James Barnes, Pilcher, Dr. Cynthia F., Dixon, Glen, Hatch, Dora Ann, Van Osdell, Mary Ann | 11/10/2008 11:38:32 PM
With an ever-changing “Main Street” in America, the LSU AgCenter is offering e-business classes in North Louisiana to help businesses grow through the Internet.
The LSU AgCenter, Southern University Ag Center and Louisiana Economic Development have joined in a pilot project to help participants learn to use the Internet as a business research tool to find new markets and check out the competition.
“E-Business – Build or Buy?” has been designed to help entrepreneurs build their own Web sites or work with a Web developer,” said Dr. James Barnes, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Delta Rural Development Center in Oak Grove, where the first two-day class was held Sept. 23 and Sept. 30.
The second class was conducted in Ruston Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.
The class is most appealing to people who are owners of existing retail and service businesses, people wanting to start an Internet business, people operating businesses from their homes, retired people seeking new challenges and people considering alternative employment, Barnes said.
“E-business is more than selling online; it's using online resources and tools to do business better – more efficiently and productively,” said Dora Ann Hatch, LSU AgCenter community rural development agent. “It's about making and saving money online.
“Small businesses successfully use the Internet in many ways to enhance, or even start, their businesses,” she added. “Sixty percent of small businesses have Web sites.”
Hatch said 75 percent of Americans use the Internet – and 50 percent with a broadband connection.
Hatch said Web sites are used to reach distant markets; offer innovative products and services; build credibility, brand recognition and a returning customer base; cut operating costs; and leverage brick-and-mortar business with Internet business.
Don Terry, an economic and community developer with Entergy, said the classes teach about opportunities for entrepreneurs to market their product through the Internet to a worldwide audience to reduce overhead costs and give the seller instant visibility without the cost of advertising.
“This is the format of the future,” Terry said. “Small town retail is dead. We’ll never have Main Street like we had before.
“This gives me a tool to meet with customers trying to get into business,” he added.
Dr. Cynthia Pilcher, LSU AgCenter community economic development agent, cautioned attendees to develop a site that doesn’t impress only themselves. Much of the 12 hours in the class involved participants critiquing Web sites and suggesting things they liked as well as the things that would prevent them from staying on a site.
For instance, some of the items the 20 participants in Ruston liked on the Ben and Jerry’s site were information for all ages, games, a company history and where to buy the ice cream.
“Get lots of folks to look at your site,” Pilcher said. Web sites should be informative, fast and easy to navigate, fresh and tidy, current and interesting, she said.
Pilcher said no photographs are better than poor-quality pictures.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” she said.
Glenn Dixon, LSU AgCenter agent, explained how blogs, “a soapbox of sorts,” can support, enhance and differentiate a business.
“They establish you as an authority,” Dixon said. “They drive traffic to your Web site, believe it or not. If your business is picked up in someone’s blog, it can drive business to your site.”
Dixon said blogs can be used as a marketing tool, and best of all, they are “so inexpensive that they’re free.”
“Blogs can be used to show someone how to use a particular product or show the benefits of a particular service,” Dixon said.
One class graduate, Vikkie Lafollette of Winnfield, already has set up a blog for the Dugdemona Soil and Water Conservation District to inform educators about the district and its events. Her blog identifies educational materials available to school teachers and serves as a message board.
Lafollette also invited the instructors to speak on blogging at a 2009 regional meeting of conservation employees, district supervisors and other conservation-related partners from Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.
Laura Ramsaur, another participant, said she gained more knowledge about the different Web sites the class explored and will revisit them. She wants to set up a Web site to show clients custom window fashions.
The class learned how to compare prices for domain names, hosting, support and maintenance and sales collection. “Pay attention to terms and conditions,” Barnes said.
He said a spreadsheet comparing platforms for storefront capacity attributes and cost structures will be provided to all class participants next year.
Other topics covered included Really Simple Syndication, YouTube, social networking and podcasts. Dixon said 22 million adults have iPods.
“It’s a virtual world out there,” he said.
“We like partnering with different organizations,” said Scott Terry, president of the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, who welcomed the group to the chamber building for the October sessions. “I hope you start a business and become a member of the Chamber of Commerce.”
Remaining classes are in New Roads at the Point Coupee Parish Library, 201 Claiborne St., Nov. 12-13; and Winnsboro at the LSU AgCenter Scott Research, Education and Extension Center, 212 Macon Ridge Road, Dec. 2 and Dec. 9.
Dr. James Barnes at (318) 428-3571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dora Ann Hatch at (318) 927-9654 or email@example.com
Dr. Cynthia Pilcher at (318) 435-7551 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Glenn Dixon at (318) 559-0060 or email@example.com
Mary Ann Van Osdell at (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104, or firstname.lastname@example.org