How to design your own website
Designing your own website is easier, cheaper, and faster than ever. But for the technically challenged or the complete novice, the options can be confusing. Here's an overview that might help clarify things.
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Of the roughly 40% of small business owners who report not having a website, many of them cite technical difficulty and cost as reasons to avoid setting up a website of their own.
As someone who’s put off all kinds of similar business decisions my thoughts here are that these aren’t reasons to avoid acting, they’re excuses.
I resisted setting up my own website for years because I lacked the skills and finances to move forward. But when it dawned on me that the only way to make progress was by taking action, I found ways to make the process work.
If you’re pondering whether you need a website and you’re finding it difficult to gain clarity, this article presents a series of options:
- Do you really need a website? If you’re happy with your business as it is, if you don’t want to expand, if you’re not looking for new clients or customers, and if you’re happy with your business as it is, there may be no reason for you to have a website. This is your business and if you choose to keep things as they are, that’s your decision.
- If you’d like to generate more business, sell your business, or expand your scope of services, you might benefit from setting up a simple website. But here the emphasis may need to be on a simple site. You may only need a 1-page site on which you list who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.
- If you need a blog or if you want to share articles, a 1 to 3 page website may be all you need, with a main home page, an about or contact page, and a page for your blog or articles.
- If your business offers a range of goods, products, and services and you want to offer online shopping, a website with more than 5 main pages might be the best option for you. For this solution you’ll need an online shopping cart through which you can take credit card payments and arrange online downloads or physical shipping of products via the postal system or through a delivery service.
- What other online platforms (such as social media accounts, news aggregators, online reviews, and online listings) might you want to connect to your website?
- Will you want to share podcasts or videos through a website other than through your regular social media channels?
With these points cleared up, what options do you have:
1. The easiest thing of course is to do nothing.
It’s instant and lasting.
There are no skills to learn and no expense. The downside though is that you still don’t get a website. Not good.
2. The next easiest thing to do is to get by with your presence on social media.
You’re still out there, being seen, and it’s free. The downside though is that you’re at the mercy of anyone who wants to take a swipe at you.
Added to this, you don’t own domain name and you don’t control the platform: one breach of someone else’s terms of service and your messaging could be toast. Again, not good.
3. Next is the free website option through a platform such as Blogger.com, Blogspot.com, or Tumblr.com. While these are all good platforms, much like the social media option outlined above, you lack control over the platform and your website name will
end with whatever the name of the platform is: e.g.:
OK at a pinch, though again, close but no cigar.
4. You take the DIY (do-it-yourself) route.
5. You find (and pay) someone to build and maintain a website for you.
6. Hosted website solutions. This is where things get serious. You find a website hosting company and you select, register, and pay for a domain name for recurring annual fee. Your website then sits inside this hosted solution, usually on a shared server, which means your website files sit securely on a server with other website files (with your files being separate from the files for other sites). However, you will still need to build a website to go with your shiny new domain name and hosting, which leads us to our next option.
7. All in one solutions, including WordPress, Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace. With the exception of the WordPress option (which needs its own domain name and standalone hosting), site builders such as Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace usually include a domain name (subject to the name being available), and offer an all-in-one, WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get), drag and drop, template-driven solution that gives you a set of tools to create and launch your website in as little as a few hours. Unless you’re going to hire someone to design and build your site for you, this last option is probably your best bet.
While the DIY and hire-an-expert options are both good for many small business owners, they each offer their own unique lists of challenges and potential pitfalls. With the DIY route you will have
a learning curve.
Even if you’re 100% confident in your technical skills, every web design platform has a learning curve: differences in the interface; specific processes; elements that require going through online tutorials before they become second nature, and so on.
If you’re going to take the DIY route, just be sure you’re clear on
the simple skills you’ll need to keep you on the right track (even knowing a few simple keyboard shortcuts can give you an edge).
So, be sure you’re familiar with:
- copy and paste;
- click and drag;
- snap to guides; WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get);
- file import and image resolution and image sizing and resizing;
- setting and changing type styles including regular, bold, Italics, and underline;
- changing text colours;
- file storage (knowing where you’re storing files on your computer so you can find them again).
Just knowing these basics can save you hours of frustration.
If these terms are unfamiliar to you, take the time to find out what they mean and how to use them to your advantage.
The good thing about using a template-drive, DIY solution is that it saves you money. The bad news is that it might take you some time to figure these things out.
So the other option is to hire someone to design, build, and maintain your website for you.
This is where the inverse proportionality of money and time come into play. I first learned about this from Roy Williams, aka, The Wizard of Ads. It was Roy’s wife Pennie who came up with the idea that time and money are inversely proportional: you can save a lot of one by spending a lot of the other.
What you can’t do though is have it both ways. You can’t save money and time or vice versa without spending lots of the other.
So on the point of DIY design versus paying a designer to create your website for you, it’s crucial to understand your value weighed against your ability to invest either your time or your money to solve the problem.
Your value depends on how much an hour, a day, or a week of your business time is worth to you in terms of lost revenue compared to the amount of money it might cost to hire someone to build your website for you.
If you bill your clients or customers $100 an hour and a web designer charges $65 per hour for their services, is it really worth your time and lost revenue to design a website yourself if doing so cost you ten lost hours and the potential loss of $1,000 if a web designer can do the same work in the same time for $650 and you have the budget? I don’t think so. The choice though must be yours.
If you’re going to hire someone to do the work for you, it’s worth investing time to find someone you like, trust, and believe in who can also deliver the goods and who understands the basics of your business.
This person needs to understand marketing and design, they need to understand that websites need to appeal to people as well as search engines, and they need to understand that your website’s role is to build confidence in the minds of customers about whatever it is that you do, make, offer, sell, or provide.
Whoever this designer is, they need to be willing to learn about you and what you need, and they need to be capable of taking themselves out of the picture as the designer, meaning, they need to understand that they work for you, not the other way around.
If you can find someone like this and you’ve got the budget, go for it. Just be aware that unless you also have administrative access to the back-end of your site and you’re confident enough to make simple changes without too much hand-holding (so you can make updates on your terms) you’re probably going to be dependent on your web designer for every page design and change, for domain registration and upkeep, and for monthly maintenance.
Unless you pay a monthly service fee, this means every little update, tweak, and change will take time and cost money and any on-the-fly edits will mean you sending an email or calling someone and then depending on them to make the update or change based on their schedule rather than on yours.
Paying someone to build a basic website can be expensive.
Depending on the kind of site you need (one page may be enough for you to begin with) website design can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars/pounds/euros (and often much more), with monthly service fees coming in between $25 and several hundred dollars a month.
This is a great option as long as you have the budget and that you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
To find a reliable, capable, knowledgeable website designer in your area, ask other business owners who they use and recommend, or search in business networking groups and in social media groups.
Don’t be afraid to interview as many website designers as you need to until you find someone you like and think you can work with comfortably.
Be clear upfront (and throughout the process) on all terms; copyrights; back-end access; updates; errors and omissions (ultimately, you need to be the one signing off on all page content), along with all relevant terms and conditions, must-haves, don’t-wants, don’t-needs, expectations, accountability, and payment options.
If you are going to work with a website designer, be very clear on your expectations and comfort levels, on their skills and limitations, and be clearer still on timelines, costs (upfront, month-to-month, maintenance, visible and invisible), all responsibilities (yours and theirs), all site access and updates, and on all deadlines.
And never—ever—work with a web designer without a written, signed, and dated contract, the terms of which you both clearly understand and fully agree to. A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
If on the other hand you feel confident enough to take on the project yourself, there are any number of software packages you can use to build a simple website (or even complex) site, all of which have their pros and cons to one degree or another.
The 900 lb. gorilla of them all is either a self-hosted WordPress solution, which, combined with a great-looking template is a fantastic platform to build a small business website on.
Self-hosted means you need to find a hosting company (which means a server that your site can sit on), and a domain name.
Many hosting companies these days offer a one-click installation for the WordPress platform (which you will need to download from WordPress.org), or through WordPress.com, which is its own website builder. If you don’t want to set up your own site hosting and you want to use WordPress for your site, go to WordPress.com.
A premium WordPress.com site currently costs less than $10 USD a month. A basic account is free, personal accounts are $4 a month, business accounts are $25 a month, and an e-commerce version costs $45 a month.
WordPress’s scope is impressive, its open-source nature means there are tens of thousands of user-generated plug-ins, widgets, and templates, and, as if that wasn’t enough, there are some wonderful, real-time, front-end, WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) website builders you can use with the WordPress framework to help you build out the site you want.
WordPress is a CMS (content management system) that gives you the ability to create standalone landing pages, full websites with a limitless number of pages, full scale article pages, and a post-based blog, all under one domain name.
My website is based on WordPress.org and is self-hosted through a company called In-Motion.
As fabulous as WordPress is, there can be something of a learning curve for the complete novice. There are lots of online tutorials available and lots of support, so the platform isn’t completely daunting. I simply think it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into before you commit.
I use a site building plugin for WordPress called Architect from Thrive Themes.
After playing with several website builders within WordPress I settled on Architect because of its flexibility. While for me with WordPress as a whole there were stumbling blocks in terms of getting used to the way things work, with a series of simple templates I can now build out pages that carry the same look and feel without too much else to fret about.
In multiple online forums where the question of which platform to build a DIY website on comes up, responses that simply say “This platform!” (before going on to name WordPress, Wix, or whatever) without giving any context or explanation—these kinds of responses don’t help anyone because they don’t fully explain why. Instead, they assume the platform in question is super easy to use, which often isn’t the case, and these kinds of responses certainly don’t help the complete novice.
I am not disputing that WordPress is a great platform to build a website on.
However, and even with my graphic design background, until I found Thrive Architect and became familiar with tweaking it to meet my needs, personally I found WordPress to be more complicated than it needs to be and at times it’s struck me as being downright frustrating to use.
Thankfully, WordPress is much easier to use these days than it was when I first started using it in 2008, but without a front-end design view (which is what Thrive Architect does, which means I can see what the pages will look like as I’m creating and working on them), for the complete novice, WordPress can be confusing and annoying.
Knowing what I know now, and given how non-WordPress site building platforms have progressed and improved in recent years, if I was starting again from scratch today, I’d opt for a simpler set up with a wide range of east-to-adapt templates.
In terms of saving time and facing a shallower learning curve, a platform with a more intuitive user interface may be a wiser option.
If I had limited to moderate technical skills and I had to start building a website today from scratch I’d probably shy away from WordPress and go with one of the solutions from Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace instead.
If you can select, copy, and paste, and if you can point and click a mouse and use a search engine and find and download images, and if you have a credit card and don’t want to hire someone to build a website for you, Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace are all be good solutions.
The scope, ease-of-use, template range, and flexibility of Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace as all-in-one platforms have all improved dramatically in recent years making them all sound contenders if you’re going to build a site on your own.
Right now my top pick from the three is Wix.
A Wix personal site currently costs $13 a month, with its VIP, Pro, and Unlimited levels starting at $39, $22, and $17 a month respectively. The email solution for Wix is provided separately through G Suite, through Google Cloud for an additional, though modest monthly fee. Because Wix membership includes a domain name, the email option gives you mailbox capability through your domain name rather than through GMail, with access through desktop and mobile applications, along with 30Gb of storage space and host of extras, all included in the price.
To decide which DIY platform may be the best option for you, WordPress.com, Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace all offer free trials (some of which may have limited functionality) through which you can kick the tyres and test things out.
Ultimately though the choice of working with a designer or doing things yourself must be your choice. Setting up a website is relatively easy, it’s fun, and, once the site is up and running, it’s your little piece of virtual real estate through which you can potentially reach millions of people.
Even though the internet is a big place, there’s no reason why your business shouldn’t be represented. What are you waiting for?
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Marketing, branding, and social media strategist. Happy hubby, movie geek, and keen cook.
Originally from the UK, Gary Bloomer lives just outside Philadelphia, USA. Online, he's been answering questions about social media, marketing, and branding since 2009.
A talented writer, an award-winning graphic designer, and a regular contributor to the Know-How Exchange
of MarketingProfs.com (one of the Internet's leading marketing websites), he's known for giving practical, non-nonsense, BS-free marketing and branding advice.
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