By Ernest J. Muhammad

Got a product or service to sell? The Internet may be the way to go for what you have to offer. Buying and selling over the Internet–that’s e-commerce. But, before you start counting those cyber dollars in your bank account, let’s do our homework to see if this is something that may benefit you.

First, you must have an exceptional product that stands out from the rest, or you must be able to sell a product or service in a very unique way. All businesses have a certain level of risk in order to make money; the smart way is to take a calculated and measured risk, so that the chances of success will weigh heavily in your favor.

Choosing a domain name

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Let’s say that you want to sell candles over the Net. The first thing you must do is find out whether the domain name that you have chosen is taken by someone else. An example of a domain name is “finalcall.com.” You want the name to say something about what you have to offer to the public. In our example, the domain name would go something like this “yournamecandles.com.” The Internet has certain rules and regulations. The domain name industry is overseen by an organization called ICANN, which is responsible for certifying companies as domain name registrars.

Only a certified domain name registrar is permitted to access the database of domain names for the entire Internet. There are several different domain extensions to use, depending on what you are trying to offer. For example “.edu” is for educational institutions, “.org” is for non-profit organizations, “.com” is for commercial business and “.net” is for network organizations. A good place to check to see if the name you want is already taken is http://www.register.com. Just type the name in the space provided and within a few seconds, they will let you know if that name is available to register.

Setting up your online store

There are two different ways to set up an online store. You can do it yourself, or you can have someone build the website for you. For those who are a little computer savvy, there are some companies that offer “point-and-click” website building tools over the Internet. (Yes, you can actually build it yourself) Get on the Internet and check out http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/merchant or http://www.ebizwebpages.com to see how easy it is to build your own website. If you are looking for someone else to build the site, make sure you are able to see some of the websites they have built and also talk to the actual person that hired them to do the work and ask them if they were satisfied.

You must also advertise. How do you plan to make money over the Internet if the only people that know about your site is yourself or your mother? (Smile) You can have the best looking site, but if you don’t advertise, that nice looking site won’t be around very long. One way is to register with an internet search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Altavista. If I go to a search engine and type in candles, I want to see websites where I can go to purchase them.

Also, remember to check out the tax laws in the state where you’ll be doing business. For example, in California alone, there are several hundred different sales tax rates alone. So be very careful to follow the law where it concerns what you are selling over the Internet.

Make sure you have sufficient stock of items advertised, and calculate the shipping cost in a manner that is fair to you and the customer. It’s always a good idea to ship items in a timely fashion because word-of-mouth will get out about your site fast.

If you are serious about doing business via the Internet, please take time to study every aspect of the process, and chances are your bank account will be fatter by this time next year.

(Ernest J. Muhammad is the assistant IT administrator for The Final Call newspaper. He may be reached via-email at [email protected])