How do I start selling online?
From cheap and simple to expensive and complex, there's a wide range of products designed to get your e-commerce site up and selling in a matter of days or weeks. Small businesses may not have to look beyond their local Internet service providers for a bare-bones solution. For example, Brooklyn-based Forman Interactive offers Internet Creator for less than $150. The software uses a series of wizards to help you create secure pages for selling your product. Plus, if your pages reside on Forman's servers, the company handles electronic payments via CheckFree. If you're ready to step up, you can use Yahoo's Yahoo Store, which lets you create a transactional business Web site from your browser. Yahoo hosts the site, and the cost is based on number of items--$100 per month for a store selling 50 items and $300 per month for up to 1,000 items. However, most e-commerce development tools targeted at small and midsize businesses cost $5,000 to $10,000. They generally include templates for online catalogs and databases, so it's easy to change items and prices. Dynamic database searches can serve different information when an item is out of stock or on special, and they can be hooked up to existing back-end systems for order fulfillment and a range of automatic payment options. Companies that have a high volume of sales--especially those that deliver soft goods such as articles, reports, software, or music over the Net--require industrial-strength solutions costing anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 or more. See the More Resources column at right for examples of tools from all price ranges. Of course, the software sticker price is only a small fraction of what it costs to run an e-commerce site. Many high-end e-commerce products are used by third-party companies to provide services for individual merchants. Most companies take advantage of eCommerce hosting services run by the likes of AT&T, MCI, and GTE's BBN Planet. "This is a low-risk, low-cost way of finding out how to do it," says Karl Lewis, vice president of production at Proxicom. Proxicom is a Web consulting company that recently set up an eCommerce site for Day-Timer and an extranet for Mobil Oil and its distributors.