Tools to ensure your online business brings in the money
Years ago, I had a vision while speaking to a Mac user group.
As I looked out over my audience I realised that each person had a hobby or craft in which they created wonderful and unique treasures, ranging from hand-carved birds to quilts and poetry. And many in the audience possessed specialised skills that would be invaluable to others if they could only get the word out.
In the vision, I saw them all conducting business over the internet with personalised and co-operative websites, from which they sold their services and art to the world. They were all fulfilled and lived happily ever after. The young folks had mentors and the seniors had plenty of money. It was a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, ever since I had this vision the path to that nirvana has got worse. Making a small business website is more difficult than ever. Ten years ago there were close to a dozen wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) HTML editors that made creating simple business websites relatively easy. I don't know why, but they disappeared and until a few weeks ago there were only a couple left - and they were still a long way from being simple to use.
Of course, there are the .Mac sites that are pre-formatted and allow you to post photos and text easily, but
these sites are not useful for hosting a small business, club or non-profit enterprise.
This was brought home to me recently when the Web master for an association in which I am active retired. The membership wanted him to redesign the website so they could take in money and, of course, they wanted him to do it for free. He, of course, wanted his life back.
Normally, I would go down to the local high school and post a notice on the bulletin board for an inexpensive part-time Web master. Years ago I wrote that this was a good way for students to make extra cash. Well, it seems they read my column. The first student I contacted wanted US$1,000 for a site redesign and US$50 for every page update. And he was the least expensive student I could find. At least someone is making money from the internet.
The problems associated with making money from a webstore are threefold. You need a fixed-address Web server that runs database applications to host your site; you need an online shopping cart application that is relatively complex to set up and maintain; and you need a merchant account to take your customers' credit card info and convert it into cash. None of these things is particularly simple or inexpensive. Or at least not drag-n-drop, .Mac simple.
However, recently Economy-x-Talk introduced Salery (http://www.salery.
biz Euro29), an inexpensive, simple online store that will run on any type of website.
It consists of a database that resides on your home computer that you maintain and update. When you have created or updated your webstore with prices, descriptions and photos, it creates product webpages with links to your PayPal account. PayPal looks after the credit card/foreign exchange/security details and sends you an e-mail saying your customer has paid and wants his stuff. You ship it off and receive a cheque from PayPal at the end of the month. I am not saying that it does not get any easier, but this is fairly easy.
If you do have a fixed-address Web server (which can be an old Mac continuously connected to the internet), another Mac developer has created 4D Business Kit (www.4dbk.com Euro499). This is a pro-level database that builds online stores and catalogues using drag-n-drop technology. The company says that, with just a few mouse clicks, your site will be online and taking orders. It features templates for businesses similar to what you have in mind and it can be used on your home machine to store secure or business transaction information that cannot be viewed by online visitors.
The secure payment part of the webstore can use your merchant bank account or be directed to one of 18 third-party banking gateway companies similar to PayPal.
Taking in money without having to spend more than you make is an essential part of the internet promise - along with simplicity and security. These products are a significant step towards realising that promise.