When Adrienne Brown, founder of the online business Adrienne's Sassy Gourmet in Pittsburgh, turned to Google's "Pennsylvania Get Your Business Online" event Tuesday, her product already had its own website and could be found in six local stores.
But with a domain name like ASassyGourmet.com, Intuit advisor Marvin Augustin warned that potential customers from around the world might bypass her site in favor of one with a name that promotes the most important feature: the sauce itself.
"Does her domain name indicate what she does? Sort of," he told a room full of business owners. He went on to encourage all guests to consider easy-to-search domain names that clearly represent the business' products and services, regardless of what they had already put online.
The free consultation was part of the national Get Your Business Online initiative, a two-day event full of free services sponsored by search engine giant Google and business software provider Intuit for small-business owners.
The initiative is meant to connect Google and Intuit employees with small business owners in various cities so they can provide step-by-step guidance for building a free website using Intuit's Sitebuilder Plus service. In addition to providing the site free of charge, the program gives business owners a free domain name, free Web hosting for one year and free online tools and training to customize the site's functions and increase its reach to potential customers.
Google has informally helped small businesses in 23 countries get online over the past few years and decided to bring the initiative to America last year. So far, approximately 150,000 businesses in more than 15 cities across the nation have taken part in the program, which will eventually reach cities in every state.
Tuesday's event at J. Verno Studios on the South Side drew more than 30 business owners for an early-morning "How to Get Online" workshop.
After hearing about successful programs in other states, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., sent a letter in November to Google CEO Eric Schmidt requesting the company bring the initiative to the region.
Noting that only 56 percent of the state's local businesses have an online presence, Google Pittsburgh engineering director Kamal Nigam said the event is designed to demystify the process for business owners uncomfortable with technology.
"A lot of business owners know about getting online but don't understand that it can be a very straightforward effort to get online," Mr. Nigam said. He said the workshops are designed so that guests are in and out after a few hours, with a working site and the knowledge needed to build it as they see fit.
Intuit product specialist Gary Kaber said the free website and hosting services will save businesses about $100 per year. While the freebies won't save thousands of dollars, they can eliminate the stress associated with the cost of paying for a service that many business owners aren't quite sure how to use, he said.
"It takes the fear of cost away and gives them the opportunity to learn," Mr. Kaber said.
In a time when more than 97 percent of consumers search the Internet for information about a product or business, a well-built website can also bring businesses an air of legitimacy that they may not enjoy otherwise.
Corry Riley, outreach business consultant for the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center, said the boost provided through a website can be exactly what's needed for a small business owner to transition to the big leagues. The Pennsylvania SBDC is one of several local sponsors for the event, including the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the Team Pennsylvania Foundation and several others.
"There are some companies in small towns that, by looking at their website, you would believe them to be a Fortune 500 company. As long as they operate their websites like a Fortune 500 company, it will do a strong job of making them look more legitimate," Mr. Riley said. The "Pennsylvania Get Your Business Online" event continues today from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at J. Verno Studios. Visit www.gybo.com/pennsylvania/index for more information.
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