We like building websites for our clients.
But if you’re just getting started or your business is small and local and you have more time than money, then honestly, I’d rather teach you how to build your own site than try to convince you that you need us to build a site for you.
And teaching businesspeople to become web-self-sufficient is just what I’ve done at the local community college for the last two years in my beginning and intermediate classes in WordPress. Check out the class I’ll be teaching in February of next year.
In my beginning WordPress class, I basically walk the students through five steps to build and launch their own WordPress site, all free of charge.
Now, I’ll share these steps with you below so you can do them on your own if you’re up to the challenge!
1. Sign up for a free account at WordPress.com
You can also pay for add-ons that will help you customize your site. Some of them are worthwhile, like being able to use your own web address (eg, www.mycompany.com) instead of the free URL that WordPress.com gives you (eg, mycompany.wordpress.com). Others like being able to customize your site’s code will only be useful if you know how to…well, customize code. In any event, all can be added at any time, do don’t feel pressure to buy them at the beginning. Just get the free account.
2. Select a theme for your new website
A theme is a design template that will determine how your website looks, from the number of sidebars it has (anywhere from zero to four) to the typefaces used for text and headers to the background colors. As with your WordPress.com account, you can also upgrade here to a paid theme (costing anywhere from $20 to about $100). But to start with, why not try out some of the hundreds of free themes available? Some are ugly and amateurish. They’re free, after all, right? But some free themes are pretty good and may suit your business.
3. Add your content
Compose fresh text or drop in existing text from MS Word or some other program into your site’s pages. I tell my students to start with 3-5 pages basic to any small business website, to wit: Home, About Us, Products (or Services, depending on your type of business), Blog and Contact Us. More on the last two of those below. Then add 1-3 photos per page. You can use your own shots or you can get royalty-free photos free of charge from Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Just go to their advanced search at http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced and be sure to check both boxes at the bottom to find 1) Creative Commons photos 2) for commercial use.
4. Start a blog
A site without traffic is pretty much worthless except to impress your mom! And blogging is the best way to bring traffic to your site because new blog posts give people a reason to come back again and again while giving Google a reason to put your site on page one of search results for your desired keywords (eg, “used cars Miami” or “Presbyterian churches Boston”) instead of page twenty-one. WordPress already includes a blog. All you have to do to activate is to publish your first post.
I know, I know — you don’t have time to write a blog because you’re already running a business. Well if you have money, you can hire someone to ghost write a blog for you. Or, if you really don’t have money, you can maintain a credible blog in only minutes a week with a few simple tricks.
5. Add a contact form
Online visitors need a way to contact you. You already know you shouldn’t put your email address on your website or else you open yourself up to an attack by spambots, basically, software that will hold grab onto your email address with its bloody teeth and never let go. So you put “joekowalski at gmail dot com” on your contact page and think that you’ve been pretty clever.
Whoa, hold on there pardner! You may have foiled spambots but you haven’t foiled humans. Believe it or not, there are people on the net who are paid a few pennies every time they send an email to your site about Levitra, Cialis and Viagra. The only safe way is to not put your email address up on your site in any way. Instead, use the simple Contact Form that WordPress.com lets you put on any page or post.
Just launch the darn thing
Once you’ve done these five things, your site is ready to launch. Don’t let it sit there for months in private mode while you wait for a free day to write up the text for all your new products so your online catalog is “complete” (hint: that day will never come). Just launch with a few products and add the rest later.
There are many other things you can do to make your new site really hum — add photo galleries or a slideshow; connect your site to social media with share buttons or a Facebook faces box; or even put in some videos.
But don’t get bogged down by extras at the beginning. Just build your site and publish it. In web design, as in all things marketing, the Perfect is the enemy of the Good.
No website is ever perfect. So make your site good first. Launch the site so your visitors can start to interact with you online. Then, make your site better later.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group