Setting Up Shop
For the next month we are going to explore a lot of the foundational elements of running an online business-elements that if not properly looked after, can be detrimental to your success. To kick off the month, we have a post FULL of information. We are going to talk business names; setting up domains and email; getting your DBA; what business licenses you may need; we will talk advantages and disadvantages of different online selling platforms; and get into basic web design. Since we are going over a lot of information, each section will clearly notated, and some will have one-page 'cheat sheets' you are free to download! Feel free to work through this post at your own pace.
What's in a name?
Naming your business is usually one of the most challenging aspects of starting your business, which is unfortunate since it's also regarded as one of the first steps! Your name is the first impression customers will have of your business. And let's face it, they are probably judging you based off of that!
Now I realize most of you are past the name-picking stage. Instead look at this section as a way to assess your name and decide if it is truly serving you.
I strongly feel one of the most important things you can do when you are exploring names is to avoid the temptation to get EVERYONE involved. Most people will not be able to put their own egos aside, and ultimately you have to choose ONE name, meaning hurt feelings. Also too many opinions may lead you to choose the 'safe' name, and that may not necessarily be the RIGHT name. Instead choose a small number of people to test the name with. Choose a mix of right brain types and left brain types. Choose people who can check their ego at the door and offer input based on YOUR needs.
Also try to avoid being too generic. If your name has nothing special or unique about it, you avoid being lost in the crowd. Make sure it has the zsa zsa zsu! You want a customer to hear your name and get a sense of YOU and be intrigued enough to possibly buy. You also want them to remember your name and keep coming back, and heck even refer other people! On the other side of the coin, you don't want to be so obscure that no one can figure out what you do. Make sure people can somewhat deduce what you do by your company name, and that they can spell it! They should be able to do a quick Google search and find you, not give up out of frustration because they can't remember how to spell your name.
And jumping from that point, try to keep your name fairly simple. Shorter in length is probably better, I'm talking like two syllables if possible! Generally I advise against hyphens and special characters. You may want to consider your placement in search engines and directories.
I'm also going to advise avoiding using geographical names. While this may help you establish yourself in the beginning and build a loyal customer base, it actually limits future growth. Another thing that could hinder growth is choosing a name that limits your product line or business category.
Lastly, while this should be obvious, make sure the name is available! Check your state's incorporation site, search the domain, and check the US Patent Office (or otherwise if you are not in the US) for trademarks.
And if you want some help, I'll share some online name generators. They may not give you the perfect business name (or you may already have the perfect name, but just want a good laugh!) but they can perhaps spark something that will get you there:
- Lean Domain Search - Quick and easy, plus it checks Twitter (if that's important to you!).
- Name Mesh - Using the Thesaurus, Synonyms, Antonyms, etc. you can generate common alternatives.
- Wordoid - Want to just make something up? This one is for you!
- Namestation - A name generating machine.
- Domainr - Great for short URLs!
- Impossibility - You give them a keyword and they combine it with their carefully selected list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Then they search for unregistered .com domain names and show you the results.
- Knowem - KnowEm will search over 500 popular social networks, over 150 domain names, and the entire USPTO Trademark Database to instantly secure your brand name on the internet.
- iwantmyname - noteworthy since it includes many of the newer domain extensions.
To close out this section, I want to make special mention of something. You may at some point in your business come to realize the name you chose just isn't right. It's not working as a representation of what you do and offer. Don't be afraid to change the name! It's worth it to put in the work and do some rebranding, instead of risking alienating potential customers. It may take you a few steps back, but if you stick to the WRONG name, you could be putting a major cap on your growth potential.
Domains and Email
Once you have settled on a name, it is time to snag that domain! To do so you you can to go to do a domain registrar. A few of the more popular ones:
Typically, a domain should cost you $7-15 per year. If you'd like your registration information to be private, most registrars will also offer that option at an additional fee. The registrars I listed have a great support systems, and all typically offer guides to walk you through pointing to your host. If this all seems a tad daunting, typically different shop platforms have bundled options where you can purchase your domain along with your hosting. This will save you the headache of trying to get your domain to point to your host. When making the decision as to which to option to go with, it may be helpful to talk basics and pros/cons.
So what is web hosting vs domain registration? You can get both through the same company, but you don't have to. Each element are separate pieces of data. Purchasing web hosting is renting a space on a serve to store your website files. Your domain is the name people use to find your website, and a different domain registrar can point to your web host no matter where it is located.
Now let's talk pros of purchasing your domain where your website is hosted. The most obvious is probably that most hosts will throw in a free year of domain as a bundle package-score! The second reason, and my personal favorite, is it is simple. You don't need to worry about changing nameservers if your domain is bundled with your hosting. And believe me, this is a headache for those of us that aren't tech-savvy. Bypassing tutorials can help you get up and running much more quickly! It's also very convenient to have all of your web site data in one place. You can login with one username/password and there's all the backend info you will ever need! As far as customer support, this route is a definite win, since you can call one person and there is no worry about anyone passing the buck or trying to connect two companies to see where the problem lies.
And now let's talk the disadvantages of going this route. If you ever decide to go with a new host, transferring your domain can be a pain. You'll have to go through a pretty lengthy and arduous process in order to free up the domain in order to point it where it needs to go. If you register your domain with a different registrar from the get-go it is much easier to point it in the right direction. There's also security risk. If hackers ever get into your account they can access EVERYTHING. If you register the two separately, this is hardly a risk.
Now that you have bought your own domain, you should probably get an email address that uses it! So how the heck do you create an email address using your domain name?
I'm a big proponent of Gmail, and I'm going to walk you through how to integrate your domain with you Google Account.
- If you are using a 3rd party registrar, you will want to log into your control panel (cpanel).
- Go to the email section and click on email accounts.
- Enter the details and create new account.
- You should get a success notification.
- Now go back to your cpanel and click on 'fowarders' in the mail section.
- Fill in the details and email address you would like your mail forwarded to.
Next we need to integrate your Google account!
- Sign into gmail.
- Options >> Mail Settings >> then click Accounts and Imports.
- Check send mail as, and click on add another email address you own.
- In the popup that appears, fill in your details, add the new domain email address you just created, then click Next.
- Click on Send Verification, and a verification email will be delivered to your inbox. Simply click on the link to verify it, and you are done.
- Now, click on Compose Email, and see the changes you’ve made in action.
Alternatively, depending on which host platform you choose, they may also include email in their bundle packages. That will include its own set of walkthroughs, which are generally very simple!
If you are using Google, I also have a few suggestions to get the most out of your email. Make sure to utilize the labels to organize your inbox and manage it efficiently. Instead of using the standard Google signature, I would create a rich signature. For instance something like WiseStamp. Along with your name, include social media links and a newsletter opt-in. I also suggest exploring the canned responses feature. This allows you to make default copy that can be pulled from on a moment's notice. Make sure it does sound somewhat human though.
DBA and business licenses
A DBA, 'doing business as' name, is required in the county you are selling in. The procedure is dependent on which county you are in, and fairly easy to find with a quick google search.
Let me give you a quick rundown on how to file for your DBA.
- Search! Search the fictitious names in your county to make sure the name you are registering is available.
- Prepare you fictitious name statement. You will typically need your name and address; selected fictitious business name(s); your business address and mailing address; full name of registered owner; the type of business you have (Corporation, LLC, Partnership, etc...).
- Publish! Within 30 days of filing the Fictitious Business Statement, you are required to have the DBA statement published once a week for four (4) successive weeks in a paper of general circulation in the county where the business is operating. Renewals do not require a re-publication.
As far as business licenses, nearly any business will need something to operate legally. But the type of licensing will vary based on the type of business you are operating, where it’s located, and what government rules apply. Click here and select your state to find out what you may need!
Now it's time to talk shop! If you start searching e-commerce platforms, gone are the days when Etsy was the default (for lack of better options). I'm going to round up 6 platforms and give you a little breakdown of each. Keep in mind, these aren't necessarily in any order.
Starting at $29/mo
Shopify is probably one of the most well-known e-commerce platforms out there, and for good reason! It's very all-encompassing and there's not a lot it can't do. You can upload unlimited products to Shopify and the inventory management system is excellent and allows for a lot of control. Shopify also is great with coupons. And big bonus, no transaction fees! If you think your business may grow a lot, Shopify is a good option since there app store has 1k+ apps, both free and paid. And therein lies the double edged sword with Shopify. The options can be so overwhelming and daunting if you aren't experienced. Not to say you need a tech background to successfully run Shopify, I would just suggest enlisting help from someone seasoned if you decide to go this route.
Another great feature with Shopify is the auto-abandoned cart recovery. Although this does come at a cost since it falls under the higher price tier. They also make shipping easy as you can integrate carriers, fulfillment centers and even drop ship. And for convenience sake, they have an app and offer a point of sale system.
Starting at $26/mo
If you are more concerned about presentation than anything, Squarespace is probably for you. They have a wide range of designer templates that favor rich imagery. And the drag and drop module makes it fairly easy to get started. You can also have unlimited products, pages, galleries and blogs. One major drawback is that has limited payment gateways.
tarting at $29/mo
Another very popular platform for small to medium sized web stores. It may seem to be similarly priced to Shopify, but it has one major advantage. Features like real-time shipping quotes, gift cards and 24/7 phone/mail/chat support are included in its base plan for $29.95 a month. Although, like Shopify, you still have to upgrade to a more expensive plan for the abandoned cart recovery.
Starter plan free, but expect to pay about $29/mo
This is a newer option, and much smaller than Shopify. It promotes itself as 'for makers' and is similar to Etsy in its audience. While Big Cartel boasts its lower price, in reality the paid plans are where you will need to go to. The highest price plan only allows 300 products, which is great for smaller companies that don't expect to go beyond that! It's also very easy to set-up and integrate. You also don't have to pay extra for features, as they are included with all plans.
Starting at $99/mo
This is another newer platform. It's comparable to Shopify, although the customizability options are MUCH, MUCH higher. Despite the high price tag, I mention this platform because it's great for SEO-it probably beats all other platforms in that regard. Lemonstand also uses SSL for every page, not just the cart-meaning your site is TOTALLY secure.
The digital product and recurring subscription support is also amazing! So if
3.5% per transaction + $0.20/item listed
The old standard! The big draw to Etsy has always been the built-in market. Craft, handmade and even vintage are what Etsy is known for. They boast an audience of over 30 million. And while at one point, you may been able to access a larger percentage of that audience, things have changed over the years. Etsy is very saturated now, and you may not get found quite as often as you'd like. As far as ease-of-set-up though, Etsy is pretty ace. You don't have the customization options of other platforms, so you can get up and running almost instantly.