The age of e-commerce presents a lot of exciting opportunities for passionate entrepreneurs with personal business websites. Technological advances, from easy-to-use content management systems and web-design tools to affordable hosting and payment processing options, have virtually erased the traditional barriers to entry associated with brick-and-mortar stores.

Even if you’re just looking to sell services, such as child care or landscaping, an online presence is a valuable and essential tool. Here is a practical guide to help you build an effective website for your personal business.

The Basics: Domain Name, Platforms and Hosting

The first thing you’ll need to do is to register a domain name for your website. This is the Internet address, or URL, that people will use to find your site. You can use a service like GoDaddy or you can register your domain through many of the website-building tools listed later in this section. It’s a pretty easy and inexpensive process.

A lot of small-business owners use WordPress to build their websites because it’s free, and it accommodates tons of useful e-commerce and online marketing plug-ins.

Other viable alternatives include:

Weebly: Simplifies website setup with drag-and-drop design and a variety of easy-to-embed features, such as multimedia elements and contact forms.

Shopify: Offers a fast and convenient way to create an online store with a secure shopping cart.

Pixelsilk: Provides a world-class content management system designed for business owners who are serious about search engine optimization, also known as SEO. It’s more expensive than some of the other options. However, if SEO is an important part of your marketing strategy, Pixelsilk might be worth a look.

Before you can make your website live, you’ll need to find a server to host it. Some of the services mentioned above offer hosting. Or you can opt to host your site with any of dozens of other reputable companies. Some popular options include Bluehost, Laughing Squid and Rackspace.

Branding Elements: Design and Messaging

Effective design is critical to the success of any website. Just as people tend to judge a book by its cover, online shoppers will quickly form opinions about your business based on how your website looks. If your site isn’t easy to navigate or doesn’t help to establish a memorable brand image, you’ll have a tough time making sells or earning return visits.

Most of the do-it-yourself website builders, like Weebly and Shopify, include design tools and templates that make the process pretty painless. If you’re using WordPress, you can find plenty of awesome themes to make customization a breeze by searching or a third-party site like WooThemes or StudioPress.

To build a strong brand, you’ll want to pay special attention to your website’s logo, tagline and images. All of the elements on your site, from your visuals to your marketing messages, should work together to connect emotionally with your customers and inspire trust. As a simple but important finishing touch, add a favicon, which is a small graphic that will show up in people’s Web browsers when they visit your site.

Important Webpages

Customers have come to expect most websites – and e-commerce sites in particular – to have certain easy-to-find information. Having pages on your website that tell visitors how to contact you and that answer common questions can boost your credibility in the eyes of consumers as well as the eyes of the search engines.

Here are some standard pages you might want to include:

  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • FAQs
  • Terms & Conditions
  • Privacy Policy

Shopping Cart and Checkout Process

The advantage of building your business website on one of the many available e-commerce platforms is that they come with online shopping carts that make it easy to accept credit card payments.

If you choose to use WordPress, search its Plugin Directory for e-commerce and shopping cart plugins you can install on your site.

It’s crucial that your checkout process be as frictionless as possible for your customers. So, make sure to have people you know test it and provide you feedback based on their experiences. If the checkout is clunky, it will cost you sales.

Mobile Optimization

The future of online selling seems to be shifting toward three major categories: local, social and mobile. If you don’t start positioning yourself to capture traffic and sales from these avenues, your personal business website is going to get left behind.

Here are a few services you can use to optimize your site for mobile devices:

  • bMobilized
  • MoFuse
  • mShopper

Brian Russell is a freelance writer for iGLASS Networks, a company that specializes in IT infrastructure and network monitoring services for small business.

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