Lesson 4: Webmaster Notes

There are two things from this lesson I’d like to comment on. The first is about economy. I’ll start with a quote from the Roman philosopher, Seneca:

Economy is in itself a great source of revenue.” Seneca

When you are running your own Internet business there is so much technology around and so many people espousing what you “really need” to run your Internet business that it is easy to be swayed into excess. The truth is, as Gary and Merri prove, you need very little to run a profitable Internet business. But you may be swayed into complex and expensive software developments and customizations or programs that you must have to run your business.

In almost every case, until you know whether your idea is going to work and bring-in customers you should not spend money or time on complex developments. Instead you should run a test to your target market to see whether there is any traction. For example supposing your idea is to develop a website that brings together the international community of quilters. You have elaborate plans for all the features, a membership site, advertising, social groups, etc. You are enthusiastic and it looks like the best thing since quilting began.

Realistically, to develop this kind of idea will be at least $50,000 upwards in development costs and perhaps $500 upwards in hosting fees. That is, if you follow-through your idea and assume that quilters will beat down your door to join. (do quilters really beat doors down?!)

But for less than $300 you can start a test:

  • Domain name: $10/year
  • Web hosting: $15/month
  • Email newsletter hosting: $20/month (such as Aweber.com or Get Response.com)
  • Forum/bulletin board software: Free (for example the excellent www.phpbb.com software – many hosting companies offer this – with a 2-minute automated setup – free.)
  • Advertising management software: Free (for example see http://www.openx.org/ an excellent ad-management system)
  • Website content management system: Free (for example WordPress or Drupal which many hosting companies offer this with a 2-minute automated setup – free)
  • Send out emailed press releases to all the quilting newsletters: Free
  • Shopping cart: $34/month at 1shoppingcart.com
  • Credit card processing: Free at Paypal.com, (reasonable per-transaction fees apply)
  • Test of Paid search advertising: $200. It’s a very low budget for this but you will start to get a read. If you can stretch this budget it will help. I’ll cover paid search advertising in a forthcoming lesson. You can also review the excellent AdWords for Dummies)

“Free” means you spend some time tweaking things but it’s enough to get you started and get a read if it’s worth putting more into it. If after running a test there was no traction, this is a good result. Marketing is about running with your winners and cutting your loses but doing both quickly. If it’s going to “fail” best you’ve spent a couple of days and $250 than months and $50,000.

If after this you have a great idea and still have money to throw at it, consult with me for a few hours and I’ll tell you whether you really do need to spend the money and how you could save money in the process.

Shopping Carts

The second Internet-related aspect to Gary’s Lesson 4 is about shopping carts. I kind of cover his above but you can spend a lot of time and money getting just the “right” shopping cart. But as a business just starting-out you don’t want to go to that expense.

There are three or so shopping carts you can look into:

  • www.1ShoppingCart.com – Gary’s used this for about 2 years now and it works very well. From about $34/month.
  • Yahoo’s Small Business ecommerce solution. From about $40/month.
  • Paypal’s shopping cart (free if you accept payment via Paypal)
  • There are a few free shopping cart programs such as OSCommerce and Zen Cart and commercial carts such as X-Cart that can be customized to your heart’s content and your wallet’s chagrin but as a start-out business I strongly suggest you avoid them. We want you to realize sales quickly not spend months in developing shopping carts and other software.

Once you’ve proven whether there are sales you can decide whether you wish to get into the fun of developing a customized shopping cart specifically to meet you website’s exact needs. As a startup I’d suggest you find ways round any “must have” features that require custom software development, either by finding a way to “hack” them using available features or by waiting on them until the level of sales you have is enough to support their development.

As to accepting online payments there is a wide choice of vendors, features and costs. You need to assess your business needs but you could start those inquiries with Paypal and all the shopping cart vendors I mentioned have relationships with third-party card processors. You can ask your bank, too.

Please ask if anything is unclear or you want to see how these ideas best fit with your own business.