Job Insecurity? There is now a solution on the Web.
By Brad Beiermann
As many of us working folks have discovered over recent years, a secure guaranteed job is the topic of fictional writers. Without a doubt the labor market is going through new changes and shifts as the national economy becomes evermore globalized. Unfortunately, our daily responsibilities of paying the mortgage, insurance, and tuition costs are not fictional. They need real solutions for making the payments. This has created many in the working class to consider other alternatives outside of their unstable or miserable jobs. One of the popular alternatives has been leveraging the Web to generate an extra income. There has been a flood of Web hosting services and online tools come on the market to help the most computer illiterate folk setup a second (often primary) income on the web. These services and tools are inexpensive. Actually, downright cheap! You can have an online store with shopping carts, credit card processing, custom domain names, toll free numbers, business cards…etc. for about twenty-eight bucks. We will get back to the details. This is a serious bargain when you consider this can get you a real flow of income to pay the non-fiction bills.
What Have We Learned?
Remember not too long ago when everyone was being bombarded by all the dot com hoopla? Remember not too long ago when the whole thing basically tanked as we watched some very silly Internet companies file bankruptcy? While many of these companies folded, the public received a very good education. They received an education on what does not work on the Web for a business. As more time has passed since the dot com era, we have also learned about what is working on the Web. One of the things working nicely on the Web is people starting a small home business based purely on the Web. There have been countless niche small businesses recently started on the Web with measurable success. The good news is there is plenty of room for more of these types of businesses to start. In fact, this whole movement has inspired many folks to get on a PC for the first time and learn the ropes. They are discovering the ropes are fairly simple. In fact if you have the following:
1. A pulse
2. Know how to read
3. Can move a mouse, and
4. An ability to focus on getting things done.
You have the ingredients to begin a successful income on the Web. Let’s take a look at some specific items that could help someone get started.
Starting A New Income Today
There are few basic necessities one would need to get their home based Web business started:
Website Hosting Service. The website will be the foundation of your online store or services. As mentioned earlier, there has been a flood of Web hosting services and online tools come on the market. Companies such as CityMax (www.citymax.com), BigStep (www.bigstep.com) and USight (www.usight.com) are some of the companies offering online servers to host your site. There are many others, but these particular hosts have online tools that are fairly simple to use for the PC novice. The tools are purely a click-to-add or drag-and-drop interface that allows someone to create a Web page. Creating a Web page or site with these tools does not require someone to be knowledgeable with computer languages or fancy forked tongue computer talk. The tools are based on pre-made templates and forms that allow virtually anyone to create a fully functional sight. Many of these online tools have the shopping cart functionality desired to create an online e-commerce site for customers to make purchases. This is pretty amazing considering a few years ago the shopping cart functionality for a site was typically built using a web based language and a computer geek costing thousands. I know this first hand as I was a computer geek building such programs. Companies literally spent millions of dollars getting these sites built. Those days are long past just like the horse and buggy days. The technology curve is now in the favor of the novice online business creator.
Domain Name. Many folks wish to have their own domain name (aka. www.somename.com) for their site. This can often be supplied by the same hosting company you might use for your site. However, there are other alternatives such as GoDaddy (www.godaddy.com). They offer low cost domain names along with email names.
Online Payment Provider. In order to receive your payments through a site shopping cart a third-party payment provider is needed. Perhaps the most well known payment provider is PayPal (www.paypal.com). An account can be setup for free which will give your customers the options to pay by credit card. This is a nice option to use as you get started. It is indeed the low cost option for doing credit card processing on a site. It is limited to transactions taking place online. So, your options are a bit more limited for offline transactions such as processing transactions for phone orders. The next step up would be getting a merchant account.
Merchant Account. A merchant account will allow you to accept credit cards from your customers with greater flexibility than an online payment provider. This is something that can make a world of difference when you get your store created online. When you make it easy for customers to buy from your site, they feel more inclined to buy. A merchant account makes it possible to do phone authorizations and various other remote authorizations. In most cases, you will want to get a virtual terminal (sometimes called a gateway) for the site. The virtual terminal enables you to forego using a physical point-of-sale terminal. AuthorizeNet (www.authorizenet.com), Cardservice International (www.cardservice.com), and Bank Card USA (www.gobusa.com) are some of the more popular means of getting credit card processing enabled. You will also find many of the Web hosting providers can steer you to the proper folks for getting the site set up for credit card processing.
Toll Free Number. You can now get a toll free number setup to your existing home phone inexpensively. While this might not be a necessity for a Web based business, it is something your customers will appreciate as you start to do business. Particularly if you get word-of-mouth advertising, people will want to call with inquiries for your products and services. Also, this helps customers feel comfortable knowing they can reach someone on the phone instead of being trapped by email. The beauty of today’s telecom industry is the price wars concerning long distance. Small home based business owners are coming out winners on the telecom side. As of this writing, QCI Internet (www.qcinet.net) offers 1-800 service numbers to your existing phone line for 3.9 cents a minute without a base fee. So, you will only get charged when people call you. If no one calls, there is no charge!
Free Business Cards. The word free is often over used and abused as people find free things are not always free. However, VistaPrint (www.vistaprint.com) offers free business cards with a variety of designs to choose. The cards are free. The shipping you pay (around five dollars).
Wholesale Drop Shippers. These are the folks that can supply a small online business with products to sell on the Web, warehouse it, and ship it directly to customers. They are the heart of a “stockless retailer” wanting to retail online. There are plenty of drop shippers available. However, finding one to suite your needs requires a little bit of homework. There are wholesale drop ship directories online that list drop shippers to be used. However, many of these directories are rip-offs and con-artists that do not actually contain tier one wholesale drop shippers. They may often list companies that are middlemen or false agents representing a drop shipper. These middlemen are getting an unnecessary slice of the profit by not adding any value to the supply chain. A small online business is best suited, profit wise, by going directly to the actual wholesale drop shipper. Hienote (www.hienote.com) offers a directory of wholesale drop shippers that can be used by a stockless retailer. The directory is updated weekly and is focused on hard-to-find tier one wholesale drop shippers. Plus, there is a toll-free number (1-800-342-0386) to call if you have questions. Members can submit a conditional request for a search if they do not see a specific drop shipper in the directory. This gives an advantage to those seeking unique niche items to offer on the Web. In addition, there is a free ebook on the site describing free advertising tips for your business.
Putting It All Together
Now that we are familiar with the major pieces need for our new venture, let’s take a look at the total start-up costs for the components we have reviewed:
1. Website Hosting Service___________________$20 - $50 per month
2. Custom Domain Name ____________________$8 for one year
3. Online Payment Provider__________________$0 setup fee
4. Merchant Account (optional)_______________$250 one time fee
5. Toll Free Number (optional)________________$0 setup (3.9 cents per minute)
6. Free Business Cards (optional)______________$0 (shipping is about $5)
7. Drop Shipper Directory (optional)___________$45 - $70 (usually a one time fee)
Scenario #1: Least Expensive = $28
Scenario #2: Most Expensive = $383
In both scenarios above we are assuming:
- One month of website hosting services.
- One year fee of a custom domain name.
- The transaction commissions for options three and four are not factored.
- Scenario #2 picks up shipping charges on business cards.
- Scenario #2 does not use a toll free line.
- Scenario #2 uses the higher priced drop ship directory.
In the least expensive scenario, we are basically getting our website hosting service and custom domain name. In the most expensive scenario we are getting pretty much everything listed. The nice part of this list is the options. In other words, you could scale your starting efforts to whatever you feel comfortable with on a budget. For example, we could start off with Scenario #1 and add a merchant account later as you get a few sales under your belt.
Getting People To Recognize You
In order for people to buy from you, they have to know about your existence. It has often been said that marketing and advertising are the life blood of a business. This life blood can sometimes result in a financial blood bath when done incorrectly. This is where low cost advertising, and sometimes free advertising becomes a necessity for the tightly budget minded folks. Again, let us consider our options for scalability. Remember those free business cards mentioned earlier? Some of you might be wondering why you would want business cards for a website that is viewed globally? Your business cards can be an effective tool for advertising. Leaving business cards everywhere, and I mean everywhere, can get some initial exposure. Some examples of everywhere includes, store shelves, books in the library, restaurant booths, restaurant menus, even stuff them in the utility bill envelopes you pay monthly! Remember, these cards are free. Most folks are very receptive to a business cards as they are small, contain all the info, and unlike a billboard or radio commercial they fit into everyone’s pocket. Some of the best marketing out there is by word-of-mouth. Everyone has been involved in some type of word-of-mouth marketing. When was the last time you asked someone, “What do you recommend?”
Don’t Forget The Offline Folks!
Interestingly, some of the best advertising for a website will not be found on the Web. Sure there are search engines, portal marketing, newsgroups…etc. on the Web. You can leverage these eventually. However, there is a large body of customers are not on the Web. Theses are the offline customers. This is where your budget 1-800 service comes into play. At just a few cents a minute, you can say a lot without breaking the bank. In a couple of minutes you can address the easy who, what, where and why questions for those interested. Often time, the folks who do not use the Web or a computer know someone that will look up something for them (i.e. son, daughter, co-worker…etc.).
Your New Income
The Web has enabled many folks to begin a part-time and full-time start up business. In addition, the Web has also helped lower the barriers of entry into the small business world. Once you are able to get your site fully functional (which can happen in a matter of hours) and your marketing moving, you will be embarking on a new direction. What direction? It will be a direction of some financial security…this is also sometimes known as freedom!
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