There are two main questions to answer when considering why small businesses need web hosting. First, does a small business require an internet presence? Second, should they furnish their own infrastructure or look to a provider to host their site.

In today's marketplace, every business can benefit from having a web site. Where customers would once open a printed telephone directory when searching for a provider, today they open a browser. Whether that first customer query takes place in an online directory or via keywords fed to a search engine, the presence of a professional web site becomes the small business' chance to make a good first impression -- digital curb appeal.

Once the web site provides the symbolic foot in the door, the company has an opportunity to state their case in exactly how they choose, selecting from a variety of media. Words, images, audio, and even video -- all are viable options at little or no cost. With most other forms of advertising, the business is operating within set constraints. If they want more, they have to pay more.

Web site capabilities extend much farther. A well-crafted site can introduce products or services, provide specifications, pricing, information regarding availability, and testimonials. Features can be added to allow customers and potential customers to contact the business. A more ambitious internet solution can even handle much of the sales process, including taking orders, accepting payment, confirming shipment, and providing customer service. All the while, these modules can be integrated with the company's internal functions such as accounts receivable, shipping, and inventory management.

The exact details of what the site should provide will vary according to the nature of the business. A shoe store, a landscaping business, and a restaurant have diverse business models. But each can be served by an internet site tailored to them.

The answer as to why these establishments should outsource the hosting of their internet site is obvious. None of them are in the information technology business. Issues such as availability, performance, scalability, and contingency planning are handled by professionals of the small business hosting world. Hardware, software, and infrastructure costs are shared, keeping them low. Before the web-site owner proceeds, they have an accurate picture of what their cost will be.

In the meantime, the small business can concentrate on fitting that next pair of shoes, building a retaining wall, or feeding a table of satisfied diners.