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Getting Started With Ecommerce For Small Businesses
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Getting Started With Ecommerce For Small Businesses

The Internet can be an opportunity for small businesses to increase their incremental sales, but making it successful requires knowledge that is often outside the toolbox of the average main street business owner. Your decision making process should never be driven solely by cost— instead you should be factoring in overall effectiveness, ability to manage the site and it’s potential to become a profit center. If you spend too little and attempt to build it yourself, you will likely find yourself with an unattractive and ineffective site that you shoehorned your business into. Spend too much and you will often find yourself with a site that is nearly impossible to make profitable and is difficult to manage yourself.

Hosting software on your own server and managing it yourself provides the benefit of having control over the environment and the software that is running on it, but is putting yourself in the information technology business the right place to put your focus? Hosted eCommerce solutions include the hosting with the software, removing the burden of having to understand the underlying technology and software driving the site, and giving you one less headache to worry about. In my opinion, small businesses are better served by hosted eCommerce. Like anything else, the simpler the machine, the less opportunity for failure.

Whether you are hosting a site yourself, or are looking at a hosted solution, the next thing you need to know is whether you are looking for an off-the-shelf template, or custom development. The basic variable in play in this decision is cost— templates are cheap, custom is more expensive, but the real answer is not that black and white. In addition to all of the eCommerce services you can find by searching around on Google, there are dozens of companies and independent developers in every town that would be happy to take your money and build your ecommerce site. These people can often give you insights into how to make your site successful, but many custom developers will charge you custom rates and sell you a template on a standard software platform, or will get you into a situation where you have to call them for any changes you need made to the site.

Free software has it’s own cost so don’t fool yourself into believing that doing all of the work yourself is necessarily saving you money. Your time is valuable and every minute you spend figuring out html, css, drupal or any other system or language is time you aren’t spending on product selection and promoting your products. The goal is to find a solution that will help you get up and running (and selling your products), that lets you manage the content yourself and that you can take on without incurring so much additional cost to your project that you can never make the site profitable for your business.

My advice is to become informed— Google around for solutions, look at what they offer, and keep track of advantages and disadvantages to your business for an objective comparison based on your actual needs. Your site should become a significant revenue engine for your business so spend a few hours getting smarter about what you are about to embark on, don’t just pick the proverbial “first name in the phone book”. Additionally, look around at the websites of the businesses in your area that you think are successful and go talk with them about how they took their business online and whether it is making money for them.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character gives us the infamous A-B-Cs of sales, “always be closing”. If your efforts won’t lead you to increased sales, than you are spending your time and resources on the wrong thing. The three most important things I want you take away from this article are:

  1. You already have several jobs as a business owner, be passionate about your business and products, not about what incremental update is needed for your linux server.
  2. Always be in control of your content. Forget about the technology, care about the content, marketing your business and your products.
  3. Don’t get talked into a site that is just a brochure for your business, this is money wasted. Open an online store that sells.


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