Case: Small Buisness In The Cloud

Published On August 31, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

Kim is a friend, talented professional photographer, and owner of TwoRoads Studio .  She wanted to sell some of her prints online so she came to me to help make that happen.  TwoRoads is just getting started so, like any small business, money is a primary concern.  Time management is also a concern since Kim would rather be out shooting and developing photos than managing the website so the website had to be easily managed and not too technical.  From a technical and marketing standpoint Kim needs a website that will look and perform professionally because sales get lost when customers have to wait for images to load, and her business is all about images.  The website would also need a shopping cart and have to accept credit cards because online shoppers today expect convenient shopping and payment.  What an interesting case.  Here’s what we did:

The first hurdle we attacked was hosting.  Since money is a concern we tried to keep monthly costs to a minimum.  I thought about just putting her on my home server hosted over a cable modem but we wanted something more dependable than that.  Yahoo! busness hosting came out to about $6.50 per month, which seemed reasonable.  We also got unlimited data transfer, great for photos, and unlimited disk space.  Yahoo! had several good options for expansion, like wordpress blog integration, so we settled on that.

The next hurdle to clear was how Kim would manage the site.  She’s  not a technical person and has no desire to  be.  Her last website had a combination of XML files she needed to edit and files she needed to resize and upload via an ftp program.  Not a horrible solution, but it was a bit confusing and very time consuming to make changes.  This time we decided to use Flickr to manage the photos.  Kim already had an account with Flickr.  She used it to post photos and show them off.  It’s a great application with several convenience features including drag and drop organization and simple uploading and photo resizing.  The best part: Flickr has a full access php API.

Flickr offered us several advantages.  First, it’s free.  So our total costs were still only the $6.50 / month for web hosting.  Second it’s convenient.  Kim already had an account there and was familiar with the tool.  She wouldn’t have to learn anything else and, at the same time, she had access to several GUI tools for the organization and manipulation of her photographs.  Technically, Flickr’s API gave us full access to Kim’s photos and information via php.  Better  yet, by keeping the images on Flickr’s servers we gained the hosting and response time of Flickr’s diverse infrastructure because all images were served from them, not us.  All we had to do was register for a free commercial development key.

The next thing we needed was a shopping cart and method of accepting credit cards.  Yahoo! business hosting integrated directly with paypal so this was our first choice.  Right away we noticed some shortcomings.  First, products had to be added to paypal’s inventory system for pricing, descriptions, etc.  This meant Kim would have to add her products in two places and that we’d have to find a way for the website to match the Flickr photo on the screen to the product in paypay’s database.  Not impossible, but not the ease of management we were looking for either.  Finally, what sealed the deal, is the service offered by Yahoo! did not allow for a shopping cart.  Users would only be allowed to buy one product at a time.  It was time to look elsewhere for a solution.

That’s how we came upon google checkout.  Google checkout offered everything we needed.  A shopping cart system that integrated into our existing website.  Core integration is done with JavaScript and layout is done with html and css.  Fields and descriptors are completely customizable without having to first add the item to a google-specific inventory system.  The shopping cart system linked directly into google’s checkout system which allowed Kim to accept credit cards for just a small fee.  Everything was customizable so we could seamlessly integrate it into the rest of Kim’s website template.  On top of all that, it was basically free with only a small charge based on her sales.  This worked out well since, if nothing sold, she would have not fixed cost.  In order for her to owe a lot she’d have to sell a lot, which is a good thing.

Another advantage of using google’s checkout system was the link to her analytics account.  It was not an initial feature request, but I decided to create a google analytics account for her and link it to the website and checkout system.  This way we are able to see all sorts of statistics on Kim’s photos and it can help her determine what’s going on.

The final piece of the puzzle is Kim’s interaction with her customers.  She’s a very interesting and intelligent person, so I thought she should share her stories and experiences with her customers.  What better way to do that than a blog?  I’d looked at both blogspot and wordpress before.  WordPress was, by far, easier to update and customize templates for.  Additionally, yahoo! hosting offered a wordpress blog as a direct add on.  In the end we didn’t use it (opting for hosting the blog on wordpress’s website), but it’s still good to know we can always come back to it should we want to.

Here’s a summary of what we ended up with:

  • Website hosting with php at Yahoo! Business
  • Image hosting and management via Flickr
  • Shopping cart, checkout, and credit card acceptance from Google Checkout
  • Site analytics via Google Analytics
  • WordPress blog hosted at wordpress

Her data is hosted across four companies utilizing multiple server farms yielding her the capabilities and response time of a much larger organization at a fraction the cost.  The integration with Flickr was fundamental to the success of the project since, as a result, she did not have to learn a new tool just to manage the website, nor did she have to make updates in more than one place.  So, in the end, we successfully completed the job, met all the requirements, added a few features, and did it all for $6.50 / month fixed cost.

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