In this day and age, setting up an online store is easy. The only hard part is finding the right product or having the right service to sell. There are many free tools out there to help you get started with your online business. Web hosting is relatively cheap (just make sure you are not cheap) Even if you don’t know anything about web design or development, there are many free web templates and copy and paste options out there for you. If you are an aspiring e-commerce entrepreneur, then you will be able to get started selling online in no time!
Step 1 – Create a business plan.
Whether you are selling a product or providing a service you will need a plan of action. Make sure you have researched your product and competition as well as a potential market. The last thing you would want is to be stuck with a crappy product that no one wants, but then again, there is something for everyone! The most important thing is to stand by your product or service and be passionate about what you are selling!
Step 2 – Register Your Domain Name and Pay for Web Hosting.
Make sure you have a domain name registered before someone else takes it. You can purchase one for up to 10 years and put it on auto renew (assuming your credit card still works). Consider this like leasing a storefront and paying for the rights to a business name (domain name). I would advise using GoDaddy.com since this is what I use, but there are certainly many other options out there as well. Just do a Google search for “Web Hosting” and you will find many different options available. If you know what you’re doing, this will be cheap, if not, then you may find yourself stuck with a hosting plan that is ripping you off.
Click on the image above for GoDaddy Hosting – starting at 1.99 a month!
Step 3 – Build a Website
There are two ways to do this and there is an easy way and there is a hard way. The hard way gives you more control over your website, but it requires coding it up and designing your site layout, which could take weeks or months to hand code everything. I would not recommend this unless you are a micromanaging control freak who likes to have everything 100% the way you want.
The easy way is to get a shopping cart (see below) or to use a content management system such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Shopping Carts usually come with a pre-built template, which can double as your website’s design; you will be free to modify the color and background of these templates. If you are proficient with CSS and HTML, then I would suggest you try a self-hosted shopping cart as it gives you better control over the layout, but for novices and non-developers, I would simply recommend using a hosted cart (which gives you limited control over color and graphics but not necessarily the layout or design). Novices also have the option of WordPress, because it has such a simple interface and there are shopping cart templates that you can download.
There are other options out there to create your website like Wix, but personally I would NOT recommend Wix for anyone serious about starting an online business because Wix’s pages are all coded in Ajax and uses hash bang tags within their URLs; hash bang tags make the web pages web crawler friendly, but trust me, hash bang URLs are not good. Wix may seem like an excellent solution, but trust me, looks can be deceiving, because Wix is only good if you have a brick and mortar retail store or restaurant, and it is terrible for an online retailer because you are restricted in just about everything you are able to do.
Step 4 – Find a Shopping Cart that Suits your Online Business Needs
Just like web hosting, there are many shopping cart options out there. Here are some shopping carts that I would recommend:
FreeWebStore – Beginner – This shopping cart is hosted, so it requires very minimal effort and is very easy to use (great for beginners) and is suitable for sellers with digital downloads and tangible goods that need to be shipped out. Free Web Store is not exactly “free” but it is free if you have 15 products or less. If you have more then you will need to pay them a fee.
WP-eCommerce – Beginner – This is a WordPress based shopping cart and WordPress is a content management system that is simple for a complete novice to use. As a content management system, WordPress began as a blogging platform, but as people started creating new themes, it slowly became a way for anyone to create a website using a template that someone created. WordPress templates are easy to modify and there are hundreds of free options. WP-eCommerce is as easy to install as pressing a button (just log into WordPress and click on Plugins : add new).
Open Cart – Intermediate – This shopping cart is good if you are an intermediate and slightly web savvy user. Since this is a self-hosted shopping cart you will need to set it up yourself. Open Cart does provide several free templates and is easy to set up if you know how the definition of a directory and how to navigate your web server’s back end (FTP or CPanel).
Magento – Advanced – This is a shopping cart that has a lot of features! You can do practically anything with Magento and it is a great cart if you have thousands of products to keep track of because they have one of the
Fresh Books – This is an invoicing system if you sell a service that is case by case. Freshbooks is very easy to use and once you get signed up you can start invoicing clients easily.
aMember – This is a membership type of “cart” that allows people to sign up for your membership rights to your website. This is a good platform to have if you are offering services that require a subscription.
WHMCS – If you plan on selling web hosting, then this is the “cart” for you as it integrates with many payment processors.
Step 5 – Sign up with a Payment Processor
You want to accept money for your products or services right? You will need to accept payments somehow. Pay Pal is the easiest way to get paid. The Pay Pal button is just a snippet of HTML code that you embed onto your web page or blog. Google Wallet is another option. Other lesser known options include Stripe (their slogan is “by developers for developers”) so I would not go with them unless you are a developer who knows what they are doing, because integration might be a pain if the ass if you don’t know how to code. Then there’s Authorize.net (similar to stripe), Braintree, which is a bit simpler. Finally there is also 2Checkout, which is probably one of the easiest payment processors to get integrated with.
Step 6 – Market and promote your business
Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin are great places to help you establish communication and interact with your customers.
Pay Per Click Ads – Google Adwords is a great way to help you boost your results within the search engines. Your site doesn’t necessarily have to rank on the first spot in Google, but you will have to know how to develop a bid strategy and how to add keywords related to your business.
Email Marketing – Email is not as popular as social media, but there are still a lot of people who use it. Find an email marketing company that can assist you in managing and generating leads.
Direct Mail – This can be rather pricey, but if you can afford it, then this is certainly an option. A lot of online retailers still send out catalogues or sales flyers. Not the best way, but it is certainly a way.
Text Message Marketing – Your best bet is to sign up with a company that handles this. The worst someone can do is block the number.
Affiliate Marketing – There are many affiliate marketing programs out there that you can sign up with such as Share a Sale, Commission Junction or Click Bank for example. This is a good way to promote your products or services, is to have other people promote it for you (for an affiliate commission of course). Just treat these people like your sales team, because this is essentially what an affiliate’s role is. You control how much commission they get, but don’t get stingy otherwise no one will sign up for your affiliate campaign.
Directories – Get your business listed on Yahoo, Google, Manta, Yelp and other web directories. Having a backlink on these sites will improve your SEO and traffic since these sites rank very well in the search engines.
Final Tip: Make sure that your products or services are legitimate because you do not want charge backs nor do you want your customers to trash your business on forums and blogs. In this day and age, information travels fast so you will still need to provide customer service whenever necessary. Be true to yourself, stand by your product or service (make sure your product is not illegal or prohibited by your payment processor or you will not be in business long) and to others and you may be successful with your online store!