When I first started my virtual assistant business, E-commerce was a mystery to me.  It was amazing how money travelled at almost light-speed throughout the Internet.  Before becoming a virtual assistant, I worked for a local government – because of strict accounting rules – accepting money online was a *big* deal. It took over 6 months (and a committee of 5 people from three agencies) to create a simple web page to sell tickets online for a fundraising gala.

Fortunately (for those of us not in government), there are tools available to make collecting money online easy (or even painless).  Here are the 5 basic tools you need to get started accepting money online.

* A Sales Page – To get people to order from you online – you need a webpage with a description of the product and a button for people to push to place their order. These pages are usually very simple. You want people to focus on your product and nothing else. The sales copy can also be very long. The copy is long because you are not there to sell in person so you are trying to overcome objections within the letter. Successful marketers often use two versions of the same page to test different versions of the same page to see what is most effective. This is called split testing. To easily create a split test, you can create a free account at Google analytics which allows you to create variables within you page. Different versions are alternated when prospects view them on the web. Clicks and sales are tracked on each version. By trial and error, you can learn what is most effective for your audience. The customer decides to buy your product and clicks a button or link which brings them to the order form.

* Shopping Cart (or Payment Gateway) – The order form is a form hosted on your shopping cart’s website. The shopping cart is a database that takes your customers information and passes it on to your payment processor. Many people who are just starting out in online marketing – start by accepting money through PayPal. PayPal charges a percentage fee for each transaction – but does not charge monthly fees. Customers can also pay by credit card if they wish. Generally, people graduate to a full-fledged shopping cart like EasyWebAutomation (or other 1shopping cart clone) which has an autoresponder feature which automatically creates an e-mail list of everyone who has purchased your product. This type of cart allows you to process payments through a merchant account or through PayPal.

*Payment Processor – Once the customer has ordered the product, their information is passed on through the shopping cart to the payment processor. If you are using PayPal – the gateway and processor could be the same. The Payment Processor charges the customer’s credit card and transfers the money to your bank account.  Setting up a merchant account requires a valid business license and the business credit check. However, the percentage taken out of each charge is lower so it might be a better bargain for you. Also, PayPal cannot always handle recurring payments.

* A Merchant Account – In order to sign up with a payment processor – you need a merchant account. A merchant account is a special business bank account that can receive credit card funds.

* An Autoresponder – Finally, you need an autoresponder to make sure that customers can have access to your products 24/7. An autoresponder is a special e-mail program that automatically sends emails when customers make a purchase, subscribe to a list, etc. When customers buy your product,they should automatically receive a message with download instructions. You can also pre-schedule follow up messages with additional information, special offers, etc. You can use the broadcast feature to send a newsletter to your customers. Shopping carts often include an autoresponder as part of their service.

With these five tools – collecting money online is easy.

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