Seven easy steps to build an online shop
Whether you're just starting out and aspiring to build your own online shop, or you're an established business keen to start selling on the Internet for the first time, we can provide you with the ecommerce software and expertise to get your project off the ground. This structured tutorial will give you an overview of the entire process from inception to launch.
1. The business plan
A detailed plan is essential. If you can, identify a niche; a USP (Unique Selling Point) to set your business apart from the rest, whether you're planning on selling goods or services. Not only is a formal business plan good practice, a printed version may be required when talking to banks and financial institutions further down the line.
2. Register your domain name
Before you establish your company name, it is advisable to ensure that you can obtain the corresponding domain name (web address) of your choice. Search Google for domain name registration to find a service for around £5 per year. In an ideal world, you should register both the .co.uk and .com variants of your domain name, although this can sometimes be difficult as many popular names are already taken. It is generally accepted that .co.uk domain names are preferred for UK businesses.
If your domain name contains more than one word, you may be wondering whether or not to hyphenate. For example, you may be able to register either YourName.co.uk or Your-Name.co.uk. Most major search engines tend to recognise both variants, so select the version which looks best and can easily be relayed by word of mouth, or register both!
3. Establish your company name or brand
Should you wish to start trading straight away, it is possible to run your business as a Sole Trader or a Partnership. However, you should bear in mind that you are personally liable for any debts incurred by your business. If in doubt, seek legal advice and consider a consultation with an accountant.
If you would prefer to trade as a Limited Company, you will need to register your company name. Setting up a Limited Company can be accomplished easily online, search Google for limited company registration to find a service for around £25. It is important to note that, in comparison to a Sole Trader or a Partnership, a Limited Company is likely to be less easily administered and more bureaucratic.
Further reading: Gov UK
4. Build your own website
This is potentially the greatest obstacle facing both aspiring entrepreneurs and established businesses, but the solution is surprisingly simple. A Content Management System (CMS) is a "back-end" website which is used to create and manage content on the "front-end" website - your online shop.
The site itself is generated for you by the CMS, allowing you to alter all aspects of the design, the page structure and the page content itself without any prior knowledge. Sections of HTML code, the building blocks of all web pages, are created automatically by selecting from menus and using Microsoft Word-based editors. Images, movies and various other media files can be uploaded and inserted into any page.
Bluepark's ecommerce software is somewhat unique in that it combines all of the functionality of a CMS with the specialist features of a shopping cart system. As well as creating pages, blog posts and interactive forms, it is possible to manage a vast product catalogue along with stock levels, shipping costs and discount schemes. The product database is fully searchable and compatible with shopping channels such as Google Shopping and eBay.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an essential consideration if you're building an online shop, which is why Bluepark's software automatically takes all steps possible to maximise your online presence with the "big 3" search engines, namely Google, Bing and Yahoo!
Further reading: Search Engine Optimisation
5. Secure online credit card payments
Once your site is nearing completion, you will need to consider how you won't to receive payments on the website. Bluepark's ecommerce software supports the most popular payment processors, all of which have a combination of advantages and disadvantages.
Sage Pay offers lower transaction charges and setup costs, combined with the ability to take payments on your own site. However, the requirement of a merchant account from a UK bank is a possible barrier to entry for new businesses.
PayPal business accounts are free to set up and available to everyone, making it easy to begin trading online. However, all payments must be taken via PayPal's website. Customers are encouraged to create PayPal accounts.
Once you have decided which payment processor would best suit your needs, integrating it with Bluepark's system is as simple as making a selection from a menu. All of the work associated with secure transactions, e-mail updates to the customer and 24 hour order tracking is taken care of on your behalf.
Further reading: Secure Payments
6. Premium web hosting for your online shop
In order to launch your website, it will need to be "hosted" which is simply the process of putting your online shop live on the Internet. For UK businesses it is advisable to host the site in the UK, as connections for your customers are more likely to be fast and reliable. All of Bluepark's ecommerce sites are hosted in Berkshire, UK on the fastest possible web servers for blistering performance.
Further reading: Web Hosting
7. Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Of course, once you have launched your site it's just the beginning. It will take time to forge an online presence and reputation. It is advisable to invest in a Pay Per Click affiliate scheme such as the comprehensive Adwords programme offered by Google. You will effectively be bidding against your competitors to display Sponsored Links alongside standard search results, paying for every referral made to your site.
In order to maximise the return on your investment, Bluepark's ecommerce software enables you to track the conversion rate of all of your PPC Sponsored Links, allowing you to tailor your advertising campaign to match your target market. Determination and hard work will do the rest!
Further reading: New to eCommerce? 5 Things You Need to Know
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