Pets win prizes 

Neil McIntosh
Thursday March 28, 2002
The Guardian 

Internet use might be booming among Britain's smallest businesses, but the fear that even the simplest business website should still cost hundreds, maybe even thousands, of pounds remains.In fact, as long as you are willing to devote a little time to learning how the internet works, it has never been easier - or cheaper - to create your own web presence. From the domain name and webspace to equipment and software, costs have slumped, and new devices and online services have appeared to remove some of the most tedious parts of creating and maintaining a website.
Cumbrian artist Sally Logue is a small business owner who has learnt to do everything, so successfully that her website www.portraits4pets.com now generates 80% of her business. Yet four years ago, Sally could not use a computer. Her first IT training was in a rural computer bus which parked in a village near her home, followed up by two short courses - including one in basic website design - at a local college. Using her new-found knowledge she set up a simple website using nothing more than Netscape Composer - a free website creation tool - and a cut-down copy of Photoshop, which came free with her scanner. Her first internet order rolled in, from Alaska. But last summer Logue was fearing the worst. Her animal portrait business had been built up slowly, mainly through local advertising and stands at shows; the website, although online since 1999, still accounted for only a small part of her turnover. So when foot and mouth struck the area, Logue, like so many in Cumbria, was hit hard.The final blow came when the show where she won most of her orders was cancelled. It was then she decided to turn to the internet. "A Business Link adviser came to see me and offered a marketing grant to help push my website," she says. That grant paid for new equipment and some advertsing, the temporary slump in orders gave her time to set about promoting her site online. "I spent a lot of time submitting the site to search engines, setting up links to other websites,  joining relevant webrings and top sites lists, all helping to raise the profile of the site."
The publicity drive was an unqualified success. By becoming involved in online communities that might appeal to people who want animal portraits, Logue has gained new customers around the world. "I get quite a few orders from the US. I don't know if the exchange rate is particularly good at the moment, but I'm no longer surprised when I get orders from there." Sally Logue is now also taking payment online, using the PayPal system, which has further boosted the number of US orders, and made processing them much easier. "I used to insist on payments in pounds, which complicated things no end: they got charged, and I got charged," she says. "But now I use the PayPal payment system: US customers pay me in dollars, so I have prices displayed in dollars on the website too."I don't take payment until I've done the work: I display a photograph of the portrait on the internet first, and I think that gives them a guarantee it's a good likeness."
The DIY approach has saved Logue hundreds of pounds, and means that she has far more control over her website. She updates it regularly, using it to post digital photographs of her portraits for her clients' approval before she packages the artwork up and sends it off. All this is done using a digital camera, which Logue says has sped things up. "Without that, I wouldn't be able to operate in the same way," she says. "I can photograph a drawing, put it on the internet, and in some cases have payment, all the same day."But the one big tip she would pass on to others considering creating their own web presence is: keep it simple."I tested the site on existing customers and friends before it went live. It turned out to be a good idea to find out what they thought. It has had all sorts of gimmicks in the past, such as animated dogs running across the page, which have been taken off to speed things up. All pictures have been optimised for the web making them fast loading. 
"The problem with some websites is that you have to click several times before getting the information you want. Customers want to see the product, and get the information they require as quickly as possible, not go round in circles."