Guest post written by Amber, from Amber Phillips Design
Originally, websites were only built using HTML, CSS and PHP. WTF, right?! It’s a whole other language and made it difficult for anyone that wasn’t familiar with code to create a website themselves.
Now, there are tons of options for creating your own website without having to know any code at all. All you need is time and patience, and perhaps a little help from your good friend Google, or you can work with a professional website designer/developer.
DIY Website Builders
There are plenty of do-it-yourself platforms out there. Chances are you’ve seen a lot of them advertised everywhere, e.g. Wix, Blogger, Tumblr… You can see a comparison of the best website builders for business here.
The main benefit of these website builders is that they are free. You can set one up today and off you go without spending a penny.
However, the free version usually includes ads on your website and limited functionality. You usually have to pay for advanced features and the free websites often look unprofessional or samey.
Depending on the extra features you need, in the long run it’s sometimes just as much, or cheaper, to get a more advanced website.
If you’re just starting out with absolutely no budget at all, then these sites are great. It’s easy to get started and totally free if you only need a simple website with no advanced functionality.
If you go down this route, consider paying extra for a custom domain name if you’re given the option with the platform you choose. You’ll have a domain name like www.example.tumblr.com but you can usually upgrade to have www.example.com which is much more professional.
WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) available. WordPress powers almost 27% of the entire internet and it’s what I use to create all of my websites.
There are two types of WordPress. WordPress.com hosts the website for you and you get a domain name that ends in wordpress.com. It’s much more limited than WordPress.org but is a great starting point for simple websites and blogs.
Much like the DIY website builders, you can get up and running very quickly and it’s free.
WordPress.org is free, open-source software, but it requires your own hosting and domain name (more on that later). It’s totally flexible and there are hundreds of themes available to create a unique and professional website.
WordPress.org probably has the steepest learning curve but it’s worth it because you get a website that looks professional, can have advanced functionality, it’ll scale with your business, enables you to have a unique design that fits your brand, and it’s easy to update when you need to. You can also install plugins for extra functionality.
The way that you design your WordPress website is by using a theme. Each theme is slightly different and if you have more than one website or change your theme, you may have to learn how each different theme works individually.
Each theme comes with documentation that teaches you how to use it, but it’s worth looking at reviews for that theme to see what others say about how easy it is to use and what they think of the theme in general.
WordPress provides several free and paid themes itself. ThemeForest is another great place to get themes and Bluchic is a popular WordPress theme author for beautiful feminine themes. The number one theme that I use though, is Divi.
Some themes restrict you to an exact layout, Divi doesn’t. Divi, by Elegant Themes, is a more complicated theme to learn but allows you to create any layout you can imagine.
Hosting and domain name
If you’re not using a website builder that hosts the site for you, you’re going to need hosting and a domain name.
If you think of your website as your home, your domain name is your address and your hosting is your rent.
Take time to find a good hosting company, don’t just go with what’s cheap or be distracted by special offers.
When I first started my business, I used Tsohost and I have never had any reason to look elsewhere. They do multiple daily backups and provide brilliant support. This is something that’ll be very valuable if you’re learning to create your own site! If you make a mistake, or get stuck, it’s usually fixed easily by either restoring your site to a previous version or asking for help.
SiteGround is also a great web host, especially for WordPress.
Ecommerce is a whole other story. You need to invest even more time in to it to upload your products and to make sure it actually works. If your website doesn’t work for a customer when they place an order, they’re likely to not go through with the order and they won’t trust the site.
People need to trust an ecommerce site because they’ll be entering personal details. Personally, if I’m trying to buy from a website I don’t know and it doesn’t look professional or I experience any problems at all e.g. pages not linking correctly or silly spelling mistakes, I don’t buy from it. I only buy from sites I trust 100%.
I’d recommend hiring a professional to help you make sure your ecommerce site is set up properly or use a platform like Shopify where you simply upload your products and they take care of everything else for you.
If you’re selling products, also consider sites like Etsy and Folksy. You can easily put products up for sale using their platform and link to your shop from your website.
Hiring a website designer
You might be someone who’s fairly technical and happy to spend hours learning how to do your own website. In that case, definitely give it a go! Or you may be someone with limited time, who doesn’t want to spend hours learning a new skill that they don’t really need or someone who is totally not technical who’d rather not touch a computer, in which case you should look into hiring someone to help!
Hiring a website designer can be expensive, but often if you take into account the time that you spend learning how to create your own website and any money you have to spend on advanced features, in the long run the price isn’t much different.
Generally the more expensive they are, the better they are. If you work with someone who will whip up a custom site for £300, then you’ll probably have to spend more in future to maintain it, update it or replace it.
If you invest more in a website, it’ll suit your needs, it’ll be modern, professional, and easy to update. If done right, it should last years and scale with your business without having to replace the whole site.
When you invest in a professional, they are likely to be able to create your website in a fraction of the time that it’d take you to teach yourself. They know what they're doing and can quickly get a site up and running.
A professional website designer can also help with sales funnels, branding, user experience etc… It’s not just a case of plonking things on a page and hoping for the best! There’s actually a lot of theory behind designing a website so that it works well for your business.
If you’re hiring someone
Do your research! Look at their testimonials and reviews.
Check their portfolio and visit the websites they’ve created.
Find out the payment terms - some offer payment plans to reduce the upfront cost.
Find out what they will use to build your website e.g. WordPress.
Do you have to go through them to make any edits or can you do it yourself? Do they provide a guide or training?
Check how many revisions or amendments are included in the cost.
Make sure you’re very clear about what you want. By giving a detailed brief beforehand, you can be sure to stick to the agreed price. Which leads me on to…
Contracts! Get everything in writing and preferably both sign paperwork to agree to the project details.
Buy the website hosting and domain name yourself so that you have control of the website.
Website designers and website developers are different. Designers create the designs for your site, developers build the actual site. Some do both, and some specialise in one, so check what you’re getting so you don’t end up with just designs and not a developed website!
If you're going to DIY
Keep branding consistent. Use your brand fonts, colours and imagery so everything across your brand is completely consistent.
Make your website really simple in layout and simple in information. Don’t cram loads of text content into the site. Use videos and use great images. Consider whether you need to provide ALL of the information. It’s often best to provide the important information to capture their attention and leave the nitty gritty for a discovery call or conversation with the potential client.
Pictures will make or break your website. You could have a really simple, boring, layout but if you have beautiful, well-lit photos, then your website will look professional. Alternatively, you could have a gorgeous, colourful theme but if your photos are blurry or dim, then it will devalue your site. Invest time and/or money in pictures.
Remember you can start simple and upgrade. If you start with something like Wix, you can create a bigger and better website in future when you’ve got the know-how or the funds.
You can start from just 1 page but I’d recommend at least 3 - Home, About, Contact. 6 page sites are standard for beginners and usually include the home page, about page, contact page, services page, testimonials page and often a blog too.
Start with an under construction page if you want to start linking to your website straight away. It’s not professional for customers to see a site in production. A coming soon or under construction page hides the site while you create it and can include any essential information for potential customers to work with you in the meantime e.g. contact details and brief info about what you offer. It’s a good idea to add a newsletter sign up box too so that you’re collecting email addresses for your newsletter and can let everyone know once the site has gone live.
Creating your first website - checklist:
♦ First things first, sort out your branding. Do you have fonts, colours, a logo, image style, target customer profile etc?
♦ Decide how you’re going to build your site - hire a pro, Wix, WordPress, Shopify etc…
♦ For free options, set up your account.
♦ For WordPress, buy a domain name and hosting.
♦ Plan your pages and your web copy (the Ultimate Website Content Planner can help with that).
♦ Gather inspiration on how you’d like your website to look. Pinterest is great for this!
♦ Set up your site - this step varies hugely depending on what platform you use. Google is your friend here! ♦ I also run a #WebsiteWorries thread on my Facebook page where you can ask for help.
♦ Pop up an under construction page with some basic information on how customers can work with you in the meantime. Bonus points for adding in an email optin form.
♦ Input your branding, copy and images into your site.
♦ Set up Google Analytics so you can analyse and monitor your website once it goes live.
♦ Test your website on other devices and browsers to make sure it works on everything.
♦ Take that under construction page down and celebrate! Shout from the rooftops about your new website!
Now, this is not the end. Your website won't take care of itself. In the endless sea of websites out there, yours can easily get lost. It’s important to keep improving it and keep promoting it. Make sure all your information is up to date and consider writing a blog to keep adding regular new content.
Amber Phillips Design
Amber is a WordPress website designer who works with small creative businesses to provide professional and unique websites.
She provides completely custom websites as well as a starter website package based on a template for new businesses on a budget. There’s also a DIY course coming soon!
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