Doing Business on the Web -

An introduction to online business management...

Doing business on the web can be overwhelming when you're first starting out, so I put together a few of the most common questions with some of the solutions that I've found over the years to help you get started.

How do you get a website?

If you're going to be doing business on the web, you'll need a website. Websites are made up of two things (basically, they can be MUCH more complicated of course) - a URL (the name) and storage for your files that will be accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Your URL is your address, like your house address, and it's how visitors find your files onlilne. Your storage is called 'hosting' and is brought to you by a company which will link that storage with your URL. Actual web pages are just made up of complex file structures served to the viewer in a particular way.

How do you get paid online?

When you're doing business on the web, you'll need to figure out some way to get paid. I use PayPal because it's easy and allows anyone to accept credit cards without needing a complicated Merchant Account. Also, they do all the complicated things that make your transactions secure. Yes, they take a percentage of every transaction for this privilege, but that's how it goes.

How do you accept credit cards on your website?

Figuring out how to accept credit cards securely is one of the most complicated parts of doing business on the web. Accepting credit cards directly on your website requires setting up a virtural merchant terminal on your own sercure website. You must buy a year long subscription to a security certificate, which will be implemented to make your website safe. Next, you must have a merchant account. Many banks do this and there are also online companies (PayPal does this too, although they're not the cheapest for this) which will do this. All the online companies and most banks these days will also provide you with a merchant gateway subscription. These merchant gateways will integrate with your site and allow you to accept cards on your site (so long as you've got a security certificate).

How do you advertise online?

There are literally billions of websites. To succeed in doing business on the web, you'll need to get your website seen by the people who are looking for it. Advertising is one way to do this. There's several types of online advertising. Choosing the right one for your business can allow you to expand your business beyond your own natural search reach.
  • CPC advertising companies place adds on their network of sites and every time someone clicks a link, you pay a fee. It's called "Cost per click" and Google Adwords is the most famous and advanced of these networks.
  • CPA advertising companies require you to place conversion trackers on your pages and every time someone comes to your site through their links and does what you want them to do (buy a product, sign up for a newsletter, take a survey, etc.) you pay a fee. It's called "cost per action" advertising. Bing Cashback is the largest and most popular (and hardest to get into) of these networks.
  • Affiliate programs are where individual website publishers or bloggers can sign up to create their own unique links to your site. Every time someone comes to your site and makes a conversion, you pay a percentage of that conversion or a flat fee per conversion to that publisher. These can be expensive to integrate initially, but they can be lucrative and cost effective advertising in the long run.
  • Banner Ads are where you pay a flat monthly fee for a specific advertising position on a specific website - usually negotiated directly with the website's owner or parent company. Banner ads refer not just to the top banners on websites, but any sidebar placement and some text link placements.
  • Pay to Post advertisements are popular ways to create more online buzz about your company and products or services. These advertisements are where you pay bloggers or social media heavyweights a flat fee to talk up your company to their followers.

Do you charge sales tax?

When you're doing business on the web, whether or not you need to charge sales tax is always a question that comes up. Most of the time, you only need to charge sales tax if you're selling something in your own state. However, you should always check with your state or country's tax authority before beginning your business to make sure you do it right. Oh, yeah, and keep good records of your sales for the end-of-the-year accounting!

How do you do your bookkeeping?

If you're doing business on the web, you'll probably be working with fewer staff and probably not have a bookkeeper. Learning how to do your own books is important, but so is not letting it consume your life. I love and swear by for completely online bookkeeping. They don't charge anything, so even if you decide to use them I don't get any kickbacks. They're just an awesome service and an awesome community of fellow small business persons. Their community area has so many answers to frequently asked questions!

However, Outright isn't yet set up to handle anyone who isn't a sole proprietorship. If you've got a larger business structure, it's totally possible to still use Outright, but it gets more complicated and you've got to set up some 'hacks' to make it all flow together. Instead, my friends with corporations and LLCs recommend investing in high-quality bookkeeping software, especially if you run payroll. If your business handles many clients instead of customers, you might consider outsourcing a bookkeeper through Odesk or something for more personalized attention.

How will you answer the phone?

If you get most of your business from clients or customers, you'll need a phone. Spend a few extra bucks and get a 1-800 number. Many folks I know have this set up to automatically forward to their own cell phone for ease of use. That's seriously the easiest way to do things. is a great service and has awesome quality for the price. It's just $15 a month and you get a virtural PBX, call handling, call forwarding and unlimited incomming calls. LOVE IT!

If you have more customer service needs than you can handle yourself, you'll need to hire someone to do it for you. I suggest hiring someone local to your nation instead of outsourcing overseas for ease of management, but that's up to you. Overseas virtual assistants can be very cheap, especially when you're first starting out. There's also many services that make doing business on the web and providing customer service very easy - but depending on your product you may wish to have this done in-house.

For me, doing business on the web means not being tied down. Therefore, since I don't use my business phone for more than an initial contact location for customers, I have it go to my Google Voice account. This then emails me a transcription of their voicemail if I don't get to the phone in time. Toktumi does this as well, but offers 800 numbers too. I can then call the person back from whatever number I wish or I can email them. Again, part of my business plan when I started was to create a 100% online business. If I'm forever tied to a phone, I've failed. If that's not your business plan, this isn't a good solution for you.

Ask your own question about doing business on the web!

Are you interested in doing business on the web? Just learning or do you have years of experience under your belt? Ask your questions here and I'll do my best to answer them. Plus, others will have an opportunity to see them as well and add their own input.

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