We've all seen them: low-quality Internet stores, featuring cluttered pages and product photographs that make your mom's 1974 Polaroids look good. With embarrassments like these on the Web, building your own online store can be a scary task.
This is precisely why many entrepreneurs turn to storefront-building programs to get their online stores up and running. McKinnon Baxter, for instance, was able to create a storefront for his ComfortChannel.com ergonomic furniture Web site using Yahoo!'s store-building interface. "After doing my research, I found that Yahoo! was the easiest way to start," explains Baxter, founder of Bozeman, Montana-based Internet Channel Network Inc., a network of shopping channels and the parent company of ComfortChannel.com as well as BodyBiltSeating.com, a spin-off web site dedicated to a popular ergonomic chair. Says Baxter, who works from his home office in Bozeman, Montana, "It was very low-risk, and I felt like they already had a built-in customer base that I wanted to tap into."
The concept makes sense: Pay a monthly fee (in Baxter's case, $300 a month) and possibly an upfront fee to have someone else do the work for you-often taking care of fulfillment, order processing, site maintenance and the like-and you're free to build your site and market it however you please, from any computer with an Internet connection. "The way it's set up, I could be in Bali," says Baxter, whose Web stores have generated more than 5,300 orders to date, with the average sale being around $200. "As long as I have a computer and a phone line, I could be developing my Web site from anywhere."
There are other considerations, however: Keep in mind that other people are building storefronts that could be very similar in appearance to yours, so your job is to market your site better than anyone else. On that note, look for storefront-building services that offer marketing assistance and other tools that will help you spread the word.
The bottom line is, your work isn't done once you create a prepackaged online store-far from it. For Baxter, the first six months meant 12-hour days-as is the case with most start-up entrepreneurs. So take your time to find a program that suits your budget and your product, then get to work on some heavy marketing. You'll thank yourself later when you start generating revenue.