Friday, January 22, 2010

Adventures in Starting a Small Business Pt. 2: The Website

In early December, I started researching how to start a website. At my craft fairs people would ask if I had one & I'd have to explain yes, I have an etsy store but not much is posted on there etc. I knew I needed a place for people to find me again if they liked what they bought from me so it was time for a stand-alone website.

The first thing I did was buy my domain name...now there are TONS of places where you can buy a domain name from & then you can usually pay extra for them to host a site for you. There were lots of different packages depending on what kind of site you want. I just found the cheapest legit place & bought my domain name there without anything extra.

I was trying to figure out a way to have a free website but also be able to use my domain name plus have a shopping cart. Mal's E-commerce is a free shopping cart service so I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into a free site. I looked into Wix.com (free flash websites) but I'm just not tech savvy enough to integrate the cart into a site on my own. Then, I found their interface/templates rather confusing too. I'd have to pay to use my own domain name & have an e-commerce site with them. So, I moved on to ecrater.com which is a marketplace kind of like etsy, but not all handmade. I learned I could "mask" my url so that people going to my domain name would be directed to my ecrater store instead. Apparently though, that can cause problems with search engines finding you? Anyway, after trying to get a store started there I quickly realized it doesn't give you much flexibility in terms of organizing your store, having descriptions as long as you want or giving discounts. Sigh. So, I realized I needed to just suck it up & actually PAY for something! lol.

I'd been ordering handmade bags from Mom of Two Boys for a few year now & since it was a "mom-epreneur" site too, I looked into her hosting site Merchant Moms. I decided to cancel my Stampin' Up! website and use the money to do my own site with Merchant Moms instead for about the same about of money. Merchant Moms allows me the flexibility to organize my store the way I want, add pages, and have discounts & online parties. They don't have tons or fancy templates but I wanted to keep it simple anyway. So, I just picked a template, uploaded my logo & after a learning curve, started filling in all the content. If you're completely new to websites or html, it can be daunting but I know enough to know I DON'T know enough, if that makes sense. So, I knew which code I shouldn't mess with & when I needed to ask for technical support. Merchant Moms templates already have the Mal's E-commerce shopping cart integrated so figuring out the cart is another learning curve. THEN, you have to integrate the cart with the methods of payment you accept--(for me: Google Checkout & Paypal). THEN, you also learn that you have to let Google know about your site & products if you want to turn up in search results. Some sites, like ecrater "submit" your info for you so you never have to worry about it (well, except to make sure the language you use is "acceptable" to Google--but there are whole Forums of people discussing that so I'll just move along) but with Merchant Moms, I have to upload/submit my products periodically to Google--I probably spend a whole day figuring that one out!

Finally, I spent maybe an hour of sheer panic ("What have I gotten myself into???) and then a good week just wrapping my head around all of it before I could start to stock the store. Now that I've been working with it for over a month, I'm pretty comfortable with it. Just to give you an idea of the process....if I want to add something new to my site, I log into Merchant Moms, then I just click on "Products" then "Add" & fill in the blanks, upload a pic, assign a category & hit Save. If someone buys something from my site, it's Google Checkout or Paypal that lets me know. This has been a very hands-on learning experience for me & I wasn't sure if I'd like it (boring data entry & all that)...but, when it's your OWN site, it's a whole different story & now I'm glad I jumped right in :-)
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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  2. Love the new website!

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  3. Sounds like you're coming right along! Can't wait to hear more!

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