It’s all a function of that extremely precious commodity called time. When the alternator in your car quits, you can fix it yourself or turn to a mechanic. Working the Web is no different in this regard. Doing it yourself saves bucks, but may not be cost-effective. And it can be a serious mistake if you lack required skills. If you want your site to become a significant source of income, judicious use of time is mandatory. No one person can do it all. And what you need but don’t have time to do, will cost.
Going Into Business
If you are starting a new business, you must file a DBA (Doing Business As statement) or the equivalent in the county or state in which you will work. After filing, it may need to be published. Then you need to open a bank account. Costs vary from state to state. In California the minimum is about $50 for the DBA and $10/month for the bank account. Also consider any state or local licenses required.
If you need an accountant, costs go up. Turn to an attorney, and they may skyrocket. But you may need to consider these options because of the products or services you will market, just as in an offline business. You may need to consider liability insurance. Incorporation may provide even more protection.
HTML vs Web Page Editors
You must understand the basics of HTML, the language in which web pages are written. There is a time cost here. But at some point, most will find it more effective to turn to a web page editor to save time. Costs range from about $50 to $200.
Building Your Site
Hiring someone to put a site together can cost thousands of dollars. More important, you may find making changes later brings significant added cost. It is best to build your own pages, for then you have total control.
But the template used throughout the site is so critical to success, consider hiring an artist to get it right. Not the site, just the basic page template. Once the site is established, it can be very cost-effective to hire out the creation of new pages and updating. A good page template with original art work can run anywhere from $200 on up, but $500 should cover even special needs.
Free vs Paid Hosting Services
There is only one option. You must have your own domain name ($12.99/year from Godaddy.Com) and a good hosting service. I use both Hostforweb.com and Hostgator.Com. While there are other fine services available, these two offer attractive entry level pricing. $5.95/month will buy ample resources at Hostforweb.Com.
If you need a shopping cart service. Americart is very good, and is available through Pair.Com at $15/month, but anyone can use it at $21/month. JumpLine.Com offers a shopping cart as part of their package at $24.95/month. However, it is limited. If you can live with the format available, JumpLine may be the best choice.
Note forms or shopping carts only take the orders. You will need a merchant account to deal with credit cards or signup for payment processing services such as PayPal.com or 2checkout.com. Set up fees run from about $300 on up. Monthly fees run from $25 and up. If you need online processing, add similar amounts.
Opening An Office
While getting started, you will likely keep your present job, and it may make sense to work from your home. Even so, you still need an “office,” including stationery, invoices, business cards, and possibly brochures to be handed out wherever you happen to be. Costs here are the same as in an offline business, and will be a function of your needs.
Don’t overlook software. If you want to do some of the graphics for your site, Paint Shop Pro at $99 is a good value. (JascSoftware.Com) For your accounting, Quicken is good. For mail list handling and personalized mailing, including emailing, Easy Mail Plus at $50 is an excellent choice.
A Phone Is A Must
An email address is not enough. You need a phone and someone to answer it. Preferably an 800 number (or a toll free number).
Even if you expect to receive few calls, this is a must. People often call just to see if you’re for real. If there’s no phone, you’ve lost a sale. Some argue that voice mail is a reasonable alternative, but it will not help if you can not get back quickly. If you have a spouse who can answer, go for it. If not, find someone in your area who can take calls as your secretary. If you provide up-to-date information about your business, your “secretary” can often save you the need for a later reply. Further, there is simply no less expensive way to appear to be working the business full time.
Where We’re At
The above is not the whole of it. For example, there has been no mention of search engines, yet good positioning can make a big difference. Again, if you know how to optimize pages and can do so easily, it is worth your time to do so. If not, hire it out. Writing skills are important. If yours aren’t so hot, factor in some cost for editing, or even creating both page content and the advertising message behind all. Good service is available at $25-$50/hour.
You must add up these costs relative to your particular needs. But it is unlikely you can start a serious online business for less than $500 to $1000, even if you do all the work yourself.
Time Cost Analysis
Starting any business means commitments in time you can not expect to recover except over the long run. So good cost analysis is difficult initially. Even so, put a dollar value on your time, perhaps as low as $5/hour, to help you make good decisions about how you will use your time. Even at $5/hour, it will be clear that some things should be hired out.
Building web pages with HTML when you could be generating leads may not be the best use of time. Reading a book or two about how to work the Web can be very helpful, but sometimes it’s more cost effective to buy the information needed. Working harder is often the only option available. But when possible, work smarter, which often means hiring services. In the end you’ll have more fun and rake in greater profits sooner.