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Vista.com Offers Small Businesses Online Presence

When Vista.com President and CEO John Wall left his first start-up, Wall Data, the entrepreneur set out to address some of the problems small businesses experience when trying to establish an online presence.

The problem, according to Wall, was that consumer expectations were extremely high for online sites, and many small businesses simply could not realistically provide that experience.

"Fortune 500 companies and large Web companies are really setting consumer expectations for the online business experience," says Wall. "The days when some brochure wear would get the buyer logged on are gone."

In addition, small businesses face the challenge of managing and updating their sites with limited time and resources.

The question for Vista.com then was to figure out how to economically achieve a world-class online experience and in a manner that was conducive to the small business owner.

"In all the small business owners we've talked to, I've never had one that said I want to be my own Webmaster," exclaims the CEO. "That's not what they're about - they're about running their business."

The solution Wall and his Vista.com associates emerged with, was to build every small business a Web site, and then to let them pay to use and customize it.

Using an in-house technology, Vista.com automatically generates web pages in 86 small business categories, for all small businesses in a database.

Using an InfoUSA database of small businesses, this technology was used to create 176,000 Web pages in just under two hours in Washington State and 200,000 pages in Washington D.C. in two hours.

Businesses are allowed to preview their sites, which feature their names, addresses and other information available through the databases, by entering their phone number.vista.com. After viewing their site, they can opt to pay a monthly fee to customize their site and add a specific URL.

"The way we approach the small business owner is instead of coming here and building your web site, you come here, acquire an e-business, personalize it, and then go and manage it," says the CEO.

According to Wall there was a dire need for a shift in the way things were done, if small businesses were to achieve their goals online.

"It's a different approach than saying this is the way you run a big Web site and a big corporation, let me scale that down to a small business," says Wall.

This approach has worked very well for Tony Joyce, owner of local tavern Lucky 7. Joyce decided to establish an online presence before Vista.com opened its doors, but has since switched to Wall's service.

"The biggest feature from my perspective is that it's very easy to maintain it," says Joyce. "Up until Vista, I had to do all the work maintaining (the site). Vista came out with an approach which allowed me to have people who work for me that are not computer literate go in and maintain our site."

Wall feels that this ability to easily manage the site and its associated data without technical web knowledge is particularly important for small businesses, as well as the ability to provide a wide array of features usually associated with larger sites.

These include e-commerce features, in-site MapQuest and weather maps, search features, terms of use and community areas.

With Seattle and Washington small businesses on their way, Wall says to expect a nationwide rollout, with the creation of approximately 8.6 million small businesses Web sites this fall.