STARTUP EPISODE 2: Let’s do it
Recap EPISODE 1
Let’s remember the objective … WHAT WE WANT TO DO?
We want to setup the IT environment for our new business, meaning:
- web domain, some storage and email.
- website (web server and a database server).
- CRM and HR.
- online store or a dedicated online platform to sell services.
- the future is mobile so ket’s go for good responsiveness
- integration, automate the business activities as much as possible.
- secure access to your resources, qualified SSL and trustful authentication of all requests for data
AND THE CHALLENGE IS … 200 EURO/YEAR (or even less) + some work
Let’s remember the solution … OPEN SOURCE: WordPress, PHP, MySQL some plugins (free versions) eCommerce (free versions) SuiteCRM (free) Sentrifugo HR (free)
The full EPISODE 1 is here: http://blog.pmc-expert.com/wp/2019/04/01/free-and-open-source/
So, first things first … let’s set the hosting! There are multiple options here so I will not recommend a specific provider. Of course, we are working with one of them and we are (so far) happy with this. I can advice you on that but, if you feel that you need this advice, you can contact us here: http://cs.pmc-expert.com/wp/home-page/contact.
However, regardless of your choice, the hosting services shall provide you with the following:
- web server, database server and mail server
- integrated management console (such as cPanel)
- integrated software installer (such as Softaculous)
- 10GB of disk space will be great
- 5 MySQL databases will be great (one database will be used by WordPress)
- easy future updates (disk space, databases, etc.)
- good online support centre
- qualified SSL certificate (I recommend to start with a simple and fast Domain Validation Certificate)
This will probably cost you around 100 EURO/year (for the hosting) around 10 EURO/year (SSL Certificate) around 10 EURO/year (for the web domain), a total of 120 EURO/year (domain, hosting and SSL certificate).
Things you should take care before making your choice
- Check with your future hosting provider if they provide integrated management console (such as cPanel), otherwise the management of your IT environment may be impossible without advanced technical skills
- Check with your future hosting provider if they provide integrated software installer (such as Softaculous), otherwise the installation of your apps (including WordPress installation) may be difficult without some (not basic) technical skills.
- Check with your future hosting provider what software is, by default, included for installation. WordPress is included by most of the relevant hosting providers but some others may be not include it by default or you may have to pay additional fees. For example, if your future hosting provider is using Softaculous installer, the list of available apps available for installation is here: https://www.softaculous.com/softaculous/apps
If you feel that you need advice on the above, you can contact us here, it is free 😊: http://cs.pmc-expert.com/wp/home-page/contact.
Concluding, the steps you should do are:
- select your hosting provider (based on the criteria I mentioned earlier)
- setup the basic environment (you don’t have to care about this, your hosting provider will do it for you)
- get and configure the SSL certificate (you may ask your provider to do it for you or you can do it your self using the management console – e.g. cPanel – it is not big deal, just follow the installation wizard)
- install WordPress using the software installer (e.g. Softaculous)
Now you are set for the next steps …
WP and plugins
Once you have WP in place, it is time to add some plugins to it. This may be a pleasant but also dangerous task as you have so many options in your hand (you can find more details about the dangers in EPISODE 1, http://blog.pmc-expert.com/wp/2019/04/01/free-and-open-source/).
However, there are two important guidelines you need to follow:
- always get the plugins from authorised sources (from the WordPress official plugin site – https://wordpress.org/plugins/ – or from the plugin developer website)
- always check if your plugin is compatible with your current WordPress version.
I recommend to use the Admin section of your WordPress installation because is fully integrated with the WordPress plugins store and also preforms a compatibility check with your WP version. You should avoid those plugins on which you will see messages like this:
Warning: this plugin has not been tested with your current version of WordPress.
Here are the most relevant (and also minimum required) plugins you will need (all of them are free or the free versions are perfectly doing the job at this stage and all of them requires minimum knowledge for setting the working configurations):
- WP Cerber Security, Antispam & Malware Scan (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-cerber/).
Utility and optimisation plugins
- Social media integration and many more: Jetpack (https://wordpress.org/plugins/jetpack/)
- Speed-up your site: WP Super Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache/)
- SEO optimisation: YOAST SEO (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/)
- Extend default descriptions: Advanced Custom Fields (https://wordpress.org/plugins/advanced-custom-fields/)
- Dynamic posts: Custom Post Type UI (https://wordpress.org/plugins/custom-post-type-ui/)
(optional) User management
- Ultimate Member (https://wordpress.org/plugins/ultimate-member/)
You can always rely on the build-in WordPress user management, in fact all external plugins you will install are based on and integrated with the build-in WordPress user management. But you may want that this part of your web portal to look better … 😊. That’s why I recommend this plugin and that’s why I am saying that it is optional.
(optional) Multi language support
- Polylang (https://wordpress.org/plugins/polylang/)
There are also other good alternatives but the one I recommend is Polylang. Easy to install and maintain and integrated with most of the other plugins. However, you can live without it if you do not plan to make your site operational in other countries. Also, be aware that good integration with eCommerce components is available as extensions to those eCommerce modules but these are not free. Of course, extensions doesn’t cost a fortune but don’t put money in something you will not use to make money. If you plan to extend your business abroad maybe will be good to buy the extensions. However, you can do this at any moment without harming your system.
At this time you may not think on launching your own mobile application although on medium-term this shall be one of your goals. My recommendation is to do so after you test your online business model in real life and you figure out what modifications you need to apply on your initial plan. What you can do at this moment is to think of the best possible responsiveness. Although most of WordPress themes are (more or less) responsive, I recommend to use a dedicated plugin.
- WP Touch (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wptouch/)
The best and the most known is:
- Elementor (https://wordpress.org/plugins/elementor/)
There are also some extensions to Elementor (free as well) which basically adds extra widgets but you can live without these extensions. However, feel free to install any Elementor extension as long as it respects the guidelines earlier mentioned. You can also use the new Gutenberg instead of Elementor but my personal opinion is that Gutenberg still has to pass a maturity test before being able to play in the same league as Elementor.
Choosing the right theme for WordPress
Well, the right them for your eBusiness site is mostly a matter of taste. WordPress offers thousands of free themes and choosing the right one may be a nightmare. My personal choice here is to choose a simple, clear and light theme. The reasons behind are both technical and business. From the technical point of view, a light theme will increase the loading speed of your website. From the business point of view, a simple and clear theme can offer better further developments such as better possibilities to include ads without harming too much the look-and-feel of your website (or as professionals will say, to maintain the best possible UX).
Nevertheless, I can recommend the following:
- AeMi – very simple, clean and pretty light
- Astra – reasonable simple, clean and with enough customisable options even in the free version
- Materialis – not so light, highly customisable even for the free version, nice look and feel (if you choose this theme do not forget about Materialis Companion which will help you to customise the theme)
Some examples, just to see what you can do with these themes using only their built-in features:
For Materialis: projects.pmc-expert.com
For AeMi: we are working on something based on this theme … 😊 is looking good and is really promising but is not ready yet. If you are interested, feel free to contact us to get free advice and also some tips&tricks for small fine tuning.
However, as I earlier said, at the end of the day, the theme is a matter of taste … and of the specific of your business. You can find a lot of reviews for each theme, the number of downloads is a very relevant indicator. What I strongly advice is not to fall into the trap of the famous statement that you can change it whenever you want … technically is 100% true, you can. But changing the theme once you already built your site will always lead to surprises which are always unpleasant.
Once you installed the theme, you are set for the next steps … don’t worry, all the above steps will not take you longer than reading this article (yeah! maybe I exaggerate a little bit, probably it is about the time needed to read twice this article but is still reasonable). What will take you longer will be to populate the website with quality content but this depends only on your imagination. However, from our experience, this should not take more than one week (provided that you know what you want to achieve … 😊 but hey! we are determined people, we know what we want to do!)
You may think that this is a more complex task … is not. Much more complex is to decide what you want to sell and to whom but this is not a subject for this article! However, I will propose two options for the eCommerce part of your business. I made a very simple split of potential portfolio you may have available: digital products only (that’s one category) and physical products (that’s the second category). If your business is about digital products only, it is no need to complicate your life with complex eCommerce solutions. Whatever your business is about, your main thoughts should be that you shouldn’t invent the wheel. eCommerce is about the product catalogue, adding to cart (or basket … 😊), checking out and get paid … and all of these (if possible) based on free solutions and fully integrated within your WordPress based environment. That’s all folks! The rest is only imagination … the way in which you present your products on web, the user experience (that’s UX) during the shopping flow, the payment methods … these are only details. But we also know that the success or failure lays into details … 😊.
So, here are my recommendations:
- For Digital Products only:WP Download Manager (https://wordpress.org/plugins/download-manager/ or https://www.wpdownloadmanager.com)
- For physical products (or combination between digital and physical):Woo Commerce (https://woocommerce.com)
Of course, Woo Commerce works fine for digital products also but it has a lot of features that are specific to shipping and you actually don’t need it for digital products. Also Woo Commerce (at least the free version) doesn’t have a functionality for licensing digital products. Bottom line is that Woo Commerce is too complicated for selling digital products only. On the other hand, WP Download Manager does not offer multi-currency and multi-language support in the free version (not even in the paid version as it is known so far).
What is also sure is that you will hear a lot of bad words about both of these products (that’s the reality when you are famous … you will see that! 😊), you can ignore it … or not … it is up to you eventually. Just keep in mind what you are looking for … free, fully integrated with WordPress and (I will add this now) already tested in multiple implementations around the world.
- both of these products are WordPress plugins, thus fully integrated, easy to install and configure
- most of the other plugins I recommended are working well together with both plugins
- both plugins offer the full shopping experience within the free versions
- both plugins offer PayPal integration within the free versions (among other payment methods) … a plus here for Woo Commerce which offer also integration with another payment processing method additionally to PayPal (Braintree)
- both plugins offer a wide range of paid extensions (including integration with other payment processing methods)
I will not enter here into more details in relation with payments processing methods, I think that PayPal is more than enough as starter. You can add others at any time.
To conclude on this topic, here is the full list of eCommerce plugins you may need:
- WP Download Manager https://wordpress.org/plugins/download-manager/
- WPDM Premium Packages (actually this is the one doing the eCommerce job) https://wordpress.org/plugins/wpdm-premium-packages/
- Woo Commerce(https://wordpress.org/plugins/woocommerce/)
- (optional) Multi Currency for WooCommerce https://wordpress.org/plugins/woo-multi-currency/.The free version allows you to work with two currencies (e.g. your local and EURO) and this will not affect you if you want to launch your business in one market only countries from EURO zone. If you want more than this, you will need the paid version and you will be kicked out from your 200 EURO/year budged. Anyway, I assume that if you have so ambitious goals from the start, the spending on this Woo Commerce extension is not your biggest financial issue.
That’s it! Now you can add your products into WP Download Manager or Woo Commerce and play with the simple and intuitive shortcodes in order to create your virtual store. Piece of cake! (really, I am not joking).
Known issues and some workarounds
WP Download Manager
Probably the most annoying part of WP Download Manager is the lack of multi currency support. This will not affect your business if you are launching it in one market only or if you don’t break any law by charging in other currencies (e.g. EURO or USD). Anyway, there is a workaround for this but it require some technical skills and knowledge of WordPress multi-site support. Another lack of functionality is related to multi-language support. The workaround is the same as for the currency issue, in fact these functionalities are somehow related. I mean, nothing prevents you to write your products names and descriptions in whatever language you want but there is no way to translate the labels.
The multi-currency support for Woo Commerce is available as separate plugin as I mentioned earlier (Multi Currency for WooCommerce). Even in the free version you can work with two currencies which is great. The multi-language support does not come for free and comes from Polylang, not from Woo Commerce. All together, the full multi-currency and multi-language support for Woo Commerce will cost around additional 120 EURO.
To conclude on this topic, I am convinced that full multi-language and multi-currency support are needed if you want to fully localise your business in more than one country and this is not the case for a startup with no strong investments behind. Otherwise, using these eCommerce plugins will perfectly do the job in one market and even selling outside the home market but without localising the business abroad.
What else can (and probably should) you do
Well, this is not about WordPress or plugins or eCommerce apps … this is about our big friend (I was very close to say “brother”) Google. Well, you may laugh, but I think that we need him as he needs us … Google can offer a lot of things (and I am not talking about AdSense or advertising or stuff like this … I mean real stuff) but I will mention here what I think is good to have and (of course!) it is free:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search
- Google CAPTCHA
Besides, it is very useful to use Google Maps. Theoretically this is not free but the limit from which you have to pay something to Google is big enough so you don’t have to worry.
You only need to have a Google account (that’s the fancy name for your gmail address). Under this Google account you can access all these services.
CRM and HR
No too many words to say about this. You have the software installer on your environment so just find the apps (SuiteCRM and Sentrifugo), click on “Install” and that’s it … you can start using it.
Ok, we are at the end of this episode … so, let’s recap the steps:
- select your hosting provider
- setup the basic environment
- get and configure the SSL certificate
- install WordPress
- install the WordPress plugins
- choose and install your theme
- create and publish your content
- install the eCommerce solution
- configure your Google environment
- 10.install CRM and HR (if you really need it)
Simple as that … 10 steps (even 8 steps if you decide to skip 9 and 10)! and you spent 120 EURO (don’t get emotional! the next year you need to spend another 120 😊) and one week from your time (I know, those of you who read EPISODE 1 will say that I am trying to cheat because I was mentioning two weeks in that episode. But I did not discussed yet about integrations and communication with other external systems – these are subjects for the next episodes).