Hello Roland,

I am thinking of dipping my toe in the water, and creating a small web-site. For now, I would need simple, with the most complex part, being able to process credit card payments. I have a friend who can assist with design, although she is more of a print designer vs. web. I have no clue about costs.

Nancy, New Jersey

Hi Nancy,
Awesome! It always comes down to deciding to invest money or time. Do-It-Yourself is cheaper but labor intensive as you learn what to do. Hiring a professional saves you significant time and helps you avoid mistakes — yet typically requires a larger investment. If you have the budget, let a professional guide you. Otherwise you can certainly bootstrap it until you’ve grown enough to scale to the next level.

How to build ecommerce website…

I’ll break it all down for you as follows so you can see what the DIY route is like to build an ecommerce website …

  1. Register a domain name yourself. It’s cheap to use GoDaddy — under $20/yr and they always have some promotion running. Just ignore all the upsell stuff they offer.
    Google.com/domains is also good and cheap ($12/yr including keeping your info private) — my current favorite.
  2. Ecommerce website/hosting. There are many service providers and all offer many good looking mobile responsive themes, so you don’t need a designer involved in that. Simply pick a theme/template and start customizing.
    If you only have a handful of items to sell, check out SquareSpace.com, Wix.com, Weebly.com. These typically $12+/month depending on functionality.
    If you are selling hundreds of items, check out BigCommerce.com or Shopify.com. These typically $30+/month depending on functionality.
    All the above have free trials so you can practice and see which you like better.
    All have 24/7 support in case something breaks and you need urgent help.

    Alternatively, check out Etsy.com — maybe that’s a place to get your feet wet before starting your own website.

  3. Your Logo. If you want a logo and don’t have those skills, your graphic designer friend may be helpful there. Ideally it’s best to work with a professional graphic arts person to interpret your vision and render many iterations until it’s right, but that can get expensive.
    On a super tight budget, you can find options on Fiverr.com.
    I typically suggest 99designs.com if a Client has a limited budget. Spending $600-700 on a design contest sounds expensive, but you can invite many designers to participate so you’ll get many choices.
  4. Merchant transaction / credit card processing. There are thousands of providers. Expect that they typically take 3% of your transaction so build that into your item prices. You may be able to negotiate better rates based on volume. The ecommerce sites I mentioned earlier typically have partnerships to give you many already integrated options to choose from.
  5. Shipping Domestic and International. USPS, UPS, Fedex — you’ll want to research and see what makes sense pricewise for you. Keep in mind what costs if shipping multiple items. You can go to the local USPS and they’ll explain options. The ecommerce sites I mentioned earlier typically have these partnerships already integrated so you just link them to your account.
  6. Product photos. You want to take good quality, well lit, from multiple angles. Might be worth investing in a photo lightbox to photograph items with a white background so your product is the hero.
  7. Learn how to use photo editing software. Photoshop is industry standard but expensive. There are lower cost alternatives for Windows (Adobe Elements) or Mac (Pixelmator).
  8. Writing exciting, persuasive copy is important for each item.
  9. Learn Search Engine Optimization tactics (keyword research, on-page SEO) so you can increase the chances of being found in the search engine results.

But wait, there’s more…

Once the ecommerce website is live, you’ll need to actively market it. The very first things to do are…

  1. Start building an email list immediately. You want to send an email at least monthly. Educate and inform people so they stay subscribed; and you can add a bit of self promotion into each email too.
  2. Don’t waste time on EVERY social media platform. Pick one you think your audience will be on and get good at that. Follow others to see how they are building their audiences. #Hashtags are important.

Of course there’s much more. That’s alot to do already. But do not be intimidated. It’s what you need to know to get started. Definitely create a few free trial accounts to see if you are comfortable using the services and features.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know how it goes.