For many small business owners, creating an online store is a natural step in their business growth. Perhaps you own a brick and mortar clothing boutique and are ready to expand your client base worldwide, or maybe you’re a new business owner who will sell your products exclusively on the Internet. Either way, you should follow a detailed plan to get your store up and running. While selling on the Internet can seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Continue reading as we cover four key steps, from registering your domain name to creating a credit card processing account, that will get your online store open for business in no time.
Step 1: Register a domain name and select a web host
Your domain name (http://www.YourOnlineStore.com) will serve as the virtual address for your store, so you must choose it carefully. It should be memorable, distinct and say something about the type of products you’re looking to sell. This way, it will be easier for search engines to crawl. For example, the clothing boutique mentioned above would be much better served by a domain name of SophieVintageClothes.com than SophiesStore.com.
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, you should select a web host. Depending on the number of products you want to sell and the hosting features needed, fees can range from $9.95 – $49.95/month. As your host will house all of your store’s files and serve in a technical support capacity, make sure you research before signing up. Use our Selecting a Reliable Web Host article as a starting point.
Step 2: Decide on a web design company
Yes, there are several “do-it-yourself” web sites out there, but I urge you to consider a professional web design company to create your site. This way you’ll ensure a polished, unique design and also have another layer of technical support if something goes wrong. If maintenance is your concern, most web design companies are able to create a sign that you can update yourself. The cost to build your web site will vary based on your business needs and the design company you choose. Expect to pay $1000 or more for an eCommerce site.
Step 3: Pick an eCommerce software platform
Now that you’ve decided on your domain name, selected a web host and found a professional web design company, the next step is to choose an eCommerce software platform that meets your store’s needs. Your web host or web designer may have suggestions on what to use. Before signing up, however, use your business plan to make sure the software will include all the tools you will need for the site, e.g. inventory management, cross-selling, web analytics, etc. Software costs can vary. Some programs may even come pre-installed in your web hosting account but may have limited capability. You can purchase a basic, commercial program that maintains your daily activity for $100/month, or you can get a customized, state-of-the-art system that costs nearly $10,000/month. If possible, look for programs that offer free demos or a trial kit. This way you can test the product before purchase and see if it’s a good fit for your business needs.
Step 4: Find your Merchant Account
Most online shoppers, including your potential customers, use credit cards for their online purchases. In order to process credit cards, your business will need a merchant account. A merchant account is opened with a merchant services provider or a merchant bank to enable your online store to accept credit card purchases from your customers. This will allow for immediate credit card processing for all major credit cards such like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc.
We wish you much luck and prosperity as you build your eCommerce presence.