How to sell products and services online by building your own website on a shoestring budget

Whole books could be and have been written on the subject of selling products and services online. I will limit this to some basic first steps for those who want to set up their own website and start selling on a shoestring. You must first ask some basic questions for each step in this process.

What am I selling?

This may seem obvious but what you decide to sell affects the type of website you build. If you plan to buy wholesale products and resell them, you will probably be handling a whole catalog of products from your wholesaler. You will need some kind of dynamic, ecommerce website with a shopping cart and the ability to process credit card payments. If you are making your own products, you will need your own website with an order form and payment buttons or a shopping cart or someway to take payments. Here is a list of questions, by no means exhaustive, to ask yourself about your products:

1) If I am buying wholesale, will I buy the products, store them, then ship them out myself?

2) If I am buying wholesale, will I have the products dropshipped to my customer (the customer places the order with you, you place the order with the wholesaler, and the wholesaler ships the product to your customer with your name on it)?

3) If I am making my own products, how will I store them, price them, and ship them?

4) How many products will I sell?

5) Do my products have variations such as size, color, etc.?

6) Will I sell digital products?

7) How will I take payments?

Again, how you answer these questions will determine the type of website you build. For instance, the answer to #5 may determine what shopping cart you use.

Can I build the website myself or do I need a professional?

If recording on a VCR seems frightening, you probably should find a web designer. You can find a wide range of pricing–just try a Google search. If I were going to find a designer, I would probably stick with someone local unless I found a really great price. You just never know what you might get on the Internet and end up paying more than you can afford. Building a website yourself is really not as difficult as it seems, and there are a lot of choices. Costs can run from a few dollars a month to nothing but your time and labor. You should decide if you want to pay for web hosting or find a free site. There are pros and cons for both:

Paid Web Hosting: You can get some good deals at decent web host companies such as Host Monster, Blue Host, Lunarpages, etc. There are lots of choices but don’t get overwhelmed. Always start with a search for “web hosting” and “review”. You can find lots of reviews and rankings for most of the major hosts. Check four review sites and find the web host that appears on all four, and meets your requirements for price, storage (you need space for all those pictures, videos, and cool stuff you’re planning), bandwidth (my definition: the amount of traffic your website can get before your web host demands more money), ecommerce capabilities, etc. Average price is about $5 or $6 dollars per month though you usually have to pay for a whole year up front. Most give you one free domain name as well for a savings of about $9 or $10 dollars.

If you’ve never had a website before be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. Once you sign up you will be handed a CPanel and turned loose on the world wide web. Don’t panic. Explore your CPanel (or control panel) first–it will have things like email accounts, a site builder of some kind, lots of things you’ve never heard of like Mysql, Cron jobs, MIME, Ruby on Rails, etc. It hopefully will have Fantastico and/or Simple Scripts. These two will help you install the software to build your website. They will also uninstall them so don’t be afraid to check out all the programs available. Follow the instructions, don’t panic and utilize the help sections and forums. Some of the programs that will be provided include: Joomla, Magento, OSCommerce, Cube Cart. If I can build a website myself, anyone can.

Free Websites

There are lots and lots of free websites. Again, do a search for “free web hosting” and “review”. Check www.free-webhosts.com which has a great chart listing 254 free hosts. Many of these are free because they place banner ads on your site; others limit storage and bandwidth and hope you pay for their premium services; some are easy to use but not very customizable.

A few of the ones I’ve used are: www.wix.com–no ads and they do have a premium service. Wix is all flash and very fun to play around with–it’s just drag and drop. I have found it to be a bit buggy but that may just be my browser. For selling products, they provide flash Paypal buttons. Yola.com (formerly synthasite.com) is another free one–no ads and no limits on storage or bandwidth. You can only use their templates and there’s no way to access the CSS, although they say they’re working on this. Again, Paypal buttons is the way to sell products and services online with this site. Yola is very easy to understand for even the newbiest Newbie. A third free site is www.webnode.com –no ads, 100MB storage and 1GB bandwidth. They also have premium services. This is also very easy to use, and you can download their templates to customize the CSS and some HTML. You can use Paypal buttons or they have a new ecommerce program. The free one allows only ten products. With all of these you can use your own domain name, but I wouldn’t buy them from these websites as they all charge too much. You should be able to get a domain name for $10 dollars or less and have it redirected to your free website.

The Internet provides a lot of choices for building your own website. You can get online and selling your products or services with a budget as low as $10 and your time and labor.

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