Monday, April 4, 2011

Starting a Web-based Business, Part 3 (Finally part)

Welcome back. This is part 3 in "how-I-stumbled-into-web-business-and-didn't-drown." (For part 1, click here, part 2, click here.)

If you haven't caught on by now, let me repeat that I'm not expert in this field. My sister and I started into web businesses with our online thrift store, Simply Modest, and we're learning as we go. It's been a trial-and-error process, but I do believe it's been an upward climb.

So far in this series, we've discussed what to think about before you get into web businesses, and traits to develop in yourself to help you in your endeavor. Today, we get more practical.

How do you actually take your business online? Well, first things first.

Let me assume that your business deals with items, rather than services. That's the type of web business I'm most familiar with, because that's what I do.

You need to set up a website. Thankfully, it's much easier to do that now-a-days than it used to be. You don't really need to know HTML to set up a site; many companies exist solely to help people like us - who don't know HTML - get websites up and running. Running a website with these companies is like blogging - you click on what you want, and the program takes care of the HTML. If you can blog, you can run a website. If you are starting from scratch, and haven't done any blogging, it might take you longer to get the hang of it, but, trust me, it's not impossible.

When you have a website, you'll be paying for two things; a web host, and a domain name. I've heard of free web hosting, but I'm not familiar with it, and, as you may have noticed, I'm trying to stick to discussing things I've actually done, here.

I investigated many web hosts before we bought our business, but in the end I didn't chose our web host because we bought an already-established business, and kept the original host.

Papa Shop is our web host. I've had a wonderful experience with them, and have nothing but good things to say about their service. I've had site trouble only twice, I think, since being with them, and both times I got to chat online with a representative, and they fixed the (minor) problem in a couple of hours or less. They are also very reasonably priced.

Most hosting companies that I've checked out charge by the month or by the year, or by several years at a time. If you're determined to be in it for the long haul, I strongly recommend going "in bulk" - it's usually cheaper. But if you're not sure this is all going to work out, don't pay for 5 years in advance! Start with 6 months or so. We pay for our hosting on a month-by-month basis, but we've committed to a long term, so we get the cheaper rates. In most cases, you can set up this fee to be paid automatically (so you don't forget one month, and shut your website down for several days!) but be sure to keep track of that in your bank account!

Your web hosting company is where you will get the tools to design your website. This is where you pick colors, fonts, and set up shopping carts. I've found most of this to be very self-explanatory. Think of Blogger. If you can blog, you can do this.

The web host you choose must have an option for an online "catalog" or "shopping cart" if you are going to sell on it. Most hosting companies offer this, but not all, so make sure you double-check that the options available are what you need to sell on this website you're creating. Once you start designing the site, you'll learn how to list items, enter shipping fees, etc. Always do a test order on your shopping cart to be sure it works!! Also, get a web host that offers free support for when you have questions...because you will have them.

You will also need to buy a domain name. Think of it as the copyright to your website; it's a guarantee that only you can use your website address. Nobody's going to steal it. This is usually paid for in 1-year, 3-year, or 5-year chunks, or something like that. It's no big hassle; just be sure to do it on time! Your web host will usually recommend places to buy a domain name (from THEM, quite often!), but you can have a domain name with a different company than your web host. It's up to you.

Hmm...what else?

- Keep your passwords, log-in information, user names, etc. written down somewhere OFF computer (as in "ON AN ACTUAL PIECE OF PAPER") in case your personal computer crashes.

- Set up a business-only email, to avoid having all the junk mail a website generates delivered to your personal email. But do check your business email every day.

- Be prompt when shipping orders.

Oh yes - advertising. This is a whole post in itself. Proper exposure for your site is crucial to its success. Send an email out to everyone in your address book. Facebook it. Start a facebook fan page. When creating pages in your site, do type words in the "keywords" box. Those are the words that will trigger your site to pop up in searches, when people type in those words. Talk about your site. Get business cards printed up professionally and place them wherever you can, all over town. Have a newsletter. Anything you can think of.

I'm running out of time right now, so I'll close this post with a hearty "best wishes!" to any of you embarking on the adventure of a web business. I'd love to hear thoughts on this matter - both from newbies in the field and those of you who know tons more than I do. What do you think is most important in choosing a web host? What will you be looking for? Companies you recommend?

I've enjoyed doing this series. I'm sure I've bored some of you, but I hope at least some of you found it to be beneficial.

Bye for now! Talk to you soon!


Naomi said...

Thank you for this series Amber! I have started my website and am praying that God would do His will with it :)


Amber said...

That's great, Naomi! ...Care to share your site address? I'd love to take a look!

Naomi said...

Oh, yes here is my site:
I haven't got everything loaded on, but there are a couple items on the site.
Thanks again for your insight!

Amber said...

Very nice, Naomi! The site is attractive, and as for the dresses...well, they're too cute for words! :) Looks like you do great work. Let me know when you get more items up on there - I want to remember to take a look!