The Nuts & Bolts of an Online Business:
Online Business Operations
Starting a business online is typically very easy. This is why you see so many people attempting to jump online to make easy money. Unfortunately for them, there is no such thing. Even still, the low barrier to entry and low cost of startup makes launching an online business a very attractive entrepreneurial move.
So what does the online entrepreneur need to get their online business off of the ground?
First and foremost you will need high-speed Internet access (btw some Starbucks now offer free WIFI). You will also want a computer with plenty of RAM, hard drive space, appropriate peripherals, and some basic software. Beyond that you’re going to need a host of tools to manage your online business efficiently. The following is not an exhaustive list by any measure, but it’s a good place to start.
Claiming Your Space & Picking Your Locale
These days it seems like there a million domain and hosting companies ready to take your money, so making a choice can be difficult. Unfortunately, I’ve had the joyful experience of trying nearly every mainstream domain and hosting company under the sun, and I’ve come to favor one. Hostgator.
I like Hostgator because compared to the other domain and hosting providers I’ve used, they’re affordable, they have excellent customer support, and my shared server has proven very reliable.
Remember, if your site is down or you have a technical issue that takes 24 hours to resolve, you are losing money every minute. Customer support and reliability are important factors to consider in selecting a domain and hosting provider no matter who you decide to use.
You also want to make sure that you have enough server hard drive space, allowable data transfer, and FTP access to meet your website’s needs. If you will have a lot of video, pictures, and audio streaming from your site be sure you have the hard drive space and allowable data transfer to support it. In some instances using a separate company for media hosting alone might be a better option.
Most startup online businesses can run on a “Baby” Hostgator hosting plan without issue, but as you grow your business you will need to upgrade your hosting services accordingly.
If you are going to accept payments directly on your website look into getting a secure server. For an additional monthly fee your web host can provide you with a secure (or encrypted) server so that you can safely accept credit card info and personal data directly on your website.
This is important because you want to build trust with your customers and there is nothing worse than having to explain to them that their personal and financial information has been compromised as a result of your unsecured site.
One last note about Hostgator, when you purchase your domain through Hostgator you can have the peace of mind that your domain is yours. There are a number of unscrupulous companies on the web who take your money and your domain. One day you come to find out that you have no control over it. Don’t let this happen to you. Read the fine print, or just take my referral and check out Hostgator today.
They Say Website Owners Look Like Their Websites
A well-designed website does not have to cost $4000. There are many affordable options for those on a budget who need a site that is functional without being fugly.
When it comes to web design there are a number of differing opinions amongst the online business community. Some “gurus” say the uglier the better. Artsy folks typically believe that design is all that counts. Techies say that code is most important. They all have valid points. Here is what you can take from them.
Obviously you don’t want an ugly site. No one really likes ugly. No one wants to buy from ugly. But sometimes ugly wins because it doesn’t distract from intent. In other words, some websites get their point across more easily because design doesn’t serve as a distraction.
When people get to these ugly websites they know what they are getting (or at least they think they do), and they know exactly what they need to do on that website to get what they came for.
In the same way, your goal should be to create a website that is easy to navigate, lets your customer know what they’re getting right away, and makes it easy for them to get the thing they want.
Art can be beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Make sure that your site reflects your brand and image appropriately.
Most importantly, don’t allow your designer to convince you that having a lot of bells and whistles will help you make more sales. They won’t.
Instead opt for a fully functional site that can get found by search engines (this means limiting flash design), and creates a straightforward but enjoyable user experience.
Code is poetry. Yes that is what they say over at WordPress.org. Code is an incredibly powerful element in your web design because it’s what gets you found.
Thankfully, platforms like WordPress and premium WordPress themes like Thesis have found a way to integrate code and design in a way that enables the average computer user to build awesome websites on their own.
Like I said, getting a well-designed website doesn’t have to break the bank. Depending on your familiarity with basic design principles and web code, you can design a website yourself for a little as $97!
Now, if you have limited resources this is the way to go, however if you want to present a professional image I suggest you have your site professionally designed.
In case you’re wondering, this site was designed by Charlie Pabst at Char Fish Designs. My healthcare marketing site however, also running on WordPress and Thesis, was professional designed by Rachael Butts.
A Vital Organ In Your Online Operation – An Autoresponder
If you’re going to run an online business, you are going to need an autoresponder. An autoresponder will enable you to engage in email marketing, broadcast blog posts to your subscribers, develop courses that you can deliver via e-mail, and much more.
There are quite a few mainstream autoresponder services available, but my provider of choice is Aweber. I like Aweber because it’s fairly simple to use. Plus, creating good-looking submission forms is a breeze, and they have an excellent reputation with ISPs so your e-mails actually get delivered.
We will cover the different ways to use an autoresponder at a later date. For now, I’ll sum this up by saying, get one! Here’s a link to Aweber, and if you sign up using this link I get to make a few bucks too!
Time To Get Shopping!
Depending on what you are going to sell online you will need some kind of online shopping cart and merchant account. If you are selling strictly information products, e-junkie is great place to start. Easy, straightforward, and super cheap e-junkie is a beginner’s best friend.
On the other hand, if you are selling tangible goods e-junkie is not going to cut it. Online retailers will need something more heavy duty like Volusion or BigCommerce. Use those links to read the reviews conducted by Top Ten Reviews.
In addition to an online shopping cart, if you are selling goods online you are going to want a shipping and fulfillment service. Unless of course you want to turn your garage or spare bedroom into a warehouse and spend sleeping hours packing orders for shipment.
Fortunately, you can avoid this nightmare by using a shipping and fulfillment service that handles inventory, order fulfillment, and shipping for you. If you need this kind of service, you are going to want to shop around for a good price. Usually these services can be pricey if you don’t have a substantial number of orders coming in every month. That said, a good place to look may be efulfillment service.
Dang You Look Good, You Betta Back That Bleep Up!
There is nothing more heart-wrenching than slaving for hours on end in front of your computer and then WHAMO! Something goes wrong and your data is gone. After you lose all control, beat your chest like Tarzan, and then throw yourself down on the floor to cry, you realize that the whole drama could have been prevented if you had a data backup system.
Save yourself the heart ache and panic attack. Get a data backup system today. Shit happens and one day it’s going to happen to you. Currently, I use and external hard drive to back up all of my work. It’s working for me, but as I grow I’m starting to see my limits.
I’ll soon have a library of hard drives if I keep it up. Now, I’m looking a cloud storage systems like Mozy and Backpack by 37 Signals. I’ve heard great things about Backpack and all its bells and whistles, so I’m leaning in that direction at the moment. No matter what, I’m upping the ante on my backup system.
It is critical to the viability of your online business. Get something ASAP, and if you find something awesome, tell me about it please!
Looking Like a Pro – Because You Are One!
If you want to have any kind of credibility with your online business, you need to have a phone number on your website. If you don’t want to invest $30 in a virtual phone system like RingCentral, then put your cell phone number on your site.
Yes, I just told you to put your personal cell number on your site. There is nothing more sketchy or annoying than not being able to find a phone number that will connect you to an actual person.
If you want to start building a customer base that loves and trusts you from the get-go put a legitimate phone number that gets answered by a human being on your website right away.
I know I said this list wasn’t exhaustive, but based on the length of this article that’s probably hard to believe. I still have no doubt that I missed stuff.
If you have any recommendations on products or if you can think of anything I left out, please let me know in the comments.
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If you have a specific question about anything you’ve seen here please leave your question in the comments and I’ll be sure to help you in any way I can!