There are a lot of individuals starting out in online business. A great many see it as a means to make extra money or become self-employed. For those just starting out, many do not know what they need to do this or where to turn for services.
This is often the most confusing part for those who want to sell a product online. Here is an e-commerce checklist for you. Better yet: a checklist for starting your first online store on a shoestring budget.
Everyone needs their own something.com. Prices at domain registrars range from a few bucks to $12 or $15. Remember that as with all things, cheapest isn’t always best. If you can’t afford $15/year, you can’t afford to be in business. Look to domain registrars through people you know that have an account with one. GeekArtist also covers domain purchases. Or just contact me for questions on domain purchases.
You have your domain, now you need a place to park your site. You need a web host. Again, look for referrals from people you know. Review sites are often useless as many web hosts pay to get those reviews. That’s right. A lot of sites with the words “web” and “host” and “review” on the website address are often paid-for reviews. With any host, consider signing up for a month at a time first. Don’t pre-pay for a year only to discover that you signed up with a dud. Now you are either stuck with them or have paid for a year you won’t use since you’ll now be moving to a better host.
3. Payment Processing
Now you need a way to process payments. PayPal is very popular and I’ve used them for years. Stripe is another great option, since people either love or hate PayPal. Or you can contact your bank and see what their options are. There are a lot of credit card processing services out there. Find one you are comfortable with. Which leads me to…
4. Business Banking
Get a business bank account. If you already have a personal PayPal account, you won’t want to combine it with a business one. This is daunting to many new business owners since so many of them often require minimum balances of thousands of dollars and often charge hefty fees. There are alternatives. Look for your local small bank or credit union. These mom and pop operations can be just as good, if not better than, the big banks and frequently have free business checking accounts. I’ve lived in three different states while in business for myself and I’ve never paid for a business checking account. I’ve always found a small-time bank and used their free business checking. If you use PayPal or Google Checkout they will need your banking information and to verify the accounts.
5. Shopping Cart
If you are selling products online, you need a way to sell your products. Some of you may be confused at this point since I just mentioned PayPal and Google Checkout. They are payment processing services, but they can also work as shopping cart services.
You may just need a few buttons from PayPal or Google Checkout if you are selling only a few items. But if you are looking for something that integrates better with your site (is consistent with the site design and looks a bit more professional) or have a large number of items to sell, then a shopping cart is the way to go. PayPal does link to shopping carts that have PayPal integration built-in. I’m a fan of Soholaunch which is not on their list. Soholaunch is available with GeekArtist’s web hosting. If you host elsewhere, see if your web host has a shopping cart available for easy install. There are also a large number of open source carts available. When looking at open source carts, examine the following:
- Look into just how search engine friendly they are (SEO)
- How easy they are for the non-technical folks to use
- How often the cart developers release updates or patches (you don’t want one that hasn’t been patched in years and is no longer maintained by the developers)
- How easily they can be customized by your web designer
Sometimes, a cart isn’t necessarily “the best” but is the one that is best for your situation, such as the most affordable, easiest for you to use, or one that your designer is most familiar with.
6. Secure Certificate
If you are processing credit cart payments through your site and storing customer financial data on your site then you will need a secure certificate. This is used to create a secure connection between shopper and online store (SSL, or seen in your browser as https instead of http). If you are using PayPal or Google Checkout, this won’t be necessary. Prices for these vary and are paid for annually just like a domain.
7. Dedicated IP
If you have a secure cert, then you’ll need a dedicated IP from your web host. (NOTE: Not your ISP. This is different from a static IP your ISP gives.) Contact your web host for details.
7. Phone number
Now you need a phone number. Google Voice and Skype are very inexpensive ways to go. You buy your number from Skype. Then you can buy credits as you go or get a subscription. If you don’t field a lot of calls just yet, pay-as-you-go may work just fine. You will need a headset with microphone to use the service.
8. Fax Number
Not everyone has a need for a fax number but if you do, I’ve used TrustFax for almost a year now and have been happy with the service. They’ve got an account option that is $4.95/month.
9. Social Networking
Don’t forget the social networking! Sign up for sites and services such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn. There are others, but those are the big 4. See this post for details on setting up a Facebook page.
10. Website Design
Now you’ll need the site made. You can try and do it yourself. Considering this is a field you aren’t trained in, you’ll probably do what most do: try it, realize you don’t have time to learn a whole new field of study as a career, hire someone else. If you want to present a professional image, have a professional web designer make the site.
11. Logo Design
Your web designer may do logo design or you may hire someone else. Make sure your logo and website are consistent in terms of color and style. If someone other than your web designer is making the logo, do this first, then have the site made.
12. Website Promotion
Don’t forget to budget in website promotion or make time to do it yourself. Forget the “if you build it they will come” mentality. That is no truer online than it is in business offline. Plan a marketing and advertising budget.