The true cost of getting your business online

The events of 2020 underlined just how important being able to trade online can be. For many retailers, the webstore was a lifeline during the times they were unable to open their stores. The whole situation has greatly accelerated the move towards online shopping in all sectors.

Even when (or if) we return to a situation where normal or near-normal retail shopping is once again possible, online sales can be expected to continue their progression and generate the lion’s share of income for most shops.

This makes getting it right online even more important – but there is more to it than simply having a good website. You need to think about how to attract potential customers to your site, how people will find you if they are Googling for your kind of product or service, and what kind of experience they will have when they make a purchase on your webstore.

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Physical or virtual – deciding what to sell and where and how to sell it

First of all, you do need to decide what you do and do not want to sell online. This may be very straight-forward, but there could also be complications, depending on what you offer.

For example, if you make and sell wedding dresses, you probably would not want to sell the actual dresses online, as they will need to be properly fitted and tried on by the bride-to-be. Also, you’d want them to come into the store personally and see for themselves what you have to offer in the first place. But you may be able to sell wedding shoes and accessories on your website.

If, however, you are selling office equipment and stationery, you could easily offer most, if not all products online. What you sell and how you sell it will dictate to some extent what sort of site you set up and how it will look and feel.

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Finding and Buying domain or URL

You will need a unique website address for your online shop, but you can’t just choose any name. The obvious ones may be taken already, so you may need to be creative here. Indeed, if you are setting up a business from scratch, the website URL (uniform resource locator) might dictate what you actually call the business.

The domain should be catchy and easy to remember and type, and have some relevance to what you are selling, of course.

Searching for and buying the domain name is not that hard – there are several authorised organisations (such as Nominet and 1-2-3-reg) that can sell domain names and many of them can be good value. There is also a big after-market for domains though; traders will often buy-up likely domains and hang onto them until a bidder comes along who really wants that name.

You also need to think about the extension of your URL – the “.com” or “.co.uk” part of the name. There may be several extensions available – you can choose to take just one or buy a few to make sure all searches your business name end up with you.

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Creating and setting up a website

It is possible to do this yourself – but that won’t t be easy, and you’d need to develop quite a few skills first. For almost everyone, it will be best to hire a specialist to do the job (see below). You will need to think about how you want the site to look and feel in advance and you’ll probably need to contribute copy and perhaps images to help the designer put it all together.

It’s a good idea to think about your customers and what they are likely to want from the site, and to have a close look at competitor or similar sites to the one you are planning to set up. Being able to point the designers to websites you particularly like will really help to move things along.

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Hiring site designers

Appointing a web site designer or agency is no different to finding and appointing any other business service. Before you start, get a good idea in your head of what you want, how you want the site to look and how much you will expect to pay for it. Think about the set-up and the on-going costs. Set-up costs can vary from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds. On-going costs can vary enormously depending on what you want to do and how much you are prepared to do in-house on a regular basis.

As in all sectors, there are generalists and specialists when it comes to web sites. If you are going to set up a big online trading site, you may need a firm that specialises in commercial sites with some knowledge or experience of your industry. If your site is simpler, almost any local web company should be able to do the work for you.

Do look at the work they have done and ask for an estimate up-front. Costs can tend to spiral, so make sure you keep on top of how the work is going.

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Investing in good broadband

It’s easy to overlook the fact that you will need to have a good broadband connection – especially if you are going to host the website yourself. If not, you need to make sure the hosting provider has a set-up that is suited to your needs.

As your online business develops, you may need to upgrade, so keep this in mind as well. It’s probably best to work with a tried and trusted name who can offer you some flexibility in terms of the ability to upgrade your connection.

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SEO and content investment

It’s important to keep content on the site updated and of good quality. This will help with SEO (search engine optimisation) and getting you up the Google search rankings.

You should be looking to put regular news and blog posts up to keep the site fresh, so there is always something new to find. You should also make sure that the information about the products and services you offer are always up to date.

You can hire specialist SEO companies and they can really help you to get up the rankings on searches. This will make a big difference to your business – but be aware that it may take some time.

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Setting up payments

If you want to trade online, you will need a way of taking payments that is secure for both you and the customer. There are many ways you can do this but keep in mind that it needs to be as simple, flexible, and fast as possible for the customer. Of course, they will have to key in their details at least once, but the easier you can make it, the better. Do remember that you will need to comply with GDPR regulations if you hold information on customers.

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