Heard It in the Forums: Small Business Computing Discussion

By Vangie Beal | Posted December 03, 2007

This week's online forum discussion starts with how to get bonded for your business. Members talk about whether being bonded is really necessary and offer ideas on how to get it done. On the e-commerce side of small business issues, members offer their opinions on PHP- and ASP-based shopping carts and debate which type is better. Lastly, our members discuss the benefits and costs associated with using a toll-free number for business.

Feel free to add your own comments through a handy quick link to each topic, which lets you easily join in on the discussion and debate in our Small Business Computing forums.

Getting Bonded As An E-commerce Site Owner
Forum member Expertva, who runs an e-commerce site, said someone recommended that she become bonded since her site requires people who use her services to provide some business information.

Expertva asked, "What site or company is the best and cheapest for this? Also, what should I look for?"

Fahadp replied, "Do you know any e-commerce site owners who have been bonded already? If yes, then try to consult them. They might be able to assist you much better."

Expertva said, "I have tried searching online using several different keywords, but mostly I am coming up with a purchase-type agent. I don't know if that would give me the credentials I need."

Vbeal said, "Based on what you do on your site, it seems that bonded is the correct term. It's frequently used with people who deal with financial or personal property or with information of other individuals or companies. If you say you are 'bonded', it shows prospective clients that you are trustworthy and so on because you have no criminal record in regards to theft, fraud etc.

I've found 'Are you bondable?' to be a common question on job application forms rather than the employer asking, 'Do you have a criminal record.' I honestly have no clue how you get proof or become bonded/bondable for a business -- but you might try different Web searches using words like bond, bondable, individual, proof, and your state to see if you can get some specific details.

I found this page which might help you with better search terms."

·  Are you able to offer our forum members details and information on how to bond your business? If so, stop by the forum thread and let us know!

PHP or ASP Shopping Cart?
The never-ending shopping cart debate continues. Forum member Wolf4jc is in the process of starting a new business, as are many others in our forums, but wonders if anyone can offer advice or give an opinion as to which cart is better; PHP or ASP carts?

Wolf4jc asked, "Do you have any recommendations on which, if any, programming language is best for an e-commerce solution? I'm thinking about things like programming costs, how easy it is to upgrade and customize, flexibility, and so on."

Cploonker replied, "Go with PHP. Actually go with any of the shopping carts available out there, such as Zen Cart, X-Cart, or Cube Cart. Even better, go with hosted shopping carts. When you go with hosted shopping carts, you don't have to worry about technical issues or knowledge. You just do what you do best - marketing and selling."

TipPro said, "As a programmer I either use PHP or JSP for any Web programming work. What I like about JSP is the organization that I can create along with using NetBeans (my favorite IDE). Though these two things are missing in PHP, I still develop most applications with PHP due to how fast I can get through projects using this language. PHP.net features very thorough documentation along with official examples along with examples and advice from community users. No other language I've used has as much support as PHP.

Since you are just starting out you might consider using an existing solution. It will be much quicker and less expensive. If you are certain that your business will do well and you want a custom solution built, use an experienced programmer with whom you can build a long relationship."

Corey Bryant said, "Depending on the programmer you ask, .NET is better or PHP is better. While that can get into a very heated debate, I prefer a Windows application, which is .NET now. Sure, I have to pay for it. And sure I might be contributing to Microsoft and supporting our capitalistic society, but I like them.

Comersus has a .NET application that you could take a look at. Is it better than Zen Cart - well, you will probably have people tell you that it is because it's not Microsoft. Look at whatever platform you are on now. And what does it support? Microsoft offers some solutions based on their partnership with Hewlett Packard. I have not used it, but it might be an option (or not depending on its cost). Microsoft charges for their products since they are in business and have overhead."

PDub replied, "I agree with the majority here. Technically there's little difference between the two; both do very much the same things. But where free, open-source PHP takes the lead over Microsoft's ASP is in PHP's extensive documentation, ability to tack on self-made modules and a highly interactive user community.

A good ASP programmer will be able to do anything a PHP programmer can do. But if you're not afraid of rolling up your sleeves and tinkering with your code, and if cost and flexibility is a factor (as you mention), then PHP is the way to go."

·     Do you have a preference between ASP and PHP carts? Drop by the forums and let us know.

Toll Free Number
 Rayzak has set-up a VoIP system and is now starting to think about a toll-free 800 number for his business.

Rayzak asked, "Right now I'm looking for good provider, and I need advice. What's the cheapest provider around? Anyone found anything decent?"

TipPro replied, "Check out Vonage. Their prices are good, plus they have great customer service. Do not underestimate customer service when it comes to your phone communications.

A toll-free number is great if you can handle the incoming calls. It is amazing how many people want to call to place an order or ask a simple question instead of e-mailing. While you can answer questions quickly in e-mail, on the phone these questions can take up a lot of your time.

By the way, for my store the number of people who wanted to place their order over the phone was so high that we created a five dollar phone-order service charge that customers happily accept."

Roban said, "I second TipPro on Vonage. I have four dedicated lines including an 800 number, all for about $70.00 a month. The downside is you need to run two routers as each router can only handle two lines."

Corey Bryant replied, "It really depends on what you need and where your customers are. For example, here in Denver, almost everyone can call a 303 and 720 number without any extra toll charges.

If you want a toll-free number, the first thing to do is to make sure that the number is portable. Basically, if you want to go to another company in a few months, you can take that number with you.

Usually the toll-free number terminates to your POTS line. There are some companies as well that offer a virtual office, like Angel, Freedom Voice, Kall8 and RingCentral to name a few. We chose Freedom Voice because of its history. They are a bit more expensive than the others but well worth it

To some people, having a toll-free number validates their business. This probably does not hold as true as it did 15-25 years ago, though. You have a lot of options available to you, you just need to decide what you need."

·     Do you have a good toll-free service provider you’d like to tell our forum members about? You can join the discussion here.

The Small Business Computing forums offer advice on data backup, recovery, servers, marketing issues, and general discussion related to current trends and practices. Fellow small-business owners can network and share tips, tricks and advice. You can use the forums for knowledge gathering or create a free member account to take part in the discussions and ask your own questions.

(Ed. Note: The forum postings in this story have been edited for grammar and clarity.)

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been writing about computers, games and technology since the early 90s. She's also the managing editor of Webopedia.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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