Saturday, 21 April 2012

Start a Online Store Business


   
(310). Start a Online Store Business 
There are many benefits to online retailing, including relatively low entry cost, the ability to get the enterprise started in your free time if you have a regular job, the abundance of inexpensive technical tools and specialized services that can make your marketing and operations efficient and effective without the need to hire staff. On the other hand, many people start online stores that seem to sit undiscovered and eventually disappear. The key is putting your startup funds behind things that will help you draw visitors and bring them back again and again. Visitors first and inventory second is a good rule to follow

Instructions :
1. Research the feasibility of your ideas. This involves identifying and quantifying the niche you intend to occupy in the retail or wholesale marketplace. Establish the price range and consumer buying habits you will target. Find suppliers that can drop ship for you or supply even small amounts of product to your shipping facilities on a quick turn-around basis.

2. Profile your target customer and use this to establish your marketing strategy. Research Facebook and other social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and discount providers such as Groupon. If you have money to spend, marketing is where to spend it to get the best return on your investment.

  • 3. Write your business plan to include your target customer assumptions, product offering assumptions, supplier and fulfillment assumptions. Have all these in hand before you begin work on your website.




  • 4. Plan your website and online marketing to reflect a solid brand image. Again, this is another place to invest money. Online branding and marketing is a science and doing it yourself, unless you are knowledgeable, can be a big mistake. Make use of domain and website-hosting companies and the tools they offer to build and update your site, provide a shopping cart and visitor tracking.




  • 5. Contact the Office of the Secretary of State in your state to establish the legalities you must follow. Set up an LLC or corporation for your enterprise, and take out any state and local licenses you may need.




  • 6. Apply your marketing strategy to launch your site with the biggest fanfare possible. One way to attract visitors is to offer useful information; for example, if you are going to sell amateur gold mining supplies, have articles on good places to search for gold, sluicing and panning techniques. Offer free or deeply discounted products to attract visitors to open accounts. Definitely collect email addresses and mail out a weekly newsletter highlighting products and describing their best use.




  • Tips & Warnings

    • Start small and expand slowly. Keep emphasis on quality and service. Expand your product line when you are sure your marketing is effective. The first few months of your online store should be focused on experimentation to find what works best. Use your visitor statistics to discover whether you are appealing to local, national or international shoppers and use this information to analyze and adjust your marketing and product line strategies.
       

      Products To Sell Through Your Online Store

      An obvious first step to starting an online store is figuring out what you are going to sell. Perhaps you already know what that product is. And, maybe it is an item that you manufacture yourself. If you have your product choice all figured out, you may want to skip to the next section. But, for those of you who are still trying to figure out what to sell, I have some pointers to offer you and I also have a few things for you to think through.


      Is There a Market Niche That Interests You?
      Start off by thinking about things you know well and that are of interest to you. Carefully consider your area of personal interest and try to remember whether you have ever felt that you were in need of a particular product that you couldn't easily find. If so, you may be onto an underserved niche and therefore a step closer to figuring out what to sell. Operating within a market niche has a meaningful advantage when it comes to selling products through a website. This is simply because there are so many people selling on the web these days. So, if you pick a type of product to sell that is very common or mainstream, you are going to have to work extra hard to effectively compete.


      What Product Price Range Should You Target?
      Give some thought as to whether you will sell expensive products or inexpensive products. Though this may seem like a trivial discussion point, there are very important ramifications based upon which way you go. Specifically, it can take a long time for a new website to garner a meaningful amount of traffic. So, if you are selling low-cost products, it may take a very long time before you are achieving enough sales volume to be generating a reasonable level of cashflow. On the other hand, if you are selling a more costly product, you might be able to sell just one or a few items each month and still be making a decent income. Of course, this is all highly dependent upon your personal budget and the timeframe within which you are wanting or needing to become successful with your new online store.


      Can You Sell Products That You Don't Have to Buy in Advance With Your Own Money?
      Consider if you are going to buy bulk product stock in advance and do your own packaging/shipping. Or, are you going to be more of a virtual retailer who markets and sells products that you don't actually carry, but rather, that get shipped from a third-party distributor directly to your customers, on your behalf, whenever your online store makes a sale? You may already know that this process is called "drop-shipping". Both of these online store operating methods have pluses and minuses. And, there are lot's of people out there who've been successful with either method.
      Going the drop-shipping route provides the obvious financial benefit of not having to front money to acquire products that you then have to store somewhere in advance of making sales. But, a significant downside is that you are putting a critical aspect of customer service in the hands of a third-party. Specifically, by having a distributor ship product directly to your customers, you are trusting that the distributor will properly package the goods you have sold and that they will ship the items in a timely manner to your customer. Proper packaging and fast order turnaround times are both highly critical aspects of getting repeat business and referral business from your customers. So, if you do go the drop-shipping route, be sure that you are working with a reputable, efficient distributor. After all, by shipping directly to your customers, the third-party distributor is controlling a tremendously important part of your business. Basically, it is a bit of a downside to the drop-shipping method in that you are giving up some control of the customer service process. However, you can mitigate this by being highly selective of your drop-ship partners.
      In addition to not having to front money to acquire and store products, the drop-ship operating model also has a huge advantage in that it allows you to build a seemingly gigantic online store, even if it's really just you operating in the background at home. Specifically, you could literally list thousands of products in your online store and then spend your days coordinating with multiple drop-ship distribution warehouses as customers make purchases through your site. A friend of mine started doing this with consumer electronics several years ago. Initially, his company was very small infrastructure-wise. However, from almost day 1, it looked huge online because he was seemingly carrying hundreds of different products. But now, after years of steady sales growth, his company truly is big and he has over 50 full-time employees working for him.
      As a final note about drop-shipping, there is yet another downside to mention. It is the fact that the vast majority of products that are available for drop-shipping are already being marketed by hundreds (if not thousands) of websites. This is simply because there are a lot of people who like the idea of selling products that they don't have to purchase and store in advance of sales. So, it somewhat challenging to identify a product niche, without a lot of competing sellers, that is available for drop-shipping. It's challenging, but definitely not impossible. And, if you have the resources, timeline, and strategic cunning to be able to compete with other businesses, it might actually be acceptable to you to sell drop-shipped products in a competitive market segment.

      Tools For Building Your Online Store

      As mentioned earlier, I have stuck with major software and online service vendors when it comes to setting up my online stores. I have found that both Yahoo and GoDaddy.com provide extremely robust online store hosting packages. Considering all of the innovations Google has brought to the Web, it is surprising to me that they haven't created their own web-store hosting package to compete with Yahoo and GoDaddy.com. However, Google does offer some incredible free tools that help support your store once it is deployed. We'll discuss those tools in an upcoming section.


      Easy to Use Software for the Do-It-Yourself Web Store Owner
      Yahoo's online store hosting package is called "Merchant Solutions". And, GoDaddy's equivalent offering is "Quick Shopping Cart". Basically, these products are toolkits with which you can design, construct, deploy, and maintain your online store. First of all, either package allows you to design a nice look and feel to your website store. Second, they both make it fairly easy to add products to sell on your site. And third, they both provide the basic shopping cart and online check-out infrastructure that we've all used at some point when buying products online. Either Yahoo's "Merchant Solutions" or GoDaddy.com's "Quick Shopping Cart" is literally all you need to get your online store up and running.
      Yahoo's Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart are both products that I like and that continue to serve me well. But, they have nuances about them that cause me to choose one over the other depending on the specifics of the particular store that I am launching. This is where I hope I can help fast-track you a bit based upon what I've experienced with these two competing online store hosting packages. If you carefully consider the following "pros and cons" commentary, you'll increase your chances of selecting the right hosting package to suit your specific needs.


      Comparing and Contrasting Pricing
      You can expect to spend anywhere from $9.99 per month to $49.99 per month for online store hosting services from Yahoo or GoDaddy. The difference being whether you will be selling 20 products, 100 products, or greater than 100 products. I should clarify that it is GoDaddy that offers the different pricing levels based upon your number of products. Yahoo has a simplified pricing structure in that it costs $39.95 per month for up to 50,000 products. I do urge you, however, to read on because Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart have many differences between them that I think greatly outweighs any pricing differentials.
      Should I use PayPal? A: Perhaps initially, just to get started inexpensively.
      There is in fact a less expensive way to accept credit card transactions at your online store, namely, PayPal. However, it is my opinion that PayPal has a bit of a stigma to it that will in the long run stifle the success of your online store. I think PayPal works perfectly when buying or selling items on eBay. In fact, PayPal works so well with eBay that it is generally perceived as a payment processing mechanism for individuals who have an occasional item to sell online... It is not thought of as a transaction mechanism for a standalone, professional-grade online store. Again, I actually like PayPal. But, I never use it with my online stores because I know that some potential customers will view my store in a different light if they were to see that my site utilizes a PayPal back-end for payment processing. This is especially the case for my online stores that sell more costly, higher-end products.
      The other side to this PayPal vs. online merchant account debate is that there might not be any harm in getting your store off the ground using PayPal and somewhat "kicking the tires" for awhile to test your store's potential. Then, once you have proven that your store is viable, you can shoulder the extra cost to pay for a full merchant account. Both Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart integrate seamlessly with either a full online merchant account or a PayPal account. If you go the route of the online merchant account, both Yahoo and GoDaddy help you apply for your merchant account directly through Merchant Solutions or Quick Shopping Cart.


      Do Your Products Have Many Variations?
      A key aspect to consider when deciding between using Yahoo or GoDaddy for your online store hosting is how many variations of a given product you will sell. For example, one of my oldest sites is an online retailer of clothing. And, for that particular business, I carry several different colors choices for many of the shirts and sweatshirts. I initially started the store with GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart. But then I soon discovered that there are some product variation constraints in the GoDaddy package. Quick Shopping Cart would not allow me to customize the product color choice list to the extent that I needed. For illustration, I carry a particular women's t-shirt that comes in "moss green" and "lime green". The problem was that GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart would only let me list "green" as a color choice. By contrast, Yahoo's Merchant Solutions package allows for the full customization of product variations. So, I could literally list as many special color variations as I needed.


      Will Your Store Depend Upon Search Engine Traffic?
      When choosing your online store host, it is important to gauge how important search engine-originated traffic will be to your store's success. A lot of people may view the previous sentence as somewhat strange. But, I assure you that there are many types of businesses that do not rely on search engine traffic for viability. I have a friend who sells a very localized product from her web-store. There really isn't anyone outside of her small Midwest town that will ever take an interest in what she has to sell. So, nearly 100% of her online store sales are generated by word of mouth and local newspaper advertising. She has just a handful of different products to sell and uses Quick Shopping Cart to her satisfaction.



      How to Start a Free Online Store



      When you first start your small business online, you want to spend as little money upfront as possible. Once the online business starts turning a profit, then you can spend more on marketing and product expansion. You can start a free online store selling your own products or selling the products of other businesses, where you earn a commission on the items you sell for them.

      Selling Own Products

      Step 1

      Identify a free website builder. Dozens of free website builders exist, so you can build your store online without spending a dime. For example, ecrater and Vendio are free store builders, and Free Webs provides you with a free place to build an ecommerce website as well. Café Press is another website that allows you to build a free online store to sell products.

      Step 2

      Register for a free account. Set up your free account with the website builder of your choice. You can also choose one of the free templates the site builder provides to fit your business colors, add your logo and modify the copy on the site to include information on your business and products.

      Step 3

      Add product pictures and descriptions. Upload the pictures of each of the products you plan to sell. Write the description for each product and add the price.

      Step 4

      Add shopping cart buttons. Most of the sites allow you to add a PayPal or Google Checkout shopping cart to your site, so you simply copy and paste the HTML code for the “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” buttons and the “View Cart” button for checking out when the customer is done.

      Affiliate Sites

      Step 1

      Register as an affiliate. Some companies offer affiliates a complete online web store that is customized with your business name and contact information. For example, Makes Parties provides affiliates who want to sell party supplies a complete website when the affiliate registers.

      Step 2

      Promote the website. The company you are an affiliate for maintains the website for you, so all you have to do is promote the website to drive traffic to it and try to increase sales. You can do this by handing out business cards to people you know; writing articles on party planning or holidays that you post online and then include links to your online web store products.

      Step 3

      Establish payment arrangements with the site provider. Once your commission level reaches a certain level (usually $25), the web store provider sends you a check in the mail or direct deposits your commission checks into your account.













  • Assuming that you have something truly great to sell, gather or create the following 15 items, and you'll have a reasonable chance at making some money online:
    1) A Business Plan 
    Writing a business plan seems daunting. You might say, "I'm starting a business, I don't want to sit down and write a paper, like I'm in school." But think of it this way: it's free, and it will help you immeasurably.
    Real businesses have business plans. For guidance on how to write a plan for an e-commerce site, go here.
    2) A Reliable Source for Your Product 
    If you're selling hand-sewn Korean quilts, are you confident the price of yarn isn't going to skyrocket three months from now? Do you have more than one wholesale source? Hopefully yes, otherwise you could be in trouble.
    The best problem of all: if you make your product in your basement, can you handle success if you suddenly get 125 orders? Make sure your supply line is steady before you plunk down your money.
    3) A Good Domain Name
    When you try to register your business's domain name, you'll probably find that the name you want is already taken.
    In response, some people choose terribly cumbersome names. They find out that "Tshirt.com" is taken and then learn that "HockeyTshirt.com" is also taken. So they create an unworkable domain name like VeryCool-HockeyTshirt.com. Not only is it too long, it contains a hyphen, which should be avoided (some users forget to put them in, sending them to your competitor's site.)
    A good domain name is short and memorable and — most important — easily typed. Ideally, a user can simply hear it and know how it's spelled. So GoodShoe.com is much better than GoodeShoe.com. In fact any word that's hard to spell should be avoided.
    The ".com" version is typically far better than ".net," because browsers default to ".com."
    Be aware that your URL affects your search engine ranking, so if you want to be found for "shoe," it's a good idea to fit "shoe" into your domain name. One way to do this is to use your brand name along with a keyword term. So MillerShoe tends to work better than FantasticShoe.com. (Which is why MillerShoe is taken, but FantasticShoe is still available.)
    4) A Reliable Web Host
    Your Web hosting service is the technical backbone of your site: its service and support options will play abig role in your business's operation. Hosting companies usually charge monthly, and the cheapest company isn't always best.
    Choose carefully the first time: once you pick your Web host and install your files there, moving to a new host is, at best, a major headache. Ideally you'll choose a good one and stay there.
    To see a couple popular choices, take a look at Small Business Computing's 2005 Product Picks.
    5) A Web Designer
    Many Web design software packages are so easy to use that business owners think they can design their own site. That's a mistake.
    Homemade Web sites aren't like homemade cookies. No one likes the way they look. Worse, an ugly site makes shoppers wonder: should I enter my credit card number in this funky looking site?
    Select a Web design firm with great care, and be prepared to pay for quality work — you'll get nowhere without it. On a related note, you'll need a steady flow of product shots. Can your Web designer handle your photo needs?
    6) E-Commerce Software 
    This is the software that will run your store, from product display to inventory management to checkout. Selecting your e-commerce software is one tough choice. You can try it out ahead of time, but you won't fully know how you're going to like it until you're up and running for a while. At that point, changing your e-commerce platform is like changing boats in the middle of the ocean.
    Consequently, you want to do a lot of research before you choose. For more information and a list of well-known e-commerce programs, go here.
    Realize a couple of key facts: A) the prices for e-commerce software have fallen, so you don't need to spend a fortune unless your needs are complicated, and B) many of today's e-commerce packages include a full range of tools in one package, from an inventory management system to marketing tools. Many of today's merchants prefer this "all-in-one" approach because it makes life simpler.
    7) A Credit Card Merchant Account 
    To accept credit cards online, you'll need a merchant account, which is an account with a bank or other financial institution that allows you to accept your shoppers' credit card numbers.
    Setting up a merchant account gets pricey. Banks typically charge a set-up fee, a monthly fee, and a percentage of each transaction. (So even if you have just a few customers, you pay the set-up fee and the monthly fee. Ouch!)
    To learn more about setting up a merchant account, go here.
    Many first-time small merchants get a merchant account through PayPal. The company is moving aggressively to gain clients, so it offers a no set-up fee method of accepting major credit cards.

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