Want to start a virtual business? Here are five real tips from virtual world vet Rebecca Tapley, author of the upcoming "Designing Your Second Life."

1 Buy your own island. If you avoid the crowded "Second Life" "mainland" and buy your own island, you'll have more control over your virtual business, better network performance and fewer technical difficulties.

2 Share the cost. The rub is that islands are expensive, but you can always split the cost with sister businesses that you know and trust.

3 Have a programmer handy. You wouldn't start a Web site without IT help, would you? Once you build that virtual store, you'll need an experienced scripter to keep things ticking. Customers always have problems with virtual vending machines, and there's always the risk of virtual vandalism and virtual theft.

4 Consider a virtual staff. Most "Second Life" retail stores are self-service, but if you can give customers live help via in-world avatars, business will only improve.

5 Keep an eye on ROI. Sure, you can track the sale of virtual goods from your virtual store. But first and foremost, "Second Life" is a way of promoting real goods and services. If at all possible, find a way of tracking the number of real-world opportunities created by your virtual-world exposure.

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