One of the first things you are likely to add to your wish list when you start a business is a website. But it’s likely that this will stay on your wish list for a long time, either because you do not have the funds available or because you don’t have the technological know-how to build one yourself.
Thankfully, these days it could not be easier to get yourself a website without having to learn how to write code and without investing hundreds of pounds. Here we take you through some of your self-build website options. We have also included a helpful glossary of key terms at the end of this blog.
Where to get started
Creating your own website can be overwhelming, but the important thing to remember is to do what works for you. You don’t want to get stressed about it and if technology isn’t really your thing then it is best to start with something simple like a Wix website as you really can build this in a few minutes.
If you would rather get strong foundations from the very beginning and don’t mind investing your time, you would be better off using WordPress.
Before you even begin to create your site, you need to think about what you want to use it for now, and what you want to use it for in the future.
Decide what pages you want to have on your website. As a minimum we would recommend home, about, products/services, contact and blog.
Research different platforms and see which one you like the best. We outline three of the free or low-cost ones below.
Decide how you want your site to look. Whichever platform you choose, you will be able to select from a variety of templates to get you started.
Start to build your site and add your content.
Promote and launch your site!
Which platform do I choose?
There are hundreds of sites where you can build your own website, some are free; some are low cost; some will build it for you; some claim to be free but will charge you for some of the basic features that you will need.
Selecting the right platform can be an absolute minefield, particularly if this is new territory for you. We have investigated many different platforms and spoken with other small business owners about their experiences to come up with our top three recommendations.
This is an absolute favourite among small businesses, bloggers, and web developers themselves as the options are almost limitless. This is also likely to be the number one suggested platform for building your own site that will come up time and time again.
The main thing to bear in mind with WordPress is that there are two versions: wordpress.com and wordpress.org.
This is the platform most favoured by web developers as it is the one that allows you to really customise the site and make it look and perform the way you want it to. That is not to say that it cannot be used by a novice, it will just require a little more tech know-how which can easily be gained for free, with a quick Google search for relevant blogs or by searching YouTube which is packed full of thousands of tutorials.
To use wordpress.org you will need hosting which will cost you a small amount, there are small businesses that charge as little as £5 per month for hosting. Hosting is the name used to describe the server that stores the files that make up your website. You can self-host but there is a lot more tech knowledge required for that and it’s not usually something that entrepreneurs do from the outset.
For a .org site, you will also need a domain name, again this will come at a cost, but this is a relatively low cost and can be as little as £18 for two-year ownership. A domain name is a technical way of saying the website address e.g. www.thisisadomainname.com.
Customising your site
With a wordpress.org site, the possibilities are endless because there are thousands of plugins available to help you make your site perform in the way you want it to. Plugins are essentially apps that you can install on your website to add additional features such as social media feeds, contact forms, directories, additional fonts, eCommerce and so many more. Some plugins do have an additional charge or have a basic option available for free but make you pay to upgrade to the full version. Google and YouTube have plenty of tutorials to show you how to implement the features you want onto your site as well as reviews of similar types of Plugins so you can choose the most suitable one for you.
Another way to get support and guidance to build the type of site you want is by joining a web developer’s Facebook group such as this one, where you can post questions about building your site and then the developer or other members will help you out. This type of group will post videos, top tips and other information that will be useful to you when it comes to building your site, so they are well worth joining.
The second type of WordPress site is the wordpress.com site. These are great if you are starting by building your own site for several reasons:
- You can set one up for free. Depending on the options you choose, you won’t need to pay for hosting or a domain name but the downside to that is that you will have to have adverts on the site which you have no approval over and you will have to have ‘wordpress’ in the domain name.
- You can easily outsource to a web developer when funds allow. As most web developers use WordPress, they will be able to copy your site across to the .org version so that they can host it and they will be able to do all the behind the scenes, or backend, things that your website requires to make it how you want it.
- They are user friendly. WordPress allows you to select a template (referred to as a theme) that you like the look of and it will give you limited options on things to personalise it. You can then use the Block Editor to add the content you want. Blocks are things like images, text, headings, tables, links, media etc.
- There are tutorials and help guides available within the editor section so you can search for the answer to your query.
- You can buy a domain name through WordPress and pay them for hosting if you wish to and they provide support to help you build it.
Wix is an extremely easy and technophobe friendly way to build a website for free. You enter a few details and answer a few questions and the Artificial Design Intelligence, or ADI, will create a beautiful looking site for you in minutes. It will even match your brand colours if you upload your logo (you can create your own, professional-looking logo for free using a website called Canva).
Once you have entered all the details and selected which features you want to include such as social media feeds, booking options, blog pages, newsletter sign-up forms and more, you can still customise your site further by changing the theme, colours, fonts, animation and of course the content such as photos, videos, and text.
You can add even more customisation by adding apps which are additional features to enhance your site. Wix apps include a chat box, a blog, a booking feature, members areas, pricing plans and if you are in the catering industry you can add menus, table booking and ordering capabilities. There are options to suit every type of business.
The downsides to Wix are that you will have to pay if you want to use a custom domain name or have eCommerce capabilities. Wix is also unsuitable if you need to build a particularly large site with lots of pages but this is unlikely to be the case for a small business.
Of course, another downside to Wix is your future plans. If you are intending to outsource your website at some stage, then you will have to start again as a web developer will be unable to copy a Wix site across to their hosting. This will cost you more money in the long run as they will have to spend time building it from scratch again.
Square Up is first and foremost a payment system. They started by providing small businesses with card readers so they could process payments. Since then, they have expanded to help more small businesses to sell their goods and services. This now includes the possibility of having a website.
Setting up a website on Square Up can be done very quickly and easily in just a few clicks. You start by answering a few questions, again what type of things you will be selling and how orders will be fulfilled, you are then given some options of extra things you may want to include on your site such as your Instagram feed or a contact form. Once you have got the basic structure set up you can then move on to customising your site and adding your logo and content.
Square Up gives you three options when it comes to your domain, you can either get a domain through them or use a domain you already own (both options will come with a cost), the third option is to use a free subdomain. This means that you can have your business name as part of the domain BUT it will have to end with square.site.
Customising your site
Square Up sites are extremely easy to put together and as you are building it for the first time you will get helpful popups to show you how to customise it. There is also a tab at the top of the editing screen to allow you to access guides to help you get things the way you want.
As Square Up is a payment processing company, any transactions made through your site will have to go through them. This is where you will get charged a percentage of the total cost of the sale.
What to do once you have built your website
These platforms are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building your own website, there are hundreds of options out there to build your website, so it is always best to start by thinking about what you want your site to do from the outset and what you want your site to be able to do in the future.
You may want to add additional features such as memberships or courses once your business is established so it is a good idea to plan this out as much as you can before you start so you know that your platform will allow your website to grow with your business.
Your next steps
Once you have decided on the platform to use and made your site look how you want it to, you will then have to continually work at it in order to get it to work for you. Just building a website and getting it online is not the end of the story.
You will need to regularly update the content on the site; you will need to direct people to it; you will need to look at the data that is provided to you about the traffic your site is getting, where they are coming from and what they do when they are there so that you can see what works and what doesn’t.
Having a website is a fantastic resource and an incredibly useful tool. At some stage in your business journey, it will be something that you will add as well as something that you will upgrade, making the right choices as early as possible will save you money in the long run.
Backend: This is the part of the website that visitors do not see, it is where the information is entered and edited.
Code: A set of rules or instructions to tell your website what to do.
Content: The things you put on your site such as the text, images or videos.
Domain: The address of your site e.g., www.startandgrowenterprise.uk
eCommerce: This simply means buying products or services online.
Hosting: The place where all the files of your website live.
Platform: The place where you develop your site.
Plugin: An app that you can add to your site to give it additional features.
Popup: The small windows that ‘popup’ when you are looking at a webpage.
Traffic: Visitors to a website.
Web Developer: A person or company who builds and maintains websites.
Written by Nikki Knight. Nikki is “The Writing for Business Lady”. She offers proofreading, copy editing, transcription and copywriting for small businesses. You can get in contact with her at www.nikkiknightcopyediting.co.uk or firstname.lastname@example.org.