How to Set Up an ECommerce Business with No Money Up Front

According to emarketer.com, estimated online sales for 2009 will be $131.4 billion. They further estimate a substantial increase in the next ten years. This is in part because many of the large companies we know are now adding online sales to their business model, and also because many small businesses are starting up, using only online sales to grow their business.
While there are many different purposes for Web sites, for the discussion in this article, an eCommerce Web site is one that involves the selling of any product or service online, using a shopping cart system and processing credit card payments online.
An eCommerce Web site must have a few features from the owner’s point of view. First, it must be easy to set up and maintain. It must be easy to add new items, organize pages, and to change the look on a regular basis to keep it fresh without rewriting the whole Web page. And, for most of us, it must be able to be designed and published without having to learn HTML, the language Web pages are written in.
Additionally, it must be easy to add or change key words to attract the search engines and help ensure a higher ranking in searches. And it must be easy to track Web page statistics, to see visitor volumes, peak times, where visitors are coming from, where they are spending their time, and where they are going when they leave. There must be a way for customers to contact you with questions, concerns, and complaints. And there must be a way to collect email addresses to build up your database, which will open up many more income producing possibilities.
This article will show you three components that help you accomplish all of this, and with no upfront costs.
Choosing a Free Web Site Host
A search on Google for the term “free Web site host” showed 107,000,000 results. For the sake of simplicity, we will only consider three of the big ones: Webs (www.webs.com); Tripod (www.tripod.lycos.com), by Lycos; and Weebly (www.weebly.com), by Google.
I won’t go into much detail on Webs and Tripod, except to say that they are very easy to use, require no HTML programming, and are very stable and dependable. However, they differ from Weebly in that they are ad supported. This means that when you use them to put up your Web site, they put advertising on your pages to drive up revenue.
Weebly, on the other hand, is not ad supported. They, like the others, do offer premium Web site hosting for a fee, but for an online business, those services are not required in the beginning.
Weebly is very easy to use, doesn’t require HTML programming, although it does allow the use of HTML and CSS if you are experienced with them. It offers more storage and a higher monthly bandwidth. It features drag and drop components that include such items as a photo gallery, youTube video, games, Flash, Google maps, 4 ways to display your product, and the ability to incorporate a feed reader, forums, a contact form, online bookings and conduct an online poll. Plus there are many more features offered.
Merchant Solutions
When you sell anything online, you have to have a way for the customer to pay you. With Weebly, there are two options: Google Merchant Services and PayPal. Neither of these companies charge monthly fees, connection fees or cancellation fees.
Google Merchant Services is very easy to use and manage, and incorporates very easily into the product display modules available on Weebly. Their rates are very competitive, they accept major credit cards, and have a great reputation for being secure and dependable.
PayPal is also easy to use, is competitive with their rates, and have a great reputation. Plus, you can set up the “Buy Now” buttons to track your costs, which helps in tracking your profit and loss figures.
Other Considerations
Search Engine Optimization, (SEO), is the art of making your Web site easier to be found by the search engines. Weebly allows the incorporation of key words to make this easier. Further, when you write your content, be sure to use those same key words in product descriptions and any articles you provide. This will help to get you closer to the top of the search results. However, there is much more to SEO than I have room to cover here.
Storage space and bandwidth are two more things you need to be aware of. Storage space is simply how much room on the Web site hosts computer you are allowed for storage of your Web site files. Bandwidth is the amount of traffic you are allowed with the free account. Weebly offers more than enough in both areas for the startup business, and offers more with an upgrade to your account.
Email is vital to your business. We all have email accounts, but you will need one specifically for your business. Unfortunately, as far as I know, none of the free Web site hosts offer email accounts with their Web hosting packages. You could always use Yahoo, Gmail, or one like that, but there seems to be a stigma attached to using one of them. However, AOL doesn’t seem to suffer the same way. AOL has a great reputation, is easy to use and best of all, and is also free.
My Recommendations
For my online photography business, I use Weebly as my host, PayPal as my merchant solutions provider, and AOL for my email requirements. I find that they work very well together, are stable, dependable, and most importantly, free.
Weebly also has a great customer support staff. I recently had a problem with the Web page and contacted them for help. I had an answer back within a couple hours, and after following their advice, the problem persisted. They followed through with the problem, seeking a solution until it was solved. PayPal is great because not only are they a well known national company, they have an international presence and allow you to accept many different currencies from around the world, opening up many more sales opportunities. AOL is perhaps one of the largest free email providers with a great reputation and best of all, when you open your email to check your messages, there is a cool voice that tells you “You’ve got mail!”
While this article is not an exhaustive source of information on starting an online business, hopefully you have gained enough insight into some of the free resources available on the internet that will allow you to set up a fully functioning Web site and get into business very quickly.

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