basically regurgitates greatly expands on an email I sent to a good friend of mine this week when he asked me about building an ecommerce webstore, and whether the quote he had of $25,000 was reasonable for an owner-operator hand-painted pottery website. Hint: it’s not.
Naturally enough I didn’t think that was reasonable, and I listed a few simple steps that can be taken to get a free Magento webstore up and running for a small budget – at least an order of magnitude less than the agency quote. The catch is, it takes a bit of elbow grease and tech savvy – it doesn’t require you to actually program computers though.
I’ll state upfront, I’m the kind of person who would rather have a store that only does half of the things you want it to, running; than one that is still in development with load of great features ‘coming soon’. I subscribe to the actually shipping is the best feature philosophy of software development (that’s also my excuse for releasing buggy beta software).
So, with the 10 steps below, you can join the dot.com boom and get selling your products online through Magento. I’ll run through the steps below, and try to keep a running tally of costs as we go. If you spot anything you disagree with, please comment, I’d like this to be as accurate as possible. Preamble over, let’s get down to it.
1. Domain name
The trend these days is to get a keyword loaded domain for your ecommerce store, like handpaintedpottery.com. It’s true that the domain name keywords are a factor for SEO, but if you’re looking to build a cottage webstore, probably better to use your own brand name – that’s not scientific, just some friendly advice. You buy domains separate of your web hosting, always. Get .com domains from Go Daddy and cTLD’s (eg .co.nz) from the equivalent budget reseller in your country.
It’s worth noting here that buying a domain from Go Daddy is like running through a gauntlet of sneaky upsells, crossells and all-out traps.
My advice, first do a Google search for a go daddy coupon – there are approximately 10 million spammy Go Daddy affiliate websites in the world, so you just have to find a code, they’re not at all hidden – write it down, if you click on it they’ll try some spammy linking techniques, which is a pain.
Now you go through the Go Daddy Gauntlet, just say no to everything, don’t tick any boxes, enter your code at the checkout page. Depending on your code your checkout total should be between $7.50 and $11. If it’s not that, you have failed to make it through the gauntlet and are about to subscribe to a crappy email/hosting plan or pay for 5 years of domain registration when you only need 1 – start over.
Don’t worry too much about setting up the DNS records at this stage, your hosting provider should probably help you with it – let’s move on.
Cost so far, $10.
2. Hosting and Magento Install
I group Magento install and Hosting together because your host should do it for you, and should support it. We run our own servers so it’s hard to give expert advice on who to host with. I have reviewed several hosts and suggested Nexcess to many people and never once been let down by them. You can and should shop around of course. All hosts should give you a money back guarantee – if you don’t have a working Magento store within a day or two of signing up with them, move on. By working I mean you can log in to the admin, create a test product and upload an image for it – then see that product on the store front – that should flush out the usual permissions issues. Also, check your version of Magento is close to if not the latest.
Your host may offer email services, politely decline – you are about to sign up for the best free email service in the world.
Cost of hosting should be free setup, and up to around $25 or $30 per month for a small store.
Cost so far, $10 (and $30/month).
3. Email: Google Apps
Google Apps Email is by far the best platform for running your business email – best of all, the standard edition is free. There are some setup steps involved here, if you ask nicely your host may help, otherwise Google’s own step-by-step instructions are actually very good. Google detects when you’re using Go Daddy and gives you specific instructions. Follow the steps through and you should have a firstname.lastname@example.org email setup.
You’ll need to plug those details in to your store later for sending emails – you can use my extension to do it, and the setup is stupidly easy. (just a username and password is required)
Cost so far, still $10 (and $30/month).
4. Template Starting Point
For creating a simple low-budget store, I recommend buying a template that is close to what you want, you’ll need a developer license for it if it’s not _exactly_ what you want so you can customize it (see the next step). There are loads of places selling Magento templates, check the one you want is compatible with the latest version of Magento (1.4 at time of writing). Here’s a list of places Google turned up, there’s plenty of others, let me know if you want to add one to the list:
Once you pick a template you like the look of you’ll need to install it, if you’re going to hire someone in the next step to make some changes, probably better to let them do that first and install it once they’re finished. Otherwise most template sellers will install cheaply or for free – it’s worth doing it unless you want to roll up your sleeves and get nerdy.
Template prices vary greatly, also if you need PSD files for some major design changes that can cost extra too. Check with the template provider about what you are and are not allowed to do with their theme if you’re in doubt. In this step I’m going to budget on $250, that’s fairly conservative, I think you can get good themes for the $100 mark.
Cost so far, still $260 (and $30/month).
5. Template Customization
You should go through the demo template site or your own one with a couple of demo products loaded on it (if you installed your new theme already) and make notes on the things you want to change – these should be the must-haves, not the nice-to-haves at this point. It’s a good idea to look at the product types (step 8. below) when deciding layout changes. From a developer point of view, changing colors, fonts and minor layout details is quite easy, it’s hard to explain to a non technical person what constitutes an easy change, and what doesn’t but we’ll find out in the next step!
Once you have your list of changes you’re going to go to a site like Elance and post a new job request with your list and a link to the demo template. You should ask the bidders to give you an indication if any one item in your list is really hard as that might be a good one to drop off and make the quote smaller – you can communicate with the bidders about this.
It’s hard to say how much this step will cost, but a good magento developer should be able to tweak styles and fonts, and minor layout changes in 10 hours tops – rates on Elance for developers will range in the $20-$50 (some are much higher, but you don’t need one of those developers for template changes – that’s like hiring a water works engineer to fix a leaky tap!). You should ask for fixed quotes and they should stick to them. Again we’ll err on the conservative side and go with 10 hours of custom development at $50/hour.
Cost so far, still $760 (and $30/month).
6. Email Template configuration
This can be done by yourself by editing the templates via the Magento admin interface (System -> Transactional Emails) – but it might be better to hire a developer to help you, basically you just need to make sure the logo and language is as you want it. You can work through the emails previewing them in the admin interface, and post your changes to Elance like you did with the web templates. Should only take an hour or two to tweak the templates. Let’s allow another $100.
Cost so far, $860 (and $30/month).
It’s very tempting to go like a kid-at-a-candy-store in Magento Connect with so many great extensions on offer. But it’s important that you realize extensions are not like apps on the AppStore. Each one you install is like another round of Russian roulette, where there’s a chance they’ll conflict and cause some obscure bug in your store. I’d almost suggest you try not using any to start with.
I’ll assume you get tempted by a couple of paid extensions at $50 a pop.
Cost so far, $960 (and $30/month).
8. Product listings
You’ll need to try out a few different product types to decide how you want to present you products on the front end. You should have decided this before you get a developer to make some changes to your template, as each product type has a subtly different template presentation. Once you know what product type you’ll use you can begin adding the products and categories. This will take some time – if you have 100’s of products, consider hiring someone to help yo import them from a spreadsheet. For a small pottery store, there will only be a handful of products and they can be entered manually.
Cost so far, still $960 (and $30/month).
9. Content pages
You’ll need to add some pages with content about your product, about you, and answer the usual FAQ about shipping, tax etc. Have a look at a few popular ecommerce stores to get a guide for what you should have here.
To actually create the pages, you can use the built in editor, but it tends to generate horrendous HTML – it’ll be ok for the first iteration of a store. Later it might be worth hiring someone to put it into nice clean HTML (tell them you just want div’s h’s, p’s and ul’s with CSS).
Cost $0 or $100 – let’s go with nothing for now. When your store sells it’s first 10 things, then you can go splurge on someone to help you tidy up the content HTML.
Cost so far, still $960 (and $30/month).
10. Payment Provider Configuration
There are two very quick, easy options here that don’t require a monthly fee; Paypal and manual bank transfer. These are the two options I suggest for your first few weeks/months of business. If you start getting a high rate of abandoned orders then consider getting a better payment gateway, but beware of PCI compliance, you never want to get in a situation where you need that, it’s more trouble than it’s worth for small stores. I’m pretty sure it’s all an elaborate scam actually, but that’s just my tinfoil hat wearing opinion.
You can sign up to Paypal for free, their site is a bit shit but you’ll be able to muddle through it. You’ll need some basic credentials added to your Magento backend in order to enable it.
Bonus step 11. Adwords
J.T quite rightly noted that to make any sales at all on day one you’re going to need to market your store. To make those first 10 sales, I suggest Google’s adwords. But the other big search engines also have CPC adverting schemes. There’s a million books, articles and blogs on the subject so I won’t try to give any tips on how to do this – it differs from product to product too. maybe someone would like to guest author a couple of simple paragraphs on the subject? – please let me know.
Well that’s my list of 10 steps that should get you in business online with Magento for under a $1000 . I’d really appreciate feedback and input on it, I’ll update it where appropriate as I would hope people find it accurate and helpful when starting out down the Magento ecommerce road.