[Author note: These solutions will be obvious to some but I still see so many people wasting time, money and effort unnecessarily on their websites so clearly they're still not obvious enough.]
So you need a website for your business? You need it to look professional but you don’t want to spend the big $$$ at this stage (in fact, you don’t want to spend at all).
Before you run off and waste your money on the first web ‘guru’ you meet though, make sure you’re aware of the cheap (or even completely free) but professional options out there, many of which you can do yourself. (Yes, yourself).
Of course you might still want to hire someone after that and you’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning and discover that you invented Facebook overnight, but you might be surprised how far you can get on your own. Even if you have absolutely no design or coding skills.
So if you are interested in testing a business idea or quickly getting your business online, the good news is you might be able to do everything without having to call that weird web guy again.
But I’ve been hurt before…
If you’ve been burnt in the past (and who hasn’t), first realise that it’s not like the bad old days where you had to hire a coder or designer and they did everything by hand.
(You know, when changes where either eye-wateringly expensive and/or you couldn’t do them yourself.)
So how have things changed?
The various types of software for managing websites (known as a content management system or CMS) got better and cheaper (and more focused on making it as easy as possible for the people using it, rather than the people who coded it).
What does this mean for you?
It means that you can now get a website ‘off-the-shelf’ for a very low cost, but not only that you can make changes to your site directly and update it yourself. And if your business blows up and suddenly gets bigger and you do have to start hiring people, you won’t have to throw everything out, because most of them scale extremely well too.
But with so many options out there which one should you choose?
There are two main options which I recommend to clients:
And if e-commerce is your thing, you might also want to put:
in the mix.
Use for: most new business sites (at least initially, you can always change later)
Cost: Free on WordPress.com (+ $12 -$24 a year to use your own domain name), or get a hosted version (can do more stuff/customisation) for around $10 a month with most hosting companies.
Used by: Everyone! But if you want some names, the US govt, Mashable, and us!
In our humble opinion, the grand-daddy flexible, easy to use CMS that will suit the vast majority of businesses. Why?
- It’s so easy to update. Need to change some text on a page? No problem, it’s just like editing a Word document.
- It’s very cheap. You can get a free blog on WordPress.com and buy a domain name for it later or download the free WordPress software and install it with a hosting company
- There are lots and lots (and lots) of great designs that you can get for free or just a few dollars (way less than paying a designer to create one from scratch, and you can still customise it or get a designer to create a design from scratch if you need to).
- Plugins. Think of it as like the app store on your phone (except most of the apps are free). Need some great SEO options? There’s a plugin for that. Need some other customisation or special feature? Plugin.
By my reckoning every eSanctuary site (including this one) runs on WordPress so you’re in good company. In fact WordPress is the fastest growing CMS on the web and now powers about one in every five new websites (and rising!)
Use for: Testing a business idea quickly and easily
Cost: Free trial (30 days) then $25 – $500 per month (but the free trial and/or $25-$50 should be more than enough to test most business ideas)
Used by: MailChimp, Get Satisfaction, 99 Designs, slideshare
Perhaps you’ve got a new idea product you want to test, but you don’t want to waste time and money on the product or service until you test demand and get some feedback.
To do this you could set-up a simple one or two page website, start some pay per click advertising or marketing activity and then test the demand and the feedback that you get.
You could make your one or two page website in WordPress, but in this case you might be better using Unbounce, which is a service set-up and specifically geared for exactly this scenario.
Not only do you need no IT or design expertise to set-up your first landing page, but Unbounce also has builti in features like:
- A/B testing (to test competing versions of the page against each other to see which attracts more customer interest)
- Integration with email software like MailChimp and Aweber, so you can quickly start to capture email addresses too.
Later on if you’re getting the results that you want you can always decide to set-up a WordPress or Shopify site in its place (or to complement it).
Use for: e-commerce websites
Cost: 30 day free trial then $29, $59, $99 or $176 per month depending on number of sales etc.
Used by: Evernote, Amnesty International, Angry Birds, the Beastie Boys and the Foo Fighters!
WordPress does have e-commerce options and although this article is not intended to go deeply into e-commerce (that’s for another guide), this guide would not be complete without a brief mention of Shopify.
Among thousands of competitors, Shopify is one of the first few stand-out brands in easily creating e-commerce sites / online stores.
And, like Unbounce, you can get things up and running very easily with little or no design or IT knowledge.
If you’re thinking of doing an ecommerce site I strongly suggest you take their 30 day trial.