I have started several businesses over the years. One thing I have noticed is how easy and inexpensive it can be to establish a professional web presence. Something else I have noticed is most start-up companies settle for a VERY unpleasant web presence. This is primarily driven by a fear of paying a lot of money for web site design.
It is unfortunate that small business owners don’t take the time to investigate their options for web site design. I know that when I browse the web looking for a product, a bad web site will almost always keep me from making an online purchase or utilizing services. The first thought that comes to my mind is if their web site is this bad I can bet the way my information is handled is just as bad.
Recently, I decided to see just how cheap I could create a web presence for my company. To my surprise, I was able to create a fully functional, e-commerce web site for under $250.00. This web site has everything I need to function online as a business and also allows me the luxury of providing online customer support.
In order to provide the features I have mentioned, you will need to look for an e-commerce application, a forum application, a web site template that can be applied to your entire site, and web site hosting.
I’m sure that you are wondering exactly how I did it. Well, I won’t give specific company names, but I can point you in the right direction. To start, I did a search for “free e-commerce software”. I couldn’t believe how many results were retrieved! Next I searched for “free forum software”. Again, I was surprised at the number of results. Finally, I searched for “quality web site templates” (you won’t find quality templates for free).
There are some specific things you need to look for in free products. For my e-commerce selection, I looked for the following capabilities:
1. Easy setup. I wanted something that could be setup in less than 10 steps.
2. Easy administration. It is important that the e-commerce package you find allows for easy setup of products, pricing, etc.
3. PayPal integration.
4. Easy “look and feel” changes. Most of these free packages are not very pretty so you will need something that allows you to change images, colors, and layout easily.
I looked for the exact same features in free forum software (except for PayPal integration).
Choosing a web site hosting solution will probably take the most time. You need to be sure that your web site hosting selection will support the software you have found to run your forum and online store. Typically, your software will provide a list of requirements for hosting. Be sure you select a forum software and e-commerce software that have similar requirements. You will most likely be faced with two choices of hosting, Windows or Linux. These days the difference in price should be minimal, however, Linux hosting will be cheaper with some companies.
Here is the price breakdown for my solution:
Of course, the reality is that most people will require some help to set up, configure, and apply a template. I would recommend a freelance site for this work. There are many freelance sites available and most offer an escrow type payment service so you don’t pay until the job is done. I took some time to price this work on a freelance site and found some very reasonable bid at or around $250.00. So with little or no experience you can still have a professional e-commerce, customer support centered, and informational web site for under $500.00. A little up-front work can save you thousands down the road.
Aaron Davis is a freelance web/application developer. He has been a web/application developer for more than 12 years. His specialty is . NET development with C# and SQL Server.