What does it take to put together a nice and effective e-commerce Web site?
Is it a lot of money? Sometimes. Is it a lot of skill? Many times. Is it a lot
common sense and lot of patience? Always! Creating your online business can be a
long and arduous process, or it can be done relatively easily.
There are many ways you can get your site developed and selling. We'll cover some of your options as far as the simplified tools you can use, the more complicated programs that can be used, as well as farming it out to the pros, and some of the other issues that you have to settle like your Web host and making your customers feel secure giving you their credit card numbers.
Tools of the (e)Trade
Depending on your site's purpose in life, you may need few or many tools in order to make your online business venture work. First, ask yourself these questions:
Are you going to design your site yourself? If so, you'll need:
experience and /or training in Web design (unless you go with the template or wizard-based tools that many all-inclusive services offer)
a good computer with plenty of RAM (128 Mb and up) and hard drive space (6 GB minimum)
web design software -- either WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) or a text editor (if you know html)
a scanner or digital camera -- for product or service photos
image editing software
illustration software to create graphics
FTP software for uploading files to your Web site
Are you going to sell products from your site? If so, you'll need:
a merchant account -- or some way to accept payments
shopping cart software -- or some other way for shoppers to enter and keep up with their orders
secure servers if you're accepting credit card payment or other personal payment information online
software (or other process) to keep track of inventory and orders
Do you have a large number of products or services that need listing on your Web site? If so, you'll need:
a database of product names, descriptions, pricing, and photos
a system for establishing product numbers
a system for inventory management
technical know-how in incorporating the database into your Web site
Does your product or service require sound, video or animations? If so, you'll need:
equipment to capture video and/or audio
software for editing your video and/or audio clips
software (and training) to create animations
a broad-band Internet connection (helpful, but not absolutely necessary)
or, a resource to whom you can farm these out
Regardless of how you answered the above questions, you'll need a computer with a good Internet connection for e-mailing and maintaining your site.
Use these guidelines to help you hone in on the perfect internet business to meet your skills and income needs
Ten Tips for Choosing the Right Internet Business
The common denominator in all the above business models is the product is information or service based, and is delivered over the web. Choose a business model built on this and you have a much better chance of success.
For the best chance of success choose a business model where you create
or own the product you sell, the product is delivered digitally, you have
little direct competition, customers can order online, and a single copy of
the same product can be sold many times.
Choose your business with as much diligence as you would choose a wife or
husband. Because in the long run you may end up spending as much time with your
business as you do with your spouse!
Here are 7 Steps to Creating a Profitable E-Commerce Business:
1. Create a great site: This is No. 1 for a reason. You have to have a great-looking, intuitive, easy-to-navigate site if you are going to be taken seriously by potential e-customers. Your site must look professional. Pictures and content must load quickly. There can be no dead links. Have a robust "About" page.
The good news is that it is easy and affordable to create a great site – look for online hosts that have pre-made templates you can customize.
Web surfers who come to your site will judge it in about three seconds. That's all you've got. You better impress them the moment they hit it.
2. Pick your products: I have a buddy who owns an antiques store. His business success motto is: "It's all in the buying." He knows if he can find the right product at the right price, he will make a profit.
The same is true for you.
Where do you find great, inexpensive products? It depends on what you plan to sell. It may be a matter of spending weekends at yard sales and on Craigslist picking up some good, cheap stuff. If you want a more formal arrangement, there are wholesalers and distributors for almost any product you need.
3. Have an online catalog or store: When you shop online, there is usually a catalog of products to choose from: Tiny pictures with product descriptions. That is what you have to do. Happily, you do not have to create this from scratch. Your e-commerce site host (see below) will offer a store creation tool, with point-and-click ways to add products, pictures, and descriptions.
4. Have the ability to process payments: This issue is two-fold: The financial ability to process credit card payments comes when you have a merchant account. Search for that term online. The physical ability to process such payments is, again, something your host will offer. Search for "online merchant services" or "E-commerce hosting."
5. Market and promote your site: All these steps are important, but this one may be a little more important. People have to find your site. No matter how nice it looks or how cool your products, if no one knows about the site, it is a waste of time, money, and effort.
Master search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Engage in viral marketing. Tweet. Have a Facebook fan page. Try pay-per-click. Advertise.
6. Fulfillment: You have to deliver what you sell, on budget and on time. Don't forget to add the cost of shipping to your prices.
7. After-sales support: How will you handle returns? What should you upsell? Support is the difference between a one-time sale and creating a customer for life.
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