The web is a great place to make money, but while the overheads of maintaining an online shop are low, setting up as an e-commerce operation can be costly. Running a bespoke website through which to sell direct to customers can cost thousands of pounds, while using a template-based site operated through a web host essentially ties you in to that platform.

 See also: Earn money online with your own tech shop

If you’ve only a few items to sell, becoming an eBay merchant could be a good choice, though your shopfront is then lumped in with all the other traders’. It’s hardly a classy-looking haunt either, being the online equivalent of a Loot listing. Amazon and its associated Marketplace give you more space to describe and sell your items, but the site takes a significant cut of the proceeds.  Your margins may be so slim here as to offer no profit at all.

Vendors of specialist products are often better off by using specialist sites where customers will flock to find items of a similar type. Asos has become the UK’s largest clothing store and has its own marketplace for both new and vintage lines, while crafters and interior designers have Etsy, Bouf and Notonthehighstreet as useful online portals through which to sell their – often homemade or on-commission – wares. A natural partner to such sites is Pinterest, which helps you share items of interest with followers via online pinboards. See also: How to get started with Pinterest.

For maximum exposure, though, you can’t really do better than Facebook. With 900 million monthly active users (528 million of them daily Facebook users), it’s a powerful place. Having people ‘Like’ your products is an excellent way of promoting them. Selling directly to them from the site rather than taking them elsewhere to make a trade could be even better business.

Ecwid is a widget you can embed in your Facebook profile that does precisely this. You can also use it with a Blogger or Wordpress site. The advantage of its Facebook application is its wider scope and the fact you can more easily spread the news via friends. Google+ and Twitter also work well in this respect. Here, though, we'll look at how to set up a merchant account with Google and how to set up a basic online store with Checkout store.

How to set up a Google merchant account

Step 1. Setting up a Google Checkout account requires you to create or log in to your existing Google account, detail where your business is based and its owner’s credentials. You must provide a public business website address so buyers can get in touch with you. You’ll then be assigned a merchant ID.

Sign up for checkout

Step 2. Next you need to provide details of the bank account into which payments will be made (and from which any refunds will be issued). You also need to indicate the web address from which you’ll be trading. If you don’t already have an online product catalogue, you can use the Google Checkout store widget to create a spreadsheet-based one in Google Docs.

Enter bank details

Step 3. Regardless of whether you use the Checkout store gadget, you need to provide your financial details to Google Checkout to complete the setup. You can also provide your business details as held by Companies House. Accept the terms and conditions and allow the widget to appear on your site and you can begin.

Checkout store gadget

Step 4. Sign in to Google Docs and click on Create a new inventory spreadsheet. Choose a title and click to bring up the spreadsheet fullscreen for editing. Add your items along with any photos you have available and save the document. Click to publish it to the web so it’s publicly available.

Google Docs spreadsheet

Step 5. To embed the catalogue in your website, click the URL that is generated, navigate to your site, create a new post or page and paste in the link. Alternatively, you can publish the spreadsheet to your Facebook page or Twitter.

Product catalogue

Step 6. One of the simplest options – ideal if you have only a few items for sale – is a Buy now button that lists the stock choices. In the Google Checkout Tools menu, add the price, product name and description for each item and then paste the resulting code into your website via the HTML dashboard.

Google Docs HTML embed code