Just imagine waking up, checking your email and discovering that you’ve made money while you were asleep. Someone went to your website, bought a product or service package, and paid with their credit card. And now, the money is in your account. This not only means that you made money, but you probably managed to make the sale with very little sales effort.

This may sound a bit incredible or far-fetched, or even like a cliché — but, I sell things while I’m sleeping a couple of times a week. Or, I’ll head out to lunch, and discover that I made a sale online that paid for my lunch when I return. And, there’s nothing like coming home from vacation and discovering that your website was still on the job while you were on the beach.

A small business’s website can have many jobs — and selling your products and services for you is probably the job that will affect your business the most. This job shows the most immediate results, and can take you out of the sales process (at least for some sales!) and allow you to focus on delivering your services and creating your products.

No matter how appealing selling in your sleep seems, selling online can seem like an exhausting task. Especially if you haven’t done it before. But, it doesn’t have to wear you out!

There are only 5 steps to getting your online sales set up.

1. First, decide what items you’re going to sell online. If you have products that you offer, or compact service packages that don’t cost a lot, those will be the best items to start with. Lower cost can mean an easier sale, and can help your site to sell for you and to start making money quickly.

Big questions here:

  • If you’re selling products, are they physical products (something you would have to ship to the customer), or are they downloadable products (like PDFs or MP3 audios)? Do you need your cart to handle secure delivery, or will thank-you pages with download links work for you?
  • If you’re selling services, how can you package the services up so that you can fully describe what the client is buying in a clear way? This is also important so that you can offer a flat price that can easily be programmed into a website instead of an hourly rate that would need to be customized for each sale?

2. Create your item descriptions. Helpful things to consider in this section include:

  • Product images, like photos of products, cover art for ebooks or audio recordings, or stock photos or work result images for services
  • Pricing: be sure to research whether you should add on sales tax. Also, if you need to charge shipping for a physical product, research the amounts you should charge to make sure you are being properly reimbursed for that expense.
  • Product descriptions: What are the features, and the benefits of those features? Be clear and detailed about what is included with each item. If there is anything that’s not included that the client may expect or presume, or that the customer needs to provide, note this as well (this is especially important in a service package).

3. Decide which software you will need to sell items online. There are several ways to do this (and this is the very short explanation of each option):

  • Paypal. This is the easiest credit-card processing solution to sign up for, with a short application process. Setting items up on your site is also not too difficult. Because of this, it’s a great option for businesses just starting out with online sales. However, Paypal doesn’t have many other features aside from allowing customers to pay for products.

    If you want to use Paypal, you’ll have to get a business account so that you’ll be able to accept credit card transactions. The transaction fees are a bit higher than using your own credit card processor, but Paypal doesn’t have any associated monthly fees, and that can balance out in your favor in the long run.

  • An online shopping cart like 1shoppingcart.com. This option takes a bit more time to set up, partly because it’s a more powerful tool, and so it has more details and options involved in the setup. There is a monthly fee for the shopping cart account (a sliding scale based on the features you need), and you have to have your own merchant account for credit card processing as well.

    However, 1shoppingcart has many powerful features — like email newsletter capability, client database management, autoresponders, and even secure downloading of digital products. If you’re serious about selling online, these added tools can be well worth the monthly cost.

  • A customized cart. If you need to create a cart that has more features than 1shoppingcart, customizing a solution like Xcart may be the right choice for you. The initial design and implementation work involved with a cart like this is often costly, because you do get to customize the cart so much.

4. Decide on any special policies that you’ll need to disclose to your customers. How long will you take to ship items? Or to deliver a service once it has been ordered? What’s your return policy? Are there any other details that your customers should know before making an online purchase from you? Write these up and add them to a Policies page on your website.

5. Find a designer who can set up your cart software and design the cart into your website. A designer with past experience with your software of choice will save you time and headaches. A qualified designer can also help you to create a better user experience with your shopping web page — so that people will be less likely to become frustrated while shopping and leave without making a purchase.

With just these 5 steps, you will be able to get a shopping cart up and running on your website — and start making those sales while you sleep!