Q:I'm thinking about taking my business online. How do I set up a website?

A: Begin by creating an e-commerce plan. Since you're exploring new territory, including making decisions about technology and marketing, and establishing a new set of vendor relationships, you need a well-thought-out plan to guide you.

First, make a list of possible website names. Type "domain registration" into your favorite search engine, and you'll find a list of companies like Network Solutions and Register.com that can guide you through the process. For a modest fee ($15 to $70), you can register a domain for two years.

Before getting enmeshed in design details, get the big picture by writing a site outline. A thorough site outline includes five elements: content, structure, design, navigation and credibility.

A variety of hosting companies and website solution companies offer combination web-hosting/website-building packages. Most of them have tools that allow you to build a professional-looking website as part of an all-in-one package sold alongside their hosting services.

When it comes to online sales, your web host can handle your transactions. It can collect orders, handle credit card transactions, send an automatic e-mail to customers thanking them for their orders, and forward the orders to you for handling and shipping. Another option is to buy an electronic shopping cart program so site visitors can complete transactions online.

Here's a checklist to keep you on track as you develop your site.

  • Keep your e-commerce strategy in focus.
  • Ensure your website loads quickly.
  • Put full contact information on your home page.
  • Make sure your online message is clear.
  • Keep graphics clean and eye-catching.
  • Check that your website is free of glitches and dead ends that frustrate visitors.
  • Make sure your website meshes with the rest of your business.

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