(You might want to bookmark this post for future reference)
In today’s post I’m going to share some tips and resources to help the do-it-yourself’rs out there who want to create their own customized small business website. Whether you already have a website, starting one or just thinking about it, the material presented here will help you. We’ll cover:
I’ll talk about Domains, Hosting, Platforms, Frameworks, Themes, Plugins, and Content which is everything you’ll need to create, manage, and maintain your website. The material I present is not a “quick fix”, your website will not get done in 24hrs or less like many services suggest. Creating a website is not a race to a finish line. It is more of a continuous improvement loop that evolves and improves over time to meet the increased demand and needs of your visitors. Be prepared to roll-up your sleeves and have a get-r-done attitude because as with all good things worth doing, building your own website your way will take some time. So lets get to it:
Domains – You need to register an official online name. I know you already have a business name, what you need is a .com, which will be the name of your website address. For example if your business name is Humbird Photography, then your online name could be humbirdphotography.com or humbird-photography.com or humbirdphotograpy.net, you get the idea. Check out the links below, they can help you come up with the perfect name. Once you get a name that makes you slowly nod your head, like yeah this is the one, then get over to QTH or any other registration company and get it registered pronto before anyone else can. Regardless of which service you use it shouldn’t cost you more than about $10 a year, sometimes its free if you also buy the hosting service along with it.
Hosting Service – You also a need hosting service. Hosting is the physical place (servers) where the files for your website are stored and accessed from. Every website has to have this. I’d also recommend QTH which is a local company based out of LaCrosse, WI. Their support has been extremely good and the pricing quite reasonable. They are not the biggest company but they have proven to be resourceful and responsive to my needs which is something I really appreciate. There are plenty of other hosting companies out there like Blue Host, Host Gator, and Go Daddy and any of these companies are suitable to host your small business website. One thing I noticed with the bigger companies is they like to try and sell you something every time they make contact. Plus their support although good, can be a waiting game so you’ll need to be patient. Regardless of who you choose just make sure they have the C-Panel interface with the one-click WordPress installation. One last thing is stay away from the FREE hosting services it’s not worth it. Domains & Hosting are so reasonably priced these days that there is really no reason not to get your own .com address. Imagine how unprofessional it would be if my website was www.kamdukewebdesigns.freehosting.com. Plan on spending about $60 or less per year.
Platform – Once you have your domain & hosting service you’ll need to decide which platform to use. A website platform is the type of software technology used for creating your website. It use to be that the only software technology available was programming languages like HTML, PHP, CSS, and JQuery. They are still used today but thanks to a new software technology like the Open-Source content management system called WordPress, websites can now be created with very little to no programming knowledge at all. WordPress has taken care of all the underlying code so you don’t have too. Plus it’s modular design allows users to build blogs and websites in a drag & drop style environment using themes, plugins, and widgets.
As someone who was using CSS & HTML to build websites I was very skeptical about WordPress when I first learned about it. But decided to give it a try anyway and now I feel it that it is the most powerful and easy to use platform I’ve ever seen and the best part is it’s FREE. I use it exclusively now for all my websites and I recommend you use it to. The auto-install option provided in your hosting services cpanel makes installing it super simple. The majority of the tools outlined in this post are related to designing websites with wordpress. There are other platforms too that don’t require extensive coding knowledge like Joomla, Drupal, Weebly, WIX, Tumblr, Squarepace, and Homestead. Each have their own strengths, but in my opinion none of them come close to offering the same control, flexibility, ease of use, and pricing as WordPress. Cost = $0
Themes – A Theme in WordPress is a ready-made template style design where most if not all the design work is done for you. This is very appealing for professionals & novices alike because all you’ll need to do is add content. WordPress comes with a FREE theme and access to almost 2000 more which you can find at wordpress themes. I recommend using free themes as a playground to learn how to use wordpress. This because once you get some experience behind you, you’ll soon realize it can be difficult to do any customization which is why many small businesses step up to a premium theme. If you don’t need any customization then a free theme should work just fine. Cost = $0
Framework Theme – WordPress out-the-box is very powerful and in cases where very little customization is required like a simple blog or a church website then that should be all you’ll need. But if you are a small business who needs a specific identity then you’ll need something a little more than WordPress alone can provide. A Framework Theme in WordPress is a layer of additional-code that works in conjunction with the design theme allowing none-programmers to manage the structure, element, and design of their website. Because it works in conjunction with the design theme, the framework is referred to as the “Parent Theme” and the design theme is then referred to as the “Child Theme”. Together this Parent/Child combo is a robust website creation system that is perfect for small business owners.
Parent Themes are essentially a collection of placeholders commonly referred to as Hooks. You will be adding and designing content within those hooks and the more hooks you have, the more you’ll be able to customize your website. One way to think about it is a car chassis. A car chassis (framework) houses placeholders for wheels, doors, windshield, and so on. The Parent Theme houses placeholders for things like the header, content area, footers, page layout plus it facilitates access to them without you having to learn how to code. The Framework I use is called Genesis Framework by StudioPress. Genesis gives you more hooks than any framework I’ve seen but it’s not free (not everything is free) and will set you back about $60 but well worth it in my opinion. Professional website designers and do-it-yourself website creators from around the globe use and trust Genesis. Cost = $60
Premium Themes – Premium themes are similar to free themes in that they have ready-made designs but differ in terms of quality, and the number of design options over those hooks I mentioned earlier. Plus because the developers have a financial interest they tend to offer better support, better documentation, and more elegant designs which are more suitable to small business. In fact many of these premium themes are industry specific which can be a time saver. For example if you’re a photographer then you could purchase a ready-made theme professionally designed for photographers, just add content into the hooks it provides and you’ll have very nice looking website.
For me personally I use a premium theme called Dynamik Website Builder by Cobalt Apps because it offers more control over the design aspect of my websites. It has hundreds of controls that allow me to design as painter would start fresh with a blank canvass. It also has some advanced functionality that you’ll appreciate later on as you become more proficient with the building and maintaining your own website. Here are some good sources for premium themes: Cost = plan on spending $15 – $100
|WordPress Commercial Themes||StudioPress Themes for WordPress|
|Theme Forest||Elegant Themes|
|The Theme Foundry||iThemes|
|WP Explorer||Cobalt Apps|
Plugins – WordPress is an Open Source Software meaning it’s source code can be altered by the public so long as they adhere to the open source license. Programmers took advantage of this unique opportunity and began creating small programs that they could “plugged into” their wordpress website. The plugin allowed them to extend their websites functionality beyond the standard wordpress installation. They create image showcases, calendars, forms and so much more. And because it is open-source they shared their newly created plugins so others, like us, could use them without having any knowledge of programming, very cool! You can find these plugins at wordpress.org or access them through the plugin feature on your website dashboard.
Plugins are optional, you don’t need them to create your website. As your skills progress and you want to start adding really cool features to your website then it’s time to start looking for a plugin. For example if you want a calendar of events, or a rotating banner, or an image showcase, or maybe a shopping cart to sell all your cool gadgets, then there is probably a plugin for that. Keep in mind that these plugin apps are made by programmers, some good, some not so good. It’s best to stick with those proven plugins which have a high number of downloads and with good ratings. The plugins I personally use on a regular basis are SmartSlider 2, Yoast SEO, Gravity Forms, Easy Faq and WordFence. Cost = $0 – $100+ depending on which one and how many you choose to use.
Pictures & Graphics – As your own web-master you’ll need to know where to get good images, how to re-size those images, and how to place them in your website. Ok, so the best way to get an image is to just create your own. For example a client of mine wanted a black leather header background so i took an extreme closeup picture of a motorcycle seat. I also buy images from services like Dreamstime, and Fotolia but I try to do so sparingly because they can get quite pricey. Once you get an image then you need to be able re-size it, compress it, and alter it as needed. Most people think the only way to do this is by using Adobe Photoshop which costs $20 month. But there is another powerful program you can use to do the same thing, its called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) and its FREE. It doesn’t have as many features as the popular Photoshop but it is powerful enough to handle all your imaging needs, including compression, resizing, layering and it’s also versatile enough to handle your graphic needs like business cards, logos, and brochures. Cost = $0
Content – Above all else content is still king. No-matter how pretty or which bells & whistles you have, if the content isn’t useful to your audience then they’ll bounce. Content provides meaning and conjures up thoughts and emotions, which can lead to action. Content is why people visit you, and content is why they might come back. Writing content however is time consuming and can be one of the most challenging aspects of a website. I found a great website that teaches about copy-writing, they have a FREE guide that’s helped me and hopefully it can help you too. Also I’ve written enough now to where I feel ok about sharing some tips but I don’t consider myself a professional writer and only offer these few tips as someone who also had to struggle through the process.
- Find a quiet place & time where you can think. My best time to write is very early in the morning
- Push through the first paragraph because once you start the ideas begin to flow
- Don’t let someone else do it. You know your business better than anybody
- Don’t worry about order of sentences or paragraphs yet. Just focus on capturing your thoughts, you can re-arrange later if need be.
- Write from the heart, in other words just be real, don’t make things up to impress, stick to your knowledge base and stay in your lane.
- Mix in images when it makes sense, images are very powerful and help drive home your contents intent.
- People love stories so don’t be afraid to tell one, your audience are real people and the more they can relate to you the more likely they’ll trust you and either recommend or even purchase one of your products or services.
- As a rule don’t accept your first draft, instead re-write your content at least 4 to 5 times or more. On each revision try condensing. You’ll be surprised by how many less words you’ll need to convey your point after you write it over and over again.
Cost = $0
Learning Resources – I’ve assembled a number trusted resources about website design that will be a good starting point and hopefully save you some “scouring the internet” time. They helped me, and should help you too. Remember that this isn’t a race, its your business, take whatever time you need. Once you acquire your web design knowledge it will serve you well many years into the future possibly saving you thousands in the process.
Before you get caught up in installing all the coolest bells, whistles, and gadgets take some time to learn about good web design practices.
Web Design Mistakes
Sexy Web Design
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
It’s not necessary for you to learn the details of domains and hosting. But if your curious here’s a few sites that should satisfy your curiosity and then some.
Guide to Learning about the Internet
All about the Web
Whats a domain name?
Whats the numbers behind my domain name?
Check if a domain name is available
Learning from ICANN
interNIC on domains
The best way to learn WordPress is to watch a couple of quick videos then jump in and start getting your hands dirty. Add a new page, change your theme a couple times, play with each theme settings to get feel for how it all works. I’ve listed a few places where you can learn til your hearts content.
Learn from wordpress.org
Learn about WordPress from Wikipedia
WordPress for Beginners
WordPress Basics Tutorial
YouTube WordPress Videos
Vimeo WordPress Videos
Plugin Concept Explained
The best way to learn is by doing. Install a free theme play with it, then do it again. Every theme will have slightly different controls with some more complex than others. As such each individual theme will have it’s own learning curve and usually provide some “help” documentation. It’s best to visit the developers website to learn more.
Good article about a Framework
Article explaining a Framework Theme”
What is WordPress Theme Framewor
Whats a WordPress Theme by IvyCat”
Beginner Video from Tyler Moore
Free course on website basics
Building a site – Dynamik Website Builder
You don’t need to be a graphics wiz but you will need to know how to resize images, change the file size, crop and rotate as needed.
Hyper Text Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets are tools programmers use to build and design websites from scratch. You don’t need to learn these to create your website but it if you do run into a situation calling for or using CSS or HTML then the following links will come in handy.
Handy Resource listing of all the tools & services I mentioned plus a few more.
Dynamik Website Builder
WordPress Commercial Themes
StudioPress Themes for WordPress
The Theme Foundry