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How Do I Get People's Money?

Ah, yes. The key question. Answering it will take a good deal of time and thought.

Shareware businesses are usually run on a part-time basis. This means that you won't be able to man the phones yourself. You will thus either have to find a service to take phone orders for you or be unable to take phone orders (a risky proposition).

There are a number of ways you can get people's money into your pockets:

Checks By Mail - You can tell people to mail checks and money orders to you. This is the simplest way to take orders. It requires little to no preparation, and you receive and process the money yourself. You simply include a cost and and address with your program

The problem with this method, however, is that it is a bother for your customers to write and mail checks. Unless they really like your program, they may not bother to make the effort. In general, people prefer to pay for products using a credit card, over the phone or over the web. Taking orders by check, however, is a necessary supplement to whatever other payment plans you offer.

Distribution By a Company - There are companies which distribute shareware products. These companies publish shareware programs, sometimes developed in-house, sometimes developed by others. They take and process the orders, and then they pay you royalties.

This can be a very good deal for a part-time shareware developer. You write the game and they do the time consuming work of taking money (for a fee). To find these companies, ask around on shareware newsgroups and contact companies who have already released successful programs. Once you find shareware companies who distribute other people's programs, contact them.

One problem with this system is that it tends to be expensive. The percentage a company will take to distribute your program may be quite high. Another problem is that you're trusting your work to other people, who may not take it nearly as seriously as you do. If at all possible, talk to other people who have had dealings with this company. If they're negative about the company, tread very lightly.

Also, needless to say, always, always, always take any contracts your receive to a lawyer before signing anything. Some people will try to use you.

Using an Order-Taking Company - There are companies who take orders over the phone, process people's credit cards, and pass the ordering information on to you. In return, they will take a percentage (usually around %20-25) for their expenses. They will periodically send you a check.

As in the previous case, you should try to speak with other people who use the service. To find companies who will do this for you, look in the Yellow Pages under "Telephone Alswering Service." Choose carefully - remember that shareware, once released, is out there forever. This means that, when you release a program with a particular phone number for ordering, people will be calling that number forever.

Also, anyone needing an order-taking service for DOS or Windows shareware should take a look at the Public Software Library (1-800-242-4PSL). They provide a 1-800 ordering number and take orders for a very reasonable price. My experiences with them have been generally quite good.

Taking Credit Card Orders by Phone/FAX - You can take your own orders over the phone. Once your company is well established, this is often the final stop on the order taking journey. It's cheap, you can deal with your customers exactly as you want, and everything is under your complete control. You don't have to worry about poor service, the stability of the company representing you, or late payment checks.

In reaching this state, however, there are two obstacles that must first be overcome. First, you need to start working at shareware full-time. You need to be pretty much chained to the phone in order to take people's orders. Every person who calls when you aren't around is a person who might never call back. You also lose a lot of the freedom of working alone. You can't just take off for the day. Finally, you will spend a lot of time dealing with customers. I can guarantee that this won't be as fun as programming. Eventually, if you can hire an employee or two, this all becomes a lot less of a problem. Having an employee, however, brings new problems into the picture.

The second obstacle is getting the ability to take credit cards. A shareware developer, working out of the home, will have serious problems doing this. For more on this, read the section on "Taking Credit Cards."

Taking Credit Card Orders Over the Web/E-Mail - These days, this is a very good option. It has all the ease of use for users of ordering by a credit card over the phone, but without the trouble of sitting by the phone.

However, E-commerce is still in its infancy, and, even when you get a credit card account, the company who gives it to you may forbid taking orders over the Internet. Then, even if you can take orders over the Internet, many of your users will be afraid to. There is some point to their fears ... a reasonable number of the orders you get over the net will be fraudulent (I usually get at least one or two bogus orders a day).

If you don't mind the occasional fraud and your credit card company lets you take Internet orders, it can be extremely convenient, both for users and for you. One good way to do this is to create a registration form on your web site. The user will enter the information into fields and press a Send button, and a cgi script will E-mail the information to you. If possible, do this with a Secure Sockets Layer, available from many ISPs, which encrypts the order before it's sent. Creating these forms and cgi scripts will require some time and research on your part, although many ISPs also provide examples which you can use.

In addition to a registration form, you can also accept orders E-mailed to you. The odds are, no matter what, people will E-mail orders to you. It is up to you whether you feel comfortable taking them or not.

Finally, there are an increasing number of services on the web which take orders for companies, process the credit cards, and send the registration information to the developer.

CompuServe - CompuServe has on online shareware registration service which works quite well. To get to it, GO SWREG. It's easy to sign up for it and easy to get people's orders. Unfortunately, CompuServe's second class status among online services makes this a pretty so-so option.

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