So I've gotten quite a bit done on the site the last few weeks. Not so much this week, but over the last 3, I've really made some progress.
Well, one after another, the problems kept hitting me. I won't claim to be the most IT technically savvy guy when it comes to programming. I'm very good at project management, keeping in tune with deadlines, etc. I'm also good at infrastructure, and keeping a cool head when in the midst of a technology crisis. But when it comes to coding, and HTML, I really haven't been to focused on that stuff for nearly 15 years. So, the latest series of problems were really issues.
- Several DB problems. Wow, it seemed like every time I wanted to make a structural change, I ran into some database issue. Part of this had to do with the software I'm using for the storefront, but a lot of it had to do with my apprehension regarding making an internal DB change.
- PHP issues. So, I'm not very well versed with PHP. I've made many changes to the .ini files to get the site to do what I wanted it to do, but displaying .php pages is not like traditional .html or .htm files. PHP is infinitely more powerful (in my experience), but it amounts to a programming language.
- Magento issues overall. Not much to blame on Magento here. The distribution, even the free one, is pretty much amazing, and works well right out of the box. Some of the issues I had here were really with regard to trying to deploy the Magento OpenSource software with Sample Data. Referring back to the database issues - no manner of deployment using the Installatron application would work. (For those who don't know, Installatron is a software application that is embedded in cPanel - a hosting management interface - which allows you to install applications and services that can help you with your hosting platform.) Anyway, the Magento application kept failing to install, with some ambiguous error executing the application API, and pretty much always at the point when it was attempting to create and populate the database to support Magento itself.
- Hosting - Well, hosting turned out to really be the crux of the issue. I'm using GoDaddy. So here's a quick sub-list of the issues I ran into there.
- Initial hosting - I started out with their Deluxe Standard Hosting. Ran into a lot of installation issues. Here's where I hit my first Installatron bugs, and some research suggested that the standard hosting is shared - and would not only cause these types of issues, which could really not be resolved, but I'd eventually need to move to some form of upgraded business hosting, so that I wouldn't be sharing resources, and potentially affect traffic when the site becomes successful. I ran into all kinds of hosting issues here, and my files failed to upload using FileZilla (their recommended client). I had to do manual uploads, to get Magento onto the site so I could at least get started. I did finally get it online, but I had several problems trying to upload content. So, screw it... I paid the extra money for business hosting.
- Business hosting - Given the pitfalls I mentioned in the initial (shared) hosting, I upgraded to Business Hosting. This was another ~$300, pushing me to about $1K. It was for 3 years of hosting, so I felt the price was OK. Anyway, This did allow me to successfully using Installatron to get Magento onto the site, which did indeed remove a few of the issues I was having. However, for reasons that still escape understanding, Installatron wouldn't install a version with Sample Data. Anyway, after dozens of attempts, and finally doing everything from the ground up, I got Magento online. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the application to do a few simple things (e.g. uploading graphics and favicons). Days upon days I spent trying to overcome these "invalid scope or scope id" issues. I finally worked with GoDaddy support, who was relatively helpful, and were kind enough to actually login, check my configurations (which, ironically, were actually correct - yay, go me!), and try with me to make some changes to see if we could remediate my problems. Ultimately, no joy, and I ended up with a few links to information, most of which I'd already followed. Their final recommendation... was to move to VPS hosting, which would provide me, by and large, the same features as dedicated server hosting on their platform. VPS is nice though, since it's essentially a virtual appliance that has the same resources as a piece of hardware. It's nice though, since virtual servers allow for 'snapshots' which allow you to rapidly restore the server to the same state it was in after some catastrophic mistake (e.g. applying a patch or template that breaks something major). It really can save you a lot of time and effort when things go wrong. So, after a couple more days... I went to VPS hosting.
- VPS hosting - OK, so this was probably my wisest move. Fortunately for me, GoDaddy provides a 30 day money-back guarantee. So, I still had another couple of weeks on my 30 days, and they actually converted my entire previous expenditure to in-store credit, set me up with Deluxe VPS Hosting, charged me the $200 difference, and got me going within an hour or two. Still though, I get a brand new 30 day money-back guarantee, in the event my issues don't get resolved. But hey... things went well. I of course did have a HUGE learning curve, since they put me into a WHM interface. While a problem for me, due to unfamiliarity, I did need 2-3 days to get past that learning curve. The good news though is that the VPS hosting includes several IP addresses, and some additional features that I can use. Ultimately, it will save me hundreds of dollars over the next few years, assuming I stay with GoDaddy. In any case, this hosting solution did finally allow me to do everything I needed to do. While Installatron STILL didn't allow Magento (actually in any form - no matter what I did), I was able to manually upload the application, WITH the Sample Data (Woohoo!), and run the necessary wizards to help me establish the database and get things going. I had a few issues with the web server, but my nephew was able to hop online and help me resolve my Apache dependency issues. The following day, I installed my template (Argento), and finally had the site I wanted online, and I was finally able to start modifying the content and features.
- Argento - This is the theme I'm using to customize my web store. Argento, from Swissup Labs, is an amazing theme pack. It actually had 5 layouts that were included, and has since been upgraded to have 6 layouts. It includes quite a few extensions which both accelerate the content and enable a bunch of features, not the least of which include various Search Engine Optimization (SEO) options. SEO is critical in today's online sales process, since it helps your web site appear in, if not at the top of, the search results of people online trying to find things you sell using their favorite search engine. Keywords and tags are critical, and SEO gives them functional life on the Internet. Further, these guys have some of the best support I've experienced. Once I was in my VPS solution I ran into a glitch or two enabling the Argento modules. However I went to their online chat utility, was immediately connected with someone (which is common for the few times I've contacted them), who successfully resolved my issue. In the final case, they did ask if I'd be willing to let them login and fix it themselves, and I allowed them to do that. However, even in this case, they set me up with an online encryption system that let me pass my credentials to them for their use. And, of course, any good IT guy will either change those credentials either before or after the support experience. ...yes, I'm a good IT guy. LOL
So, after all of that, I am here today updating my blog with good news. All of my logos are finalized. I have the site up and running - albeit with no products yet to sell, but I've begun establishing a few relationships so that I can begin offering a few items that might get the business going. I mean, really, I'm actually, technically, ready to start selling. These are my last couple of activities before I begin marketing the site:
- Modify the company address on the site to be a PO Box.
- Establish an additional phone for Customer Service Contact.
- Create product categories (both as offerings, and as online entities).
- Compile a list of products in each category.
- Establish relationships to provide the products (whether dropship or reseller).
- Populate the online catalog of products.
- Modify the site layout for ease of search and purchase.
- Create email templates for customer contact.
- Create newsletter templates for customer communication marketing.
- Some other miscellaneous tasks necessary to tweak site pages (FAQ, About US, etc).
That's it. A lot of progress, and still quite a bit left to do. With any luck, I'll go live in a short while and bet ready to get things in gear.
Afterthought... given that I am in a 30 day window, and I've been recommended to a different online sales hosting solution, I'm just typing this reminder to download and make a full backup of the site here in my personal data center. That way, if I decide to leave GoDaddy, I should be able to just upload everything to a new solution (after configuring the various servers and software applications) and get back to selling. ;)
Thanks for reading! Hope you are having a wonderful day!