IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

How to Build an Ecommerce Site

In the last blog post, I introduced the topic of creating an ecommerce site on your web site. In this post, I will outline the basic elements you need. Read the previous post here.

There are many ways to build an ecommerce site. Trust me: I've built most of them. In fact, I've built the back-end for ecommerce and EDI (electronic data interchange) sites since 1995. Before I got into SMB IT consulting, I designed EDI systems for Nike, Wrangler, and other major companies. I worked with one of the major retail point-of-sale software companies, and developed their first internet sites.

With my book store and online classes, I have built several sites over the years. Here are the basic elements of online sales.

First: Hosting

Whether you build a site on your own web site, or outsource to a hosting service, the store has to "live" somewhere. This might include an eBay store, an Amazon store, a fully hosted site such as Volusion, or a front-end to someone else's store.
But - as I mentioned in the last blog - you probably don't want to be in the store business. By that I mean  that the store is not your primary business. Consulting and cloud services/managed services are still your primary business. So, the store you build is not intended to compete with Best Buy or Staples. That should give you the freedom to stop worrying about the variety of your offerings or the prices you offer.
In the simplest setup, you have a simple WordPress site with a small store. That's it. A few dozen items. And lots of links that engage clients and prospects in meetings and consultation. (That's where the real sales take place.)
Here's what we recommend, and we're building for our Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community members:
  • A WordPress site on a subdomain, so it looks like your site (e.g., store.company.com)
  • Secure hosting, of course
  • 2FA to log into the back end/dashboard
Your actual store will be built from there.

Second: The Money Stuff

This is perhaps the scariest part for most people who haven't built ecommerce sites before. You may have built something like this for clients, but not for yourself.

You need software that connects your store to your money. The two primary components are very straight forward:

1) A credit card/ACH/PayPal module that allows visitors to give you money
2) A "gateway" that transfers that money to your bank account
Again, there are many options here. I have worked with Authorize.net, my bank, PayPal, Merchant Warehouse, and a few other merchant services. They each charge a different amount. As you might expect, the easy options take a higher percentage of your sale.
Today (early 2021), you should expect to pay no more than 3% plus a small transaction fee, around twenty-five cents. Your bank will probably be the most expensive option. 
Here's what we recommend, and we're building for our Community members:
As you can imagine, all of these accounts have very long, complicated, random passwords, with 2FA enabled wherever possible.
Do not let fear keep you from implementing this. Every organization involved here has security as their absolute highest priority. You might have hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, but these services have billions of dollars at stake.

Third: The Actual Store

Finally, you need to define your offerings. As I mentioned in the last blog post, there will be three kinds of products and services for sale.

In addition to the simple "items" in your store, there must be a means for you to stay informed about new orders. As a rule, these are emailed to a specific address. We recommend a group email or list address, so that whoever processes orders can take a day off. This functionality is built into the store software, but needs to be configured by you.

Obvious and easy items are all the things your clients (and strangers) can buy without discussion, explanation, or higher-level consultation. This might include lots of great bundles. For example: Consider offering,

  • A Zoom Room Bundle. Includes a 60" television, a wall mount for the TV, a NUC mini PC, HD camera, conference microphone, VOIP phone, and associated cables and labor. $2,999.
    (You can make money with that, right?)

  • HP Color LaserJet Pro M454dn printer, cables, and installation labor. $599.
  • Work-from-home secure setup. 24" HP monitor, HP Workstation Z2 G5 - Core i7 2.9 GHz - vPro - 16 GB - SSD 512, Logitech 930 camera, Blue Yeti microphone, ring light, and setup labor. $2,499.

Recommended catalog items are basically your quarterly "recommended" configurations. This will primarily include a recommended laptop configuration, a recommended office desktop configuration, and perhaps a recommended file server.

If you have one or more clients with special needs (e.g., dental offices, car sales departments, or manufacturing), you may offer a handful of standardized desktop or all-in-one configurations. These are not quite the same as the "obvious and easy" items. But to your existing clients, they are probably quite obvious and easy to understand.

As a rule, you should be happy to have your clients put in a credit card and buy a new desktop setup - with or without the labor. It would be even better if they could check a box and add a new workstation to managed services!

If strangers wander in from the Internet, put in their credit card, and order equipment, you will probably also be happy to take their money. But note: Some consultation may be required. Yes, take their money. Never hesitate there. But absolutely require that they have a consultation to make sure that they're buying the right thing. 

Remember: You're not competing with Walmart here. You want to draw people into your consulting business. You may have the odd stranger who just buys top-shelf equipment for top-shelf prices, but that would be an odd stranger indeed.

Products and Services that require consultation. Finally, you will have offerings that are intended primarily for "strangers" and prospects. This is really a marketing ploy disguised as a sales offering. Here, you can list your major offerings. This might include your three-tiered offering, your Cloud Five-Pack, and even blocks of labor.

You don't need to list pricing here. The actual goal is to make clear the core offerings of your consulting business. Prospects will educate themselves about your offerings. And, once they are tempted  to buy, they will click the big button to schedule a meeting with you.

You might offer pricing on some items, strategically, so that clients have an idea of what to expect when the request a consultation. For example, an anchor price for labor will help them get used to your pricing before they see the first proposal. 

What We're Up To

Here's my bottom line: I think you need to set up an ecommerce site. I believe this is the future. More than once, I've bet on my vision of the future. So I'm happy to do it again.

I am laying out the specifics of this idea so that anyone can implement it. After many years of working in ecommerce, I have learned that there are many ways to do this. So, I am helping people to build the easiest, most obvious option.

Inside the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community, we are building a model store site and offering our members assistance in building their stores. But don't worry, you don't have to be a member to build your site. I will give you the details of what we're doing. At the same time, I do not encourage you to be side-tracked from your primary business. 

But this is something you should do. Just keep it as a supplemental income stream.

Here's the deal: Some people will immediately realize what it takes to do this, and will jump at the opportunity. Some people will rely on us to help them build their own site. Then they will be off to manage it themselves. And, finally, some people will simply allow us to create this site for them.

I'll spell out more details on this blog, so stay tuned.

Please post questions and comments here. I'm happy to discuss. 

:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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