Just a reminder: This site is dedicated to getting your crafts out there on the web. The actual creation of the site itself will not be discussed here. There are "millions" of tutorials available on the web that can help you in the creation of your pages. I'm going to assume that you'll be able to create the site and have your pages available on the web. If you do need help with web page creation, click here for my links to helpful resources.
I'd also like to point out that it IS possible to find companies that offer "free" online stores where everything is integrated into your web page and they offer all of the tools you need to build it. No doubt this is probably easier than building the site on your own. However, the "free" part is usually the sign-up process, and they may want you to use their premium services, open merchant accounts, or only a certain amount of transactions are free, etc. So it turns out that it's not necessarily as free as they say. Still, this could turn out to be a good option for you. I'd suggest looking into Bizhosting.com, or freemerchant. Otherwise, if you're ready for the challenge, fun and rewarding sense of accomplishment you'll get from creating your own site, read on!
Ok...so you've decided to create your own website...good for you! Now let me warn you, it's going to take some work...but it's fun! The steps that follow are basically how I created my site, and the thought process involved. Here are some things you'll need to take into consideration before you begin.
1. HOW DO I MAKE A WEBPAGE?
First, do you know HTML? OK...don't panic...you don't necessarily have to! Many Web hosting providers offer templates and site building tools so you don't need to know HTML code or use any other software. All of your designing and website publishing will be done through the use of their file managers and tools. I've found several WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors that don't require much knowledge or use of HTML, and I also found a few HTML editors that seem pretty easy to use. Find them on the Web Resources page.
If you DO have the software, such as FrontPage or another HTML Editor, and you want to design everything on your own, great! (Personally I don't like to be restricted by templates, etc. and enjoy creating my own sites from scratch, too.) I've also created original Webset graphics....check them out here!
The decision you make above will most likely affect which host you choose, so please keep that in mind while you search. Other things to consider in looking for a host:
Read their FAQs to see what they have to offer. If you create your own pages, make sure the provider has a file management tool where you can upload your pages, OR it should allow for FTP (file transfer protocol). Also, in order to use FTP, you'll need the software...try WSFTP or CuteFTP. (I believe the evaluation copies of these do not expire. Otherwise, try searching from "free FTP programs" in your favorite search engine.)
Keep in mind how much space they offer so you'll have enough room for your pages and pictures!
Do they offer e-mail accounts? You might need one unless you have one elsewhere that you want to use as your business e-mail address. (However, you can find free e-mail accounts everywhere, so this may not be too important to you!)
What kind of ads will be placed on your site? The hosting is free, so an ad isn't a big deal when you look at it that way. You may prefer an ad at the top or bottom of the page vs. having a pop-up window appear. Sometimes these are not options and it just depends on what service you choose.
Make sure they will let you host a business site!
Alright...now that you're tossing that decision around, you might want to start checking out some of the web hosting providers. Check them out here in my web hosting directory. I chose Netfirms and have been very happy with them. They're geared towards business sites, also.
2. DO I NEED MY OWN DOMAIN NAME?
No...you do not NEED to have your own domain name. But it might be easier to have a shorter URL vs. the long address you'll have at the hosting provider.
Cheap route one: If you don't want the expense of a domain name or you want to test the waters first before taking that next step, you can get a subdomain address. Typically these are free, you'll just have an extra ".somesite.com" after your business name. ALSO...your address at most free web hosting companies will be done this way. I highly recommend Netfirms as mentioned above. For some others, try looking here...
Cheap route two: You can also use a URL forwarding service that will serve as your address or domain, and once typed into a browser, it will send the viewer to your actual website at the host provider. Bravenet.com offers this service, as well as others...try here for my list and scroll down for the Sub-Domain and Redirection services.
Pricey route: If you decide to go all out and opt for your own name, you'll need to see if it's available, and then you'll need to register it. Try looking through my domain links to find something in your price range. They aren't too expensive, around $35/yr or less. It might be worth it to get your name reserved, just in case someone else has a business name like yours and gets the domain before you do! Do be careful when registering. Although some services may say you have "ownership" of the domain, you may find out later that you don't, and problems could occur if you try transferring or renewing with another company. Start the transfer process at least a month before your current domain expires.
3. OK - GO BUILD YOUR SITE!
The next steps will assume that you've got the basic website built and and are somewhat ready to go. You should at least have your text and picture samples ready, know the prices you will be charging, have your contact info available, etc.
Next we'll look at payment processing with shopping carts, etc.