Are you just getting started with your on-line business? Don't know a lick of html or css? How does one get started on a web-based business? It may seem overwhelming at first, but just like anything else, if you break it down into small enough pieces, it's quite simple. Here are some of the questions I had when I first got started:
- Do I need to get a domain name? How do I do that?
- I have a host now, how do I get my files on the server and how do my customers access them?
- How do I create graphics for my site?
- How do people pay me? How do I pay for my cart?
- Do I need a business license? Do I need to register my business name?
- What makes for a successful on-line biz?
Do I need to get a domain name? How do I do that?
A domain name is the address you'll use for your website. You may already have hosting through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example when I started Koolsheep Soakers, I used my Comcast account, and, as you can see, my re-direct page is still there. There's nothing wrong with using your ISP hosting. But as your business grows, you may find that it's more professional and easier for your customers to find you if you buy a domain like yourbizname.com.
So if you do want to get a 'real' domain name, how do you do it? You need to determine if the name you want is available, and if it is, you need to register it with a registrar. There are tons of registrars out there. Godaddy.com is one of the most popular. Google "domain registration" to find more. If you go to their site, you can also check on the availability of your desired domain name. Registering your domain is not expensive. It should range from about $5-8 per year.
But the domain name is only half of the equation. You also need hosting space. Hosting space is basically file space on a server (by the way ~ 'server' means 'computer' -- it took me a while to figure that out, lol). A server is a computer that is always on and accessible via the World Wide Web. So when you put your files on a server, anyone should be able to access them across the internet. I'm mentioning this here because, depending on who you choose as a host, you will probably be able to register your domain through your host, rather than using a separate registrar. Prices on hosting packages vary, but for a simple site, they range from free to $5 per month.
So there are two ways to go: 1) host and register your domain through the same company; 2) host your site at one company, and register it with a different one. The advantage of the first way is, of course, simplicity. The advantage of the second one is, you can register with a well-known registrar, and host with a cheaper host, and even if that host disappears overnight (these thing happen on the internet), you'll still have control over your domain.
Take care of your domain. Most registrars will automatically renew your domain for you every year and charge it to your credit card, but if you don't have this option, you need to remember to register it *every* year. If your domain expires, your customers will not be able to access your site anymore.
You can run a Hyena Cart store perfectly well without a domain or hosting space at all. You can either upload your photos to the web via a host like photobucket.com, or you can choose to upload your images directly to the HC server. Then your HC store is your only web space -- but you can put sizing info, info about your company, etc. in fake listings in your store. This is a super-simple way to get started and test the waters for your product before you invest a lot of time and money in your business.
Here's an extremely short list of hosts that you can look through to get started. There are tons more, just google "web hosting".
I have a host now, how do I get my files on the server and how do my customers access them?
There are a few ways to go about this. Your host should have given you access to a control panel. Depending on how fancy your host is, there may already be page templates on there so you can just type your text in and have your site running. If you have more of a no-frills package, you're going to need to create some pages and then upload them to your host.
First of all, creating html files (files that can be accessed via a browser) is really simple. Try googling "html tutorial" to get an idea of how to do it. You can create and edit pages using any text editor (like the Notepad accessory in Windows). Or you can buy software that makes it easier to create these pages (like Dreamweaver), but that can get very expensive. For what it's worth, every page I've ever coded on the web (which includes Koolsheep Soakers, Random Eclipse, Hyena Cart, and Diaper Pages) has been done in a simple text editor.
Once you create your pages, you need to upload them to your host. You may be able to do this from your control panel. Or, you may need to ftp them. FTP stands for 'File Transfer Protocol' and basically just means copying your files from your computer, where you're the only one able to see them, the your server, where everyone else will be able to see them too. To access your host via ftp, you'll need a login ID and password (your host will provide these) and some kind of ftp software. Google "ftp freeware" to see your options. Or you can use Internet Explorer as an ftp program as well. Just type in ftp://yourbizname.com into the browser bar, and then enter the login ID and password when you're prompted. Then you can drag and drop your files onto your server just like in Windows.
You'll probably want your files to go in the main directory of your server space. So if you upload a file into that space that's called "myfile.html", then if someone types "http://yourbizname.com/myfile.html", they'll be able to see that page. Your main page should have the name "index.html". That's the default file that someone will land on if they type "http://yourbizname.com" into their browser.
Your images will need to be uploaded too. If you don't have any hosting and you're using Hyena Cart, you'll still need to get your pictures onto a server somewhere so that they're accessible by your customers. That's where Photobucket.com or any other image hosting sites can help you (Google "free image hosting"). They'll allow you to upload your pictures from your computer onto their servers, then give you a url for each image (a url is the "http://blahblah.com/image.jpg" address). You enter the url to your image when you fill out a listing on Hyena Cart. You will probably need to resize your photos. They tend to come out really big when they're downloaded from your camera. Irfanview is a great freeware program that allows you to resize images and also enhance colors, sharpen them, etc. To save the steps of resizing and uploading photos, you can choose to upload your pictures directly to the Hyena Cart server for an extra $2.50 per month.
How do I create graphics for my site?
You'll need software that allows you to draw images. MicroSoft Paint is a simple program that is probably already on your computer. You could also use photo images and overlay text onto them to create a logo. Or, you can hire a web designer to create some graphics for you. A web designer can also create your site pages for you, then you can edit and tweak them later. Here's a list of some WAHM designers:
- Turtles and Toadstools
- Elemental Muse (formerly Dove's Designs)
- Doodle Babies
- Four Little Ducks
- Sage Fish
- Dragonfly Lily
- Cushie Designs*
- Very Designs
- Red Peach Designs
How do people pay me? How do I pay for my cart?
If you don't already have one, you'll need to sign up for an account with Paypal. This will allow you to make and accept electronic payments. It's a bit scary giving up your credit card and bank account info, but Paypal has an amazing reputation and I have never heard of a privacy or security issue through their site. If you will be selling your items, you should sign up for a business or premier account (they're basically the same thing, but with a Business Account, you biz name is used to receive funds, with a Premier Account, your own name is used). There will be a fee for each payment you accept, but you will be able to accept credit card payments.
Do I need a business license? Do I need to register my business name?
This varies from state to state. I recommend you call your Secretary of State to determine what you need in order to start a business.
What makes for a successful on-line biz?
First of all, in the on-line world, presentation is everything. You are not there to personally convince your customer of why he/she should be buying your product. Your photographs, item description, and storefront need to do that for you. For this reason, good photography and spelling- and grammar-checking are absolutely *essential* for success in an on-line business. A meaningful and memorable logo and attractive web design are also elements that will convice your customers that you take your business seriously and your customer service and quality will be first-rate.
Next, you need to make people aware of you and your product. What makes your products unique and special enough for someone to spend money on them? Boil that down into a simple slogan, put it in a banner, and start advertising. Pass out business cards at craft fairs, start posting in the Marketplace forum at the HC Forums. If your items are unique, your pricing is right, and your presentation impeccable, then you will have a good chance of having a hobby biz that is both personally and financially rewarding :)
Hopefully that's enough to get you started. Never forget -- the internet is like one giant textbook. If you have a question, Google is always a good place to start looking for the answer. Good luck!