What You Need to Know About Your Zen Cart

merican dreamOwning your own business has long been the American dream. The Internet, ecommerce and vast technology advancements have made this possible for Joe American. However, just like anything else, there are problems. These problems and issues are like a disease eating away at the American dream. Every possible screw up from bad choices, lack of knowledge, outright criminal behavior and stupidity are at your fingertips as you begin to try to fulfill your dream. My goal here today is to give you a quick reference guide on how not to get screwed… or screw yourself as you begin this journey with Zen Cart.

First of all understand that Zen Cart is FREE GPL licensed software. This means in a nutshell that Zen Cart owes you nothing. Lucky for you the development team at Zen Cart takes the development, support and ability of their software very seriously. However, before you get started you need to know that even with all of this support YOU will ultimately be responsible for staying up to date with version, patch, security and other Zen Cart software developments. You do that by subscribing to the Zen Cart release announcements thread. Do this right now…. even if your store is already built.

Modules for Zen Cart are predominantly free and available here. The trick with modules is knowing, researching or seeking advice (from more than one company, person or source) is an absolute MUST DO. While these modules add flexibility and functionality to your store… They have a dark side. The simple installation is generally not very simple for your average shop owner, the installation (even if properly written in overrides) will cause extra costs in future upgrades and believe it or not… Some don’t even work. So the simple rules of thumb for Zen Cart modules is don’t install it unless you really need it, seek out the support thread for advice and keep track of all the modules you have installed… Preferably keep a folder of the module installation zip.

Think security. Even a small business like yours is susceptible to hacks and business ending fines. You can be penalized by a search engine, hacked and receive a fine from the credit card companies, have your customers orders emailed to hackers, get screwed by developers/programmers/designers and simply suffer the lemon disease where you just continually throw money at your site without any return on your investment. My aim here is to teach you some of the security and business security traits and behaviors you need to have to avoid these dangers. So I have a short list… as I realize we all have short time and attention spans.

  • Ask around about your hosting company. Ask about PCI/DSS compliance, security, support and backups.
  • Use strong alpha numeric passwords and change them frequently.
  • Give others access to your hosting and cart in their own user account so you can easily remove it when their need is done.
  • Investigate the modules and addons you need to use, and I don’t mean just one resource.
  • Checkout any company you intend to do business with. Does their site look professional? Do they have a portfolio and testimonials? Can they provide references? Google a Google search for things like company name +complaints, reviews or check the Better Business Bureau for complaints filed against them.
  • Plan your Zen Cart project, keep notes, names, modules installed and anything else you have or are provided during this endeavor. This is not just for prosperity, but rather makes your future development, problem solving and help seeking easier, more effective and fruitful.
  • If they say they “Guarantee” to put you on page 1 of the organic results… They are lying. If they claim to be affiliated with Google for example, they are lying.
  • If someone tells you they know Zen Cart, invite them to prove it.
  • Do not buy or reciprocate (trade) links.
  • Do not hide keywords in your code.
  • Do not cloak pages for users vs. what Google’s crawler sees.
  • Make sure you have sought out a legal professional to help you craft your privacy, conditions and shipping & returns policies.
  • Read your merchant agreement, and any other for that matter in full. If you don’t understand ask.
  • Unlimited bandwidth or web space is NOT unlimited. (Read the TOS)
  • PCI/DSS compliance is required if you accept credit cards on your site or in your place of business. This is for everyone, and their are no exclusions.
  • Email is not secure. Do not send sensitive information in an email.
  • If it seems to good to be true it is!
  • Take good care of your customers and their issues… One bad bark on the web regarding your company can ruin you.
  • Do not let a developer or designer register a domain for you. It’s really not that tough and you may be sorry later when you lose the domain.
  • Do not rely on just one resource for your website… People come and go at an alarming rate in this business and you need to be able to continue your business.
  • Keep a full account backup of your website weekly on your own hard drive. If the hosting company does not have this ability find one that does!
  • This is hard work and you will not be rich in a month, but if you work hard and learn the ropes you can make a living.

I may add to this list, but the most important point is that this is YOUR business and YOUR responsibility. Don’t blame or rely on others to “own” the responsibility, it will most certainly come back and bite you in the tail.