It has never been easier to build an online store and sell your products on the Internet. Is it time you took the plunge?
By Morin Bishop

No matter what your company's products or services, it's increasingly clear that you need some sort of Web presence, if only to raise consumer recognition of your business. But what if you want to actually sell your products online? In the early years of the Internet, website creation was in the hands of software writers who understood HTML, the software language used to place content on the World Wide Web, the popular user interface that runs on the Internet (the two terms are popularly used, erroneously, to mean the same thing). Fortunately, today a myriad of services exist to get your business online and ready for e-commerce with an absolute minimum of difficulty and fuss. If you know how to work a web browser, you can begin selling your products online.



Importance of E-Commerce
A 2005 survey commissioned by web hosting giant 1&1 found that 94 percent of small business owners that maintained a website credited it with increased sales and market presence. "Our findings indicate that, more than ever, the vast potential of the Internet is definitely within reach for SMBs," says Andreas Gauger, Chairman of 1&1. "These are businesses with anywhere from two or three to 100 employees, and they're reaping the rewards of the Internet just as much as their larger corporate competitors. Clearly, you don't need a massive IT budget or advanced technical resources to have a sophisticated and productive web presence. Those SMBs that still aren't online are truly missing out on taking their business to another level."


Building Your Own Online Store
Opening an online store for your products is surprisingly easy. There are a large number of web hosting companies, firms that create and operate web sites from their servers for a monthly or periodic fee. Working with a web hosting company eliminates the technical hassles of purchasing your own Internet server, connecting it to the Internet and keeping it in working order. All of the larger web hosting firms, most of which cater to small businesses, allow you to create your own web site, using off-the-shelf software readily available at popular software vendors, like CompUSA, or by using their own web site creation software. If you choose the latter option, the hosting company will walk you through the construction of your website by asking you what you'd like to see appear on it. According to Kevin Kilroy, chairman of web hosting firm Dotster, his company's website creation process is simple. "We provide the small business owner with direct contact to a human being who takes him or her through the design process." Kilroy says that Dotster listens to what the small business owner wants and suggests additional options based on the business's type of operations and then creates a variety of sample web sites that are sent to the small business owner for alteration or approval. "The whole process can be done with a phone call or two and can take as little as 24 hours," Kilroy says. Adding the ability to sell products through your site then becomes a simple matter of selecting an e-commerce option. Hosting companies like Dotster, Yahoo, Blue Host, IX Web Hosting, GoDaddy, and iPower will configure your online storefront for you, adding whatever products and services, as well as billing and shipping options, you want.


Payment Options
If you want to sell your products online, you'll need to be able to receive at least some of the major electronic payment options, which include credit card payments and electronic bank transfers. You can easily equip your online store with electronic payment processing services from a number of companies, including VeriSign, Authorize.Net , CyberSource and Payment Online..


The eBay Option
Perhaps your don't want to set up your own website, but you'd still like to sell your products online. eBay may be your answer. Though best known for its auction-style sales, eBay permits vendors to sell their merchandise in a variety of ways, including at fixed prices. eBay also permits vendors to create "storefronts" on its site and provides various advertising options to steer bidders and browsers to your products. You will have to register with eBay and agree to their restrictions and fees, which have risen recently, but more than half a million small businesses and individuals have made eBay their primary source of income.


Morin Bishop is editor-in-chief of Priority magazine