Join the Bandwagon of Online Businesses
The year is ending and so are a lot of old tired ideas. One of those tired ideas is that an online business doesn’t help the country’s economy and it’s too difficult to run. Let’s get real. If you have a chance to reach billions of potential customers, wouldn’t you want that? And how about helping your own economy as well as helping others save money for a change?
Building your own online business is easier than you think especially with all the help available on the net itself. First up, you need a domain. That will cost you less than ten dollars, a very cheap start to a huge world of e-commerce. You can get a domain at Domain.com and this is renewable every year. Once you get a suitable domain that reflects your shop and business, you will then need a hosting plan.
There are plenty of free ones around but do note that with the promise of zero fees there are also plenty of strings and limitations attached. Plus no one likes to browse a shop laden with banners and pop ups. It’s annoying and it’s bound to chase away the most budding customers.
You can get a good hosting plan for about 5-8 US dollars and this is a monthly payment. Yup, it definitely beats the price of a shop rental. The host I use for my shop is Imageleet and so far they’ve been great. There are plenty of other hosts that are just as good.
If you are a first timer, don’t sign up for a hosting plan for one whole year or more. Although this is fine if you trust them, at times a hosting site can be disappointing. Having an online shop means you are subjected to down times and possible data loss. Sign up on a monthly plan instead so that if after a few months you feel that they are not up to par, then you can move on and find another hosting plan. I went through at least 3 hosting plans before finding one that I can totally rely on. Also some hosting companies might give you a hard time in giving you a refund if you decide to cancel on them after signing up for 1 year. You should always periodically back up your shop data to minimize tears of exasperation if an online catastrophe happens.
Now after getting yourself cozy with a hosting company, and with a domain in your pocket, you are set to go to the next step of your e-commerce adventure. And that is to conquer the scary shopping cart. Again I have gone through at least 3 shopping carts. OS Commerce was a mite too complex. Mal’s Ecommerce was quite good, but after some time, I needed a more high end shopping cart that would allow me to have more control over my site. I found this in Zen Cart. It took me a couple of weeks to learn how to use Zen Cart and PHP. Even though I have no website design or developing background, I have to admit it was pretty straightforward. Plus the forums were immensely helpful for every small problem or question you might have.
There are plenty of Zen Cart templates designed by great people provided. With plenty of great modules and add ons, it became a great project to not just turn my shop into a working portal but to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible. I tried a couple of templates before landing on the template that suited me. With a couple of tweaks and customization, my site was able to look pretty alright. Now before this turn into a pitch for Zen Cart, let me go through the most important points when it comes to designing and maintaining an online shop.
1. Honesty and transparency
I believe that every business should be based on honesty and transparency. There should be no hidden cost, hidden taxes or hidden policies. Whatever you have, you should always post it on your site. Be it return policies or payment policies, write it up all up. Do you want to make a quick buck or do you prefer a long term flow of cash? Run your business honestly and you will have customers return again and again. Tell your product as it is. Don’t hide details just because you think it won’t sell. Customers appreciate buying what they can understand. With the economy being so low at this point, people are more worried about spending money. Do your part in letting them know exactly what you’re selling to them.
Your shopping cart should allow your customers to sign up and keep their addresses with your shop so that if they come again, all their information is already there. This is a huge time saver and it will keep your customers from losing patience. Who wants to fill up long forms again and again? The point of online shopping is the convenience of it all.
As you get customers and purchases, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. This benefits you in 2 ways. First you can publish their positive testimonials on your website. This helps new customers to decide whether they should trust you or not. Secondly you should never stop improving yourself and the only way to do it is if you give your customers an avenue to say what they want.
This is another avenue for both you and the customer to interact. A place where you can post and they can comment. It’s a place where you can announce your news, learn more and gain not just customers but friends.
Here you can take advantage of another way to reach to your customers. You can email them your shop updates, new products and exclusive contests. This helps to remind customers that you are still around if they need anything. But please, no spamming and if a customer asks to be unsubscribed, respect their decision and remove them from your mailing list. There is nothing worse than spamming in a business.
6. Contact page
Most importantly, be approachable! Let them know they can reach you at a phone number, email address and a mailing address. Nothing says shifty like a business that has no phone number or an email address. Would you trust the shop if you can’t contact them? Last but not least with your online shop up and running, you can start on another invigorating part of the project. Internet marketing! That’s a whole new ball game. I’ll write another article about that soon.