How to make a website for a small company?
July 21, 2012 10:03 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to create a website for a company I've started with some friends. I've never done this before. Can you tell me the best way to do this?

Two friends and I have started to make wine. We'll be selling this wine largely in person and through mail order, but we'd like people to be able to order and pay for it online as well. I've done a bit of research into creating a website but there are huge amounts of information out there, sometimes contradictory, sometimes more technical than I can handle, and sometimes simply unhelpful.

The website doesn't need to be very complicated. We need to have at least one (preferably several) email addresses with We'd like to also have a secure page where people can buy our wine.

With that in mind - how big a difference does the hosting/registering company matter? There are a whole lot of options with a wide range of prices. Any that you'd recommend? Or does it really make no difference?

What's the best way for relatively non-tech-savvy people to have a https page for secure purchasing? Those that I've seen haven't been particularly straight forward and have cost >$50/month, which would be a lot of money for very few sales, at least at first. Is there a cheaper option, or an alternative we haven't considered?

Finally, do you have a recommendation for a reasonably straight forward web hosting service with which to create the site? I played with html a while back, but it's all gone now. I'm confident enough with graphics programs though - does anywhere offer a service that lets you build a site with your own images and so forth but without having to thoroughly understand all the html that makes it work?

Any help's much appreciated.
posted by twirlypen to Technology (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Paypal makes selling products online extraordinarily simple. Unless you plan on hiring a technical person to develop/maintain your website, I would go with Paypal--or maybe Paymate, the local Australian Paypal alternative.

I can't speak for Paymate, but the most basic Paypal e-commerce solution goes something like this:

1. You list items on your website.
2. Customers add items to their cart.
3. Customers click on "check out" (or something similar) which sends them to a secure https payment page on where they can sign in or enter credit card information.
4. Customers confirm payment and are redirected back to your website.

Their service works completely independent of whoever your webhost is, so that doesn't much matter.

For designing your website, I'd recommend the WordPress platform if you plan on doing it yourself. There are a ton of ready-to-go templates and easy-to-install e-commerce plugins (examples).

For your email addresses, I would recommend Google Apps Free. It lets you use a standard Gmail interface for your email address (and supports traditional email clients like Outlook as well). If you don't already have your domain registered, Google Apps is super easy to set up if you register the domain through Google. If you do already have your domain registered, it's still pretty straightforward. A Google Apps wizard will walk you through the process.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 10:23 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, you could go a simple route and create a wordpress site (hosted on your own domain) with a paypal button. If they are not selling many different varieties, or offering wines at different prices, this can be done quite simply using the wordpress simple paypal plugin.

If you don't want to use paypal but accept credit cards directly, you will need a merchant account through a banking provider. This can cost much more than the paypal charges.

You will need an ABN to register a domain and you will probably be looking at $5-$20pm in hosting (you'll need an Australian host most likely due to the

On preview, what GnomeChompsky said with the caveat that you can't register a domain through google. But I recommend managing your email address through google apps once you have registered the domain.
posted by Kerasia at 10:26 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I realize that this wasn't your question, but selling alcohol is an immensely regulated business. A quick google indicates that alcohol laws in Australia vary among states, but most places require retail sellers to have licenses. Depending on your situation, what you're proposing to do online may not be legal, so you'll want to ask your attorney what you need to do in order to be allowed to sell online.
posted by decathecting at 11:01 PM on July 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks!

If I register the domain through an Australian host and manage email through google apps, is it possible to set up the paypal feature later? Is there anything I'd have to pay attention to right now to make sure I don't trip myself up later?
posted by twirlypen at 11:05 PM on July 21, 2012

Response by poster: On preview: thanks decathecting, one of the partners starting the company is a lawyer and he's looking into all that for us - definitely something worth considering!
posted by twirlypen at 11:07 PM on July 21, 2012

Yes, the paypal sales can come anytime you like. It is really a simple piece of code that you insert into your website where you want the paypal button to feature. The seller needs a paypal account of course but the buyer doesn't.
posted by Kerasia at 1:14 AM on July 22, 2012

I'd recommend the Wordpress WooCommerce plugin for pretty quick and easy e-commerce sales. I've deployed a couple of sites using it now and it's brilliant for small businesses on a low budget. It comes with built in Paypal integration. There are a number of themes available, both from WooThemes themselves and on Themeforest.

A very good alternative, if you don't mind paying a monthly fee, is to use Shopify or Magento Go. These are hosted ecommerce services that basically make it extremely easy to sell stuff online. Being hosted, they take care of all security and performance needs. Worth looking into if you don't want to manage the technical side of things.

Tbh though, the speed at which you can set up WooCommerce and a decent theme makes that the default recommended route for small businesses IMO.

Re: hosting - yes, it absolutely does make a big difference. Those 2.99 a month anonymous hosting providers are slow, slow, slow, especially once you have a relatively complex dynamic site running on them. Look into one of the reputable hosting companies like A Small Orange, Webfaction, Mediatemple, Positive Internet, etc etc.
posted by Magnakai at 3:53 AM on July 22, 2012

BlueHost and Dreamhost are two reputed domain hosting and web server providers in the US - not sure if they will support au domains though.

WooCommerce is a good option, while bluehost offers ZenCart and a couple of other open source shopping carts. Regardless of a shopping solution, at some point, you may have to deal with a Payment Gateway if you want to accept more than Paypal. Cybersource is a good provider - one large retailer I know uses it for their domestic and international payments.
posted by theobserver at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2012

Additionally, you need to look at the terms of service for your shopping cart service. For example, Paypal requires prior approval for businesses selling alcohol online. Amazon Payments forbids alcohol transactions all together. If you use a service like WooCommerce or Shopify, you need to look at the terms of service for both the gateway provider and the underlying payment processor.
posted by decathecting at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2012

nthing WooCommerce/Wordpress. FWIW, I'd stay away from Dreamhost -- they're hit or miss, and if you're unlucky and get put on a shoddy server, it's mostly miss. BlueHost is good, though.
posted by nosila at 5:50 PM on July 22, 2012

Given that you only need a simple website - I'm imagining something with some pictures, a description of your wine and how you make it, and "click here to buy a bottle" - you can get something up and running very quickly.

Smore bills itself as a site for creating online fliers, but it basically creates pretty single-page sites without coding. They don't sell domain names, so you'd need a registrar (NameCheap is good for that). Most registrars let you set up email forwarding for addresses associated with the domain.

For sales, Paypal is not a bad way to go; Gumroad is slightly simpler and may be a good idea if you're only selling a small number of different things. Their cut is 0.25USD + 5% per transaction, and they take care of the HTTPS and everything. They also don't have a particular policy on alcohol.
posted by 23 at 9:05 PM on July 22, 2012

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