of the Web has all but abolished long days spent at the local library doing laborious research. The medium allows users to conduct focused research in a shorter amount of time. Kurt Wright of CPM Publishing [www.clearpurpose.com] took full advantage of this when researching markets for his book Breaking the Rules. He believed that his book was applicable to business schools, so he contacted 800 professors. Twenty percent of them requested review copies. Not only was the response rate high, Wright saved a considerable amount of money not having to pay for long distance.
The Web also makes it possible to conduct inexpensive focus groups and hone product offerings. Book marketing expert John Kremer got a fantastic marketing insight online when he was about to release the fifth edition of his popular 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. Kremer posted four cover designs at www.bookmarket.com, then asked the members of his publishing mail list to let him know which one they preferred. Of the two hundred publishers who replied, 90 percent selected a cover he had not intended to use. Doing similar research without the use of the Internet would have been costly in both time and dollars, perhaps making it prohibitive.
Practice makes perfect
To determine how a company can best save money online, first identify repetitive tasks that demand staff time and energy, as well as resources such as printing, copying and postage. Most business and organizations find that as much as 80 percent of time is spent repeating the same task, whether it's giving directions, faxing or mailing materials or writing rejections.
Once the tasks have been identified, brainstorm as to how best to present them online. Some forms, for instance, are best suited to an interactive format, while others are best suited to a printable format. When in doubt as to what format to use, ask customers. Conducting an interactive survey online is a simple method to receive input.
One of best advantages of the Web is its dynamic nature. A company can constantly tweak offerings to better serve itself and its customers—without waiting for the next printing. So, the next time a task is committed for the umpteenth time, think about how it could be done just once more, online and save.
-Mary Westheimer is CEO of BookZone [www.bookzone.com], the largest publishing community on the Internet. BookZone has helped 3,500 publishing professionals with web site hosting, development and promotion services. A former freelance writer, Westheimer has written for Publishers Weekly, USA Today and Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. You can contact her at email@example.com