I have an online business and I am part of a group of Internet business owners who convene weekly in a private chat room to compare notes, swap ideas and help each other out as needed. And the longer I talk to these other business owners the more I think the virtual retail world may be an important segment of the economy.
I started my business five years ago because I had a passion for it and dreamed that one day I would have my own store, but then two detours popped up. One, I really started to enjoy my day job. Two, I could never get the numbers right when it came to what I would need to open a bricks-and-mortar business. To have good space in a decent location would take X amount of money, then it would have to be built out at X amount of money, then it would need utilities, business licenses - the list seemed endless. And I knew that the more you have to spend to launch a business the longer it takes to achieve profitability.
Then one day I was browsing some ‘net shopping sites and it occurred to me that maybe this was where I could start my business. I could keep my day job and handle the business evenings and weekends, and my startup costs would be minimal. All I needed was domain name, a hosting service, some reliable suppliers and the willingness to do a little work to get my name out there. And if it didn't work or I didn't like it I could always fold my tent and my losses would be minimal.
But this is when I got my best piece of advice. A buddy of mine was looking at my site before it went live and he asked why I didn't have credit card processing and I was stuck for an answer. In fact, I was surprised that I'd never thought of it before. Every time I shop online I pay by credit card, so it only makes sense my site would have merchant services as well. But what I knew about accepting credit cards could be put into a thimble.
So I go to the ‘net and look up “credit card processing" and I get about a million places to go. The first sites I clicked on talked about discounts and low rates but the deeper I dug into them the more money they seemed to want. A fee for this software, this application - they even had a $300 fee to submit an application whether it was accepted or not. I learned pretty fast that these guys must have learned their business strategy buy selling used cars.
I finally settled on a company that looked to have competitive rates and quoted me a cost-effective package of merchant account services. And they didn't charge for putting in an application. All they did was get my set up within 24 hours to handle card transactions after I was approved.
Within four months I was showing a profit and that site has been a steady source of income ever since - and the other business owners in our online chat room will ell you the same thing. We're all part of those businesses that generate billions in sales every year, 80 percent of which is paid for with a credit card.
And pumping billions through the economy is a good thing these days.
Jim Osterman is a Web content developer with Charge.com, a leading merchant account provider of innovative credit card processing solutions.