Regions Central Virginia

Google website program offer draws crowd of small business owners

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About 800 Virginia companies plan to take up an offer to get a free website.

They are registered for a series of workshops running today and tomorrow at the CenterStage performing arts center in Richmond.

The workshops, offered for free by Google, the California-based search-engine giant, include creating a website, running a business online and advertising on the Web. About two dozen business organizations worked with Google in setting up the program, called “Virginia Get Your Business Online.”

Virginia is the seventh stop in Google’s nationwide effort to increase the number of small businesses with websites. The next workshops will be in Ohio.

More than 400 companies attended the first Virginia session on Tuesday in Manassas at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. 

Scott Levitan, director of small business engagement for Google, said a company survey found that 63 percent of small businesses don’t have websites even though 97 percent of Americans use the Web in searching for products and services. (Small businesses have a greater online presence in Virginia where 44 percent have websites.)

Levitan said Google wants to disprove the common perception that websites are difficult to set up, time consuming and expensive.

“Most businesses recognize that having a website is important,” he said. “They are just looking for a helping hand.”

Levitan said helping small businesses will benefit Google. “We succeed when the Web succeeds.”

Workshops repeating up to five times during the day were set up throughout CenterStage. A talk on Google tools, for example, was going in the 200-seat Gottwald Playhouse while one-on-one sessions on creating a website were taking place on the backstage of the Carpenter Theatre, a converted movie palace built in 1928.

Google plans to keep small teams of employees in Richmond and Northern Virginia to follow up on the small-business initiative.

Jami Fritz and Julie Ahsted came from Chesapeake to attend the workshops. They are employees of Conrad Brothers, a general contractor that has been in business since 1917.

They wanted to create a website to let more people know about the company, which has 17 employees.

Fritz said that much of the information they received was useful, but some was better suited to larger companies.

Ahsted found setting up a website to be easier than expected. “If I can do it, it’s got to be easy,” she said with a laugh.


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