biz ladies 09: the nuts & bolts of getting your biz online

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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.

STOREFRONT

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:

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:

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.

Customized Storefront:

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.

WEBSITE

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.

Domain Registration:

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?

Web Hosting:

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.

DIY

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.
Cons: Expense.

BLOGS

Beginner

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.


Intermediate

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.

Professional

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.

SOCIAL MEDIA

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.

Popular outlets include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and it’s worth exploring each of these to see which is a good fit with your lifestyle and audience.

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…


MEASURING RESULTS

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.
Cons: none!

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!

About Kate:

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.

Jenny

OMG, this is such an awesome post and so helpful! I am in the process of giving my website an overhaul! Thank you!

Christina

Great post!

I would also recommend that anyone going for a website should also ensure they have a way to update their site – ideally a content management system.

Programs like Frontpage or Dreamweaver do have their benefits but using software which enables you to login from anywhere over the globe to update your site is a must IMO.

Something like WordPress (traditionally a blogging platform but potentially so much more), enables you to back up your website; there are millions of design themes out there and is generally far more sustainable for a business site.

If you do wish to spend money on your site design a good WordPress designer will be able to set you up with a customised theme in order to get the best out of your product / services pages and convert those site visitors!

Kelly Galvin Robson

Thank you, Kate! This was very helpful… this topic can be SO intimidating, even for the bravest of us. Thanks for giving me a bit more confidence and direction for an online shop (and future website!).

Lydia, Clueless Crafter

I totally know how many millions of questions I had just getting the site up. Now, I am trying to figure out how to best format each blog post so that it looks streamlined. I play with the code in what little way I know.

Another thing I want to do is get rid of the awful Adsense because it’s killing the look! I like Design Sponge’s use of ads, but realize it takes something more to get this type of advertising.

How is this done over time?

Lydia, Clueless Crafter

Wow, thanks – read the entire article.

It’s important to keep integrity intact when developing an ad plan. I am personally attracted to this site because it balances content and marketing so well.

Bess

Amazzzing! I feel like I should be paying for the biz ladies content! I think I’m well on my way to getting my business online. Thanks for the great article :)

Rebecca Grimes

This is a great article. Thank you!

Just yesterday I finished a DIY site for my bedding company using Edirect Host http://www.rebeccagrimes.com. Once you get the hang of things, it’s very user friendly and there is plenty of customer service when in need. I was weary about resorting to templates and pre fab hosts, but I think i’ve been proven otherwise!!

Leslie

Thanks for a great post! Years ago I had a designer make me my web-site and I maintained it on my PC using Front Page. Now I have a MAC, can you suggest a good program for easy web-site updating? Thanks for any ideas you might have.

laura

Such a great and helpful article. I was wondering if you all had ideas/suggestions for finding good wordpress designers (ideally ones who might not be that expensive). I am not connected to the whole internet/design world and so don’t really know how to find help (and I definitely need it). I would love to find maybe students looking to make extra money though I can see the trade-off with experience. I’ve looked a little on Craigslist too and haven’t had much luck there. And I would love some guidance as to how to guage someone’s skill sets beyond looking at the sites they have done (or maybe that is all you can do). Sorry for all the questions. I’ve been stymied by this issue for a while and feel like you all may have the answers. Thanks so much for these columns. They are really amazing.

Red Witch Crafts

Thank you so much for the valuable info!
One site that I’d recommend to build your website, is weebly.com. It allows you to build your website free of charge(no commercials! great templates:), tools for setting up an online store, drag-and-drop system), and either use their hosting, or your own. The differences between a basic and a paid user are really insignificant! I built my website with them, and so far it is going great! note:I’m in no way associated with the company, I just like their service. ;)
Again, thank you so much for the article, and Grace, thank you for the biz ladies column- it’s a life saver!

Christine Schwalm

I used weebly.com to create my website. I purchased the domain through godaddy (though you can buy it through weebly, too) and linked it to my godaddy account. With very little html experience, I was able to create a personalized site with no ads.

Lauren Coleman

Great article. And I completely agree with Christina about a web-based content management system (CMS). She is also right about WordPress having evolved to the point of being way more than a blog platform — very sophisticated sites can be built on its code base, including e-commerce sites. There is a huge community that develops around WordPress, so there are a multitude of quality, free plugins that can extend the functionality of your site, saving you money from having it developed from scratch. (For example, integrating your email newsletters with your site, collecting analytics on how many people subscribe to your RSS feed, and more). Plus their CMS interface is so clean and user friendly. Can you tell I love WordPress? :)

For a really light and easy-to-implement CMS, I recommend CushyCMS. A web developer can make areas of the web site editable with a bit of Cushy code. Then it is easy for the site owner to manage content through their Cushy account, completely online, no software to buy like Dreamweaver or Frontpage.

As for how to know when you are hiring a quality designer/developer, yes, definitely explore their work. Talk to their clients. Or even reach out to the designers & developers behind your favorite sites. Get some techie friends to take a look. Maybe treat it like finding a contractor to work on your house. Start small, see if you like the relationship, the price, and the product, and build from there!

yvonnes

Thank you for the great post, this was so helpful.

Does anyone have any opinion, advice or experience with building a site or blog with .mac? Pros/Cons?

Stephanie

I’m a graphic designer, and I recommend TaprootHosting.com to all my clients. They are an eco-friendly company with good prices, great support, and great morals. (Not to mention their site is a whole lot prettier than GoDaddy!)

“1 single medium-sized webserver can emit as much CO2 over the course of a year as an SUV that gets 15mpg.”

The Dingbat (Adrienne)

Tip:

For installing code from Google Analytics on your blog, put it in your footer and then you don’t have to manually insert it in to every blog post. It will still track per post.

Kat

Great post!

Laura- I wholeheartedly recommend the girl who set my bakery’s website up; Arianne Foulks. Check my site (www.muddysbakeshop.com) and see what you think- there’s a link to her website at the bottom of each of my pages. She was AMAZING!

As for Google Analytics… I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s no “con”. Simply enter “why not to use analytics” in your search bar to get the other side of the story. It’s free, but you’re giving Google permission to access to all your stats and content for building their own ad programs that people will pay for. So great short term… maybe not a good idea in the big picture. Just an opinion!
Thanks again!

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