Below are some simple tips to help small businesses save on start up expenses. If you have any suggestions you would like to share with other community members let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Free and Low Cost Phone Numbers:
There are services that offer free voicemail and phone numbers. Some require subscriptions for a nominal fee if you want multiple numbers. For example Google voice offers a free phone number with voicemail. The number can be customized for different service areas and forwarded to a land line or cell phone. The service even transcribes your voicemail into emails.
Low cost cell phone service can also be found online that will allow you to have mobility and multiple numbers. Unlike traditional plans that can cost $30-$80 month/phone, these services start at as little as $5/month, and only charge you for the minutes, data and texts you use. It is a good option if you don’t expect to use a lot of data, but need the ability to accept payments on a mobile device/smart phone and don’t use more than few hundred minutes a month. Examples are Ting and Zact.
Website and Email:
Setting up a website is easier than ever. There are a couple things to understand:
- You will need a web host service ($3-$50/month) where the software and database live
- You will need a domain name ($0-$15/year) which is the name between the “www.” and “.com” and can also serve as your email extension (email@example.com)
Just as you can move your cell phone number from carrier to carrier you can move a domain name from host service to host service.
For a simple site (1-6 pages) where you do not anticipate a lot of traffic expect to pay about $5-$20 per month. If you have unlimited pages or an online store (also called ecommerce integration) the cost is usually in $20-$50 range.
Many sites have an introductory rate of $2-$5 per month for the first year for sites without a store. These articles link/advertise some popular hosting services: http://www.top-10-web-hosting.com/ http://www.consumer-rankings.com/hosting/ See “email” below before selecting a service.
Non-profits can often obtain free hosting services from businesses like Dreamhost.
Most host services will offer you a free or discounted domain name for the first year, so select your host service first (A few offer free domains as long as you retain the host.) By itself a domain name will cost $5-$15/year.
You can pick any name not already taken on the internet. Type “search for domain name” in your internet browser and it will present you with lots of sites where you can check for a name.
Choosing an extension is a personal choice. Most people are familiar with “.com” and are likely to guess that is your extension; “.org” is the next most common extension but is typically not used by businesses. Other extensions that are becoming more common are “.net” “.biz” “.info” “.mobi” and “.us”.
You can redirect your domain to a new name later if you change names or hosting services.
Domain sellers will often try to sell you additional extensions with your name. It is not worthwhile buying these up, and it is an annual cost.
If you are not ready to commit to having a site, try a free website from a service like Weebly and Wix. These often require you use a domain name they assign. It is a good place to experiement and start. They will allow you to signup for a paid service at a later time if you want your own domain name.
A domain name belongs to you for both your website and your email. If it is important to you to have an email with your domain name extension be sure to look at this feature as you look at the host services. Some offer unlimited email addresses while others provide 1 email address and require an additional fee of $3-$5 a month per address. Some do not offer email at all.
Obviously free email can be had from a variety of services if you are willing to use someone else’s domain name like @gmail.com or @ymail.com.
How to build the website:
Hosting services will offer you site builder tools (software). Some are very simple one-page websites that cannot be expanded later, and others allow you to use templates and create more professional looking sites, many with online stores. Pick one that looks easy for you; many have simple drag and drop features, and you never have to learn anything about computer programming. If you want to experiment, sites like Weebly, Wix will provide a free and live website.
More complex websites (20+ pages) may require a content management system (CMS) like Joomla, Concrete5 or Word Press (all of which are open source and cost no money). The host will usually provide free versions of these programs. A lot tutorials for setting up these kinds of sites can be found on youtube.
You can also pay someone to set up your site this will cost as little or as much as your want. For a simple 6 page site expect to pay $50-$100. Since you have to write most of the copy and select the photos you may want to explore doing it yourself, asking a friend or a bright kid.
If you are not sure how big your site should be, tour some of your competitors websites and get a feel for what you like. Simple is usually better. Most small businesses only need about 6 pages.
Most site builder tools also offer forms to allow you to take orders or gain feed back from customers.
Getting your website visible:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is how websites become visible quickly. You can submit your domain to an engine like Yahoo through a link to “submit your website” at the bottom of its page. To ensure that other search engines find/verify your page you will need a webpage “site map.” Most hosting service programs will generate the map for you. (It is a lot easier than creating your own.) Use a free program like Google or Bing Webmaster tools to upload the sitemap, and magically your site will be indexed and visible almost overnight. Alternatively you can pay a one-time fee of $10-$30 dollars for a service to perform this work for you. (You do not need a subscription for such a service, but it can assist with elevating your SEO ranking, ie. making your site rank higher in search engines.) Advertising online will also help your search engine ranking.
Many services are integrated with a “wallet” service like Paypal or Google which accept all of the major credit cards and provide a highly secure way for customers to make payments. They will typically provide you with a “button” for your website (or at least the html code to copy onto your site.) Even the most simple websites can intergrate with online sales. Mobile apps are also available for these services.
Accepting Credit Cards:
Your smart phone, tablet or laptop can be used like a cash register to accept payments. There are a variety of services that provide portable card readers together with supporting software. If you search online for “mobile credit card reader” you will find a lot of results for every computing platform. Card readers are typically provided for free, and most services do not charge for additional units. (There are plug and play readers avaialable at electronic stores for around $10 as well, if you do not want to wait for one to come in the mail.) Smart phones are particularly handy as they can be taken anywhere phone service is available. Remember to check if there is a minimum monthly fee in addition to the per transaction fee. The fees on each transaction are typically between 1%-3% of the purchase, monthly fees vary by volume of purchases.
Finding a Location:
If you want to get a sense of what properties are for sale an rent in North Plains contact or local realtor or City Hall. The town is still small enough that we can usually identify locations and provide contact information with ease.