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A step-by-step guide from setting up a web site through maintaining appropriate documentation for tax purposes.
Create Your Own Web Store An Organized Approach for Selling on the World Wide Web Create Your Own Web Store Table of Contents STEP ONE: Determine Functionality of the Store ........................................................................ 2 STEP TWO: Establish a Domain ................................................................................................... 2 STEP THREE: OBTAIN A HOSTING SITE ............................................................................... 3 STEP FOUR: DESIGN YOUR STORE ........................................................................................ 5 STEP FIVE: USING HTML.......................................................................................................... 5 STEP SIX: LEARNING ABOUT SERVERS AND CLIENTS .................................................... 6 STEP SEVEN: LEARNING ABOUT FLASH ............................................................................. 7 STEP EIGHT: HIRING A WEB DESIGNER............................................................................... 7 STEP NINE: ADDING A BACK-END DATABASE AND SHOPPING CART ....................... 8 STEP TEN: OBTAIN ADVERTISING REVENUE ..................................................................... 8 STEP ELEVEN: ESTABLISH A WAY TO RECEIVE PAYMENT ........................................... 9 STEP TWELVE: DEVELOP AN INVENTORY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM ........................... 9 STEP THIRTEEN: DETERMINE BEST SHIPPING METHODS ............................................ 10 STEP FOURTEEN: MARKET YOUR STORE ......................................................................... 10 STEP FIFTEEN: KEEP PROPER RECORDS............................................................................ 11 APPENDIX A: WORKSHEET FOR DETERMINING FUNCTIONALITY OF YOUR WEB STORE .......................................................................................................................................... 12 APPENDIX B: HTML RESOURCES......................................................................................... 13 APPENDIX C: CHECKLIST FOR WEB STORE DESIGN SOFTWARE COMPARISON .... 14 © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 1 Create Your Own Web Store This checklist will walk you through the steps in first getting a web store up and running, and will help you to monitor inventory and keep proper records for your sales. STEP ONE: Determine Functionality of the Store Before you can begin the process of designing your store, you will need to figure out what you need your store to do for you and for your customers. Please see the worksheet at Appendix A that provides several common features of a web store that you will need to consider. This worksheet will help you to determine all of the functionality that will be needed to make your store effective for its intended purpose. STEP TWO: Establish a Domain Definition of Domain: A domain is an identifier of an Internet site, made up of characters (usually words and dashes), and separated by periods. An example is “www.example.com”. The most difficult part of establishing a domain name will probably be coming up with what you want it to be called and finding one that isn‟t already taken. Domain names are available for no cost, or you can pay a fee to have a little more convenience (and choice) in setting one up. These fees can range from $10.00 to $35.00 or more. Think, first, however, about what type of domain you want. The most widely recognized are the „dot com‟ sites, as well as .net, and .org. These days, however, domains can have a variety of different extensions. There is a non-profit organization commissioned by the government, and known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), that oversees top-level domain name system management. ICANN recently allowed for new top-level domains that include the following extension types: .aero; .biz; .coop; .info; .museum; .name; and .pro. On line stores will generally opt for the .com version. © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 2 You will first need to check to see if the domain name you would like to have is available. A domain name registrar can assist you with this. The registrars are entities that have been given authority by ICANN to register domain names and will usually offer a selection of web hosting services as well. You can find a partial list of these registrars on the internet by typing the search term, “list of domain name registrars,” into your web browser. When you select the registrar you wish to use, there will be two basic steps; (1) search for availability of the name you want; and (2) finish the process if yours is available. You will need to be somewhat flexible here, as the name you have selected as being ideal for you might have already been taken, and you will need to keep trying until you find one that is not. Although there are millions of domain names already in use, don‟t be discouraged, as there are millions more that no one has thought of yet. Cautionary Tip: Be careful during this process that you are not agreeing to other services that you do not wish to purchase. STEP THREE: OBTAIN A HOSTING SITE Definition of Hosting Site: Companies that provide space on a server for websites. These companies may own or lease the servers on which the web site will reside. There are several things that you must consider during this step in the process. Cost: If choosing a “free” site, you must consider whether or not it is really without cost. Sure, there may not be a fee to pay up front, but you could end up paying in the form of allowing advertisers (not of your choosing) to post ads on your store – sometimes even ads that are for products or services that are in direct competition with those you are offering. Another way free sites make money is to sell your information to companies that will inundate you with e-mailed advertisements otherwise known as “spam.” Know that on some free sites you could be required to refer other people to the hosting entity, people that must pay for the service, in order for you to get your service without being charged. Finally, if there are no forced advertisements, spam inducers, or referral requirements, you should be wary of that site as it is more likely to shut down on you if it is not making money. Sites that charge up front number in the hundreds and it can be confusing trying to pick the one that will work for you. You will need to select from Shared Hosting, Dedicated Hosting, or Colocation. © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 3 Shared Hosting is where you will share the site with other customers, and the easiest way to understand this is to think of it in terms of a house where several bedrooms are rented out to different people, and where you each must share in the cost of food and the utilities. You may be stuck paying more than your share as the result of folks who refuse to turn off their lights, thereby increasing your electric bill, or you may never get a chance to eat any of the snack food because another tenant has hogged it all. While Shared Hosting can work nicely for some small businesses, you just never know if one of your “neighbors” will hog all your bandwidth and slow your store down. Consider, also, that you could be severely limited in the amount of space you are allocated, and this type of hosting can be more susceptible to hacking. The costs for Shared Hosting can range from $1.99 per month to $25.00 per month or more. Dedicated Hosting is just that – you get your own dedicated server managed by the provider site. This type of hosting is recommended for those sites that will transact e- commerce via the web, mainly because it provides more security for your store. The consideration here, however, is that you may be required to provide some of the system administration, and if you do not have the skills or desire to do so, that will cost you extra, unless you‟re willing to learn a little bit about administration. The costs for Dedicated Hosting can range from $50.00 per month to more than $1,500.00 per month. Colocation is at the highest end of the cost spectrum associated with web hosting, but it does give you complete control over your store. Colocation allows you to rent space and install your own servers in that space. It is, therefore, recommended only for those who are particularly skilled in site administration and IT functions, and is usually only used for specialized proprietary applications. The costs for Colocation are difficult to determine unless you know how much information will be transferred each month, as this service charges for internet connection generally based on the total number of bits transferred each second then averaged for a month, and can be quite costly. File Types and Sizes: For those who want to use HTML (see Step Five below), and only .jpeg, or .gif images on their site, this is not so much of a consideration. For those, however, who have a need to run their own programs, or who wish to use Flash (see Step Seven below), or other macromedia alternatives, it will be an important consideration when choosing a web host, as many of them are limited only to HTML. If you have these special needs, be sure to double- check what limitations are imposed by the provider you are contemplating. Speed and Downtime: These two things can make or break your store, so you must do some research about the provider to see how reliable it is, and how quickly a customer can access your store. Find forums or threads that speak to the reliability of the provider you are looking into (but do bear in mind that folks will generally voice a negative opinion more often than they will a positive one). © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 4 You also have the right to request information from the potential host related to how often their servers have been down over the last year, and also how quickly they were able to reestablish the service. If they refuse to provide you with this information, find another host that will. To check speed, you can spend a little time accessing other sites hosted by the same provider (and the web host will generally either list its customers, or be happy to provide you with a few that you can check), and see how quickly you can access the store and move around the pages of the store. If your potential customers cannot get onto your store, they will simply find another, and if your pages are taking too long to load, most folks will not stick around and wait. STEP FOUR: DESIGN YOUR STORE You will have a couple of different choices here: (1) you can purchase the services of someone who is skilled at website (and specifically web store) design; or (2) you can use software to design your own. Hiring an Expert. As with hiring a professional for any type of work, there are a number of ways to find one. For more detailed information on this process, please refer to Step Eight below. Using Software to Design it Yourself. The key decision for using software to help you design your own store will be which design software to select. Naturally, you will want a package that is easy to learn and use, but also one that provides you with the tools to create a store that includes all the functional components that you came up with in Step One above. The cost of such software varies greatly, and, while the general rule of, “you get what you pay for,” does apply here, you may not need all the bells and whistles that some programs offer. Using the worksheet you completed for the functionality you wish your web store to have, shop around for the program that offers you the ability to do all those things. Read the consumer reviews on each piece of software you consider, and keep a checklist that allows you to compile information on several different software packages before you make a purchase. Appendix C provides you with a handy spreadsheet to compare the different software packages out there. One plus of purchasing a software package is that it will usually convert plain text into HTML for you, allowing you to avoid Step Five below. STEP FIVE: USING HTML Definition of HTML: HTML is an acronym for Hypertext Markup Language, and it is the method of coding certain words and phrases by using “tags” to make text appear a certain way, whether by font or size, and to embed images and graphics into a web page. © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 5 There are two approaches one can take related to HTML: (1) learn it yourself; or (2) use software that translates text into HTML. Appendix B includes lists of resources for each of these methods. Learning HTML on your own. Not so long ago, this was the only method available to anyone who wished to create and maintain a website or web store. These days, however, the choice to learn HTML is based purely on your desire to do so. The basics of HTML are fairly easy to comprehend, and with a good instruction guide, you will usually be able to figure out the codes or tags that you need to apply to accomplish the end result you desire. HTML Translation Software. These products range in cost from free shareware programs to those that can cost a couple of hundred dollars or more. You must be careful with some of these, however, as many of them are not too accurate, and it can be a frustrating exercise to try to correct a problem caused by the software itself. Refer to Step Four, above to learn about software that automatically formats your web store in HTML while you design it. STEP SIX: LEARNING ABOUT SERVERS AND CLIENTS One of the best analogies that can be used to explain clients and servers is one that likens this process to ordering a meal in a restaurant. The client can be compared to a customer in a restaurant who orders a set of services that may include a beverage, appetizer, main course, and dessert. The client/customer makes these requests to one person – the waiter. No matter who is really preparing each of these components, the client/customer only deals with the waiter. The server can be compared to the waiter who takes the order from the client/customer and carries the specifications for the order back to the busboy, chefs, bartender, etc., who are the actual people preparing each part of that order. The waiter then brings each ordered selection to the client/customer. This is exactly how the client-server process works. The client puts in a request for a set of services from the server, and then the server goes out and gathers those services and returns them to the client within the expected time frame for doing so. No matter where the server obtains the service, the client only deals with the server. There are several resources out there that will provide much more detailed information on how this process works, and you should take the time to brush up before building your own web store, so that you have an understanding of the inner workings of the system. Some of these that explain fairly nicely include: FAQS.org © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 6 Client Server Computing by Albert Yau Network Computing -- Information Week Business Technology STEP SEVEN: LEARNING ABOUT FLASH Flash was created and introduced in 1996 by Macromedia, which was acquired by Adobe in 2005. Flash has quickly become one of the most popular authoring and playback systems available and Flash formats are used for most of the animated ads and video clips that you see on websites these days. There are several resources available for getting started with Flash; however, if it is one of your web stores functional requirements, you can also look for web store design software that incorporates Flash. If you are interested in learning more about Flash, consider these resources: The source: Macromedia or Adobe Additional resources: http://www.hostservices.net/design-flash.html http://www.easyguidetoflash.com/ As with hiring any professional to perform a service for you, you will want to look at several before deciding on one, and there are many ways to find an individual or company that will provide what you need at a price that fits within your budget. STEP EIGHT: HIRING A WEB DESIGNER As far as word-of-mouth referrals, if someone you know has had good luck with an individual designer or a design firm for the same basic type of store you‟re looking to create, this is probably the best bet. Just make sure you‟re comparing apples to apples; and by that we mean if the person who is recommending the designer had a large corporate-type store built, and you need a small business store, you may have far different needs, and the same designer might not work for you as well as it did for the person referring that designer to you. No matter if you have a referral or if you are on your own with the selection of a professional designer, you will need to choose between a company and someone who freelances. In either situation, it is strongly recommended that you ask for and check references, and that you obtain as much information as you can about the type of stores with which the person or organization has the most experience, and in what area of design they spend the majority of their working time. Freelancers and companies alike can be found through reputable sites such as www.elance.com, which enables you to see the person‟s feedback from other employers, as well as information posted on their profile. Elance also provides you with the opportunity to have experts bid against one another for your project, allowing you to select the best candidate at the end of the bidding © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 7 process. The workers on Elance include both individuals and companies, so this puts you in a position to be able to review the best of both worlds all in one place. STEP NINE: ADDING A BACK-END DATABASE AND SHOPPING CART Definition of Back-End Database: This is a database that is used to store lists of information or data, especially those lists that contain information that is always changing. The back-end database is stored separately from the static information on the web store (things such as logo, slogan or other web store content that does not change very often), and can be accessed by browsers that connect to that server. These are generally used for lists of products and product descriptions that change as inventory changes. Definition of Shopping Cart: A shopping cart is just that – it allows a web store‟s customers to select items they wish to purchase, review those items before purchase, and then to “check out” or pay for those items. For ecommerce websites, you will always need a shopping cart, but you may or may not require a back-end database. When you either select a software program to help you design your store, or retain a professional to build it for you, you will need to know whether you want these features included, however if you start your web store without them, they can be added later. There is much debate about whether you need to include a back-end database on your store, and the general rule is that you should include one if you have many items for sale, and if those items frequently change. For instance, if you are selling books, you may wish to have a back-end database that stores the descriptions and reviews of those books, so that when you sell out of a particular title, it can be removed from the database without a lot of manipulation to the site itself. The theory here is that it is much simpler to remove an entry in an Access (or other) database, than it is to remove it from the web store. There are many programs out there that will allow you add a database or shopping cart after you have already built your store, and the same principles that apply to shopping for web design software can be applied to the search for such software. In fact, you can modify the checklist at Appendix C to work for you during your research for the right database or shopping cart for your specific store. STEP TEN: OBTAIN ADVERTISING REVENUE Selling your products and/or services is the primary way that most of us hope to make money from our web stores; however, you can also generate revenue through advertising for other entities. The most common of these methods © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 8 are known as “affiliate programs,” and there are four main categories of affiliate programs out there. Cost-per-Click (CPC)/Pay-per-Click (PPC): This is where you allow banners (or advertisements) to be displayed on your store and you are paid each time one of the visitors to your store clicks on that banner/advertisement. The most popular of these is Google‟s AdSense, a free program that is easy to use and nets good results. Cost-per-Mil (CPM)/Cost-per-Impression (CPI): This method is generally more effective if you have a lot of traffic on your store. It, too, permits advertisements or banners to be displayed on your store, and then you are paid for each thousand „impressions‟ (each time the advertised page loads). Pay-for-Performance (P4P): Again, you will be required to display advertisements or banners on your store when using this method, however, it will take more than a click or a page loading in order for you to be paid – the customer must complete a specific task, such as signing up for a newsletter or actually making a purchase from the advertiser, before you are paid. Sponsorship: This is a traditional form of advertising (you see it constantly in television commercials), and the same theory applies to web site advertising. A sponsor will purchase space on your store in which to advertise their product or service. You will have to work, however, in order to find sponsors for your store, and this method is also known as “sell-to” advertising. You will have to sell the idea of advertising to the company you wish to sponsor your store. STEP ELEVEN: ESTABLISH A WAY TO RECEIVE PAYMENT Probably the easiest method for accepting on line payments is through PayPal. The process of getting started couldn‟t be easier. The level of products and support offered through PayPal range from free for Paypal‟s Website Payments Standard package, to $30 per month for its Website Payments Pro version. There are other methods for setting up a merchant account, many of which you will pay dearly for, however, PayPal is the most trusted and well-known with all of them and it provides you with built-in fraud protection. STEP TWELVE: DEVELOP AN INVENTORY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM This step is one that you can undertake yourself manually or purchase software to perform the functions for you. If you are better with software programs than spreadsheets, © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 9 consider the list of inventory management software provided on Business.com. If, however, you do not wish to spend the money on a software program, and your inventory is not so overwhelming that you cannot manage it yourself, it‟s a fairly easy process, and you can find some very good information in a white paper from Microsoft Business Systems‟ The First Steps to Achieving Effective Inventory Control, available for download via this Google search. STEP THIRTEEN: DETERMINE BEST SHIPPING METHODS There are a few different shipping methods that you can employ for your web store. Depending on your product and your suppliers, you may be able drop-ship orders, which means that you never see the inventory, and are just acting as the middle-man between the supplier and the end customer. If, however, you will need to ship items to your customers yourself, you will need to determine the best method for getting them there. Your options are generally: 1. The United States Postal Service, which allows you to create shipments and print labels yourself, and in many locations will even pick your packages up from you. Flat rate boxes are an excellent way to be able to estimate shipping costs ahead of time. 2. United Parcel Service, which also has a fairly easy automated process and which will also most off pick up from your location. This method is generally reserved for items that are too heavy for USPS to be economical. 3. If items (such as automobiles, motorcycles or furniture) are too large to be shipped by UPS, a different carrier type will be required. To have the research done for you, visit FreightCenter which is a free on line service that will find the best shipment method for you. STEP FOURTEEN: MARKET YOUR STORE The avenues for marketing on the world wide web are practically countless – only a person‟s imagination can hold them back in this regard. First, re-read Step Ten above, and flip-flop all the information in that section so that it pertains to you. Rather than attempt to regurgitate here for you all the various types of marketing available to you on line, we will direct you instead to one of the best articles written on the subject Internet advertising -- The ultimate marketing machine, which was re-printed from The Economist print edition in 2006. Another very good reference is Top 10 Internet Advertising Mistakes, that appears on AllBusiness.com (which is a Dun & Bradstreet company). Don‟t mind the ads! © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 10 STEP FIFTEEN: KEEP PROPER RECORDS For your on line business, you will be required to pay taxes and keep records in the same manner as you would for a brick-and-mortar business. The good news, however, is that if you work from home to maintain your web store, then there are plenty of deductions you will be able to claim. As with any record-keeping endeavor, you will need to track your expenses, your overhead, your income, and any compensation you are paying employees or independent contractors. Keep your records for your business separate from your personal records, particularly if you have set up a limited liability company or other such legal entity under which to operate your business. Keep monthly records of all the data that will be required to prepare and submit your taxes; and where better to obtain a complete list of specific items than on the Internal Revenue Service‟s own web site? The IRS has posted a publication titled, Starting a Business and Keeping Records (Publication 583 (1/2007). Finally, Entrepreneur features an excellently written article just for those who have an on line business, Tax Tips for Online Entrepreneurs. © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 11 APPENDIX A: WORKSHEET FOR DETERMINING FUNCTIONALITY OF YOUR WEB STORE Check each box that applies to what you envision your store accomplishing for you. If you are unsure of whether you need a particular functionality, mark it with a question mark until you obtain additional information. /? Function Comments / Notes Allow users to search the store. Allow users to contact you via the site. Allow users to sign up for e-mail alerts. Offer products for sale / shopping cart. Allow users to track orders. Allow users to obtain data from a database or list. Include links to other sites. Use custom or proprietary software. Include downloadable brochures or .pdf files. Allow photo enlargement / zoom. Include audio and/or video streaming. English to [language] translation. Other function: Other function: Other function: © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 12 APPENDIX B: HTML RESOURCES Learning HTML on Your Own: On-line resources: Free on-line classes. o Enter the search term, “free on-line HTML classes,” into your web browser. Free on-line tutorials. o Enter the search term, “free on-line HTML tutorials,” into your web browser. Study an on-line tag library. o Enter the search term, “free HTML tag library,” into your web browser. Read on-line articles about HTML. o Enter the search term, “HTML information,” into your web browser. Print resources: The website, www.programmingbooks.org, has a list of the books it recommends for learning HTML, and this is an excellent resource that includes pricing and rankings. Otherwise, simply enter the search term, “best HTML books,” into your web browser to bring up many recommendations. HTML Converter Resources: HTML conversion software is available as shareware (free) all over the internet, or can be purchased as a stand-alone program or as part of other web design software. Before using any free software or purchasing a program that works as an HTML converter, read the reviews in order to ensure that you are using software that works accurately. The website www.fileguru.com offers an extensive list of downloadable conversion software. Read the descriptions carefully as each software listed is for a specific purpose such as converting .pdf files to HTML, converting Word documents into HTML, or converting HTML documents into another format. The website www.findapp.com also offers a nice list of conversion software, but mainly focuses on software that you must purchase, rather than shareware. © Copyright 2010 Docstoc Inc. 13 APPENDIX C: CHECKLIST FOR WEB STORE DESIGN SOFTWARE COMPARISON In the first column, note the name of each package you review. Replace each “function” in the column header with the actual functions from the worksheet you created in Step One. Delete any columns you do not need, or add columns if you need more. Indicate the cost of the software package in the last column. Software Package Function #1 Function #2 Function #3 Function #4 Function #5 Function #6 Function #7 Function #8 Function #9 Function #10 Cost A completed checklist may look something like this: EXAMPLE: Software Package Search Store Contact You Shopping Cart Database Search Graphics / Images Cost ABC Design Software $35.99 Build-a-Store $50.00 Web Store Design Star $140.00 Web Stores-R-Us $399.99 $50.00 Web Store Design Star $140.00 Web Stores-R-Us $399.99 Creating Your Own Web Store 14
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