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Starting your first commerce web site

© December 2008 Anthony Lawrence

Today I had a long conversation with someone who was here to clean my floors. Cleaning floors is a part time business for him, but what he'd really like to do is sell products on the web.

I hear that all the time. Most people don't have even the vaguest idea of what to sell, but this guy actually has a product: a unique line of Christian oriented bumper stickers that he creates himself. He also has ideas for other products in the same vein.

I'm not a Christian - quite the opposite, in fact - but I certainly know that there is a big, big market out there. This is a guy with product, drive and intelligence. We talked a bit and he has stories to tell also - I know he could build a great following AND sell his products. I told him that he could probably start making money within a week!

What I told him is pretty much this:

Your site or sites

First thing: start your website NOW. You can set up a website today at Blogger.com if you aren't ready for a "real" site. But realize that it really isn't hard to do the real thing. You can go to any number of places (just search "web hosting" on Google), register a domain name and have your first page up in minutes - really. At many sites, you can just register names - GoDaddy.com and Networksolutions.com represent two ends of cost on that. I use the expensive registrar, most people go for cheap. Don't be afraid to register more than one name - if you never use one, you can sell it later, sometimes for really good money!

Most of these sites have very easy tools for beginning publishers. You can also create web pages in Microsoft Word and other free Word Processors. Docs.google.com is good for that and has the advantage of easy collaboration with other people. You can have friends or relatives edit your work - and Google tracks all the changes for you.

There are "platforms" like Wordpress that are great for people who know nothing about websites but have stories to tell. Google for "blogging platforms" to find more. This Wikipedia article outlines features you may want to look for.

Consider having separate product sites for the things you are selling and then a writing/story telling site that can push people to those other sites. Use the story telling site for most of your social, site building activities.

Get an E-Junkie account today. With that, you'll be able to put "Buy" buttons on your sales pages immediately. Of course you can also sell through E-Bay - and use your main site to push people to your E-Bay sales pages.

Remember - a web page isn't like printing up ads. You can change anything and everything at any time, so don't be afraid to just get started. You don't have to do it all at once. Not ready for the sales pages yet? Fine, but get started with the community building on your story telling site. When you add the product pages or sites later, you'll already have a following.

Get started on the right track by using Google Analytics and Quantcast code in your site. Both of these are free and will give you useful information about your visitors. Alexa requires no code but can also help you learn about your visitors.

You should also create Google and Yahoo sitemaps. These help Google and Yahoo index your pages quickly. NEVER PAY ANYONE to submit your site(s) to search engines!

Write on your site frequently, doing reviews of other sites, "gathering" articles ("I found these other wonderful sites for Christian jewelry") - anything you can think of. I'm sure you can put a "Christian slant" on just about any topic - certainly far more topics than I can put a "Unix" slant on! The more you write, the more Google loves you.

Building Community

Building community is the most important thing. I suggest using Google Friend Connect on your site. That will also help you find other sites to visit and comment at.

When you comment, don't advertise blatantly. Almost all sites provide a place for you to put your website link - use that. Make your comments honest, thoughtful and useful - people will visit you if you make good comments!

Don't ignore other social sites like Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn. These probably won't be critical to you, but they can't hurt.

StumbleUpon is important both for finding sites of interest and for building community by recommending sites to others. Don't promote your own stuff - let other people do that for you.

Twitter could be very good for you, both as community building and for advertising your stickers and other products. Be sure to keep the promotion ratio low - more community activities than promotion works best.

Google alerts! Use these to find out about new posts about things like "Christian jewelry" AND put up an alert for your own site so you know when people link to you. Because of your unique intellectual property (the bumper sticker slogans) you'll also want alerts on those - people will steal your ideas!

Once you find them, subscribe to the site's RSS feeds. I like iGoogle but there are many other RSS readers. Make sure your site has an RSS feed. I use FeedBurner.google.com to publish my feeds. This is another way to build community.

Commenting! Honest, thoughtful comments will bring people to you. You have great stories to tell - you should put them on your own site, but also consider guest posting on other sites. Always get a link back to your site!

If a site you visited is selling things, contact them by phone or email and refer them to your E-Junkie Affiliate page.

Click the "Blogging" link in the sidebar for more Blogging advice.

Once you are up and running and know that you really can make money doing this, consider having a professionally designed site. There are many good, honest designers out there but I'd like to recommend that you consider Men With Pens. I don't get any kickbacks for recommending them; I just think they are bright, honest people who do excellent work.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Starting a commerce web site


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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Wed Dec 17 02:20:03 2008: 4943   TonyLawrence

I first did this page as very rough notes that I could give to this man so that he'd have reminders of what we talked about and the links. Then I accidentally published it.. thought about that and decided "What the heck - I'll make it a post". So I cleaned it up a bit, moved things around and hopefully made it all more clear - if you saw an early, rough version, this is why!

Wed Dec 17 03:19:39 2008: 4944   SusiB

Great post, and thanks for the advice! I hope your friend follows your tips and fires up with a Blog or website. I got here via twitter; I first saw your comments on 'Men with Pens' and decided to follow you on twitter because you seemed like a nice guy, now I am glad I did, as you are very helpful and generous with your ideas and as a beginner training to be a blogger, I appreciate your tips....
cheers, Susi B)

Wed Dec 17 03:21:13 2008: 4945   TonyLawrence

Thereby proving my point about the value of comments.

And now I'll go check her site - proving it again!

Wed Dec 17 09:51:21 2008: 4946   MikeHostetler

I've been working on getting a few small businesses on the web with WordPress. They don't want ecommerce or a blog. WordPress makes everything *so* easy -- easy to style the page, easy to edit the content or add to it (the biggest barrier for a lot of people, imho). Around here they pay $100/month for getting in the online and dead tree Yellow Pages. For half of that, they can have a simple website that will last for years.


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