Starting an Ecommerce Business? Don't Make These Mistakes!

Jay Jennings

When I started my internet marketing ecommerce business in earnest with the launch of my first product in July of 2003, I made some big mistakes. Mistakes that would haunt me for years.

My First Mistake

In order to "save money" I decided to skip getting a shopping cart and do the stuff myself. After all, I only needed a way to process credit card orders, a way to handle affiliate sales, and a way to follow up with prospects. I was a programmer, so how hard could it be?

I honestly don't recall how I handled the credit card processing, but for the autoresponder and affiliate software I used self-hosted applications -- and that turned out to be a nightmare.

The affiliate software cost me $200 and I'm not going to tell you the name of it because I know there are a lot of people out there using it with no problem and I don't want to be unfair, but for me, it was two full weeks of stress leading right up to my launch.

I could not get the affiliate software to integrate with whatever I was using for the shopping cart -- it wouldn't grab the correct values on the thank-you page (such as how much the product cost) so it wasn't assigning the correct commissions. I even had the author of the software go onto my server and he couldn't figure out what was wrong.

For two entire weeks I battled that until I finally "hard coded" the price of my product into the code. I had to do that in order to launch the product. It worked fine, it just meant that I couldn't try different pricing, use discount coupons, etc.

The autoresponder software I used cost me $100 and worked very well for me -- but it was still a mistake to use it. I just didn't know how large of a mistake it would be for a couple years.

So I ended up spending $300 for software and felt good because I wasn't having to pay a monthly fee for a shopping cart.

However, all was not rosy. First, because the affiliate software never did work right, I was locked into selling a product for a single price. Second, while the autoresponder worked great, I eventually found out that running my own autoresponder was a losing proposition -- there's no way to keep from getting false spam complaints, and when those happen your deliverability suffers. I started seeing fewer people being able to receive my emails.

My Fix -- And Second Mistake

After a couple years of doing it all myself, I decided that an "all-in-one" solution would make my life much easier, and so I decided to bite the bullet and get a real shopping cart. I settled on a well-known shopping cart and it turned into a love-hate relationship.

On the plus side, I finally had everything I needed in one piece of software -- and all the pieces worked together. My links would be tracked (and I could do split-testing), someone could buy a product, they'd be added to an autoresponder, and whichever affiliate referred the sale got the credit.

It was nice because I no longer had to mess with trying to make different pieces of software talk to each other, my email deliverability went way up, and there were just fewer things to think about.

On the minus side, I felt "locked in" to doing things a certain way, and the affiliate software was disappointing. While I found it very reliable and adequate, I disliked the way you made banner ads, text ads, etc., available for your affiliates. I found it confusing and it felt kind of archaic.

On top of that, I got tired of paying a monthly fee that kept going up and up the more customers I accumulated.

My New Course of Action

What I'm doing now is a what I consider a "hybrid" approach that I believe will be my long-term solution.

First, let me backtrack to something that turned out to be a mistake and how it ties in to what I'm doing now.

When I switched from the unnamed affiliate software to what came included with the all-in-one shopping cart software, all of my affiliates had to sign up for the new program. What a hassle. I felt bad, but it was a necessity. When I decided to move away from that shopping cart, my affiliates had to sign up for the new program once again.

Do you think all of them took the time? You can bet your sweet bippy they didn't!

Here's what I decided to do so that never has to happen again. The shopping cart I'm now using has an affiliate program built into it. In fact, it has the advantage of turning everyone who buys a product into an automatic affiliate -- nice, eh?

But I don't use the built-in affiliate software because what happens down the road if I find a better shopping cart? Once again my affiliates would have to switch to the new program and each time I'll lose more and more affiliates.

The Affiliate Solution

So I decided to go with a 3rd-party affiliate software that's NOT connected to the shopping cart -- that way it doesn't matter what cart I use now or in the future, my affiliates are taken care of. They should never have to mess with signing up for a new program ever again!

While it was an "experience" getting the new software set up, I knew that I only had to figure it all out one time and then just let it run forever.

That's the first piece of the puzzle. Second, I needed to take care of an autoresponder. And like the affiliate software, I determined I was NOT going to use an autoresponder tied to my shopping cart. While it's very nice to have a cart and autoresponder tied together, it means you have to move your lists if you ever change shopping carts...

And that is a very BAD thing to do!

Because you have to reconfirm everybody on your lists with the new autoresponder service which means you will lose MOST of your list.

Sidebar: The autoresponder services could accept the double-opt-in status of legit services as proof that your people really opted in, but they won't. They could work together to give their clients a better experience, but they like the fact that you're trapped into using their service.

By settling on an autoresponder that's not tied to a shopping cart, I shouldn't have to worry about switching list providers again in the future, no matter which cart I decide to use.

Tip: If you switch autoresponder services, do an export of your data before giving up the old service. Even if 80% of your lists don't confirm on the new service, you could still use those names with physical addresses for offline mailings.

In Summary

I like the idea of a "one stop shop" when it comes to ecommerce, but I don't like feeling trapped after making a decision. I like options. With my current setup I feel like I'm in control of what's going on and can make needed changes in the future without losing my list, hassling my affiliates, etc.

While separate programs that all talk to each other are harder to set up, you only have to do it one time -- and forever after that you have many more options than if you're tied into an all-in-one system


Jay Jennings is known for creating marketing tools that make hard/boring tasks easy, as well as for producing tutorial videos that break down the learning curve of a subject. He currently lives on the road with his wife and two kids, running his business from whichever Starbucks is closest. Get free marketing information at the site.