Starting a Website Business Blog


Website Owner's Bill of Rights

The owner of a website has certain inalienable rights when working with a web developer.

  1. The website owner will be the registrant and the administrative contact on all domains that the web developer registers for the owner. The web developer or host can be the technical contact.
  2. It must be clear as to who owns the copyright for the visible content of the website and who owns the copyright to the formatting and programming of the website.
  3. The website owner deserves a non-technical explanation of the decisions they need to make. It is ok if the owner does not know all the technical stuff. That is why they hired a web developer. The website owner is the unquestioned expert in their own business. The owner deserves dignity and respect for that knowledge.
  4. The website owner is entitled to a clear, detailed quote of the services provided. The explanation should state what the service is and why it is important. The quote should state the required services and the optional ones. The quote should state the one time charges, annual charges, monthly charges, and hourly charges. The quote should state the services included and the services specifically excluded.
  5. The website owner deserves a clear, accurate invoice. A non-technical person should be able to read an invoice and understand that value was provided.
  6. The website owner deserves to know what they are expected to do. The owner should know if they provide the text and the images for the pages.
  7. If the owner wants to maintain their own site after it is built, they should get instructions on how to do that. The owner deserves to know which things they can change and which they can't.
  8. The website owner is entitled to the user names, passwords, URLs, and folders of each component that they are allowed to maintain.
  9. The website owner is entitled to statistics about the traffic to the website.
  10. A website owner should not be required to link to the web developer on every page unless there is some incentive.


Time or Money: Build it or Buy it

One of the first questions I ask clients is, "What do you have more of - time or money?" and the answer is always of course, Neither. So then the next question is: what can you make more of?

If you have the time you could either build it from scratch using a HTML editor like Dreamweaver. Or build it using online site builder tools that a web host will provide. The online site builders are easier to use without knowing html or FTP settings. But they are limited to the templates that come with the tool.

Many people like the professional look that you get by hiring someone to build the site for you. A nice looking, professional graphic design can go a long way towards adding credibility to your website as a legitimate business. But website owners also want the control to be able to update the site by themselves to change prices, images, specials, etc. Another good thing about hiring a web designer is that they will make the technical decisions for you. All the pieces will work together: domain, host, shopping cart, merchant account, gateway, email configuration, SSL, etc. I'll start writing about these in the next posts.

My advice would be to start simple with your first website. Just build a small number of web pages with a simple graphical design using static pages. Then as you learn how to maintain the website, start experimenting with new things. Your customers will let you know what features they expect in the next revision. As your website business grows, you will see the need for a more dynamic cart with a gateway to automate credit card verifications, blogs or other marketing ideas.

So, be honest when deciding if you have the time to build a website by yourself. If you do, start learning the tools. If you know you should hire a web developer, ask your friends and colleagues for a referral. Lets get started.


Make $10 of Profit on a Sale

A good product for the web makes at least $10 of profit for an average sale. This opens up more advertising opportunities including pay-per-click advertising. Yahoo and Google are the major pay-per-click engines. A minimum bid starts at $0.10 per click. A typical conversion rate is 1%. This means that it takes 100 people to click on an ad and charge you a fee before one of them buys from you. So, $0.10 for each click times 100 clicks is $10. This $10 is profit that is spent on advertising, but it is for a sale you would not otherwise have. The idea is to measure which ads are converting the best. Keep the high-conversion ads and drop the low-conversion ads.

A product can still be viable on the web if the product makes less than $10 per sale. Then you have to concentrate promotion on the free techniques and less on paid advertising.


Appeal to a Nationwide Customer

A goood product for an online store appeals to a nationwide customer, not just a local customer. Since the product should be a niche product - something not found at Target, the market has to be larger.

If your business is a local service business like a home builder, it is still a good idea to have a website. It is just that the website will not be the primary revenue generator. In this case, the website serves as a huge information store. A website can have lots of text on lots of pages, but a brochure has only three pages of text. So, the technique for a local service business is to put your website address on everything: business cards, brochures, truck decal, advertising. Then people will type in your website and read lots of information about you which adds to your credibililty. Then they are more informed and trust you more when you meet with them face-to-face.

Some products have a local appeal only, like region-specific logos on sweatshirts. Those may not do as well as a wildlife sweatshirt that appeals to people everywhere.


Product Options Should be Easy to Understand

One big thing about selling products on the web is that it is self-service. The customer has to be able to figure out how to buy the item by themselves at 11:00 on Sunday night. Options should be easy to understand.

A tshirt has easy to understand options: size, color, design. Complex options or options contingent on other options will cause the customer to call with questions. It is ok if your product or service is complex. Just post a toll-free phone number and your hours of operations on your website. Then, the nice thing about talking to your customers, you can figure out what they want better and upsell them into better products.

Sometimes the best way to handle complex options is to have a quote form. The customer fills out the form, you reply to their email with a quote. Then you can ship it out when they accept the quote.


A Product Sale Should be Repeatable

A repeatable product sale is the idea that you can post the product description, price, and photo once and then sell many copies of the item. This approach takes less time to manage your website. For example: a tshirt with a custom design, just call up the screen printer for more tshirts. Selling prints of artwork is repeatable. Selling the original one-of-a kind piece of art is unique.

It is still completely viable to sell unique items. It just means that your business model is going to require more time to photograph, post, market, advertise, mark as sold, and then replace the product with the next one. Just build the time requirement into the business. An example of unique items: antiques, collectibles, original art work, original hand-made crafts.

Start thinking about what products you could sell online. So far, we have mentioned that it should be somewhat unique - something a person cannot find at Target, or the grocery store, or the hardware store. Competing on a commodity product means competing on price against huge stores that can sell it for less than you can buy it for. But, products that are repeatable, or even hand-made from a pattern, are easier to sell online that one-of-a-kind items. So, getting the right product for online sales is a balancing act.


Consistent Shipping Makes Products Easier to Sell

Consistent shipping allows for a simpler shopping cart. If your products are similar weight, size, volume, and density - then the shipping calculation is simpler. The shopping cart software is simpler and cheaper.

For example: a t-shirt fits in the same size box, weighs the same, and costs the same to ship regardless of the size, color, or design on it. On the other hand, if the products you sell are always different: a small, intricate jewelry box, a sturdy oak chair, and a tall, delicate lamp stand with shade - then the shipping is always different. There may be custom box or packaging requirements.

It is a feasible business model to have products with all those different shipping attributes, it just requires a custom shipping quote for every sale. Just build the custom shipping quote into your business model. There needs to be a feedback process to get the quote to the customer and then confirm the sale. Some shopping carts have the UPS Point-to-Point Shipping Calculator installed, which means the software does the shipping calculation for each product during checkout.


First, Make Sure the Product will Sell on the Web

The first critical decision is to sell the right product. Some products are good for the web, some are not. Think about it this way. Why would somebody pay extra for shipping and wait 2 or 3 days to get your product. Even if you offer free shipping, it is really added to the retail price.

So, the product has to be something that a person cannot find at Target, or their grocery store, or hardware store. People go there every week (Or, in my case, three times on Saturday to the hardware store), ship the products home themselves in their trunk, and get it the same day.

A good product should have some kind of competitive advantage, something that makes it somewhat unique. Try to avoid nationwide commodity items - anything with a UPC code unless you have some barrier to other competition. Large chain stores can sell it for cheaper than you can buy it for. Do not try to compete on price. The best kinds of products are ideas that you came up with yourself. For example: custom designs on a tshirt, original photography, hand-made organic vegetarian food, art prints.

What do you like to do as a hobby? Do a search on the Internet to see what other people are doing. Is it feasible?

Your business should be something that you love to do anyway. You will spend time thinking about it, marketing it, promoting it, writing about it. If you love what you do, you can make money at it if you work at it.



Creating Website Traffic

"Why can't anybody find my website?" That is the most common question I hear as a technology consultant at the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development. As a part of the 21st Century Arrowhead Initiative program, we help small businesses increase their revenue through a highly-visible website.

It works out into a repeatable process, refined every week with business clients.

  1. Find out what search phrases people are actually using.
  2. Put those keyword phrases into your website in many different kinds of places.
  3. Submit your website to search engines and directories.
  4. Request links from other relevant sites to your website.
  5. When you can't afford any more free website promotion, start a pay per click campaign.

This blog will talk about a different topic in more depth with each post.