Happily, e-commerce is not the highly-specialized, expensive beast it was ten years ago. With the ubiquity of online shopping these days, just about anyone can easily set up an online storefront and begin selling almost immediately. Online shopping has become a multi-hundred-billion-dollar industry and, with that comes innovation and offerings that provide smaller businesses access to it.
Should I build my own online storefront or use a service?
That depends on a number of things like customer perception, overall cost, ease of use, scalability (will it still be suitable if your business grows) and if there are any limitations to doing one or the other specific to your business.
Nowadays, brick-and-mortar merchants use electronic card readers to enter credit card transactions. These gadgets have a slot to swipe a card, and a numeric keypad to enter the numbers manually in case the swipe doesn't work. They may be stand-alone gadgets connected directly to the credit card network via a phone line, or they may be connected to a computer and work in conjunction with a software package.
Some are even wireless. If you're doing business over the Web, you don't need one of these (regardless of what the people who sell them tell you). What you need is a payment-processing software package. Forget about phoning in orders or using one of those old-fashioned manual card imprinters. The few banks that still allow such transactions are sure to charge a premium rate.
Most banks charge a percentage of each transaction, called a discount rate, and a fixed per-transaction fee. There is often a fixed monthly fee, a monthly minimum order, and a one-time setup fee as well. A payment-processing system, whether hardware- or software-based, is an additional expense, as we shall see.
Fees for merchant accounts are like interest rates on loans - they vary depending on the perceived level of risk to the bank. Users of credit cards may refuse to pay certain charges for a variety of reasons, ranging from returned products to honest errors to fraudulent charges. Banks want to encourage the view of credit cards as a safe and convenient way to buy, so they are generally pretty lenient about allowing buyers to make chargebacks, as they are called.
You can't ignore the role of the Internet in business today. In a very short time, we've gone from mixers and meet-ups to e-mail and tweets. Not having a web site that represents your business today is as negligent as not having business cards.
You know how important taking your business online is, but maybe you, like many other business owners, don't have a clue about "this Internet thing" or where to even start.
Fear not. Taking your business online, while a project unto itself, is not much different from conducting your business any other way if you break it down into basic components.
Some good reasons for taking your business online
YES! It is of critical importance to prepare a business plan prior to starting your business.
The business plan is the road map your business will follow – the plan that shows where you are going, what your business objectives are and how to get there. The plan is a written document that outlines this – providing a detailed description of your business, describing in detail your product or service, how it will benefit the customer, and, most importantly, how you intend to become profitable with it, emphasizing your marketing strategies, financial management and management team.
The business plan is extremely important in many areas, including obtaining financing, whether equity or debt. Most importantly, however, preparing a business plan requires you as the business owner to consolidate your business objectives and strategies into a written document, a document that should be used frequently to review your results and revise you objectives. It is one of an entrepreneur’s most helpful documents; you should give it significant thought and prepare it carefully.