In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to set up your business backend. This includes web hosting, website builders, your content management system (CMS), e-commerce tools, payment processing, development tools, and more.
The term backend usually refers to the part of your online business that runs your website, processes transactions, stores your data, and manages your content. It’s usually hidden from your customers. Similarly, the term frontend usually refers to the part of your website that your customers see and interact with.
Setting up your online business backend can get pretty technical, but it is a vital part of your business that provides the foundation on which your frontend will operate.
Luckily, you have many options ranging from low-level control to full-on turnkey solutions that do almost everything for you with a few clicks of a button. It’s up to you how much you want to be involved. 😎
Your backend will integrate and manage your products (which we covered in Step 4) and your business frontend (which we will cover in Step 6).
So let’s dig into how to set up your backend services for your new online business!
This is Step 5 of the 8 steps in the checklist for starting an online business.
- ✅ STEP 1: The Basics
- ✅ STEP 2: Define Your Business
- ✅ STEP 3: Set Up Your Infrastructure
- ✅ STEP 4: Set Up Your Products
- ✅ STEP 5: Set Up Your Backend
- ⬜ STEP 6: Set Up Your Frontend
- ⬜ STEP 7: Marketing
- ⬜ STEP 8: Money Matters
How do websites work?
There are a lot of moving parts when talking about building an online business website. To help keep things straight, let’s first cover some basic terms and see how all of the pieces fit together.
What is a web server?
A web server, also simply called a server, is just a fancy name for a specialized computer that processes Internet traffic requests. These computers are physical hardware units that usually live in a data center that houses lots of other servers as well.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a readable URL name for your website, like
bizenv.com. As outlined back in Step 2, you use a domain registrar to claim and register a domain name you would like to use for your website.
Then, when a user puts the domain name into their browser to request a web page from your site, lots of things magically happen behind the scenes:
PRO TIP: An IP address is made up of several number blocks separated by periods, each block generally indicating a more specific location in the world, as you read the blocks from left to right. This is like your home address which includes country, state, city, street, and house number.
What is a web host?
A web host refers to a service that provides you with one or more web servers that your website can run on. Web hosting services might also provide domain name registration services and a slew of other services.
PRO TIP: There will likely be a lot of overlap between the various services and tools that you use. So keep your eyes peeled… 👀 you don’t want to end up paying for a service that your web host or some other tool already provides you.
A web host controls the actual servers that your website runs on. Website servers can come in several different configurations:
PRO TIP: I should also mention that an alternative to using web hosting services is to buy and manage your own servers.
If you go this route, you will usually house your servers and other hardware infrastructure at a colocation or similar data center.
And you will need to be very technically proficient with servers, have a much larger budget, and be ready to respond at a moment’s notice to any hardware malfunctions that need your attention. 😲
Web hosting services are usually measured by a few common metrics that you should be aware of. These metrics often relate to the limitations of your account and directly or indirectly affect the overall cost of the service:
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
As the name implies, a CMS helps manage all of the content, pages, posts, layout, and data on your website. A CMS is not a server, but rather a software layer that runs on your server.
Your CMS will likely also offer some type of page and site builder tools, such as templates, content blocks, menu editors, and theme editors.
Most CMS platforms also allow you to add plugins to extend the functionality and features of your CMS.
A few popular CMS systems include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and Magento. Some estimates show that over a third of the world’s websites use WordPress!
Please also note that some web hosting services are designed specifically for certain CMS platforms and can provide optimized sites with great performance.
What is a plugin?
A plugin is a separate software package that runs in a CMS or other similar hosting environment.
Plugins can usually be installed, activated, configured, updated, deactivated, and removed as needed while your website is live and running.
Most systems offer thousands of plugins that can deal with practically every aspect of your website. Some plugins are completely free. Some are free but require payment for premium features. And others must be purchased before you can even install the plugin package.
You should be aware that many plugin providers charge monthly or annual fees that unlock features and provide ongoing updates and support.
Entire plugin marketplaces exist where you can search for, download, and purchase plugins. It’s also very common for plugin providers to offer their plugins directly from their company website.
PRO TIP: Be certain you get your plugins from a verified and trusted source since plugins are basically just code that runs on your backend. In other words, plugins will likely have access to all of the data that lives on your server!
Some plugins are so popular that other add-on plugins and extensions exist that you can add to your site to extend the functionality of the plugin!
What is a website theme?
A website theme controls the look and feel of your website, including your color scheme, common decorative images, typography, spacing, usability, and layout.
Most CMS platforms allow you to choose from a list of pre-designed themes or download a theme from a 3rd-party website or via a theme marketplace.
Usually, a website can only run one theme at a time since themes affect the look of the entire site.
We’ll discuss themes in more detail in the next article.
What is managed hosting?
Managed hosting refers to web hosting services that take care of the setup, administration, and management of your server and possibly even your CMS and plugins!
If you use a managed hosting service, they will automatically deal with things like operating system updates, software updates, security patches, and hardware support.
Some fully managed hosting services may also keep your CMS, themes, and plugins up to date, regularly test your site for errors, look for security holes, and verify that your updates were successful.
What is a website builder?
Website builders are highly related to all of the other topics we already discussed above because they are usually all-in-one services that allow you to easily and quickly build websites without having to manage each part of the website.
A website builder can be especially helpful for beginners because it hides a bunch of complexities. In fact, many website builders offer drag-and-drop page building and simple one-click controls. However, the trade-off is that you might not have as much control over various aspects of your website when using a website builder.
If you use a website builder, you likely do not need to use the other separate services above. This is because website builders often act as your domain registrar, web host, and CMS, and they often provide a suite of pre-made plugins and themes that work with their system.
Website builders might also include e-commerce plugins, email/newsletter capabilities, SEO, marketing, contact management, and more.
What is e-commerce?
E-commerce refers to the buying and selling of goods and services online.
When talking about setting up an e-commerce store for your website, we’re referring to:
Most CMS platforms don’t provide all e-commerce features directly. Rather, they support 3rd-party plugins that provide e-commerce features.
What is headless e-commerce?
Headless e-commerce is where the frontend e-commerce system is separated from the backend e-commerce system. In this configuration, the frontend and backend e-commerce systems usually communicate with each other via standardized APIs.
Thus, with a headless commerce setup, it is possible to use different solutions for your backend and frontend e-commerce. This allows you to swap out say your frontend shopping cart system while leaving your store’s backend tools and services in place.
What is a turnkey e-commerce store?
A turnkey e-commerce system takes website building to the next level and allows you to create a full-fledged e-commerce store with a click of a button!
To keep things dead simple, turnkey systems usually offer only a few self-managed customization options compared to other website builders and CMS platforms.
With a turnkey system, you pay the provider to do almost everything on your behalf. You might only have to fill out your business information, upload your logo, choose a theme, and choose or upload your products. Many turnkey platforms will take care of the rest:
Turnkey e-commerce stores are especially great for dropshipping businesses, which we discussed in Step 4. You can simply launch the turnkey e-commerce store and then select your products from a list of integrated dropshipping products that the platform offers. No inventory, no upfront costs for your products, and no hassle with fulfilling or shipping the products.
With a turnkey system, your online business could literally be up and running and ready for sales within hours or even minutes!
A turnkey platform will allow you to quickly and easily set up a new online store without having to worry about all of the little details along the way. However, there are some downsides to using a turnkey solution:
Which services should you use?
Now that we’ve covered how a website backend works, you should have a much better understanding of what you’ll need to set up to create your own website.
However, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself which of these services you should use for your new online business website.
Unfortunately, the answer greatly depends on your particular situation, niche, products, business model, level of expertise, budget, and business goals.
Should you use separate web services?
Generally speaking, if you have the skills and time, you’re probably better off in the long term using separate services and software for most parts of your online business.
For example, here’s a common type of website setup, which is pretty similar to what I used for this website:
There are of course tons of other options and configurations, but the above list should give you a good feel for the type of time, skill, and effort required to get your site up and running if you go this route.
Here is a short list of some popular web hosting services you might want to check out.
PRO TIP: It’s important to note that some web hosting services also provide website builders and turnkey solutions, which we’ll cover in the next section further below! There’s a ton of crossover between the types of services.
Web Hosting Services
And here are just a few very popular WordPress e-commerce plugins that you should consider for your online business.
PRO TIP: If you are planning on using a CMS platform other than WordPress, you should still look into these plugins below, since they might offer a plugin version for your platform.
E-commerce WordPress Plugins
And here are some other general WordPress plugins worth looking into.
General WordPress Plugins
Should you use website builders or turnkey solutions?
On the other end of the spectrum, if you lack the technical skills, don’t have much time, or don’t have the budget, you should probably lean towards using a website builder or turnkey solution.
If you’re looking for a website builder or even a complete, all-in-one turnkey store, I’d start by reviewing the following. Some of these companies also offer traditional web hosting options or even their own WordPress plugins!
WEBSITE BUILDERS and Turnkey E-commerce Solutions
There are a lot of options for web hosting and website builders, but don’t forget about all of the other dropship plugins that we covered in the previous step. They might also offer hosting or website builders! So, make sure you check out the section there in the previous article about dropshipping and on-demand services.
More About E-commerce
In the last article, you figured out how to source your products. Now, you’ll need to figure out how to integrate those products through your e-commerce solution and set up your payment system.
How do you set up your products?
Depending on your business, you might be selling digital products, physical products, or services. You might be going the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach and taking care of packing and shipping yourself, or you might be going the dropshipping or fulfillment service route.
No matter which approach you take, it is vital that you integrate and manage your products and orders via your business backend platform.
How you go about doing that will depend on which backend solution you chose to go with based on the previous section.
For example, if you go the turnkey route with dropshipping, you might be all set and you need only to pick and choose which products you want to sell from the available list of products they offer.
Otherwise, you’ll likely need to integrate your products with your backend system using an API, product feed, or plugin, or manually entering the details of each product. Luckily, most e-commerce solutions will take care of a lot of those technical aspects for you and will guide you through the steps.
Your products aren’t the only aspect of e-commerce, though. Another major aspect of e-commerce is the payment system.
What are payment systems?
If you want to receive money from customers for your business goods or services, you’ll need a payment system to collect that money.
In this case, your business is considered a merchant, and you’ll need to sign up for a merchant account through a merchant service provider.
For your online business, you’ll likely want to use a merchant service provider that offers a payment gateway, in order to process payment transactions.
PRO TIP: Before you do that, though, first check to see if the e-commerce solution or business platform you’re using already has payments built in!
What is a payment processor?
A payment processor deals with facilitating the transaction between your customer’s bank and your bank. In other words, a payment processor helps coordinate the actual process of notifying the banks and the transfer of funds from the customer to the merchant.
For solely in-person transactions that don’t use virtual online payment terminals, you can just use a payment processor.
What is a payment gateway?
A payment gateway is responsible for collecting online payment information from the customer, analyzing it, approving it, and securely sending it to the payment processor.
Payment gateways are necessary for card-not-present transactions, such as is the case for most e-commerce stores.
A payment gateway also then communicates the approval, decline, and transfer of funds to both the customer and the merchant (your business).
Some payment gateways also take care of the payment processing themselves.
What payment system do you need for your online business?
For an online e-commerce business, you’ll most likely need to use a payment gateway through a merchant account provider.
Depending on how your online store is set up, you can either collect payment details directly from the customer or send your customer to a page controlled by the payment gateway to collect that data on your behalf.
PRO TIP: ⚠ Watch out! 👀 If you opt to collect payment details directly, your business must comply with governmental rules regarding the storage and transfer of sensitive data. If you go this route, make sure to research PCI compliance!
A much easier approach is to let the payment gateway take care of those payment details so that you’re not liable.
What should you look for in a payment service provider?
There are several things you should consider when choosing a service to process your payments for your online business:
Can the payment gateway easily integrate with your backend business platform, shopping cart, and tools? Will you also be able to integrate payment processing with your accounting and banking tools?
What type of payment methods do you want to accept? You should probably offer your customers at least a couple of choices:
Each payment method comes with its own rates, benefits, and potential risks. So, make sure to investigate, especially if you opt for more unusual payment methods.
If it is important for your business model, make sure that your payment provider allows you to set up subscription plans so that you can automatically charge and collect payments from your customers on a schedule.
Some merchant services might charge a one-time setup fee to add your account and integrate your business. Others might charge monthly maintenance fees or charge fees if you don’t process enough transactions. And others might pass PCI compliance fees onto you.
The big expense will likely come from transaction fees. These fees are usually comprised of a percentage of the total payment plus a flat per-transaction fee. For example, you might be charged say 3% + $0.15 per transaction. If the customer pays $100, this means the payment provider would charge you $3.15 for the transaction.
Transaction fees can change based on how many transactions you process, and they might have a maximum fee amount per transaction that they will charge.
Unfortunately, sometimes a payment might go through successfully at first but then later be canceled or reversed by the bank, usually in response to a customer complaint or due to fraud detection. These are called chargebacks. Chargebacks not only disrupt your cash flow, but they also reflect negatively on your merchant account and business… and they could come with hefty fees!
To prevent chargebacks, make sure to:
Currencies & International
If you expect international traffic to your online business, you’ll need to make sure your payment provider can accept payments in their currency and common forms of payment.
Be aware that your bank and/or payment provider might also charge currency conversion fees, in order to convert the incoming currency to your desired currency.
If your business will be operating in a high-risk, controversial, or fringe industry, you might not be allowed to use some of these payment gateways. If this is the case for you, make sure that the payment gateway you want to use supports your industry! Some examples of industries that might not be allowed include adult, gambling, exchanges, bail bonds, dating, tobacco, MLMs, debt services, timeshares, offshore, etc.
Other payment options
Depending on your business type, you might also want other types of payment options, such as point-of-sale (POS) devices, virtual terminals, and support for mail-ins and phone orders.
What are some popular payment gateways?
Given that payment providers get paid every time you sell something, it’s no wonder that there are a mind-boggling number of payment gateways that you can use.
Here are some popular payment gateways you should check out:
Payment Gateway Services
Depending on the approach you decide to take to set up your backend, you may find yourself creating a lot of configuration files and possibly even doing a bunch of scripting or coding.
You’re likely going to be putting in lots of time setting up your tools, plugins, software, and services. So, it’s really important that you keep track of your changes and make backups of your work!
Back in Step 1, we discussed how you can use a cloud storage system to automatically save your files and keep a history of your changes. Well… it’s probably even more important to make sure that your backend settings, code, configuration, plugins, CMS, and order data are also regularly backed up, in case something horrible happens and you have to restore your website or data. 😱
What are backups?
A backup is basically just a copy or snapshot of your existing file system, database, or server setup.
A full backup usually includes every important file on your servers, including every setting and database table. A disk image is a special type of full backup that copies all of the bits on an entire hard drive and stores them as one big file, as opposed to copying each file on the drive separately.
A partial backup might only include some settings or only files and data that have changed recently.
An incremental backup is a type of backup that only stores the parts of the files and settings that have changed since the previous backup. Therefore, incremental backups usually take up less space and can be created more quickly.
PRO TIP: In order to restore from an incremental backup, such systems usually need to retrieve and access a previous full backup and all subsequent incremental backups from that time forward as well. This is because each incremental backup refers to the state of the system at the time the incremental backup was created.
Real-time backups involve storing redundant copies of database records as they come in. These types of backups can be especially helpful for e-commerce sites that store customer orders. You want to make sure you never lose track of a single transaction that has been processed, even if your database or website crashes.
When you’re setting up your backup system, make sure that you’ll be backing up all of the data you might need to revert or roll back to a previous version.
Also, it is important that you keep several backups over a long period of time. That way, you have older backup versions you could use, in case a more recent backup somehow gets corrupted.
However, if your backup files are very large, it might not be reasonable to keep every backup you create. A common practice is to keep only the last 7 daily backups, and then delete any backups older than 7 days. My personal preference, though, is to keep a few extra backups beyond that… just in case. For example, it might be wise to keep an extra full backup every month, quarter, or year.
Make sure to store your backups on an off-site location, not on the same server that you are backing up. A good practice would be to store your backups on one or two other cloud file services. That way the backups themselves are secure and unlikely to get lost or corrupted.
Another benefit of backups is that they can make it easier to transfer your files to another service or system. This might be useful for cloning an existing site, creating an exact copy of a site for testing, or actually moving to a different service that you want to use.
Be aware that you might actually want multiple layers of backups. For example, it’s probably a good idea to have separate backups at different levels of your system. In this case, redundancy is usually a good thing:
Although it is possible to manually create backups, it’s not a very good use of your time and is prone to errors. A much better solution would be to use special backup software that automatically backs up your files, stores them offsite, and then removes any old backup files that aren’t needed anymore.
Start off by checking with your hosting provider and other services you’re already using to see if they offer automated backups. Otherwise, use either a cloud storage system for storing your backups.
Cloud Storage Backup Systems
And if you’re running a WordPress site, use a plugin to manage the backup of your WordPress files, database, and entire site.
Many WordPress backup plugins also integrate with cloud storage systems like the ones above, so that you can automatically upload and store your WordPress backups there.
Here are some very popular WordPress backup plugins that you should check out.
WordPress Backup Plugins
What is version control?
Version control is a special type of backup system that is often used by programmers and software designers.
With version control, a coder usually makes changes locally on his own system, and then when he is ready to submit his changes, he commits them to the source repository with a message explaining his changes.
This allows coders to review all changes over time and easily revert or remove changes as needed. As you could imagine, this is especially useful if you have a lot of contributors making changes.
If you’re writing code or scripts, you should really consider setting up a version control system as well. Common version control systems include Git, SVN, and Mercurial. And if you use Git, you should look into using a robust online repository, such as GitHub or BitBucket.
Continue on to the next step!
Wow, that was a lot to get through! But setting up your business backend platform is a very important step… so, congrats on making it to this point! 😁
Now it’s time to set up your front-facing website and services to make them ready for your customers.
Click on through to the next step about setting up your business platform frontend.