My organization is small (15 employees) but we want to start selling on the Web. What does this involve, and how much of a time investment will it require from us during implementation and beyond?

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. It takes a lot of work to prepare for, design and build a Web store. Then, it’s not over; you still have to maintain it. Here are the steps to creating a working store to sell your products over the Internet.

Register your company name online. The shorter the name, the more customer-friendly, especially for those who are keyboard-challenged. There are many domain name providers (DNPs), but it’s best to select the established company over the one with the lowest price. DNPs will give you the exclusive use of the name and host it.

Using the domain name you have registered, create e-mail addresses. Use addresses that will be meaningful to the customer but unique enough to discourage unsolicited junk mail. One suggestion is to split your email address with a period or hyphen to create that uniqueness (as in E-mail addresses can be purchased at a DNP, Internet service provider (ISP) or e-store solution provider (further described below).

Design your store. Decide on a design theme for the store and how it should be laid out. Browse competitor sites or other sites within your business category to generate ideas. Consider what languages and currencies you will be selling in and whether to set up separate stores or a combined store. Take digital pictures of all the products you will be selling online.

Create content for your store. Research the different federal and state/provincial tax requirements that you will need to satisfy in order to charge your customers. Identify the range of shipping options you will be offering locally, nationally and internationally and how you’ll price each (by weight or per unit, for example), taking into account cross-border taxation and regulations. Partner with one or more of the shipping companies, such as UPS or Canada Post. Decide whether you want to receive payments from your customers by money order, bank transfer or credit card. Remember, your requirements and risk tolerance may vary depending on where in the world you will be selling your products.

Using the analogy of a brick and mortar store, you should at this point have purchased all your materials and have the building designs in hand. You are now ready to build the store. Here are two possible routes to take:

All-in-one. The outsourced solution is like renting a furnished facility. E-store solution providers are experienced in all phases of building an online store, from the idea stage through to maintenance and promotion.

The foundation, walls and roof are already up in the form of design templates. Even some basic furnishings are in place. But you need to add your products, shipping and payment options. Some stores are more sophisticated, allowing you to add onto the building structure with your own customized designs and move around existing content, such as text and pictures.

This solution is suited to the time-conscious store owner who does not want to be responsible for all the technical details. It generally comes with an easy-to-use interface that gives a non-technical user full control over the building and maintenance of the store. The fees are typically based on a monthly subscription, eliminating the need to purchase such items as upfront software licenses and security certificates.

Do-it-yourself. The independent route includes renting space on which a store can be built from scratch to your specifications using programming and database tools. This entails purchasing and installing the necessary application and database software on your PC. The storage space, e-mail addresses, domain name hosting and building tools are some of the features offered by ISPs.

This solution is suited to store owners who are more technically savvy and want more control of the design and the flexibility to expand outside of the store functionality into other service offerings, such as forums or games. The fees are typically based on a monthly subscription, depending on the storage size and number of features included in the package.

Now you’ve reached the end of the beginning. New products will need to be added to the store, prices will change and design makeovers will be required as the store grows and adapts to the market. The continual promotion of your store will be an investment of time and money. This can be as simple as placing the Internet and e-mail address on your business cards or as sophisticated as using search engine optimization to encourage search hits by the public on Google, MSN or Yahoo.

Finally, remember to enjoy the fruits of your labors. Take pride in your store, and it will bring many rewards — financial, marketing-related and otherwise.

Elizabeth Law is president of ET Technologies Inc., a company specializing in consulting, project management and e-business solutions like Wired-2-Shop.

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