Online selling, better known as e-commerce, has truly hit its stride. In fact, Forrester reports that e-commerce sales in 2011 topped $202 billion and is projected to increase 62% to reach $327 billion in 2016. With this much money on the table, it may be time to consider taking your business online. Fortunately, getting started is easier than you might think.
Check out these six simple steps to opening a successful online business:
1. Decide what products to sell. Before you do anything, it's important to decide what types of goods you'll sell online. Whatever you choose, it's important to work with products that you're passionate about. Chances are, you'll be working with these products day in and day out, so make sure it's something that won't easily bore you in the future. If you don't have products on hand, take a look at various drop-shipping providers—you can conveniently choose from their product list and sell them on your own site.
2. Choose the best e-commerce solution for you. Depending on your budget and level of expertise, the next step is to decide which type of e-commerce solution is ideal for your store:
Hosted: Hosted solutions house your website on their servers, as well as provide web-based software to build and power your online store. This type is best-suited for beginners in site building.
Licensed: Licensed solutions are out-of-the-box platforms that you install onto a computer. Unlike hosted solutions, you're required to find your own hosting and security protections, which can be tricky.
Open source: Open source solutions are typically free downloads that require you to build your website from scratch. While this is a great choice for full customization, expect to do some heavy programming to configure the site—which may mean you'll need to hire someone.
3. Start building your store. Now it's time to start building your store. Depending on the type of solution you chose, you'll want to learn its functionality and begin setting up your important pages, including your product and category pages, home page and content pages, and more. Keep in mind that you'll want to consider branding and design every step of the way—these are important elements to the success of any e-commerce site.
4. Pick a domain name. Your domain name is the web address (URL) where customers find your online store. This is a big business decision, so don't take it lightly. If you can, pick a domain name that's short, simple and describes your business. After that, decide on your extension (.com, .biz, .net) and register it with a domain name provider.
5. Get paid. We're all in business to make money, right? The next step before launching your store is to decide how you'll receive payment from your customers. Many first-timers start off with PayPal or Google Checkout, but you also have the option to accept credit cards directly on your site, which is the preferred and more professional route. If this is the case, you'll want to research credit card processing options, particularly merchant accounts to make sure that you're clear on all of the rates and fine print.
6. Market your business. Once your website is ready for the world to see, you need to drive customers to your store with marketing. Whether you leverage email, social media, SEO or other forms of online marketing, it's critical that you share your store with the masses. In other words, even if you have the most amazing site in the world, if no one can find your store, you'll struggle to pay the bills.
Selling online can be a rewarding experience that allows you to express yourself and your entrepreneurial spirit. More importantly, it can be the way to start a new business or grow an existing one. If you're ready to get started, these six steps can help keep you on the right track to success.
By Matt Winn
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