Many of us dream of starting our own business one day. Well, if you're like most wannabe entrepreneurs, you're long on ideas and short on cash and time. You may have found a business niche, but need a place to market your wares.
Since the Internet is so popular, you think, why not run an online shop? You could sell your products or services as a part-time venture until you can afford to "leave your day job."
So how do you put up a business Web site? You could farm the job out to a professional. But with Web developers commanding from $30 to $300 an hour, building a simple five-page e-commerce site could cost you several thousand dollars.
Enter your heroes, online store-builders—those turnkey solution providers that have popped up like mushrooms on the lush lawn of Internet commerce.
Most Internet "business Web site in a box" services let you create an e-commerce Web store and park it on their servers for free. If you're looking for simple promotion, like an online brochure or catalog, these basic services work great.
The main items to look for when selecting a free storefront service are ...
- User-friendly building tools
- Unlimited storage space
- E-mail and advertising
- Inexpensive payment transactions
These items can be broken down as follows:
- Tools: The building tools in the most popular business Web site services are very easy to use. They're template-based, so you don't have to know the Internet programming code HTML. You simply select from a series of styles, type in your information, save the files (to their server) and you're on the 'Net.
- Storage: Store-builder Web services will offer a certain amount of storage space for your data, often between 10 to 35 MB. That gets quickly eaten up with any graphic files you need for catalog photos.
Unlimited storage is not hard to find, and well worth searching for. In the end it will make your web site easier to update and maintain.
- E-mail and Advertising: A few basic e-mail addresses should be included in the service, so that customers can contact you. E-mail managers are another great feature that allow you to gather visitors e-mail addresses. You can add them to a marketing list for mailings such as promotional offers or newsletters.
Some services enable you to create and swap banner ads with other members, so you gain exposure for free. Also look for services with a free tool to register your site with search engines on the Internet to increase traffic.
- Payment transactions: Processing transactions takes you to another level of e-commerce. Here the free stuff usually ends. Most services require you to sign up for a merchant account to accept payments online. That can run an extra $15 to $50 more a month, or at minimum, an account sign-up charge. Suddenly, you're upgrading your package from free to fee.
There are some exceptions. Store-building sites that partner with an escrow service can allow you to accept online payments immediately. You pay per transaction, but the cut taken on each transaction is steep, about eight to ten percent. If you sell a lot of merchandise online, this could cost more than it's worth.
You really can't create a Web site in fifteen minutes, despite what any service may declare. Often the speed with which you can get underway depends on you.
To trim time, pinpoint what you hope to accomplish before you begin your cyber-business adventure. Think about the colors and fonts you like. Then gather the factors of production such as written copy and graphics. That way you won't waste hours digging for product photos and playing with color combinations while you're building.
While none of these services will help win you design awards, they will get your business online. Now you have to decide the features you'll need and who offers the ideal combination—you already know the price is right.