Now, however, a company called altodigital.com is offering to build a basic online presence for just pounds 19.99 a month. It is not the only business seeking to boost e-commerce by providing cheap internet solutions: Freecom.net, Virginbus.net and Shopcreator are obvious competitors. But Ian Jenkinson, the operation's strategic director, claims that altodigital has an edge through being owned by Alto Group - Britain's largest independent office equipment supplier.
The parent group's sales force and team of engineers are in a strong position to recommend the service to its 25,000 customers. More important, the Alto link saves clients both time and money.
While Shopcreator, say, keeps costs down by requiring customers to do a certain amount of the work themselves, Mr Jenkinson recognises that owners of small and medium-sized businesses are typically "time-poor and don't want to be distracted by technology". So he and his colleagues provide a service that includes web design, internet access, email and domain name registration. A basic site can easily be upgraded to allow such e- commerce facilities as credit card processing.
One of the other benefits of the Alto link is that it has given the company access to a leasing firm, which in turn enables it to offer customers a tax-efficient and affordable service, adds Mr Jenkinson.
Conscious that selling on price alone is rarely a sustainable business model, he is looking to gain advertising revenue from companies that will be seeking to promote themselves to the businesses on his books. He is already building partnerships with organisations like online car dealers, travel agents and recruitment agencies.
With an advice service also planned, the idea, says Mr Jenkinson, is to build an "online business community". Two hundred website orders since the service went live early last month suggest he has found some like- minded people.