If you’re brand new to freelancing or running a small business, you’ve probably thought about building your own website. But chances are you haven’t gotten around to it because the idea seems too daunting or expensive.
Building your own website for a small business used to require a good knowledge of HTML, servers, coding and a whole lot of other technical jargon. You could spend days, weeks, or even months learning the ins and outs of hosting your own site, or even spend a substantial amount of cash money on hiring a developer to rustle you up one. But all that is changing.
There are various tools available online – ranging from beginner to expert – that can help you build the website of your dreams. And no, you don’t have to be a computer wizard to get started owning your own slice of the internet.
Why does your small business need a website?
Everyone and their dog are online nowadays, yet still many small businesses merely opt for a Facebook page or listing on Google instead of their own website, and thus lack the authenticity that is synonymous with a website.
Having your own website means that you’ll instantly come across as more professional, and have the scope to expand your site as your business continues to grow. For example, if you want to introduce an online store or a blog area for your content marketing efforts, each of these attributes can be added or built onto your existing pages.
Important things to consider
Before leaping into the entanglement of the world wide web, take a minute or two and think about the following:
What do you actually want a website for?
It could be that you’re a freelancer and need a place that shows off your mad design / illustration / photography skillz. Or perhaps you’re an eager beaver writer / journalist who needs somewhere on the web for all and sundry to see what a snazzy wordsmith you are. Maybe you’ve just launched your own consultancy business and are looking for something that highlights your amazing skill set.
Being clear about exactly what you want and need a website for is rule number one. If you’re a designer or photographer, you’ll want your website to be image heavy. If you’re a writer, you’ll want a website that is fairly text heavy… you get the picture. Frame your website with your business in mind and let it represent exactly what you are all about.
What will it be called?
Choosing the right name for your website is incredibly important. There isn’t any point naming it something completely unrelated to yourself or your business; not only will it make you look incredibly silly, it’ll also harm your searchability therefore detracting from potential customers.
Think about your business and its brand. If you’re a one-person-show, maybe go with yourname.com or add in your profession, for example yournamewriter.co.uk. If you’re running a small business – as tempting as it is to be wacky – opting for something sensible and identifiable will pay dividends. Great examples include yourbusinessname.com or brandname.co.uk, as opposed to something nonsensical with no business ties.
Do you have a budget for a website?
The majority of website builder tools have a free version of their software that’s fine for basic sites. However, if you want to build more than one website, or do fancy-pants editing, you might need to cough up a small monthly fee. And remember, if you can’t get the hang of building your own, you might need to fork out for a professional to give you some assistance.
What content management system should I use?
There are a whole range of ways to build your own website for a business. Commonly known as a content management system (CMS), these nifty tools can help you get up and running online in a couple of hours – whether you’re after a nifty portfolio for your burgeoning freelancing career, or in need something more robust for your micro-biz.
Repeatedly voted as the best online website builder and CMS, Wix focusses on a simple ‘drag-and-drop’ platform and prides itself on an easy to use workspace.
One of the main advantages of using Wix to build your website is its simplicity. Choose a theme and then add or subtract elements as you see fit. Wix allows customisation of fonts, background, and layout, and even allows you to add different apps that correlate with your business. Perhaps most importantly, all of the updates and security are handled by Wix themselves, leaving you safe in the knowledge that your website will remain as secure as possible.
The downside of using Wix is that unless you’re willing to pay for a premium service, the website you build will always carry an advertisement for Wix. Not great if you’re going for a streamlined, professional feel.
Weebly is another ‘drag and drop’ CMS that puts the designer completely in control. Using a similar platform to that of Wix, Weebly is easy to use – especially for the entry-level user.
Again, simplicity is the main draw with Weebly. Dragging and dropping elements of your website means you can see how it’s developing and make changes on the fly. Elements with Weebly include photos / pictures, text, videos, contact forms, buttons, and maps. As your business develops, you can add an e-commerce feature that supports PayPal.
A great advantage of using Weebly over Wix is that you have the ability – should you know how – to edit the HTML and CSS of your chosen theme. Let’s say you’ve chosen a killer theme but the background colour is a little off. With Weebly you can edit this giving you more flexibility with the design of your website. Moreover, with Weebly if you feel like changing the theme of your website, you have the ability to chop and change. When using Wix, you’re stuck with the same theme unless you fancy redesigning a new website from scratch.
If you use the free version of Weebly, ads will be displayed at the footer of your website. Whatsmore, the standard free domain will look something like yourname.weebly.com which doesn’t have a professional feel to it.
Powering over 23% of all websites on the Internet, WordPress allows the builder two options: hosted or self-hosted.
The most basic hosted version of WordPress is free. The website you build is hosted on WordPress’ servers and, apparently, “focusses on beautiful content”. The hosted version of WordPress allows you to choose a theme and play around with it, for example changing colour palettes and fonts. However, WordPress is notoriously tricky to navigate around for the first-time user and offers limited customisable options.
The self-hosted version of WordPress is a different kettle of fish entirely. You can browse a bank of ready-available themes or build a custom one. A huge plus of self-hosted is the customisation options. You can edit HTML, CSS, and other code to really get your website to do exactly what you need to, or look and feel a certain way.
The downside to setting up a self-hosted WordPress website is that you’ll need to find a host, perform backups and do all the routine maintenance yourself – which can be intimidating to the novice website builder. And if anything goes wrong and you’re unsure how to fix it, you might have to fork out for a professional WordPress developer to come in and take a look.
If you’re fine with ads being displayed on the finished product, you can set something up for only a few hours work and usually for free. If you’re willing to pay around £10 a month, you can have a professional and ad-free website for your small business completed in an afternoon.
If you’re still not feeling too confident, check around on local jobs boards for website designers – perhaps you could do a skills trade instead of cash payment? For example, writing the copy for their next website or giving them a bunch of free consultations. However you choose to get your business on the Internet, it’s important that you do. And as outlined above, it doesn’t have to cost the earth.