The Art of e-Commerce.
So you've got your website, and people can email you about your products and services. The next step, if your home business is suitable, is to start selling them directly online.
E-commerce can be a massive business booster. If you sell reasonably small, easy-to-ship products (or services that don't need shipping), it can expand your market from your local neighbourhood to the whole world! You will also find that you get more repeat business, since people can easily re-order from you without having to call you again, and you might find that you can afford to sell lower-value things in your web store than you could in real life, thanks to the reduced overheads.
Setting Up E-Commerce.
If you've already got a website, setting up e-commerce can be surprisingly easy. The only real requirements are that you get some e-commerce software (it's not that expensive, and some like OScommerce are even free), and that your web hosting will support whatever programming language the software is written in.
If you think that sounds a bit too technical, just take a look through the help section of your hosting company's website -- you should find something there that explains your specific situation. You never know: some hosts already have everything set up for you, and all you have to do is press a button!
It is important for the e-commerce section of your site to appear to be integrated into the rest of it. You should have clear links to your store on each page of your website, and the design of the store itself should be consistent with what has gone before. If your store looks out of place, it shouldn't be too expensive to get whoever designed your website to quickly adapt that design as an e-commerce template.
A Matter of Inventory.
Once you've got your 'shop' up and running, the next step is to configure it. This mostly involves telling it what you plan to sell, i.e. entering descriptions and prices for the items, as well as uploading pictures. Take some time with the pictures, and make them large and easy to see on the screen. The descriptions should list every feature and benefit each product has, and you might wish to set the prices 10% or so below your normal levels, as an 'online discount'.
It is important, though, that once you put your items on your e-commerce website you do not allow them to go out of stock. There are few things more frustrating for a customer than seeing something they want to buy and not being allowed to buy it -- or, worse, paying for something only to be told that it'll take weeks to arrive. Think like a customer, don't forget about your website, and keep things running smoothly.
Depending on what you sell, your delivery methods can vary. We could be talking about a package in the mail, or perhaps just a follow-up email. Whatever you're doing, though, make sure you do it quickly. Customers will get very nervous waiting, and won't appreciate it. Keep your customers updated at all times on how things are going -- never leave them hanging.
Inputs and Outputs.
Once you get these things down, though, e-commerce is simple enough that it can mostly be left to run itself. It's like a system of inputs and outputs that multiplies everything put in: you spend an hour or two telling it what you've got, and out of the other end come orders and money. You'll find that almost all e-commerce stores easily pay for any time you put into them as soon as you make one or two sales.
Don't Forget to Advertise It.
You won't usually need any separate campaign for your e-commerce operation, but it's well worth mentioning its existence on your marketing materials. A few simple words before your web address on anything you hand out can work wonders: 'visit www.yourwebsite.com' becomes 'learn more and order online at www.yourwebsite.com'. You'll find that many customers will be more eager to check out what you're selling when they can do it as easily as typing in a web address.