We live in a time unlike any other: the tools and resources necessary to become the ideal “self-made man/woman” are at our fingertips. Coworking spaces, cloud storage, remote access, and free apps are changing the way we work, but the most significant improvement in giving power to small businesses and entrepreneurs is the sheer number of resources available for building your own website. Your website design is the online face of your business. How it looks is almost as important as how it works. You want your site to be engaging, compelling, and professional, but how do you do that if you—like many entrepreneurs—are tight on cash? It used to be that beautiful websites were something only large companies could afford. One had to hire a web developer for thousands of dollars per project, with little to no guarantee that the finished product will adequately capture your company’s vision, message, and—most importantly—customers. Now, there are a number of tools available for a self-starter to create a well-designed, fully-functional website on any budget. Here’s a few of my favorites that you can start using today.
By far the most cost-effective way to build a website is to teach yourself how to do it. Now, it’s definitely not the quickest path, but it’s pretty much free and many of the skills you learn are extremely useful in a variety of situations. Web design and coding skills are in high demand, and if you are planning on building and maintaining more than one website, it really pays to understand how sites work.
The best free learning tool I’ve come across is by far YouTube. You can find tutorials and how-to’s on almost everything. All of it is free and user-generated, so might have to muck through a couple videos to find the right one, but you can teach yourself almost anything from YouTube if you can put the time and research into it.
Last but not least is Lynda. The resource costs about $30 a month but you can get 10 days for free if you sign up. You can learn a lot in those 10 days, so pick your courses wisely. Lynda provides video guides created for and by professionals. The content is more substantial and goes in-depth with the best practices, so 10 days gives you plenty of time to learn how to build a website like a pro.
For those who want a cheap, do-it-yourself solution and you have some time to learn, go for a premium wordpress theme.
WordPress, which accounts for 30% of all websites on the internet, is the ideal solution for all of your web content management. The interface is user-friendly, even if you have no experience working with websites. The community is well-supported and they stay up to date with the latest trends in website building. There are a number of free wordpress themes, but if you’re serious about your business website, you’ll want to invest in a paid theme that suits your needs.
Be careful though, a lot of themes will tout themselves as “all-in-one” solutions, packing their themes with dozens of features and claiming how “easy to use” they are. The problem with these feature-rich themes is that they contain what are known as “bloated” plugins, which means that any change (even ones as small as switching the font color) to the look of your website will put thousands of lines of unnecessary code into your website’s back-end. It may not seem like an issue now, but later on when your site needs maintenance or a new theme, you or whoever is working on the site is going have to sift through all of that bloated coding, and trust me, it’s not pretty. Plus, it slows down your website significantly, so that sucks too. Be sure to look at the reviews and support that these themes have before you buy.
The solution to this is to purchase a WordPress framework. If you want to think of your website like a car, just imagine WordPress is the engine, the framework is the body of the vehicle, and the theme is the paint job. Frameworks allow for safe, easy updating of your site without risking the loss of your content or theme settings. Most frameworks come with a basic theme that serves as the foundation on which your site is built on, then offer numerous “child themes” that provide the look and feel of your website. They also have a community of support for all of their child themes, making it simple to find the help you need for your specific theme. Frameworks come in all shapes and sizes, but the best ones out there are the Genesis Framework by Studiopress and the Storefront Platform by Woocommerce.
For those who plan on going with an e-commerce platform, that is, your business is conducted primarily through your website, your best bet is to go with Storefront and choose a theme appropriate to your good or service. For everything else, the Genesis Framework provides a variety of themes and plugins that can make any website quickly stand out.
Each framework has its own way of customizing their child themes, so there’s a little bit of a learning curve involved. However, frameworks are set up to be ready-to-go right out of the box (some are even automatically formatted to fit all devices), and you can find tips and tutorials with a simple google search. The good thing about frameworks and child themes is that you can customize the site’s appearance to your heart’s content without worrying about touching the source code.
You can expect to pay about $60 for a good framework with a basic child theme, and another $40 for a premium child theme that can give your site a beautiful look from the get-go.
$16-26 Per Month
Premium site builder apps are becoming plenty, but the true leaders of this area appear to be Wix and Squarespace. Both save you time by taking care of all the back-end of your website, allowing you to simply focus on the design and feel of it through an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface.
Squarespace has been making a lot of strides, with everyone from bloggers to podcasters touting how its simple approach makes creating a stunning website a breeze. Squarespace is great if you are a blogger or an entrepreneur on the go and you need to create something fast to establish your brand. Wix offers specialized templates and web apps at a lower price than Squarespace, but don’t have the powerful functionality or the exquisite designs of the latter.
Depending on your timeframe and the scope of your project, you may want to consider hiring a freelancer. Independent web designers are everywhere, working from home, coffee shops, coworking spaces, and every nook and cranny that has a wifi connection. The best way to find a good freelance web designer is to ask around. Find a local business or blogger that you feel has a great-looking website. If you can find a website that’s in your industry, even better. Ask and see who did their site, get referrals and ask former clients if they are happy with the end result. Most freelancers will offer a free consultation where they talk you through your needs and the scope of the project. Beginner web designers will typically charge around $200-$350 for a basic website with limited functionality. The more complex the website, the more experienced you’d want your web developer to be. Professional projects can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000. However, if you’re just starting out, the simpler the better. This isn’t just because it’ll go live faster, but also because you don’t want to overwhelm your potential customers with a website loaded with product features, a member portal, shopping cart, and menu bar with 15 links. You get the picture.
Your website is like a house. You can have a base foundation with walls, rooms, and windows—the basics, then add on to it later. Eventually, you can repaint the walls, add furniture, and decorate to make it completely your own. The point is, you don’t need a completely finalized website from the very start. Put together something, anything that gets your name out into the world wide web and that looks decent. With many of these web tools, you can bootstrap a gorgeous-looking website on any budget, allowing you to quickly grow your audience and your business online no matter how you work.