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Lesson Three -
Ecommerce Cooperatives and Virtual Incubators

Lesson Goals

  • To Identify the Best Strategies to Create Your First Ecommerce Web Site
  • To Identify Strategies for Collaborative Marketing and Manufacturing
  • To Review Models of Ecommerce Cooperatives for Local Replication
  • To Identify the Strategies Behind Virtual Incubator Models

Creating Your First Ecommerce Web Site

Creating a free Ecommerce web site is easy at any of the sites listed in this lesson. Consider creating one just to see what you can learn from the experience. Note that some free sites offer you shopping cart features for a small fee as an easy way to list multiple products for sale and to receive automated orders online. Some offer free merchant accounts that allow you to receive credit card orders via the Internet for a small fee for each transaction. Most such sites include tutorials on maintaining an Ecommerce site.

It is easy to create a simple Ecommerce web site, but realizing a steady stream of customers may not be as easy. On the other hand, you'll find many stories where the big problem has been more orders than the entrepreneur can handle! Being ready to meet large orders is a serious, if happy, problem. For example, if your new quilting web site receives an order for 500 quilts, you'll need to know with whom you can collaborate to meet this order. Collaborative manufacturing networks are a natural phenomena due to the ease of collaboration that the Internet provides.

A web site is not something you just create and wait until the money comes rolling in. A web site is something you will continually be maintaining and developing. You will pay attention to adding collaborative services for your potential customers and as your competition becomes more innovative, you'll borrow these innovations and add them to your web site. Successful web sites are dynamic, not static. A successful web site must show signs of life and present a reason to return to the site again and again to see what is new and exciting.

If you learn web-authoring skills and how to upload web pages to your own web site through your Internet service provider you're likely to have more flexibility improving your own site. This lesson offers a tutorial on how to create your first web site, on your own. On the other hand, getting started by using the free services means you don't need web-authoring skills or software and you don't have to know how to upload web pages. A strategic first step is to become familiar with what is offered by free Ecommerce site services in order to review the benefits, and limitations, of these free offerings.

How Will People Find Your Ecommerce Web Site?

When you create your own Ecommerce web page, your first concern will be - how will people find it? You'll find it is inexpensive to register your own web domain as I have done, for example, with my site  http://lone-eagles.com at http://choicenames.com. Having your own domain name makes you look just that much more professional. Perception is very important in the competitive online marketplace.

By posting your web page on a web mall or online Ecommerce cooperative, you'll benefit from the fact that being part of a marketing cooperative solves the marketing problem for you, at least in part. You'll want to get as many web sites as possible - which sell similar products to yours - to post links to your site in exchange for you including on your web page a link to their sites. This is called "sector clustering" and "coopetition."

There are services that claim to be able to help people better find your site through search engines. But be wary - many are more expensive than the value they offer. There are many ways your site can include HTML code so that search engines will present your site nearer the top of the search results listing depending on what keywords were used for the search. You can learn about metatags and how to improve your ranking via search engines at http://www.searchenginewatch.com.

In the hands-on activities for this lesson you'll explore a number of cooperative marketing models.  The more you explore, the more different ideas you'll find regarding the evolving art of cooperative marketing and the ease of creating your first Ecommerce web site using existing services. Note that easy tutorials on every aspect of the process for online marketing and maintaining a successful Ecommerce web site are found at nearly every site. Knowing that these tutorials exist, strategically practice looking for them and other available resources. 

Because most people are new to Ecommerce, simple instructions are essential for site providers to be successful promoting their services to those new to the Internet. For cooperative Ecommerce sites to survive they often have to be user-friendly and provide easy step-by-step instructions. As a self-directed learner, your strategy will be to watch for and take advantage of the most user-friendly learning resources and services.

Ecommerce Collaboration and Community Networking Trends

The more Ecommerce cooperatives and virtual incubator sites you visit, the more critical you'll become. At first, everything will look exciting, but with more experience you'll find certain sites leave you feeling something is lacking. Many sites have not changed their design in years, and while they might look pretty on the outside, not much energy has gone into them and very little is happening. The Native American site in the hands-on section of this lesson has high visual interest, and after carefully reviewing this site, you'll note that most other sites look dull by comparison. You'll begin to see that the better sites are focusing on adding more collaborative services and will be trying hard to build a community among their customers. This is a big part of Ebay - building communities of interest, and as a strategy pay attention to what draws interest among the sites visited.

How a community network might relate to stimulating the local market for your Ecommerce web page should be of interest to you. In the past, Ecommerce enterprises focused on making money and community networks focused on providing for the social good, and they appeared to have little in common. But today the trends are toward merging the social and economic value that networking makes possible. Ecommerce sites seek to build communities, and community networks are focusing on economic development.

Have you seen that ad on TV: "More than just a credit card - it is a relationship!" Or Gateway.com's ad  "You've got a friend in the business!" You'll soon see a flurry of similar ads; watch for them.

In the hands-on activities below you'll review multiple cooperative and incubator models. A variety of services can provide the technical expertise to create your own cooperative or incubator, but costs and features vary widely. Take the time for comparative shopping!

Hands-on Activities

    1. Explore the following cooperatives and resources:

A basic Ecommerce Mall model for businesses.

Women's Rural Economic Network
Collectively Making the Ordinary Extraordinary.
A wonderful model involving over 500 rural women entrepreneurs! Note how effectively they provide online support services and links to collected resources.

Women's Economic Self-sufficiency Team (WESST) Artisans, Taos, NM
http://www.wesstartisans.com/   Rural women artists' web sites. Recently featured as a case study of success.

Food Ventures Web Site
A successful food products rural cooperative from Appalachia. Note their wide range of support services, collected resources, and grant-funded programs.

Central Oregon Regional Network
This is an example of a regional community economic development web site. Note the wide range of collected resources. Look to see if this site reflects widespread citizen involvement.

La Plaza Telecommunity
The first web-based rural community network and home of many outstanding innovations. Their main source of revenue is their role as Internet Service Provider. Note their wireless Internet services. Located in Taos, New Mexico.

Native American Artist's Web Sites
Free Ecommerce sites for Native American artists. A great example of how easy it can be to get an Ecommerce site up and going. This would be a model to consider replicating in your community! The Indian Arts and Crafts Association is a co-sponsor. http://www.iaca.com 

Eastern Idaho Economic Development
Currently being redesigned, this regional economic development initiative primarily serves to promote the region by attracting new businesses.

Here's a business to help communities generate multiple web sites based on templates. Many such services exist. Another would be http://www.mediaspangroup.com.

Based in Boise, Idaho, this company helps communities create web sites showcasing local Ecommerce businesses and much more.

Americans Communicating Electronically
A USDA Economic and Development Systems initiative. Links to federal programs, funding, 4H youth programs, and related diverse resources from USDA. Note the link to the E-team entrepreneurship curriculum and the link to http://www.workers.gov

Free Ebusiness sites and training for youth!

EBusiness for Teens
A Thinkquest entry from Jamaica with lots of Ebusiness resources for teens!

      2. Explore the virtual incubators below and then search for more using the following search commands.
          Create your own hotlist of incubators and web cooperatives.

Go to any search engine and enter "virtual incubator" or "ecommerce incubator" or "ecommerce training" or "web malls" and other original combinations, and include the quotes! Recommended search engines are http://google.comhttp://dogpile.com (searches many search engines at once, automatically) and  http://aj.com (allows typing in a question for automatic searches.)    Explore and experiment.

Idaho Virtual Incubator
Select the link to businesses to see Ecommerce examples. Other Idaho Economic Development resources and more are on their "Additional Resources" listing at http://www.idahovirtualincubator.org/links/ Follow the links to the Idaho Small Business Development Center, and their other links listing. Additional Idaho resources are provided by the State Department of Commerce and others.

Wisconsin virtual incubator
Take the tour to see what you can learn.

       3. Explore the following sites and their related features and services such as free Ecommerce web sites for 30 days.

Recognize the advantages of having an Ecommerce site at a location shared with many other Ecommerce sites. Compare the free web site offerings of six different sources to understand the similarities and differences between systems.

Very easy and inexpensive web hosting options for personal and business web pages.

Free Ecommerce sites for 30 days, plus many services for creating your own
E-business! They work hard to make their services easy for beginners.

Seems a bit more advanced. Free Ecommerce merchant accounts and much more for Ebusiness startups!

Amazon.com's zshops
The largest e-mall which you can join. Explore to see how others are selling online.
Free trial Ecommerce sites and a Merchant's Resource Center! Select zstores from the left hand menu. Auctions also available. An example of web mall where your Ecommerce page will be listed with many others. A great place to see the newest trends in online stores and Ecommerce.

Free Ecommerce sites for two weeks, at http://store.yahoo.com/ and then you pay. Compare with the above offerings. An example of web mall where your Ecommerce page will be listed with many others. Review their resources on Ecommerce. Auctions available here, too. A great place to see the newest trends in online stores and Ecommerce.

Explore other free web page services and more
http://lone-eagles.com/webdev.htm and http://lone-eagles.com/entrelinks.htm


Recommended Readings

Read each article once without clicking on the included supporting web addresses. Then return to explore those links that interest you.

Read the short Chapter One - "What is a Community Network?"
http://lone-eagles.com/chap1.htm and

Read Chapter Six - "Rural Community E-Business Strategies, and Training Resources" http://lone-eagles.com/chap6.htm  
From: The Good Neighbor's Guide to Community Networking

Eleven chapters, including a bibliography of community networking guides.


Submissions Required for the Ecommerce and Telework Certification

      1. Email your instructor a one page write-up on the time you spent on this lesson
          and which specific strategies you're prepared to adopt. Reference the best specific
          resources you reviewed during this lesson with emphasis on your particular interests.
         Verify you've completed all activities and readings presented in this lesson.

          Share with your instructor a self-assessment of your skills related to this lesson and
          which skills you plan on developing further. Use the following Subject line in your
          message "Submission for Lesson Three"

      2. Complete the Suggested Hands-on Learning Opportunities at
          Level Two - Creating Your Own Web Pages (The Power of Self-Publishing Globally)

          http://lone-eagles.com/ecommerce-web.htm Learn the basics of Web Self-Publishing Skills,
          creating and posting web pages with text, images, and hyperlinks.


Optional Skillbuilders

  1. List the features and costs of three or more sites offering Ecommerce web pages. Create quick web pages at several sites offering free trial web pages to evaluate their ease-of-use.

  2. Read the following paper on creating community network incubators http://lone-eagles.com/incubat.htm   List the costs and features offered by several of the companies offering community web site building services (yourtown.net, mediaspangroup.com and mystateusa.com).

  3. Review and compare the LaPlaza community network, the Central Oregon Regional Community network, and the East Idaho Regional Economic Development site and post your thoughts to the listserv.

  4. Review the many free web services offering schools and communities robust community networking services. See the School and Community Internet Collaboration Services section of the web-building resources master listing at http://lone-eagles.com/webdev.htm.