misc Getting Your Sauces On The Internet

I've picked up a lot of good information on this forum on areas that I have little or no expertise in. From bottling to growing, recipe do's and don't to legal stuff, there's so much great information around here to help get a small business off the ground.

What I haven't seen much of is information on how to put together a website and sell sauces online. Maybe that's not entirely fair, the information is around here, but perhaps not pulled together into one convenient thread.
Since that's my area of expertise I thought I'd throw this post together and hopefully help out one or two people who might be thinking about selling online. I am NOT affiliated with any of the links or resources I'm about to suggest, and have no commercial modus operandi in writing this.

Who / Why Sell Online?
I see that a lot of you make product at home and bottle it quite professionally. Some of you go a step further and sell the sauces amongst community members. Some of you do farmer's markets and possibly approach local businesses in your area for wholesale accounts. Anyone without a website has probably wondered what it would take to set something up. The main deterring factors might appear to be cost and complexity (technical ability, or lack thereof). But they needn't be real hurdles, it can be very simple and inexpensive to setup a website.

But why bother?
Well, it's a tool to connect you with your customers, existing and potential. If you're already selling sauces at retail outlets, people may buy them, like them, but not be able to revisit the store to reorder, for whatever reason. Or perhaps the store where they bought the sauce no longer sells it. So they turn to the product label to look for details on where to purchase it online.
Many sauce makers do a large part of their business over the Internet. I read somewhere on this forum that Defcon does 90% of their sales online. That's a whopping ratio, online versus offline.
So you just need to know how to get into it and how to get started.

Where to start?
At the outset you're going to want to know how much it's likely to cost. That will depend on your level of computer savvy and whether you're going to have to pay someone to do it or whether you can do it yourself.

Paying Someone - ideally, you'll know someone local who can get the job done for you quickly and cheaply. If not, your going to have to find someone online. It's critical to the outcome and critical to how much the project will cost to have a clear 'specification' for what you want, and a clear outline of how the finished website should look. Many companies make their profit on "changes" and "upgrades". They'll bid a low price to get the project then sting you each time you change your mind on some item or need to add something new.
Once you have your outline you can find people on places like Craigslist who'll do design work for $12-$20 / hr. You'll show them your spec, they'll tell you how long it will take, and you'll agree the budget with them. For 3 sauces, using a blank design, I wouldn't expect to pay more than $700 for someone to setup your website with full eCommerce functionality. If you want/need elaborate graphics then that's separate and it's obviously going to cost you more. If you don't need online ordering capability it could cost as little as $250- $300

My preferred approach to building a website uses specific web tools which have worked for me in the past and thousands of others, and it will work for you too. Plus it's the same approach regardless of whether you do it yourself or go to a designer -

Use a CMS system for your website, more specifically, use Joomla CMS (www.joomla.org).

CMS (content management system) is basically an interface between you and the web. It allows web publishers (you) to create content, update content, add products, images etc, with very rudimentary web/computer skills. Generally speaking, if you can use MS Word, you can learn to use Joomla CMS. It's the perfect platform for your website, and it's FREE.

The beauty about Joomla is that it will allow you to grow your website without it ever becoming obsolete or a constraining factor on your web business. It has literally thousands of free add-ons that will allow you to increase the functionality of your website as your web business grows. One of these free modules is a product called "VirtueMart Shopping Cart". Yes, you can plug-in a full eCommerce feature to your website and it won't cost you anything for the software.

I don't want to get too in-depth here so I'll give you a step through with what you need to do -

1 - Decide on a domain name for your business.
Always go for the .com extension and don't go with a .net .org etc unless you also own the .com version of the same name. You can go to sites like www.powerpipe.com and register your domain name for a year for $12 or so. They also have name suggestion tools so you can see what's available and what's taken. Try to pick a name with the least amount of letters so it isn't going to get misspelled or messed up. Generally speaking, don't pick a name with hyphens.
It's good to use "keywords" in your domain name, to a point. It will give you a little advantage with Google in getting free traffic to your site. Keywords are words that people might include when searching for your products, like "hot sauce", "chipotle" "peppers" or whatever. But don't make your name too long by trying to stuff too many keywords in it.

2 - Decide on a Hosting platform for your new domain name
Think of hosting as the space on the WWW where all your files are going to be stored. There are some places which offer free hosting accounts, but do not use them if you are serious about your business. Expect to start off with a hosting plan that costs around $5 per month, and make sure it is scalable, so as your traffic increases you can plug-in more resources and expand. I use www.hostgator.com for my hosting and they're a great company to work with.
Also, some hosting companies provide quick and easy access to scripts and software within your hosting account. So you can easily install Joomla, Wordpress or other software without any real expertise (Host Gator as mentioned above offer all of these features within a $5 account).
There's one step you'll need to take to connect your new domain name to your new hosting account, so they can work together. You'll be given something called "Nameservers" by your new hosting company and you'll need to login to wherever you registered your domain name to add the nameserver details. Easy peasy.

3 - Designing your website
So it's decision time. Are you going to pay someone or go it alone? - only you can decide that based on your own knowledge of computers and the WWW and how much free time you have available. If you go it alone there are many websites which offer free templates for use within Joomla. These templates will give you a theme, a look for your website, and you can customize it with your choice of colors, logos graphics etc.

If you're going to go with a designer, then spec it something like this -

i - I want a six page website with a home page, contact page, about us page, and three product pages
ii - I will supply the text for the home page, contact/about and product pages, along with images.
iii - I want the website to be created using Joomla CMS utilizing a free Joomla template to match the theme of my business
iv - I want the website to be "search engine friendly" using Joomla's core SEF .
Plus whatever other specifics you want to include about your project.

That's basically it. Agree a price for the above, around $250 - $350 if you have graphics/logo and don't require any serious artwork. If you want your products so that people can order them through your website, then add this to your spec -

v - Install and configure VirtueMart shopping cart within Joomla.
vi - Add three products using images, weights, descriptions, SKU's and prices that I will supply
vii - configure the cart to work with PayPal (or another Merchant Payment system of your choice, if you have one)
viii - configure shipping rates by connecting VirtueMart to real-time USPS shipping rates (the cart will automatically pull shipping rates from USPS or FedEx/UPS whilst your customer is at your website, based on the weight of the product and yours/theirs zipcode).

You'll notice when you checkout at other websites that many of them have what's called a "Secured URL" and display the "s" in "http://" like "https://" If you're checking out through PayPal, you don't need this security on your website since PayPal handles it. If you're using some other payment method, you may need a secure certificate (SSL). You buy these through your hosting company and they cost around $150 per year. If you go down that route you'll need to tell your designer as he/she will need to configure your shopping cart to use it.

So if you're adding the Shopping cart to your spec, with basic PayPal checkout, expect it to lift the price by around $200 or so.

'Course there are many other approaches, different shopping carts, template websites etc etc.....but the above is a really good place to start in my experience (YMMV).

So now you have a website with eCommerce features and you can begin selling online. Obviously, if your design parameters are more involved, and you need custom graphics, you're going to probably be paying more than $1000, unless you have someone you know who'll work on the cheap. But for a basic 3 product website with all the eCommerce features you should be able to escape with about $600 - $700.

The next thing you're going to have to work on is getting people through your website to buy your sauces. That will come down to a combination of these marketing methods -

1 - Free traffic from Google and other search engines
2 - "Pay Per Click" advertising
3 - Directories, forums, blogs
4 - Social media like Facebook and Twitter
5 - Offline marketing like showing your website on labels, brochures etc
6 - word of mouth.

Marketing is a whole separate issue, and I'd be happy to throw something together on that if people need it.

Hope that wasn't too off-putting and too technical. I'd be happy to expand on any points, just ask.

Good post!!

I recommend that anyone who's serious about setting up a website read the book Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usabilityby Steve Krug.
There are a LOT of horrible websites out there, most actually, in terms of usability!!!
The ideas in the book are a must for anyone who wants a well designed, usable and successful site.

Rooze- I am planning on selling a candied pepper product. Besides plants, I have not sold any other products. What are the ends and outs of selling goods on a local Level?
Hi John from Eugene,

WELCOME (from another Pacific NW chilehead).

This thread is a few months old and I don't know if Rooze is still watching it. He started the thread as info for building a website. Your question is more of a "selling a manufactured product" question and there are several threads with great informationin the business forums and in the "hot sauce making" forum.

Very Quickly, contact your local health department. Regulations vary from state-to-state and county-to-county. Your local health people are your first step and your best source for what you need to sell something locally.

Hope this helps~ and feel free to start another question thread if you have other questions.

Welcome to THP!

ps- we have a camp out thing coming up in September in the Seattle area. check it out, maybe you can come join us!
Thanks Salsalady for answering the question above from John, you were right, I haven't been following.

Sorry John for missing your post, I hope you were able to find what you were looking for.