Cameron Nelson

Cameron Nelson

WINCHESTER — As more businesses continue to shift their focus to online sales in the midst of COVID-19, business owners around the state this week received advice on ways make that transition successful.

On a webinar hosted Tuesday by the Virginia Small Business Development Center, business owners learned how to choose, customize and set up an effective website, launch their virtual store and maximize online sales.

Cameron Nelson, business communications and technology adviser with the Central VA Small Business Development Center, led the discussion.

Nelson said there are four levels of websites — basic, minimum, robust and advanced.

“It’s really important to understand if you’re going to establish what kind of website you have now and what kind of website that you need,” he said.

Basic websites, Nelson said, typically have no e-commerce capabilities and business owners functioning with that type should upgrade to at least a minimum website that has several product pages that link to an external site for shopping capabilities.

Nelson recommended upgrading to at least a robust site, which has integrated shopping capabilities and payment gateway integration that also links to social media pages. The advanced option would be a website with advanced shopping capabilities such as selling via video, referral, subscription or other technologies.

Robust sites come with more of an investment of around $2,000 to $10,000, Nelson said, but they offer more ways to offer multiple payment options while an advanced site can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000. Advanced sites, Nelson said, are best for products that are complex to sell.

All websites will come with a charge for a domain name, email capabilities, paid ads, development and payment gateways. Many costs are yearly.

According to Nelson, the top e-commerce platforms for small businesses include Shopify, Etsy, Facebook Shops, Amazon and Amazon Handmade.

Nelson said these platforms typically draw a large audience, but they typically come with an upfront price and take a sales fee.

Once a business owner chooses a website strategy and e-commerce platform, the next decision is on a template for the website’s look — text size, font, color scheme, images, positioning of products, features, embedded social media and other visual aspects.

Once that’s done, products will be added to the site.

When adding products, Nelson said you should pay attention to product names, prices, categories, weight and files for downloadable products. Descriptions, images and categories for all products are key, too, while avoiding complex jargon, cliches and long sentences.

Then comes the launch, which consists of setting up payment methods, previewing, testing and publishing the online store.

The most popular payment methods, according to Nelson are merchant account and payment gateway, which involves partnering with a bank; payment gateway packages, which involves an all-in-one software that connects the online shopping cart to the card processing network; and simplified credit card payment processing, which involves a service that integrates with the store’s checkout.

Charges for payment processors varies, Nelson said.

While previewing and testing the site, Nelson advised paying close attention to how the checkout aspect is working, making sure all of the clickable buttons work and to ensure all content is checked for poor spelling and grammar.

It’s also a good idea to check how the site looks on all platforms.

Nelson advised following up with a review of the site in four to six weeks.

“You just want to make sure is satisfying your customers’ needs,” Nelson said. “And it’s quite easy to make a little mistake, especially if this is your first time setting up an e-commerce store.”

Nelson said it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking the analytics for your website, which will show things such as how many users are visiting the site, how long they are on the site and which pages are being viewed.

“It’s a learning process, and selling online is not always easy or intuitive,” Nelson said.

Those seeking further information or wishing to set up one-on-one conversations with Nelson or others at the SBDC can visit https://www.virginiasbdc.org for more details or reach out to Nelson at cnelson@cvsbdc.org.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com