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Free tools help businesses get website

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Holley Price had been running her interior design business for more than a dozen years but hadn't launched a website and didn't think she could afford to have someone build a site for her.

That changed last March when she learned that Google was offering West Virginia small businesses free websites and Intuit was offering free website-builder tools. The program is called Get Your Business Online.

Price and an assistant attended a workshop in the Walker Theater at the Clay Center.

"We got the website set up within a week," she said. It is at www.holleypriceinteriors.com/.

Price found the website templates easy to use. She uploaded photos of her interior design work, wrote and uploaded a brief biography, and asked several clients to write referrals and then uploaded their comments. She estimates the entire process took "well less than 10 hours."

"It's a great tool," she said.

The website is a way to reconnect with clients who want to have more work done after seeing some of her new work online, she said. And if a client refers someone to her, the potential customer can go to the website to see some of her projects.

Price said three new clients have found her business since she launched the online presence.

"I would absolutely recommend this," she said.

Price said that after four or six months, a Google representative called, "asking how everything was going. They asked if I was having any trouble with the website. They said to get in touch with them if I needed anything."

The free website offer remains available. Additional information is posted at www.westvirginiagetonline.com.

After a free year, a website built with the program costs $7.99 a month.

Price said without hesitation that when her free year ends, she will keep her website and pay the fee.

Joe DeMike, head of small business advocacy at Google, said, "We have had — and continue to have — great success helping small businesses with this initiative."

Google spokeswoman Becca Ginsberg said hundreds of West Virginia small businesses have taken advantage of the free website offer.

"We are extremely pleased with the response we saw from West Virginia businesses and local partners," Ginsberg said. "The offer will remain for the foreseeable future."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., spearheaded the effort to bring the free website opportunity to West Virginia.

"Last year's event with Google was an extraordinary success," he said in a prepared statement. "More than 300 small business owners showed up, making it one of the highest turnouts Google has experienced at similar events it held across the country last year. That tells me there is a lot of strong demand by West Virginia businesses to establish an online presence and compete more strongly.

"It's no secret why this is so important," Rockefeller said. "More than 95 percent of employees in West Virginia — around 600,000 people — work for small businesses. If our small business sector grows, our state economy will flourish. We'll see jobs added. We'll be able to put more food on more tables, and invest in our children's education.

"That's the ripple effect a fully functional, informative website and high-speed Internet access have on our economy," he said. "It's not a matter of convenience. It's essential for any business wanting to take its growth to the next level. West Virginia business owners are eager to do so, and I am committed to helping them get there."

Price said Google has invited her to attend a summit in February in Washington, D.C., with other small businesses that have used the free website opportunity. "I'll get to do seminars with them and Intuit," she said. "I think it will be real cool to get to meet and share experiences with other small business owners."

Google's Ginsberg said, "To recognize Holley's success with the Get Your Business Online program, we invited her and other businesses from across the country to spend a couple of days with Google in Washington D.C.

"During this two-day summit, businesses will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Google and Intuit experts, learning about tools and best practices to help take their online presence to the next level. During this 'digital boot camp' we'll help find ways for businesses to improve website design and usability, get found online, and take advantage of free tools for small businesses."

Program partners with Google in the program in West Virginia, in addition to Intuit, are: The Center for Economic Options, the Charleston Area Alliance, the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation, TechConnect West Virginia, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Generation West Virginia, the Association of Small Business Development Centers and the Service Corps of Retired Executives, also known as SCORE.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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