I’ve only been writing this blog for a little over a year, but one thing is clear based on the types of questions that I receive. There are a number of people out there who are terrified of the technical aspects of starting an online business.
Because they are not computer saavy, they are worried that throwing up a website is beyond their abilities.
But what if I were to tell you that you could receive 24/7 technical support from skilled programmers for free? Yes, you heard me right. You can get all of the help you need for absolutely no cost.
As a reader pointed out in a comment on my post on How To Prevent Your Online Store From Becoming A Money Pit, most people don’t realize that there are many forums out there where technical people congregate to help you out and answer questions for free.
When my wife and I were first throwing up our online store website using OSCommerce, I received all of my technical support from the OSCommerce forums. And let me say that I was shocked.
I was shocked because there were hundreds if not thousands of people on these forums that were willing to go out of their way to help us out.
I remember one time that I was having trouble getting this one plugin to work with our shopping cart when one forum member offered to take a look at my source code directly.
So I zipped up my entire cart and emailed it to him. Within just a few days, he had diagnosed my issue and sent me a proper workaround.
Rest assured, if you are apprehensive about throwing up your own website, you don’t have to worry because there’s probably a forum available to help you out.
However, as with any useful tool or medium, you have to understand how things work and the proper etiquette in order to extract out the maximum value.
If you follow the rules below, you will rarely ever need to hire anyone to help debug a technical problem.
Be Descriptive With Your Questions
I’ve received so much help on the forums over the years that I feel indebted to the community. As a result, I routinely patrol the online shopping cart forums to answer questions when I have time.
One of my biggest pet peeves is that most people who post questions on the forums don’t take the time to adequately describe their problems.
They rush their question out, try to explain their problem in a single sentence and expect everyone to understand their issue. Well guess what?
If you aren’t going to take the time to phrase your question carefully, why should anyone take the time to give you a proper answer back?
Here’s a good example of a horribly phrased question I recently saw on one of the forums I frequent.
My checkout page is busted and there’s this weird warning message displayed at the top of the page after installing this plugin
Let’s see what’s missing here. Which plugin did you install? What’s the exact error message? How is your checkout page busted exactly?
In order for anyone to help you out, you should include the following information in your post.
- A detailed description of the symptoms of your problem
- Detailed instructions on how to reproduce the issue
- What you changed that may have caused the problem
The people on the forums want to help you out but they need enough information to do so.
Perform A Thorough Search Before Asking Your Question
Nine times out of ten, the problem you are having has been experienced by someone else already. So please take the time to do some basic due diligence before posting a question that may have been answered 100 times already.
Every forum I visit has a pretty good search tool. Learn how to use the advanced features of the search bar instead of just blindly typing in keywords.
Unless you’re a very early adopter of some plugin or software, it’s highly likely the solution to your problem is already on the forums.
Be Patient, Polite and Humble
Your problem or issue might be urgent but please remember that it takes time for people to properly digest and diagnose your problem.
Whatever you do, do not spam the forums with repeated posts that ask the same question. Write a detailed post describing your problem and then wait. Go do something else and check back later. Someone will eventually respond.
If you receive an answer and it is not adequate or plain wrong, do not get frustrated or flame the person trying to help. You need to realize that they are providing assistance for free and are under no obligation to answer any of your questions.
There is a wide range of expertise on the forums and sometimes it’s a matter of filtering out the useful information from the noise. Whatever you do, you should remain polite and humble so people will be more inclined to help.
Don’t Say Negative Things
If you are using open source software for your website, chances are that a large community of developers write plugins for your platform. In the event that you are having problems implementing one of these plugins for your website, never say anything negative about the program or the author.
After all, these people bust their asses writing code to help out the community for free on their own time.
Just the other day, I was perusing the forums when I saw this comment.
This is the most poorly written plugin I’ve ever used. All it does is crash and I’ve wasted a [expletive] load of hours trying to get this piece of [expletive] to work. Has anyone else gotten it running? Can someone help me out?
If I was the author of the plugin, there’s no way in hell that I would go near this person. When asking for help on the forums, you need to realize that you are not paying for anything so you shouldn’t expect anything in return.
No matter how frustrated you are, leave the bad attitude at home.
The Most Important Thing
Remember, you are dealing with real people on the forums. And some of these people devote many hours of their day answering questions for free. So cut them some slack and be nice. They don’t work for you and they are not your employee.
If used properly, you can rely on the forums as your sole source of technical support. If you are using any of the open source shopping carts mentioned in my article on How To Select A Shopping Cart For Your Online Store, they ALL have their own support forums filled with people who are wiling to help.
Here’s a list of forums that support the open source shopping carts I personally recommend. Good luck and don’t discount the generosity of others!
- The Easiest Way To Start A Fully Featured Online Store Without The Headaches
- How To Get A Great Looking Ecommerce Website Without Hiring A Designer
- How To Evaluate A Dropship Store For Purchase – Would You Buy This Website For 2000 Dollars?
- How To Install An Open Source Shopping Cart And Start Your Online Store In Under 5 Minutes
- Choosing the Right Shopping Cart Software Package
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- How Amazon Is Changing Ecommerce And What Your Online Store Must Do To Succeed
- How To Get Free Technical Support For Your Online Store Shopping Cart