Making the ‘Net an Asset to Your Shop

by WOHe

Nowadays, everywhere you go, there’s all of this talk about the
Internet, Web sites, the New Economy

What you really want to do, though, is concentrate on your
woodworking, get the projects through the shop and collect your
money. Can all of this computer stuff really make a
difference?’

It sure can. If the Internet is not already prompting changes in
your shop, it will down the road, and those days may be closer than
you think. The Internet can help you do things differently both
internally (how you operate your shop) and externally (how you deal
with the outside world). So if you aren’t online yet, you should
be!

Online avenues
While this phrase has been used a lot, the Internet is like a huge
system of connecting roadways some wide and rapid, some narrower
and slower.

Our shop has discovered and is using the Web it’s a complex and
very fast way of sending, receiving and finding information. You
want sources for bird’s eye maple? Go online. Need lighting?
Contact the manufacturer’s Web site and check it out there. Want to
communicate with the architect regarding that ceiling scribe detail
in the 4th floor lunch room?

Send her a polite e-mail!

Many shops are finding that the Internet really can help with
finding information. The ever-changing world of appliances is one
example many manufacturers now have their own sites, listing
updated and detailed cut-outs along with installation information
and often with good quality drawings too. Our shop has located
oddball hardware, and even sometimes instructions on how to use it.
You can source a wide variety of materials such as veneer and solid
woods and some suppliers are beginning to use their sites to list
their inventories, which can be very useful.

For us, the Internet is fast becoming our own, internal Yellow
Pages a place where we can locate resources; and we can easily
search nationwide, if we need to.

Lots of shops are using e-mail as a way of communicating, both
internally and externally.

Bigger companies are finding that putting out a message to
employees through the computer is a fast and easy way to get to
everyone. For a smaller shop, using e-mail to communicate with
clients is faster than the mail, yet still a little more formal
than the telephone or voice-mail.

A few shops are beginning to send and receive drawings details
and information via e-mail. This can be cumbersome, frustrating and
time-consuming if you don’t have the right software in place, so
before you start doing it, you may want to experiment a little. The
design community is ahead of us here, and we’ll be seeing more of
this in the future.

Using the Web to receive software upgrades is also something
that’s gaining use. If you’re using or contemplating using any kind
of cutlisting programs perhaps to help you through the grind of
layout and detailing then being hooked up to the Internet is only a
matter of time.

Web site creation
You may want to think about creating a Web site for your shop. This
can be basic and inexpensive if you keep it simple, and it can be a
great resource for your potential clients.
Your site should be an unthreatening place for those clients. It
can be an easy way for customers to contact you without having to
deal with a salesperson or a phone call. They can go online and see
who you are and what you do and they don’t have to be in that
sometimes uncomfortable showroom situation to check you out. At our
shop, we’ve had people go online and hook into our site while
they’re talking on the phone to us!

You can even put your Web site together yourself, since there is
more and more software out there to help you create a site. And if
you want to learn more about the how-to details, you can take a
class in Web site design perhaps even an on-line class.

It helps if you’re computer savvy, but if you find all this
technology intimidating, another option is to hire someone to
create a Web site for you. Supply them with some information about
who you are and what you do, maybe some photos of your work shoot
it professionally if you can and let them go to work.’

If you see a site that you like, contact the person who put it
together the “Webmaster,” as this person is often called. The
Webmaster’s name is usually posted somewhere on one of the site’s
pages. Best of all, this person doesn’t need to be local, since the
work can be done and downloaded from the Webmaster’s computer, from
anywhere in the country.

Your Web site can function just like a brochure. You can put
information in there about your products, your shop and your staff;
if you make it simple and easy to navigate, your potential clients
will feel good about wanting to work with you.

You may also want to add pages that are informative new trends
in color, interesting facts about particular veneers, ecology or
“green” issues to give your sight “added value.”

Unlike a printed brochure, you can change and update your own
Web site at any time. If you’re smart and careful when you’re
setting things up, you use a digital camera and insert photos of
work in progress whenever you want. You may want to show off the
details of that fancy, beaded inset kitchen as you’re building it,
even before it goes to the paint shop!

Watch out
Finally, a couple of words of warning. Your Web site can be a place
that attracts both shoppers and tire-kickers just like the Yellow
Pages. Some shops want that; that’s how they get their work. Others
thrive on referral and repeat work and in this case, dealing with
shoppers is time that might be better spent.

Providing on-line access for your employees can have its
problems, too. It’s a big temptation for some people to get onto
the Internet and go to non-work-related areas it’s easy to be
sucked into browsing sites that are interesting. Like surfing TV
channels, before you know it, half an hour’s gone by. And like the
telephone, it can be misused as a personal communication device.
You may want to set up some clear ground rules before giving your
staff unlimited Internet connections.

Next Column: Finding New Markets for Your Work

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