"Starting an Online Business for Dummies," Greg Holden

Pros: Lots of practical advice
Cons: Some not-so-useful advice
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 10/22/2001


“Webmastering for Dummies” was aimed at medium-to-large businesses that already know about business, and now want to develop a web presence. “Starting an Online Business for Dummies” (SaOBfD) is aimed at individuals (or very small groups) who want to take advantage of the web to start their own businesses, but know nothing about business. As such, they’re complementary books. SaOBfD is aimed at business novices like myself. It doesn’t go into huge amounts of depth, but it covers the basics, gives you some idea of the deeper issues involved, and gives you plenty of places to look for more information.

Obviously some information goes out of date quickly. For instance, the material on buying the right computer for your business is probably already out of date with respect to how much RAM you’ll need. However, it at least gives you an idea of the important issues involved. Some of the web sites referenced will have changed or gone under by now, but at least the author doesn’t usually spend pages and pages on the merits of a single web site, or on by-now-out-of-date instructions for using a web site or program (usually).

Networking and Marketing

There’s great information in here on marketing and networking. The author, Greg Holden, is an advocate of personal networking as a means of marketing. His advice is good, too – hang around on newsgroups and lists relevant to your subject, and just be useful, with your company’s slogan and web address discreetly in your signature. I think he does a great job of delineating the difference between this sort of networking and the nastier tendency of some people to spam mailing lists and newsgroups.

There’s some good sound psychological advice, such as the need to believe in your business and product, and the need to believe that you’ll succeed. There’s information on holding contests to attract attention, including legal information. Mr. Holden is also a strong believer in the attracting power of free stuff – even if the free stuff is just useful information and help that you post on your web site. There are cost-effective do-it-yourself advertising techniques in here, and suggestions for finding business information on line, including a “directory” of useful web sites and services toward the back of the book.

Business Issues

Mr. Holden also gives you an idea of the basic business issues you need to handle. There’s a brief overview of tax issues, the different sorts of companies (sole proprietorship, partnership, etc.), and even the sorts of licenses and permits you might need to obtain. He reminds you to check with your town clerk, chamber of commerce, and zoning board to be sure you have all your permits in order.

There’s material on merchant accounts, accounting methods and software, security issues, internationalization issues, doing business with other countries, and more. There’s information on getting trademark searches done, and registering your trademark, as well as registering the copyright of your content.

The information in this book may not be as densely packed and overwhelmingly useful as that in “Webmastering for Dummies,” but it’s a heck of a lot better than that in “Building a Web Site for Dummies.” Only a couple of the chapters have by now obsolete step-by-step instructions for certain web site services or software. Most of the information is much more generally useful. About the only thing that I haven’t found that I really wished for is a good listing of in what order you need to do what to be able to get things lined up. (Trademark first, or business licenses? Merchant accounts, or… Oh, you get the idea. A simple checklist somewhere might be nice.)

There’s also some simple, perhaps obvious, yet often-overlooked information: things like proofreading your material before you put it online; keeping your web pages simple; getting back to people who email you right away. This is handy material, and if you’re looking to start a business on the web I highly recommend getting the most recent edition of this book. It also comes with a CD-Rom of demo versions of various pieces of business-relevant software, such as accounting packages.

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