Tag: business

eCommerce Basics

Many people often ask me about eCommerce and how to setup their own online store, and the first thing I tell them that unlike a personal site, an eCommerce site requires planning and adequate funding. While there is no definitive book that I can point you to and say read this…, there is a variety of online resources that can prove helpful. I believe that the nature of business is that if you truly desire to be successful, then you have to put in the effort. Small business is all about outsmarting your competition and for this reason I think there are not a lot of comprehensive guides on how to put together an online business. Then there is the fact that eCommerce can encompass so many things depending on what your business is.

In my view, there are three components to an online site, the technical, the financial, and the legal details. We will focus mostly on the technical.

The Online Store

Before starting your business, you should already have a solid business plan and have done some planning into what you want your business site to look like. You should have set aside proper funding for launching your online venture. A minimal site, may require around $500, but if your online business is going to be your only source of income, you will definitely need to invest a substantial amount.

  • Webhosting: The first thing to consider is how much the webhosting or web server is going to cost. While a part-time home business might make due with a reliable shared-webhosting account, most businesses will want to setup their own web server. Whichever you choose, webhosting or your own server, make sure that it can be reliable and maintained. The last thing you want is for your 24-hour online business to be down for any significant amount of time.
  • Shopping Cart: The face of your store and backend is provided by software, usually referred to as a shopping cart. A good shopping cart will provide you with your exact business needs. This can include everything from adding new items to your site, to offering discounts, tracking payments, and helping you ship items. The shopping cart will need to be maintained and because it is the heart of your online business, it is the most important choice you make when starting out. There are many shopping cart scripts. You will want to evaluate multiple carts and pick the one that can grow with your business and which is compatible with your webhosting. Some popular carts are: OSCommerce, ZenCart, X-Cart, CS-Cart, 3DCart, ShopSite, and ASPDotNetStorefront.
  • SSL Certificate: In order to process transactions securely your business will need a Secure Socket Layer certificate installed on the web server. This is what encryts communications between the web browser and web server. SSL certs are traditionally expensive and can cost around $100 or more per year, but they are a necessity if you want customers to feel safe while conducting business on your site.
  • Payment Gateway: Your shopping cart will integrate with multiple payment gateways and allow you to take credit card information. However, you will need to sign-up with these gateways or acquire a merchant account from your bank or third party processor. Although this is more of a business decision than a technical one, because the fees vary widely you will need to shop around for the best rates. Most eCommerce sites can take a variety of payment options and so you will want to offer your customers at least a couple of choices of payment. The most popular are credit card processing and PayPal.

Accounting & Marketing

No business can survive very long without solid business decisions. These decisions need to based an accurate information. Keeping track of how much your business is spending and how much it is taking in is important. For this task, most business rely on their accounting package. This usually means Quickbooks Pro or some equally professional accounting software. Something to keep in mind is how well your shopping cart software can integrate with your accounting software.

For new online businesses, marketing is going to be very important. Your domain name for your site should reflect what you sell and should be easy for your clients to remember. The next step is to bring potential clients to your site. This can mean having a search engine friendly site, an AdWords campaign, or traditional print advertising. Don’t forget word-of-mouth advertising either! The simple business card is still one of the best forms of marketing around.

Privacy And Trust

Today privacy is still the most debated argument of an online world. Successful businesses are trustworthy businesses. Your eCommerce site should put consumers at ease by having clear and published policies. The common privacy policy and terms of use pages need to be quickly accessible and easy to comprehend. Since eCommerce deals with goods and services, consumers also need to know about return policies, shipping methods, and other customer service assistance provided. Make sure that your customers have all this readily available to them. For some policies you should consult a lawyer, who can verify that you are following all the necessary rules of whatever type of commerce you are doing. Legal consultation beforehand is always cheaper then later.

Additional Resources

The internet offers plenty of information, but most of it is pretty generic and not localized to your state or county. It is best to always consult with professionals in your local area who can advise you on the business issues that you need help with, and use the Internet for general assistance. WebmasterWorld is an excellent source of general information like in this eCommerce 101 post.

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Apple’s Big Failure

Everyone who knows me, knows I love everything Macintosh, and even in the dark days of Classic MacOS, I still did not give up and praise WindowsNT as the greatest of operating systems. The truth is that Apple makes great consumer products. The iMac was about packaging and catering to the consumer and since then Apple has excelled at giving consumers what they want in nice shiny products like the iPod and MacBook. However, after being in the business world for ten years, I have picked up a thing or two about the business world and just how this particular market segment works, and I must admit that Apple just does not get business users.

When I read statements about how Apple is poised to take over and reach critical market share growth, I cannot help but think these columnists are simply deluded. Apple will never reach a major market share without giving business users the solutions that they need. As much as I love the new Black MacBook, it is not a good business solution. In the world of business, you do not buy a laptop based on what color it is or how cool it looks, you buy it because it fulfills your needs and is cheap. Toshiba, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all have business class laptops that can be had for $699. Sure these laptops are not as nice as the MacBook, but in the business world, the boss does not care. In business, the boss gets a great MacBook Pro, and the rest of his staff will have to do with Dell Latitudes.

Being more expensive is just one of the problems Apple faces in penetrating the business world. The main issue boils down to complete solutions. Business needs reliable support, planning, and software.

With Windows, you can get support everywhere and anywhere. If you run Mac OS X, most support technicians will recoil in ignorance and question why you even have a Mac. This is a huge problem for businesses who take it for granite that they can hire or farm out support to almost anyone, since everyone knows Windows. What Apple needs to do is to really offer business users separate support and asure them that they can get on-site support if they need it. This is easier said than done.

The next step is better planning. There has to be better and more frequent documentation of Mac OS X and Apple hardware. While Mac OS X gives users plenty of powerful tools like PHP, Apache, MySQL, it has also given users, programmers, and companies plenty of problems. Like the way SMB Shares work differently on each version of OS X, or the way OS X has developed with some APIs changing throughout the process. Apple needs to be consistent and help their customers plan for these changes.

Last we have software itself. Even with the abundance of OS X apps, OS X still does not have adequate business software. What Apple needs is really iOffice, a suite of applications focused at helping business users. For example, maybe Apple could take a clue from Microsoft on this one. Why not make a professional version of OS X that includes Pro versions of applications needed only for business? The issue is that Apple really has not thought about what small business users really need? Office management, accounting, scheduling, are just some of the areas that come to mind. I would think that if there was such a thing as a $600 iOffice that would handle just scheduling and simple entry accounting, that the small business market would break down the doors to switch. My own personal experience with QuickBooks was trying and I know if Apple could come up with a simplified QuickBooks they would more than save me countless hours, they would get my praises as well.

But all of this would have to mean Apple would have to change, from being the cool consumer oriented Apple to a solutions oriented company. Most of all it would mean Jobs would have to devote some actual talented people and plenty of resources to a market that would not yield immediate profits and which could possibly damage the company’s consumer popularity. I still think Apple iOffice would be a great idea and maybe perhaps Apple could actually help all us QuickBook users who have no clue what double-entry accounting is.

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WebKeyDesign Reaches 100 Posts

Back in May of 2005, I had this idea that I should start a web design and hosting business as a hobby, because I was really bored with my life and needed something challenging again to pick me up. I am positive some of my friends were skeptical and in some respects I agreed with their points, but hey I always preach to others that you can do whatever you want if you put in the effort. Well it’s now 2006 and WebKeyDesign is now more than six months old and so what exactly happened and what did I learn?

Google As Your Partner

If you have any kind of business, from a coffeeshop to an online business such as mine, then you really need Google for everything. Although I would like to think that in the future Yahoo and MSN Search will be as helpful and as important, for the time being Google is my most important search engine. From bringing plenty of visitors to WebKeyDesign.com, to allowing me to show my business in Google Local, to providing me with free tools like Google Sitemaps, Google really has a lot to offer small businesses. If you do one thing, learn all you can about what Google can do for you.

Business Decisions Are Costly

Most of the time I researched for weeks before I spent any money for the business and executed pretty well. However for some decisions I ended up going for it and it cost me. This happens to any business and let’s face it, there are going to be times when all the research in the world is still not going to tell you anything. Sometimes the only choice you really have is to take a chance, or play it safe and never experience any growth. Even if you lose money from a business decision, the least you can get out of the experience is what not to do next time you have a similar choice.

The Right Customers

There are always going to be people who need your services, but not everyone who asks you for help will be a right customer. What I mean is that being helpful and assisting non-customers is a great way to promote your business, so even if you do not get a paying customer from answering someone’s questions, you at least build a relationship that can hopefully lead to other customers. In certain instances helping out becomes a wrong customer. Some people are going to be rude or perhaps a drag on your time, in these cases you really do need to walk away from the situation and do it in a friendly manner. Undoubtedly many relationships do not work out and in business it is the same thing, you cannot work with some people and the sooner you find this out, the better your business will run.

Read More Books

Since starting the business, I have been hanging out at the library more and more. The stack of books that I go through has expanded ten fold. I have picked up books on every facet of my business, from accounting, to computers, to marketing, to more marketing. In the last month I have scaled back the book reading and now invest 40% of my reading time to business reading, and the rest to casual reading. This has happened mostly because I have found which books I like and can use, and which ones do not work for me. Now I concentrate more on the books I know are of value to me, and give myself a break by reading for pleasure. The idea is to find a comfortable balance between your business and your personal life.

Owning Your Business

The one thing that really sticks out to me after doing this is how much more respect I now have for other business owners. There is a lot of stress with having a business and anyone who can live with such pressures and still maintain their composure is truly unique.

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