Startups: 23 Ways to Save Money Without Cutting Corners

You’ve started your business, but money’s tight. You haven’t got much cash to play with.

Here are 23 tactics you can use to be frugal and save money:

1. Use Lean Startup Methodology

Red-eyed fly
Creative Commons License photo credit: quinet

Make sure you’re building something people want and will pay for. Don’t spend time and money building it before trying to find out. Talk to them first and make sure you understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

This is one of those things that sounds obvious, but that most people only really learn too late. Read more here.

2. Use Quick and Dirty Prototypes

Final Countdown!
Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin

As part of the Lean Startup ideas above, test out your ideas and assumptions with potential customers. Consider using Powerpoint slides to describe your ‘product’ before you build it.

3. Build a Minimum Viable Product, Nothing More

Paperclip Trebuchet
Creative Commons License photo credit: robad0b

To start with, build a minimum viable product (MVP) — be ruthless about leaving out everything that you possibly can.

4. Keep it Simple

Creative Commons License photo credit: dno1967b

The fewer the features you try to build and the simpler you can keep your business, the faster you can move and the cheaper it’ll be to run.

5. Don’t Hire Until You Have To

kors oversized
Creative Commons License photo credit: Idhren

Don’t hire too soon. Only do so when you and your cofounders really cannot manage any more.

6. Make Use of Interns

Creative Commons License photo credit: avhell

A job in a startup can be exciting and provide great experience with plenty of responsibility. Offer a great learning opportunity and, especially in a tough economy, you can get smart people for free.

7. Get Cheap Help from Business School Students

Dunedin Internship 2011
Creative Commons License photo credit: Samuel Mann

Business school students are often keen to apply what they’re learning to real-world companies and may be willing to do projects for you for free or very cheaply.

8. Get Free Help from Local Universities

Travels in China
Creative Commons License photo credit: University of the Fraser Valley

Universities are keen for their students and staff to get involved with industry. Some offer schemes where they’ll do projects for businesses either for free or for very subsidised rates.

9. Hire Talent Over Experience

Sonrisa Colgate
Creative Commons License photo credit: americanistadechiapas

Aim to hire people with talent who haven’t yet got the experience to command high salaries or rates.

10. Use Google Apps (Free Edition)

Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya

If you have 10 or fewer employees you can use Google Apps Free Edition for your email and intranet.

11. Join Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft Partner Day
Creative Commons License photo credit: Microsoft Sweden

Microsoft’s BizSpark programme supports startups in a variety of ways. An important one is that they’ll give you access to free Microsoft software (Windows, Office, etc.)

12. Use Free Trials

Beer snobs
Creative Commons License photo credit: waitscm

There are lots of web-based tools that can be handy for different things during your startup’s life — market research, website load testing, keyword analysis, and more. Often you can get a free trial of these tools, and the trial period can be long enough to get a lot of value. Later, when your business grows, come back and invest in a paid subscription.

13. Get to Know Your Customers Even Better

Two business men chatting, Pia Gioielli jewelers lion sign, a waiter from Pedro & Lola restaurant, set tables, palm tree, customers, Machado Square, Centro Historico, Sinaloa, Mexico
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wonderlane

You can’t get to know your customers too well. The better you understand them, the more effective your paid marketing will be and the less you’ll need to spend to get the same results.

14. Set Up Reciprocal Marketing Deals with Related Businesses

Meeting with Andrzej Poczobut 06
Creative Commons License photo credit: PolandMFA

Find a business that targets a similar demographic. Promote their business to your followers in return for them promoting your business to their followers.

15. Set Up Revenue-Sharing Deals

Half and half
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rya Pie

Instead of paying up-front, negotiate with publishers to market your business in return for a cut of the profits they bring you.

16. A/B Test Continually

Talking Logistics
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gamma-Ray Productions

A/B testing can improve the effectiveness of the key conversion funnels of your business. Many small, incremental improvements over time can translate to a huge improvement in the long run.

17. Do Your Own PR

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gonmi

Instead of hiring a PR consultant or agency, do your own PR. Journalists prefer to hear from founders anyway. If you’re based in the US, subscribe to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to connect with journalists writing relevant stories.

18. Hire Freelancers Over Agencies

Creative Commons License photo credit: banditob

Save money by hiring freelancers instead of agencies. Freelancers typically have lower overheads than agencies and can be more flexible about the rates they charge and the way they work.

19. Attend Local Industry Events to Get Free Advice from Experts

Women 2.0 Startup Weekend San Francisco 2011
Creative Commons License photo credit: adria.richards

If you live in a major city there are probably events where you can find experts in different areas. Don’t abuse it, but you’ll often find people willing to give you some free advice over a couple of drinks. Some events are more structured and directly tailored to startups, for example BootLaw in London is a great way to learn about law related to startups.

20. Work From Home

New display is BIG
Creative Commons License photo credit: Iain Farrell

If it’s just you when you’re starting out, work from home. Save the money you’d otherwise be spending on rent.

21. Ask Suppliers What Special Deal You Can Get

Bad maths
Creative Commons License photo credit: Danny Nicholson

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Being a young company is a great reason to ask for special deals. You won’t always get them, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

22. Keep Tight Control of Spending

Creative Commons License photo credit: sovietmole

Consider having just one credit card for the company so that all the money goes through one person with an overview of the company’s finances.

23. Champion Frugality

Paola Longoria, medalla de Oro
Creative Commons License photo credit: americanistadechiapas

Lead by example and cultivate a culture of frugality within the company. Make it clear that a frugal attitude is valued.

(Thanks to Julian Hearn for tips 18 & 20.)

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7 Reasons to Start a Business Instead of Doing an MBA

Funny Pictures - Business Cat

People sometimes ask me if I’ve found having an MBA helpful in starting businesses.

So is it?

If you’re thinking of starting a business, here are seven reasons why you might not want to do an MBA first:

  1. MBA Costs are Potential Startup Capital: Doing an MBA is expensive. If you’ll be putting your own money towards it, you might want to use that money as capital for your business instead. Even if you lose it all, what you learn by having a go may well be an even better education.
  2. Drive is Important: If you’re itching to start a business, that’s a good sign! Entrepreneurship takes passion and energy. You may have the hunger now and less of it later.
  3. Timing is Important: A large part of successful business is good timing. If you’ve got an idea and you know the time is right for it now, waiting may not be a good move.
  4. MBA Students May Not be the Right Partners: MBA students can be smart and analytical, but they’ve often grown used to corporate environments where lots of day-to-day chores are done for them. In small businesses, you need people who’ll pitch in and get their hands dirty. That’s not always a good fit. So your prospective fellow MBA students may not necessarily be the best people to team up with. (It depends what sort of business you’re looking to build.)
  5. Learning Isn’t Doing: The stuff you learn during an MBA is interesting, but it’s always going to be more theoretical than practical. There’s nothing like doing something for real to really learn about it.
  6. Large Companies are not Small Companies: The truth is, most MBA courses are geared mainly towards producing executives for large companies, management consultancies and investment banks. Learning about complicated financial modelling and the challenges of large companies can be great fun, but it’s also a far cry from the implementation skills you need when running a small company.
  7. Employer Lock-In: If your employer is willing to fund your MBA, lucky you. Many people would envy your position. But beware: ultimately, your time is what matters the most. Think carefully before you get into a situation where you have to work for a company for a certain period of time after your MBA. You’ll be postponing your foray into entrepreneurship even further.

There are, of course, good reasons to do an MBA, too. For me personally, I think having an MBA has been useful. I’ll say more about that in a future post.

How about you? Are you thinking of doing an MBA? How are you weighing up this question?

Or have you done an MBA already? What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mark.hogan


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85 Great Resources for London Startups


If you’re setting up a web-based business in London, there are lots of resources that can come in handy once you know about them. I thought I’d share some of my favourites here in case there a few you don’t yet know about.

This is a selection of everything from interesting events to attend and good books to read through to tools to boost your effectiveness. Some of them will only be useful if you’re based in London or often visit here; the others are more widely applicable:

  1. BootLaw – free events where you can get your legal questions answered (and be entertained, too!)
  2. Microsoft BizSpark – startup community offering free Microsoft software
  3. DrinkTank – drink beer with startup founders and occasional investors
  4. Launch48 – meet potential co-founders and try to start a business in a weekend
  5. Startup Weekend – meet potential co-founders and try to start another business in a weekend
  6. Minibar – see entrepreneurs pitch their startups while you drink free beer
  7. London Business School Entrepreneurial Leadership Lectures – hear experienced founders talk
  8. UK Business Forums – get nuts and bolts advice from owners of small businesses
  9. SeedSummit Term Sheets – see how the investment terms you’ve been offered stack up against ‘standard’ ones.
  10. Don’t Make Me Think – learn how to make your website easier to use
  11. Visual Website Optimizer – run A/B tests easily and get more from your website
  12. Google Apps (free edition) – host up to 10 email accounts for free
  13. Ajax Whois – quickly check whether domain names are available
  14. MailChimp – send mass emails and track what happens to them (and get UI inspiration!)
  15. Viral Marketing – a nice article on the Maths behind viral marketing
  16. Super Conversion Button – create good call-to-action web buttons [no longer available]
  17. Load Impact – easily run load tests on your website
  18. Linode – get cheap, reliable hosting in UK or US data centres (but set the servers up yourself)
  19. Ultimate Guide to Google Adwords – learn how to run Adwords campaigns
  20. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – understand how to nudge people into doing what you want
  21. TechCrunch Europe – read the European bit of the blog that every startup person reads
  22. Fiverr – get small tasks done for $5 (try this out for fun at the very least!)
  23. Pingdom – get an alert if your website goes down while you’re at Minibar drinking beer
  24. Lean Startup – methodology to help figure out whether you’re starting the right business
  25. Mixergy – learn from interviews with successful entrepreneurs
  26. Hacker News – read what techie startup people are finding interesting at the moment
  27. Hacker News London – meet techie startup people in the flesh. Drink beer with them
  28. Business Link – find official government information about business regulations
  29. WordPress – build all sorts of websites quickly and cheaply (definitely not just for blogs)
  30. Woothemes – get a great-looking theme for your website
  31. Clicky – get realtime analytics for your website (and impress your co-founders with their very cool ‘big-screen’ display)
  32. SurveyMonkey – run surveys easily
  33. SendGrid – make sure your emails get delivered
  34. TechHub – work surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs at this startup-centric office space
  35. OpenSoho – have drinks with startup and digital media folks
  36. Facebook Developer Garage – find out the latest goings-on in the world of Facebook (update: no longer running)
  37. Mobile Monday London – find out the latest goings-on in the world of mobile
  38. LRUG -meet smart Ruby developers and learn clever coding tips and techniques
  39. Moo – order yourself some cute mini business cards
  40. TweetDeck – track lots of things at once on Twitter
  41. Magento – set up a powerful e-commerce website
  42. – see how many times people click on the links you share
  43. Starbucks – get fairly reliable free wifi almost anywhere in London
  44. Le Pain Quotidien – hang out in a nice cafe environment with free wifi
  45. British Library Business & IP Centre – get free access to market research reports
  46. – find legal information about IT and e-commerce
  47. 99designs – get a logo designed
  48. SeedSummit – find seed investors
  49. The E-myth Revisited – learn why you should create a system
  50. Seth Godin – learn why you should forget your system
  51. Getting Real – read how to build web apps faster and more easily
  52. The Ultimate Sales Machine – read ideas about how to sell more effectively
  53. Appsumo – save money on stuff for your startup
  54. Google Alerts – find out whenever someone mentions your startup online
  55. SEOMoz Search Ranking Factors – learn what’s important for appearing high up in search engine results
  56. The Four Steps to the Epiphany – read the original bible of the Lean Startup movement
  57. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development – read the cheat-sheet version of the Lean Startup bible
  58. Ogilvy on Advertising – understand advertising better
  59. Google+ – get dabbling. It could become important for SEO
  60. Twitter – follow fellow entrepreneurs to pick up some great tips
  61. Paul Graham’s Essays – pick up entrepreneurial wisdom from the guy behind Y-Combinator
  62. Futuristic Play – learn more about online marketing
  63. A Smart Bear – absorb entrepreneurial wisdom from an experienced founder
  64. Adwords Keyword Tool – find out how many people are searching for something
  65. oDesk – hire people on the other side of the world
  66. PickyDomains – challenge people to find you a great domain name or slogan
  67. Enternships – hire entrepreneurially-minded interns
  68. Seedcamp – get money and coaching in return for a share in your business
  69. UserTesting – find out whether anyone can use your website
  70. PSD2HTML – convert that slick PSD your designer created into CSS and HTML
  71. Sedo – buy a decent domain name
  72. VirtualBox – run a virtual Windows machine so you can test old and annoying versions of IE, even if you have a new and shiny Mac
  73. Dropbox – share documents with your co-founders
  74. Google Docs – share documents with your co-founders and edit them together
  75. ProductTank – hobnob with product managers
  76. London Startup Digest – get a curated email of London’s startup-related goings-on
  77. Social Innovation Camp – do something good with your talents
  78. Toastmasters – become more confident talking in front of an audience
  79. Enterprise Finance Guarantee – get backing from the government to help you get a loan
  80. The Gary Halbert Letter – improve your copywriting
  81. PatternTap – web UI design patterns
  82. Technology Strategy Board – enter funding competitions and apply for grants
  83. The Equity Kicker – read views from Nic Brisbourne, a London VC
  84. Dragon’s Den – entertain your friends and family by pitching your business on TV
  85. OpenCoffee – attend weekly coffee meetups and mingle with budding entrepreneurs

Last, one bonus resource [something I’ve set up]:

I hope that’s helped you discover at least a few new things that will come in handy.

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Photo by Lillais.Burke.

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Getting to Critical Mass: How to Start a Marketplace Business


Are you thinking of setting up a two-sided marketplace business?

It’s a hard thing to do, so you’re going to need all the help you can get.

Why not learn from how other people have managed it successfully in the past?

One challenge of creating this kind of marketplace is that you’re going to have to understand and meet the needs of two completely different communities and you’re going to have to somehow bring enough members of each community together to give your marketplace liquidity.

Why are Marketplace Businesses Attractive?

Why try to set up a marketplace anyway? Why not keep life simple and provide a product or service to a single community instead?

Here are three reasons why marketplace businesses can be attractive:

  1. They’re a natural fit for the information-sharing potential of the web.
  2. Operationally, they can be simple: as a purely online business, there’s no inventory to look after and no service to deliver apart from the marketplace site itself.
  3. The more users you have, the more useful the marketplace is. This network effect becomes an important barrier to entry to potential competitors and goes a long way to explain the long dominance of sites such as Craigslist and eBay that, arguably, have done relatively little to innovate and improve over the years.

The Critical Mass Problem

Your marketplace will only be attractive to buyers if you have things on sale. Likewise, sellers will only be interested if you’ll be bringing them buyers. Often, to start with, you have neither. This chicken and egg problem can be a hard one to overcome!

8 Ways to Kick-Start Your Marketplace

1. Spin Out of an Existing Community

If you’re in the fortunate position of running a community that would be natural users of the marketplace, you could be in luck. SitePoint, a community for web designers, very successfully launched two related marketplace sites: Flippa (for buying and selling websites) and 99designs (a marketplace for web design). Both services originally started informally when people were posting messages advertising websites for sale and looking for web design services on the SitePoint forums.

2. Partner with an Existing Community

If you don’t own an existing community, you may be able to partner with one. You bring them new revenues; they help market the service to their members. There are various ways to do this which might involve giving them a share of the business or agreeing a revenue-sharing deal. Through white-labelling you may be able to work with multiple partners in this way.

3. Capture Contact Details to Connect Buyers and Sellers at a Later Date

A visitor to your site who doesn’t find what they’re looking for isn’t necessarily a visitor wasted. Why not give them a form to say what they’re looking for. If, at some point later, it becomes available, send them an email to bring them back to the site.

GiftCardRescue, a US gift card marketplace, does this nicely.

4. Focus on a Niche

However broad your ultimate vision for the marketplace, you might want to start by focusing on a narrow niche. For example, a marketplace for buying and selling used electronics might seem very empty with only ten listings. A marketplace for used iPads with ten relevant listings could already deliver value and appear active.

Geography is one dimension of focus that is particularly popular. Many now-successful sites (Craigslist, for example) started in a single city and only expanded once they’d reached critical mass in their initial location.

5. Advertise

This can work if you have lots of money to spend (or can raise it), but otherwise gets expensive fast (especially if the first visitors to your site see barren pages with few signs of life — they’re unlikely to participate).

6. Contact Individuals and Invite them to Join

This and the next two tactics were all used by the founders of crowdSPRING.

While researching the business, Ross and his co-founder contacted freelancers and contractors individually and asked them about their problems with existing marketplaces and what they’d like from a new one. Later, when crowdSPRING was ready, he invited these same individuals to join their new site.

7. Ask Friends and Family to Use the Site

With a healthy number of freelancers already signed up to the site, crowdSPRING then needed to address the other site of the market: jobs for those freelancers to do. One tactic they used was to ask their friends and family to post jobs.

8. Subsidise Early Use

To further encourage use of the site, crowdSPRING covered 100% of the costs of the first 50 projects that were posted. They also paid 50% towards further projects until they were satisfied that the service was working well and was ready to stand on its own.

Further Resources

  1. Brant Cooper has a post on how customer development applies to marketplace businesses. Worth a read if you’re a fan of Steve Blank and co.
  2. Mixergy has an interview in which Andrew Warner talks to Ross Kimbarovsky, founder of crowdSPRING, about how crowdSPRING got their outsourcing marketplace off the ground.
  3. How Thumbtack built a marketplace for home services.
  4. How Skillshare built a marketplace for online education.
  5. 7 frameworks for predicting online marketplace success.

Any Other Examples?

How about you? What tactics have you seen used successfully in launching a marketplace businesses?

Please share them in the comments!

Photo by mklapper

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Tips from Business of Software 2010


Patrick over at Micro ISV on a Shoestring has a fantastic post summarising lessons learnt at the recent Business of Software 2010 Conference.

He goes through highlights of a number of talks and it’s good reading for anyone in the business of selling software. Here’s one nugget I found particularly interesting that’s potentially handy for anyone trying to increase the open rate of emails to existing customers (from Patrick’s summary of a talk by Rob Walling of Software by Rob):

Email is far superior to competing methods of repeatable contact with customers—such as Twitter, blogs, RSS feeds, or your favorite social network—because it allows “personalized broadcasts”, where you can scalably communicate with an arbitrarily high number of people while also making it feel like everyone is getting individualized attention.  (Not nearly enough people use this to its maximum potential, particularly with SaaS.  Free tip from me: note what search term sent them to your website, put a variation of it in the subject line of the email, watch your open rate go through the freaking roof.)

That last bit’s a fascinating idea. I can’t wait to try it out. Though I can see it being a more natural fit in some instances than others.

Another gem from Patrick’s summary of the same talk, is that, if you’re trying to get website visitors to give you their email addresses, offering them something they can get immediately in return, such as a white paper, can be very effective. That much I knew. But apparently you should call your white paper a “report” because that will give it higher perceived value.

Anyway, there’s lots more good, actionable stuff to browse through. Read the (very long) post here. Nice work, Patrick!

Creative Commons License photo credit: batintherain

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New PayPal Checkout Page

Old Cash Register

I was just making a payment via PayPal and discovered that PayPal have a new checkout page.

Here it is with the payment via PayPal option showing (this is the default for people who already have a PayPal account):

As before, those who don’t have a PayPal account are instead prompted for credit card details:

The pages have a slightly more up-to-date feel than the previous PayPal pages and there are now some slick javascript transition effects as you toggle between PayPal and credit card payment options and step through the rest of the checkout flow.

It’s good to see PayPal making some small steps forward with their user experience.

Let’s hope they update their back-end admin site next. (In my opinion, it’s appallingly slow and cumbersome.)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jo Jakeman

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Realities of Small Business Websites

One Man Band Street Performer Ann Arbor Art Fair July 24, 20103

I spend a lot of time with people who know a lot about the web. They’re either building online businesses or they’re 30-something friends who live in London and who use the internet frequently in their day-to-day lives. That’s why I found it interesting recently to work with someone who’s outside of that circle, to help him put a website together, and explain to him a few of the things I’ve started to take for granted.

The guy in question is a joiner, working with wood to install doors, stairs and cupboards, repair furniture, etc. He is looking to develop his business increasingly into antique furniture restoration and uses the web, but wouldn’t claim to know about any technical details. He wanted a simple, affordable website as he knew it could help his business, but at the same time he was a little worried as he’d heard stories from other people about their bad experiences with having websites built.

Working with this small business owner was a good reality-check for me and along the way I realised three things about small business websites that I’m sure many designers of small sites will have discovered before me:

  • Getting good photos is a pain – photos from stock photography sites can feel very cheesy and may not be representative of the business. Meanwhile, amateur shots taken by the owner or a friend are likely to be relatively poor-quality. How do people normally approach this?
  • How to market their website isn’t obvious for a small business owner – a small business can get themselves listed in various local directories and perhaps ask some friends for links. Beyond that, most other techniques need a fair amount of knowledge and are likely to represent a larger investment of time and/or money than a very small business will to want to make.
  • WordPress is a good small business CMS platform but it’s hard to find a good CMS theme – in my opinion, WordPress is a wonderful platform for a small business website. It’s stable, relatively simple to set up and use, and has a fantastic range of plugins. However, the selection of CMS themes that is available is relatively poor. There are a few people providing paid-for premium themes designed for CMS use, but I can’t help thinking there’s room for more. Perhaps the majority of people still don’t realise how effective WordPress can be for this sort of thing?

Creative Commons License photo credit: stevendepolo

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Launch48, October 2009

Take off of Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-117)

130 assorted programmers, designers and business folk; 6 eager teams; one crazily ambitious goal.

Launch48 was back.

The goal? Launch a web startup in under 48 hours.

I attended the first Launch48 event back in February. It was great fun and a fantastic way to meet people with entrepreneurial flair. That time, the local voucher idea I pitched was chosen as one of the projects to be worked on and I ended up leading team VouChaCha for one very hectic weekend and a couple of months afterwards.

This time around, I was keen to help organise the event and, hopefully, help edge it further towards something sustainable over the long-run. So I joined Adil, Ian, and the rest of their new organising committee, to help put the event together (this time with a one-day conference), publicise it, and make sure it ran smoothly.

So how did it go?

Well, as the last few attendees filtered out of the PayPal offices in Richmond (West London) 9 days ago, tired, yet still buzzing with the excitement of a weekend of hacking, business planning, logo drawing and generally pitching-in with a dozen or so enthusiastic teammates, I was happy.

The conference had gone well. In my opinion, the speakers were, as a rule, extremely good. The members of the six teams had worked together well. And six good presentations were given on Sunday afternoon. Best of all, it was great to see new connections made and people energised and inspired by what they’d taken part in.

Like with anything like this, there were a few glitches and issues along the way, but nothing too serious. We can learn from them and make the next Launch48 even better.

I’d like to say a personal ‘thank you’ to all the sponsors, speakers, mentors, organisers, and participants for making it such an enjoyable event.

If you’re interested in start-ups, looking for a co-founder, or just fancy meeting some interesting people and creating some cool stuff over a weekend, look out for the next Launch48.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Kenny Miller

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How to Choose an E-Commerce Shopping Cart

Urban Shipwreck*

I recently spent some time comparing current e-commerce platforms (a.k.a. shopping carts). It’s a complicated area, so I thought I’d share my findings here in case they can be useful to others.

These are my opinions and analysis based on my own research and experimentation and are biased towards sites targeting a UK market.

First Things First: What is an E-Commerce Shopping Cart?

The name can be deceiving. E-commerce shopping carts are actually complete online shop sites. They allow you to set up various categories of products, set prices, calculate postage, tax and total costs, and send email confirmations to customers. More advanced systems provide features to help with marketing and customer relationship management (CRM).

To actually take payments you also need an account with a payment gateway such as PayPal or SagePay.

Hosted E-Commerce Platforms

Using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) e-commerce platform hosted by someone else is a good idea if you want to avoid the technical nitty-gritty of installing something yourself. A number of companies offer hosted ecommerce services allowing you to get going very quickly.

The downsides of hosted ecommerce solutions are the monthly fees and limited customisation options.

EKM Powershop

  • UK-only
  • Tends to produce rather dated-looking sites with table-based HTML
  • Easy to get up and running
  • Good range of features
  • Has been running for a long time, so should be stable
  • Approx £50 setup + £20 per month

Tiger Commerce

  • UK-only
  • Looks easy to get up and running
  • Approx £20 per month

Internet Retailer

  • Appears to be a fairly small company
  • Looks to provide smart and simple e-commerce sites
  • Recommended for good customer support
  • Approx £20 per month

Install-it-Yourself E-Commerce Platforms

If you want lots of flexibility and don’t mind getting your hands dirty with technical details (or getting someone else to do it on your behalf), installing and customising an open source e-commerce platform can be a good choice.

Bear in mind that if you’re not familiar with them, these do all require a considerable learning curve to get a shop up and running correctly with the various add-on modules you may want. Current shopping cart software tends to be written in php, so it’ll help if you know your way around that.


  • Open source
  • The most popular open source e-commerce platform for many years
  • Much of the community of this classic php shopping cart software has now moved on to other platforms

Zen Cart

  • Open source
  • Originally derived from OSCommerce
  • Now seems to have a greater following than OSCommerce
  • Plenty of add-ons available
  • Keeping core platform and add-ons up to date can be messy

Cube Cart

  • Open source
  • Seems less popular than Zen Cart


  • Open source
  • Based on a more modern architecture than Zen Desk, Cube Cart and OSCommerce
  • Supports multiple stores from a single installation
  • Has become one of the most popular open source ecommerce platforms over the last year
  • Still quite new, so may still have a few issues to iron out

Note: Magento is developed by a company that sells an expensive ‘enterprise’ version, however most users will be fine with the free version.


If you want a simple e-commerce site and don’t want the hassle of dealing with the underlying technology, go far a hosted e-commerce solution with good support.

If you want more control over things, the increasingly popular open source Magento platform looks like a good bet. Although less mature than OSCommerce and Zen Cart, I think Magento’s more up-to-date architecture and sizable, growing community make it a good choice for someone starting out with e-commerce today.

Have you looked into e-commerce solutions yourself? If so, do you agree with my findings? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Creative Commons License photo credit: MiiiSH

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