today’s biz ladies post comes from one of my favorite people around: kate caprari of three square design. i’ve been working with kate since the beginning of design*sponge to customize our layout and design and she’s the only reason i know anything about html coding. so when it came time to cover the topic of e-commerce, websites, selling and sharing your business online, i went straight to my favorite source. today kate is covering all of the different options for getting your business online, so whether you’re looking to set up a small shop, a blog for your business, or a custom-designed website she’s got all the advice, tips, links and details you need to get started at any level. if you’re thinking about getting your work online this is a definite must-read. thanks so much to kate for sharing this advice with us!
CLICK HERE for kate’s full post after the jump!
THE NUTS & BOLTS GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BUSINESS ONLINE
If I meet someone new and learn she’s a physical therapist, I immediately badger her with questions: How can I fix a sore wrist? What’s carpal tunnel syndrome? Likewise, with my friend the electrician. “I’ve got this thing with my dimmer….”
When people find out that I run a web design company, they tend to have a million questions for me in return. Who do you recommend for web hosting; what’s the easiest way to start an online store; how do I write a blog?
This article will answer some of those questions and share the nuts and bolts of getting your business online.
We’ll review four main categories – Storefronts, Websites, Blogs, and Social Media – and wrap up with a few notes on how to measure your results. I will include specific product recommendations, how-tos, and will be available to answer questions in the comments section.
A presence for your business online can promote either goods or services. The line between websites, blogs, and stores is fuzzy, and you can grow your business using just one platform or a hybrid of all three.
If you have a product to sell, chances are you’ll want some type of online store. This can range from very simple to highly customized. Here are some options, along with pros and cons.
Etsy is a powerhouse for selling handmade goods online. It’s easy to set up a small storefront, and the marketplace has a loyal following of craft lovers.
As with many online shop services, there are fees. Etsy itself takes 3.5% of each sale, along with 20 cents for each listing. In addition, you’ll want to factor in Paypal fees which are typically 2.9% plus 30 cents per item.
You can find a great Etsy fee calculator here to calculate the total taken from each item sold.
Pros: Easy to set up; built in audience of Etsy users.
Cons: Per item fees; heavy focus on handmade crafts, might not work for other goods.
Big Cartel, originally designed for artists and musicians, provides an easy-to-use interface for your online shop. Fees are reasonable – either free, $10 or $20 per month, depending on your needs. Big Cartel does not charge based on sales, so you’ll only need to consider Paypal fees.
The interface is somewhat formulaic, but flexible enough that you can create a nice design without much formal training. Another bonus is that you can use your own URL as your shop address.
Pros: Easy to set up, flexible layout.
Cons: Possible to outgrow if your business has a wide variety of product options or custom needs.
Other Intermediate Options
Other intermediate options include Shopify and Mals E Commerce. Both these choices are good for people who are not afraid of HTML and are looking for an easy shopping cart option to integrate with an existing website design.
There are many other available shopping carts, like Zen Cart and Magento if you feel like wrangling some code.
Pros: Easy to integrate with current website; low fees.
Cons: Knowledge of HTML and CSS necessary to set up.
The ultimate option, of course, is to hire a designer to help you create an online shop. A designer can integrate any of the above carts or create a completely customized store. Like any other aspect of web design, the cost of developing an ecommerce site will vary depending on your needs. Before you begin, spend time outlining the goals and expectations for your shop.
If you don’t need e-commerce or a blog, but want to give your company a presence online, then a traditional website is likely the right solution for you.
First, choose your domain name. As the popularity of the Internet explodes, it’s increasingly difficult to find available domain names that aren’t a thousand characters long and full of obscure terms.
Ideally, your domain name will be the name of your business, but you can get creative by adding words like “shop” or “online” or even something random, as long as it makes sense.
You can check the availability of domain names with your web host. Another fun option is NameBoy, which suggests domain names based on keywords you enter.
For example, we know Design Sponge is taken, but NameBoy suggests that you might like Artistic Mop?
Once you find an available name, you can register and set up a hosting package for your website. For reliable web hosting, I recommend GoDaddy.com. Their commercials are awful, but the product is dependable and well-priced.
Another good host, which caters to small business and non-profits, is Laughing Squid. Their prices are a bit higher, but it’s akin to shopping at Whole Foods vs. your local grocery store.
Build your Website:
Once you have a domain name and hosting plan, you’ll need a bona fide website.
If you’re up for the challenge, there are tons of great resources online to help you build your own site. W3 Schools provides a huge archive of free tutorials, and online communities like The Switchboards offer forums for questions and support.
Pros: Save money, learn a new skill.
Cons: Time-consuming and frustrating to learn how to program.
Hire a Designer:
If the idea of learning HTML and coding your own site sounds daunting – or if you’d like a really top-notch professional site – then you’ll likely hire a designer.
Designers come in all sizes and stripes, and like any other industry, it’s generally a “get what you pay for” proposition.
Even if you’re on a budget, hiring a designer is not out of reach. I’d recommend hiring a great firm to help you develop a brand and identity, but to scale back on the scope of your website. A gorgeous five page site will be much more effective than a poorly-designed 50 page site, with tons of custom features.
Pros: Beautiful website; working with a professional who can help you realize your vision.
If you’re just getting started, and the words HTML and CSS don’t carry any special meaning for you, then I’d recommend you go with Blogger.
Blogger offers an easy to use, free, out of the box solution, which means you can choose an address for your blog, a stock layout, and be up and running in no time. Their templates, while ubiquitous, are well-designed and are generally flexible enough for basic needs.
You can also check out the options at WordPress.com for a similar service.
Pros: Blogger makes getting online and blogging very easy, even for a novice, with no initial investment.
Cons: Your website address will include 3rd party branding (yourname.blogspot.com) and many other bloggers will likely have the same template.
If your business requires a professional presence on the web, or you’re blogging for a living, you’ll likely need a more customized set up.
The first step is to secure your domain name and a web host (see process above). I recommend using the open source tools at WordPress.org to create a custom blog for your needs.
If budget is a concern, and you’re willing to sacrifice some customized style, there are many templates available for WordPress – these are predesigned layouts that you can use for free or a small fee. They typically include advertising back to the template author. If you’re technologically savvy, you may be able to install a template on your new WordPress blog yourself. Otherwise, it’s relatively inexpensive to hire a designer to complete this piece for you.
Pros: More original than a stock template from Blogger, and relatively cheap to set up; personalized URL.
Cons: You may have advertising for another company on your template. Other bloggers may share the same look. Domain registration and hosting is not free.
For the most professional look, you’ll want to hire a web designer to create a layout customized specifically to your needs. The sky is the limit for what we can design with WordPress, so just about anything you can imagine can be turned into a blog online.
Pros: Customized templates are highly specific to your personal needs and design aesthetic.
Cons: Additional investment to hire a designer.
This is a meaty topic that deserves its own post, but briefly, I recommend that you consider social media options along with your website, blog, or online shop.
You’ll use social media to direct people to your blog, shop, or website, so it’s important to have a good foundation before you embark on using these tools.
Pros: Great way to connect with other small business owners and potential customers.
Cons: One more thing to keep up with in your busy day…
And finally… once you have a great website, blog, or shop set up, how do you know if anyone cares?
Hands down, the best tool for online metrics, is Google Analytics. It’s free, intuitive to use, and will provide immense insight into your online audience.
Once you sign up for a Google Analytics account, you’ll need to install a tiny piece of code on each page of your website or into your blog template. If you’re building your own site, you can always hire a designer to add this finishing touch.
Pros: Excellent metrics on site visitors and referrals; free service.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I encourage you to delve into these resources, explore alternative options, and most importantly – to ask for help when you need it!
Good luck to everyone with getting your business online!
Kate Caprari, designer and founder of Three Square Design, specializes in web and graphic design for creative companies. Kate spoke at our Boston Biz Ladies meet up and is delighted to be sharing tips on how to get your business online.