Before you invest a whole lot of effort into setting up your own website, check out what online resources are available that may meet your goals.

Here are some suggestions.

For businesses with brick and mortar locations

If you have a local business, a restaurant, for example, you may not be looking for wide geographical marketing coverage, unless your trade is mostly from tourists or other travelers. If your clientele is local, you might better spend your website building budget on getting a listing on a yellow pages site such as Yahoo or Local.com that break listings down by location. A variant on this are social sites such as Yelp, which give you a free listing and then let people review your business online.

Here are three totally free suggestions:

  1. Add your business to Google Maps. You get to add details about your business to your listing, then when someone searches for — say — furniture in Pleasantville NY, your business will show up.
  2. Create a “fan page” on Facebook
    You first have to sign up to be a member of Facebook. Once you create your page, get all your friends and relatives to “like” it. If they’re on Facebook, just send them the address of your page. They’ll know what to do.
  3. Sign up for a basic listing at Best of the Web, a local find-a-good-local-merchant website.

Email only

Did you know that you can have your own email address without having a website? If all you want is to be able to write email from [email protected], try a GoDaddy email only account. 1&1 also offers E-mail Solutions for just a few dollars.

Email Marketing

Another choice, if your business is local in scope and you want to communicate only with your local customers or club members, is an electronic Newsletter. An electronic newsletter is an email, usually formatted, which is sent out periodically to a list of people who’ve subscribed to it. It’s a good way to communicate to people if you’ve got new things to say frequently, and you know who you want to say them to.

So-called opt-in email marketing tools like Constant Contact or iContact or StreamSend are easy to use and allow you to communicate frequently with your base. Email marketing is also inexpensive — just a few dollars a month to send a couple of thousand attractively formatted emails. They also know the rules to prevent you from inadvertently breaking spamming laws, while still getting your mail into people’s mailboxes. Most mailing services offer a free trial.

Email marketing is also good for reminding people you’re there, sending news of weekly specials, or sending out notices of sales or new products.

Professional Directories

If you’re a professional, you might get more exposure for your practice by paying for a listing on a site that presents itself as a “resource” for members of your profession. For example, a lawyer may get more referrals from a page on Lawyers.com than her own website. Even though there are other lawyers listed there, the site has already invested a great deal of time, effort and money in attracting lots of visitors. In other words, a small piece of a very large pie may be larger than a very small pie you bake yourself.

Social Sites

Sites like Yelp let you post reviews of local businesses. Get a friend or customer to post one for you. It’s also worth it to pay a friend’s (small) registration fee to get them onto angieslist.com, a subscribers-only site that’s well marketed and features reviews of local merchants and service providers.

Viewpoints is another review site, more focused on products, so if you have a great new widget, get it listed there.

 

Podcasting

How cool is this? You can broadcast your own online radio show! There are free and paid versions, so you can give it a try before you become the next John Tesh. BlogTalkRadio allows anyone, anywhere to host a live, Internet Talk Radio show, with only a telephone and a computer. Lets you link thru Facebook and Twitter.

What will they think of next?

 

Online Services

 

Online invoicing

If you don’t need to market online but would like to simplify your invoicing process, try Blinksale.. For as little as $6 a month, you can send and track formatted invoices online.

Online scheduling

If you’re a dentist or a hairstylist, perhaps all you need is Online Appointment Scheduling from a company such as Schedulicity.

Online meetings

ClickMeeting lets your coworkers or fellow committee members “meet” on the web. You can try it for free.

 

“Wiki” Sites: Sharing knowledge

Wiki’s are sites that anyone can edit. The biggest is Wikipedia, which is an encyclopedia. If you want to promote a town or an organization, or you want to share your expertise on a subject, you simply go to Wikipedia.org, find the appropriate subject, click on “Edit” and start typing. If your entry is worthwhile, it will remain. WikiTravelis a listing of travel related businesses. If you own a restaurant or a B&B, just find your geographic location and enter your business for free. Archiplanet is a wiki about architecture; Architecture Week‘s directory lists architectural firms listed there.

Auctions & Ads

If you are interested in ecommerce, but want to sell just a few items, such as a couple of novelty t-shirts, you probably will find that EBay will meet your needs. (If you need help with Ebay you can send for a kit to help you get started.) You can also create a free basic online store  at freewebstore.

  Sharing photos

Film companies like Kodak Snapfish.com by HP want you to store your photos on their site because they’re hoping to sell you extra prints, coasters, calendars and so forth. These sites are a great deal. You’re not obligated to buy anything, and you get free online photo albums for your friends and relatives to view. Most let you put up slide shows as well as organized albums. A good choice for clubs and organizations or just showing slides of your latest trip to Samoa.

Alternatively, you can use Flickr, an easy way to upload your photos to the web and share them with the world.. An account is free.

  Sharing or backing up files

If you primarily want a web presence in order to have a way to send large files back and forth over the web, you may just want to acquire some FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software. There are free programs like FileZilla, but even the ones that cost money are pretty inexpensive. They do, however, require a slight learning curve.

For a simple online solution, try a company like Livedrive. They offer a huge amount of online storage, (these days called, fashionably, a “Cloud File Server”) accessible from PC or iPhone. They also offer a 30 day free trial with no credit card details required. You can upload files to your own section of their site, and share files easily and securely with others. They claim it’s easier to use than FTP, which is the way large files are traditionally shared. There’s also Egnyte.com Today!  which offers a 15 day free trial

Another use for online storage is to back up your important pc files.

An Intranet

Google has an interesting tool for sharing information internally, within a group or company. It’s called Google Sites. It’s free for small groups and requires no HTML skills.

For more sophisticated file sharing and online project management, there’s Huddle Collaboration. Huddle is an excellent tool for coordinating projects being worked on by a team in different physical locations.

Online and Offline PR

Perhaps you’re promoting an event, like a walk for a charity, or the opening of a new shop. Will you need the website after the event? Perhaps you’re better off concentrating your efforts on getting publicity in your local news outlets, both online and offline. Send press releases to your local news outlets and radio stations. Join local blogs. Look for online calendars. Ask your town to post your event on their website, newsletters, TV feed and bulletin boards. If you’re not a good writer, you can have a company like 24-7PressRelease.comwrite your press releases. You can have a whole campaign set up for you by a company like PR Web Direct. or PRWeb (not the same company), which will give you 10% off your first news release.