One of my biggest rock-in-the-stomach moments is when those who I’m consulting tell me how much time and money they spent on an “okay” looking or fairly simple website (more on my apprehensions below). Truth be told, if you can use a word processor and send emails, you’ve got enough wherewithal to set up most websites – and you can do so in a matter of days and for free (or close to it).
Here’s my game plan for getting a blog, informational, or e-commerce site ready with minimal effort and costs. Not sure if this is for you? Test this route before hiring help – even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be much better positioned to discuss your needs with your developer/engineer!
Why One Should Consider Making Their Own Site
As I mentioned, hearing that a site took a new or small business a lot of time and money often leaves me a bit uneasy. Why?
- Website developers can over-sell. After a bit of investigation on these costly sites, I often find out that the entrepreneur or small business owner agreed to a custom built site because of a feature or functionality that they don’t really need. (I’ve been oversold before and left feeling very ripped off when I came to terms with reality.)
- Outsourcing can lead to more outsourcing. Giving the reins to someone else on the setup of your site often sets you up for more costs and time later when you don’t know how to make simple tweaks or you’re just unhappy with the design or flow. This is especially critical for e-commerce sites who need to be able to react promptly to price and inventory changes.
- Most people can do it themselves quickly and for free! There are those times when an idea is so novel it requires a developer / engineer or your brand requires bleeding edge design work. But, for most endeavors, an out-of the box solution plus some customization will do. In fact, most people can get their own site together on their own for free (or very close to it) and do so in a matter of days (or weeks, if you’re doing it at night).
Game Plan for Setting Up a Site
(Time limitations are to remind you that this is achievable and to keep your inner-perfectionist from derailing progress).
1. Claim your domain, email and social media properties (30-60 min).
You should do this sooner than later as 1) using these addresses and handles when you set up your site will help keep you organized as your business / public persona correspondences will be separate from your personal one (for optimal organization, set up your domain and email first and direct all of your social media addresses to your site’s email address) and 2) it stops someone else from claiming your perfect name.
Recommended resources :
- namevine.com – see the availability of the same name across several platforms
- domains.google.com – see the availability of URLs across TLDs (top-level domain names) – in other words, contemplate ending your site in .com, .net, .life, etc. (If you have a gmail account, I’m also partial to getting your domain through Google as some of the integrations are easier)
2. Identify 3-5 sites that are similar to the brand and experience you’re trying to build (30-60 min).
A great and inexpensive way to get your “look” and “feel” started is to emulate (not copy!) another brand. Additionally, if you take queues from successful or industry-standard sites, your users will have an easier time engaging with your site. To find a few gems, try key word searches to find top sites within your industry and niche as well as analogous brands in other industries.
3. Research and select 3 website platforms to test; at least 2 should be more-popular, hosted platforms (45 min).
To get a sense of which sites will work best for you, read a few recent blog and articles on the top platforms for the type of site you’re building (e-commerce, blog, etc.). Also, take a look at those sites identified in 2) to see if they used any of these common platforms; you can often find the logo of platforms within the footer or looking at the page source.
I suggest selecting 2 of the more-popular platforms as they 1) tend to a lot of the kinks worked out, 2) have a lot of integrations with other common software and 3) if you decide to switch platforms down the line, other sites have already set up integrations that should be able to scrape import much of your site into the new platform. Additionally, I suggest a hosted platform (i.e. the site lives on the platform’s serve) as, unless you plan to do some fairly complex or unique things with your site, you will gain little advantages but take on a lot of setup and maintenance work.
Suggested platforms for blogging:
- WordPress (note: WordPress.com is hosted while WordPress.org provides open-source software for you to host on your own domain)
Suggested platforms for informational sites:
Suggested platforms for e-commerce sites:
4. Test out the 3 platforms (1 hour per site, 3 hours total).
For each of the platforms, try rebuilding the experience from the sites you identified in Step 2. Be sure to test out all of these features:
- For all sites
- Menus / organizing material)
- Posting to social media
- Creating a page
- If you’re building a blog or an informational website
- Writing a blog post
- Featured images / thumbnails for blog posts
- If you’re doing e-commerce
- Posting / removing product
- Managing inventory
- Placing an order
- Receiving and fulfilling an order
If you don’t have materials of your own, don’t sweat it. Instead,
- Use the placeholder text – ipsum lorem
- Use pictures licensed for common use. You can get these from the sites you’re emulating or from sites that offer free images like Vecteezy or Flickr or Pexels
Play with, but don’t commit to or spend much time on, themes (10 min per platform, max). Most platforms offer themes or pre-designed layouts to fast track your design efforts. While it’s good to get a sense of what’s available, I suggest not spending much time looking for nor paying for one as 1) you’ll probably change your mind later and 2) there are some great free themes out there! (riveter.tools is built with a free Word Press design that caught my eye within the first 2 minutes of being on the platform and, despite hours of looking at other free and premium alternatives, I still like it the best!… I should’ve listened to my own advice.)
5. Choose your favorite platform (20 min).
Which site was the most fun and intuitive? Choose that one! If it’s a tie, choose the cheaper of your options.
Don’t sweat the selection process too much. As mentioned, you can always transfer – especially since many of the platforms can import sites from other platforms. Also, you can also use more than 1 platform. For example, I use Word Press as my primary publishing site because I liked some of the control I have over the content, and a re-post on Medium and LinkedIn because they help find an audience.
If there was a show-stopper, do some internet searches to confirm whether this can be solved with a widget or by changing a field or some other simple solution. For instance, if you needed a twitter feed on your page, you could 1) visit twitter’s page and find a simple, pre-packaged line of code , 2) return to your page, and 3) paste in the line of code and – ta-dah – you have a twitter feed on your page.
6. Populate your site (2-12 hours).
The total time will depend on the amount of material you have. Use some of the free services noted in 4) to get your site going. Oh, and be sure to have your site set to “private” as you play.
Free / Inexpensive Logo
7. Test your site (2 hours).
You’ll want to make sure that your site works. Go through your site and test every workflow from end to end- including the exception scenarios – and test every link. Be sure to use as many browsers and to test both as a user and an admin.
8. Have friends test your site (3 hours over 3 days).
You’ll want to make sure that your site works on every browser, your message translates with your audience and you didn’t make silly mistakes. Ask a few friends to test out the site and make sure you ask specific questions to make sure that you’re using their time effectively. Possible questions include: What does the design evoke? Were you able to book an appointment? Can you take a screenshot of the home page? Can you proofread the “About” page?
9. Launch your site.