Beginning an online business is an exciting adventure and this holds true for established brick and mortar stores as well as a company’s first foray into online selling. Like all business prospects, having a plan is critical for success. It is certainly possible to start slowly, taking each step at a time. However, it is usually better to have everything taken into account when the switch is flipped and your website is live on the internet.
Defining your market niche is absolutely essential if you want to come out of the gates at full speed. Are you going to target a specific group of people, or a wider range? What products are you selling and what inventory levels can you support? Do you appeal to a younger audience or a more mature demographic? These, among others, are important factors to consider before the other aspects of your online presence are defined as your niche influences everything about your business.
Designing your website is very important as it is the face of your business and it gives a first impression to your customers. Typically there are two ways to go about designing your website:
- Hiring a professional web developer. This is a good idea if you have the finances to afford it. Working with a developer will allow you to achieve a unique look and feel that will separate you from the competition.
- Using a template. Websites such as templatemonster.com sell quality templates at an inexpensive price. These templates integrate into Content Management Systems such as Joomla, Drupal and WordPress and allow for an expensive look at a bargain price.
Selecting your shopping cart is the next logical step after you have a plan for the design of your website. Do you want to host your own shopping cart or do you want a third-party to host it? Do the features of the cart meet your needs? Is there a product limit? If you host the cart yourself, it is typically a free open source cart. Almost all open source carts are not PCI compliant. PCI Compliance is a very important factor to consider when choosing which cart you will use as it is not only the cart itself that needs to be PCI compliant, but also the environment it is hosted in.
Choosing how you will process payments is an important decision that needs to be made before launching your online business. If you are currently accepting credit cards in a physical location, you may want to consider processing your online transactions through the same terminal. However, if you begin to see in increase in business you will want to let a third-party handle your transactions in real time. There are options such as Google Checkout and PayPal that allow your customers to check out through their respective websites. However the best option is to sign up for a merchant services account which permits your customers to check out on your own website.
Advertisement and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the last step that needs to be taken to get your online business off the ground. There are many techniques to get your website higher on the list whenever search keywords are entered into a search engine. Do a few searches for “SEO” and “SEO Tools” and review the websites for the top matches. After all, you can bet they are good at SEO if they are coming up at the top of the list! Alternatively, you can pay for advertisement to get the word out about your website. Google AdWords is a good service to start with if you are new to online advertising.