Online Business with a Shoestring Budget

by Rick Vidallon — Jul 4, 2007

You have a great idea, service or product. Now it’s time to build a Website and realize your dream. The eternal optimists say, “Build it and they will come”. This is easier said than done. There are many frustrations awaiting such an endeavor, but with some guidance, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. In the following column I talk about various ways to build an online business, what to do and what to avoid in Cyberspace.

Accepting Payments Online

Whether you’re selling services or products there are multiple ways to get started. The easiest and simplest way is an all-inclusive solution. Many companies offer turn-key solutions which include a basic Website template and a hosted e-commerce store. Usually to cost varies from $10 to $30 a month with a modest set-up fee to process your application. Money you make are either mailed to you by check or transferred to your bank account. One popular program offering is Yahoo Stores.

Simple = The Home Grown Factor

The pitfall of having an “all-inclusive-online-store template” is that the end result is an online store or Website that does not look very professional. It could look down right ugly. This wouldn’t matter if you had an inexpensive niche product or service that everyone wanted to buy, but this is probably not the case. Niche products and services are slowly disappearing as more and more Websites filling these voids come online. But hey! you never know. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.

Pay Pal Offerings

Let’s assume you already have a Website or even a Blog site like Live Journal or My Space. PayPal offers a program where you sign-up for free to accept monies online. They charge a very small fee per transaction when money is sent or received. Millions of people use Pay Pal this way. Simply sign up with Pay Pal (you’ll need to have an active bank account) and in 2 to 3 days you are ready to go.

You need to have a minimal amount of Web or HTML experience to place a PayPal button in your Website. Don’t have HTML experience? Most city recreation centers offer classes at reduced rates or you may seek out the help of a technical or college student in your area. Most students are itching to get some practical real world experience under their belts. Start by calling the school’s director or person in-charge of student internships. But remember, you need a Website in which to paste the code. You might also consider populating your information into a Web template.

Web hosting plans costing $130 per year offer a free Web template builder. You simply choose the template you like and populate it with your own content. Now you have a place to paste in your PayPal code. Most hosting companies will do this for you free!

I should also mention that PayPal offers an up line of merchant tools that include a shopping cart for a more professional store. But this will require a good deal of Web development experience for you to master.

Raising the Bar

So you want a store with a shopping cart and product thumbnails like L.L.Bean?

If you’re ready to invest a little money into your business, then it’s time to begin requesting RFPs (Requests for Proposals) from professional Web design companies in your area.

The difference between a very basic e-commerce store and a professional store is the user experience. The look and feel of a professional store has a well designed or even custom designed interface with a variety of options for shopping such as coupon or specials section, send to a friend function, displays similar or optional shopping choices, multiple thumbnails or a slideshow of the product, multiple shipping choices for next day, overnight and so on.

You will also need to acquire a merchant gateway account and an ecommerce hosting company. Companies like Authorize.net or your local bank can help.

Most professional Web design companies can walk you through this process, even if you haven’t a clue of what to do. The cost for a professionally designed custom ecommerce Website ranges wildly so talk to at least 3 companies before making a decision.

No matter which road you take, you have to do a bit of marketing. You can’t depend on Web surfer’s to come stumbling across your Website to do business. You have to market yourself. Tell your friends, get a write up in your church bulletin, and use every option you can think of to economically get the word out about your Website.

Naming Your Website

Pick a Website name (domain name) that follows 3 simple rules:

  1. Easy to spell
  2. Easy to say
  3. Easy to remember

If you are chatting among friends and you casually drop the name of your Website, you want people to easily remember what you said.

Good domain name: www.bigfatpumpkins.com
Bad domain name: www.organicallygrownpumpkins.biz

Marketing Online

You can go to chat rooms and talk up your Website. You post a few items or services on EBay and include a link to your main Website. You may also submit your Website information to hundreds of free directories over the Internet. You might also consider setting up an affiliate program whereby you offer commissions to people who resell your products or services. There are people who make a living participating in multiple affiliate programs.

Take that First Step

Set up your Website and grow your online presence. The longer your online store is live on the Internet, the greater the chances are of being found. Most importantly don’t quit your day job just yet. Building an online business at any level takes time and patience. Six months may go by without one single sell. Don’t get frustrated. Give the search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN time to find your Website and list your Website. Talk to other people who have similar products or services online. You’ll be quite surprised how helpful and friendly these people can be in offering you some solid advice in growing your business. After all, they have been there and done that.

Build it and they will come. Wait and they won’t.

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