If you want to expand your business but don’t want the expense of adding new locations, you may want to set your sites on the Internet. Extending your brick-and-mortar or mail-order business to the Internet can speed expansion. Adding e-commerce to your existing business can help you:
1. Extend your reach to customers around the world
2. Offer a wider variety of products
3. Entice new customers to visit a retail location
The best contacts and resources to help you get it done
Register a domain name
Take advantage of any brand recognition and name awareness you’ve already built by using the name of your existing company for your domain name. However, if the name is already taken, you’ll need to come up with an alternative that fits with your corporate identity.
I recommend: Check on the availability of names and register at GoDaddy.com, Register.com or MyDomain.com.
Select a hosting service
Be aware that some hosting services offer bare-bones services geared to personal Web sites. Be sure to select a hosting service that’s geared to e-commerce and includes adequate server space, e-mail aliases and security systems to protect customer data.
I recommend: A good place to start is with the company that currently provides your business Internet and email services. Yahoo!, Network Solutions and Affinity Internet offer comprehensive hosting packages designed especially for small businesses.
Build your Web site
Web site design has been simplified thanks to user-friendly software programs that let you choose from a number of templates. If you don’t feel comfortable taking on this task, or you don’t have the time, hire a designer to take the lead. No matter who takes on design duties, make sure your site reflects your existing brand.
I recommend: Do it yourself with Macromedia’s Dreamweaver or Softpress’s Freeway.
Select a shopping-cart service
Shopping-cart software makes it easier for your customers to place orders online. A shopping cart can determine shipping costs, calculate sales tax and automatically send order confirmations to your customers.
I recommend: Leading shopping-cart providers include ShopSite, GoEcart and 1Shoppingcart.
Secure your site
I recommend: Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology protects customer information by encrypting and authenticating it; trusted SSL certificates are available from VeriSign, Comodo and GoDaddy.
Establish customer service policies and procedures
Develop customer service policies that mirror the level of service you provide in your existing business. Set policies regarding returns, such as if you’ll allow customers to return items purchased online to one of your retail locations. Implement customer service options such as Web-based, e-mail or toll-free telephone support.
I recommend: WorkZ.com details the considerations for developing an online customer service plan.
Accept paper and plastic
Offer customers flexible and convenient ways to pay you and establish the means to accept and track online payments. Start by adding an Internet merchant account to your existing merchant account at your bank. This will allow you to accept online credit card payments. To process payments, you’ll need to set up a payment gateway account.
I recommend: Popular gateway service providers include Authorize.Net and CyberSource. PayPal offers a free service for sending and receiving online payments.
Decide who will fulfill orders – you, employees or a third party – and determine how you will receive, warehouse, package and distribute your products.
I recommend: Track packages using UPS OnLine Tools, just one of many small business solutions from the shipping provider.
Tips & Tactics
Helpful advice for making the most of this Guide
• Research search engine optimization strategies to improve your site’s visibility.
• Consider a “store” on an online auction site as a supplement or lower-cost alternative to having your own site.
• Use your site to cross-promote in-store sales and events.
• Advertise special online-only sales in your retail locations to drive traffic to your site.
• Incorporate your website into your existing offline marketing and advertising strategies.
• Be sure to include your URL on all marketing materials and in all advertising.