The internet makes it possible reach far more customers than you would in your local area. From single auctions on eBay to large online stores shifting thousands of items each day, more and more people are selling via the web. This way of selling has enormous advantages for mums and dads. You can run an online business from home. It is possible to work mostly by email, so no-one will hear the children in the background, and you can fit your work in at the time that suits you. This article outlines how to set up your own site.
Nowadays it is relatively straightforward to get your own website, with a shopping cart to allow people to purchase from you. While many people just stick with selling on eBay, your own site can give you far more options, and people may perceive your operation as more professional.
It is important to decide on a name for your business. When you have a few ideas, check with Companies House that there are no other companies with the same name operating in the same line of business. Visit Nominet online to ensure that the name you are after is available as a domain name. It is a bad idea to start a business without having registered the domain name. You may find someone else snaps up the name you want and you risk having to pay over the odds to get it back.
You also want to develop a ‘look’ foryour online business. To start with, do a little research on the internet. Look at other websites and see what appeals to you. Which sites do you feel confidence in, and which would you not want to buy from? Look at business logos, and the different colours and styles used on various websites. This will help you develop the way your online store will look.
A logo will help customers recognise your business. You can use it on your website and business stationery. You may want to create your own logo, sketch something out and get a designer to formalise it for you, or ask a professional designer for ideas. There are various websites which help you create logos too.
Have a think about whether you want to design the site yourself,or get a professional to do it for you. Do you have the time and skills to do it yourself? There are lots of resources to help you online: try the 123reg website builder, for example. If you want to find a designer, there are lots of business directories online.
If you want to create your own website, it is useful to know something about HTML(hyper text markup language). This is the language websites are written in. Depending on your interests and skills you can create a site entirely in HTML, or use a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor which shows you what the page will look like, rather than the code which is behind it. This sort of programme makes it easier for novices to create their own site. Look at free editor NVU,or buy a programme like Dreamweaver. When you have made your site, don’t forget to check that it looks good in browsers like Firefox and Safari, as well as Internet Explorer.
Sue says, “I produced the websites myself using Serif Page Plus and WebPlus software. I did a short web design course forsmall businesses at my local college, funded by the European Social Fund, which taught me basic html. I enjoy creating websites so I decided to do it all myself and it is easy to maintain and update them. My main problem has been optimising them for search engines with finding the right keywords. It has helped by using reciprocal links with other websites and directories”.
Miranda Stamp has done a lot of work on her own websites, and has found some helpful resources. She says, “The best book on websites I’ve ever bought is Creating Web Sites – The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald. It’s written in English not geekspeak and has clear explanations and examples of what to write and how it will appear. It tells you the most technically correct way of doing things. For general HTML info I have also got Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML by Elisabeth Freeman and Eric Freeman. This has a lot of good graphics and clear explanations, and exercises to do along the way. It is the sort of book you need to read without interruption”. Miranda also recommends website magazines. She says, “Magazines often include free discs with software forediting your site. A trial of something like Dreamweaver is a good way to see if you want to buy the full version. This was how I started doing my websites”. Miranda has more advice, “See what short courses your local college run. If you have no knowledge of the subject whatsoever a course will be a good way to get some basic training and an understanding of your software. You may also be able to get some training via your local enterprise agencyor over the Internet. You could select the programme you use on the basis of the training you can get”.
There are a number of packages that help you set up an online shop. These packages usually include a shop front, a shopping cart system, and some also include hosting. Most can integrate with payment gateways such as Paypal, Nochex and Protx. Prices vary enormously, so check out the different features you get. Oscommerce is ‘open source’, which means it is free. Some systems have more flexibility, and a basic system may not serve your business if it grows. You may need to pay more for a fully customisable set up so your online shop doesn’t look similar to others with the same system.