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The cheap way: How to get a website started

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Web design and a developer on the side is a luxury that some businesses can’t afford. So, take advantage of low-cost marketing strategies to get the word out and use free or almost free tools to keep your site running smoothly. 

Here are some resources that a) will get you started at minimum cost and b) you can do it yourself.

Get yourself a domain name

Unless you want consumers to be faced with ‘Page not found’ in bold text, then the only investment you do need to make is on your own domain name. It’s recommended you go for GoDaddy. Although GoDaddy is US-based, they have a UK landline that is open 24hrs, and are always willing to give advice to those who ask. For example, when is it best to use .com or .co.uk.

An email address for your own domain

If you really want your own identity in business then you need to have a business card that does not show your gmail or hotmail address. You should sign up to a web-hosting company. Bluehost is not free, but they’re the cheapest in the market charging £50 a year. You can also set up as many email addresses as you want. The crucial point? They allow you to install WordPress – the building blocks of your website – with a single click. Once you install it, remember to make your username as complicated as possible.

The blank canvas you can build upon

WordPress is one of the easiest ways to level up with developers as it will help you build your own webpages, and you don’t need to spend a fortune on a course to learn any programming or coding. It allows you to manage your site as if you’re managing your Facebook account. When you start writing, the format will be similar to Microsoft Word, where you can choose to copy and paste or write your articles. But WordPress is more than a mere writing tool. You can add images, drag them wherever you want, and you can even pull in information from outside sources.

Create the look and feel of your website

Essentially, this means choosing a layout or theme. Your website reflects your corporate image, so carefully select colour, font and background pictures. When you’re choosing a theme, or buying one – the good ones are around £25-30 – make sure that the layout is responsive. This means that your layout will automatically adjust to screen size – mobile users often have to zoom in to read text. There are thousands of themes out there, so don’t buy one only to find out that it’s not responsive. 

If you want to try out a responsive theme, you can go to a site called WooThemes. They offer two free responsive themes as well. If you really want outside help with web design, then save money by using student contractors. When you start out, the key is to keep it simple. No ads and no banners means minimal loading time, which is sure to be a hit with customers. 

Setting up a newsletter

Let’s say you want a form at the footer of your website advertising subscription to a newsletter. Instead of sending thousands of emails in one go or sending them one at a time, there are companies you can subscribe to that will broadcast your emails. One of those companies is MailChimp, which is free up to 2,000 subscribers. Better yet, they have a plug-in on WordPress that is free! You can create the subscription form through a plug-in called Gravity form. It allows you to create forms with as many questions as you want, with the option of changing them at a later date.

Adding some functionality: Plug-ins and widgets

WordPress has 24,000 widgets and plug-ins that are all free. Let’s say you want to stream Twitter from your smartphone to an area on your website? There’s a plug-in called Twitter Widget Pro that will handle it for you. If you’re a traveller and you want to show Google maps, with icons and photos of where you travelled, there’s a plug-in for that. If you’re unhappy with the way WordPress displays your videos and images, then install Visual Composer. Not impressed with the layout of a theme? Just install a widget and change it, all of which takes two minutes. Don’t like the functionality, then remove it! How do you know you can trust a plug-in? They’re all rated by WordPress users. 

Getting images for your site

You want to show nice looking images on your site, but a lot of people tend to copy from Google. Don’t do that because they’ve got digital watermarks these days. Anyone can easily find and chain you. 

Here are four websites that will get you going:

  • shutterstock.com/blog/ gives you one free photo or image a week;
  • iStock follows the same principle;
  • Flickr can be your best friend, but make sure that when you search for an image, you selected Creative Commons, and link back to the source; and
  • Stock.xchng, which has stricter policies on linking back to the original source, so read the fine print before you start using the site.

If there was something not mentioned that you would like to know about, give a tweet to @ShaneSchutte.

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