Start Your Online Business for Less Than $5,000

Create a great website on a budget--without skimping on the essentials.

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Many in today's market are turning to internet businesses as a way to make money without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store. After all, an internet-based business grows our market place to a global one--the internet has a global presence and our customers can come from all over the world. Regardless of the economic climate, the more customers the better. And you can get started for less than $5,000.

What can you do with less than $5,000 to make a great web-based business? First, don't skimp on design. Work with a great designer who understands user experience. You should interview several web designers who are local to you so you can sit down and explain your vision to them. Logos are less important than usability-- how usable customers find your web site.

Avoid gimmicks, excessive advertising and anything that detracts from your message and consumer-based content. Customers like to be able to leave feedback on products and services, and connect with each other, so give them a way to do that. One system I personally like is Joomla. A competing product is WordPress. Your web designer may choose one of these two, but both are modular and allow you to add plug-in components to make your site consumer-driven. For instance, on my site I have user-to-user chat, user-to-user private messaging, and user forums where people can go and talk about various topics of their choice. I jump in and comment on occasion, but usually that's only in an area where I'm a subject matter expert. At some point, Joe might log in to see if Suzy is on to chat with--now you have a consumer staying on your site.

Your initial e-commerce site will probably cost between $2,000 and $3,000, and the plug-ins are between $10 and $30 each. For no cost at all, you should add all the social networking media available. Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Plaxo--you name it. Create links and RSS feeds off of your site so people can be updated on what you are doing--and it doesn't always have to be about business.

Make it easy for people to buy. They shouldn't have to hunt for what you're selling. Don't delete candid feedback from visitors, and make it easy for them to tell others about your site using "share" buttons.

Instead of integrating merchant accounts right away through a bank, which can drive up your startup costs, you can accept PayPal, which takes about 3 percent of your sales in fees. This requires your consumers have a PayPal account, so you might still choose a merchant system, which will run you about $25 per month. Be sure to protect your system with an SSL Certificate that your web developer can integrate.

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