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Small business success: How do you take your company online?

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The days of cash registers and brick-and-mortar stores may be limited in our increasingly digital world. Consumers are turning to their computers and cellphones to purchase more goods and services, and while that may excite technology enthusiasts, it presents a host of challenges for businesses on Main Street.

How do you bring your products and services online? How do you build an effective e-commerce site, how should you market your company, and how should you ship your goods to customers who no longer live just around the corner?

Gallery: States with the highest and lowest sales tax rates

There also are security issues to consider. How do you store customer data and protect against cyber crime? The questions are many, as are the opportunities to make a mistake.

But so are the potential rewards. In the United States, online sales exceeded a quarter of a trillion dollars in 2011, nearly 50 percent higher than the previous year. A digital store opens the door to customers across the country and around the world.

However, handling those transactions could get more complicated. The U.S. Senate recently approved the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would expand each state’s power to charge sales tax on online transactions. The bill would help level the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores, but some warn it could pose challenges for small, online merchants.

Update: Senate moves forward on online sales tax measure

Keeping up with all these changes online and in Washington can be, well, taxing in and of itself. So we want to know, from those of you who have already taken your business online and from those currently going through the process: What’s the secret?

Below, please share your advice for entrepreneurs on any one of these topics. Then, you can vote for the responses that you agree with or find most helpful, and you can branch off and respond to other commenters. The best responses will rise to the top of the page, and we’ll feature some of them in a longer story at the end of the month.

We will jump in and comment periodically, but this is really for you — the readers, the ones who are dealing with these issues every day — to share your tips and experiences.

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Online sales tax is back — and this time, it might actually have a shot at passing

(Reuters / Reuters)

Supporters of the proposal think they have found the perfect opportunity to force the issue in the House.


Online sales tax resurfaces in Congress — this time, without a small-business exemption


House lawmakers want to scrap an exemption meant to shield small retailers from proposed tax changes.


Here’s how a small-business exemption could undermine online sales tax legislation

(David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

A new study shows how a safeguard for small sellers could undermine online sales tax legislation.