Depending upon the type of solo business you operate, and the needs that your business has to communicate with the “outside” world, you may want to consider setting up a private area on your company site.
I’m not talking about creating a forum, chat room, or discussion board as is commonly done among niche community web sites.
I’m not talking about a private membership subscription site either.
In both these models, your web site is open to the public and you attempt to recruit members (paying or otherwise) that have to identify themselves before entering by submitting a user name and password.
The idea here is to control access to only those whom you target.
You want to know information about every one of your clients (members) so that you can target them for niche advertising, specialty products, or services that will generate an income for your business.
A private area web site refers to a site that has a “locked” section or specially controlled access area that you limit to special support vendors, partners, and suppliers.
The idea is to give these support personnel a way to communicate and transact business with you online, right at your web site; but at the same time, keep customers or the public visitors coming to your site locked out.
The private area can be reserved for anyone you want, but typically would be set up for sharing information with your business partners about your business operation, announcements, policies, financial terms, exact product specs, and anything else you don’t want to share on your public web site but want your business support partners to see.
Having such a private area is almost like having an “extra” Internet site that is not a part of your main company site.
These “extranets” as they are sometimes called, can serve to offer convenience and streamlining to your suppliers allowing them to more easily conduct business with you.
Depending upon the solution chosen, you may be able to offer your partners document sharing, project development sharing, calendaring opportunities, online contracts, sales activity and commission tracking, inventory tracking, and other related management functions.
This strategy doesn’t make sense for every business, so don’t run out and implement this option based solely on the idea that you’ve got to have the latest technologies and comprehensive solutions in your business to be viewed as being real and legitimate.
You may have no reason whatsoever to employ an extranet. Especially if you don’t have a business model that involves work groups, vendors, partners, or suppliers.
But if you run some type of B2B (business to business) operation, you would do well to at least consider how such a private area web site could automate and simplify contact with your partners.
Most often this service is offered as an ASP (application service provider) and is hosted on a remote web server rather than on your business server.
There are literally hundreds of such applications being advertised online that you might choose from.
Most will cost you around $30-60 per month for a small business set-up; however, large companies will pay several thousand dollars a month for a robust hosted solution.
I have also seen a few free applications online if you don’t mind some “in your face” advertising on your net suite.
Realize too that security of your business database and records is of critical importance.
Make sure the ASP solution backs up its servers every night to avoid potential catastrophic breakdowns of your business.
This solution is not for everyone . . . but it can be a great added feature for some businesses.
To your online business success,