So you need a website but hiring a designer is beyond your budget. This article will discuss the various options you have to build your own.
One thing I want to get out of the way first is that there is always going to be some cost associated with creating website. How much depends on what you need and how much work you’re able to put into it.
The fact is you need a website because it gives your business credibility. The first thing someone is going to do is “Google” your business, so it’s important you have a website. A Facebook page is not a substitute. Social media is where you attract potential clients. Your website is where you make the sale.
In most cases, your website is the first interaction a potential client will have with your business so it’s important to make a good impression. You’ll want a clean, modern look with attractive graphics and copy that easily tells people who you are, what you do, and how they can do business with you.
So how do you get all this without breaking the bank? There are a number of ways.
Free website building options
I’ll start with website builders where you can publish a website for free – Weebly, Wix, and Webflow. Free plans don’t include a custom domain so if you want to use your own domain address (e.g. www.mywebsite.com) you’ll need to purchase a plan. The benefit here is the platforms are relatively easy to use and the software is always updated.
Weebly is (I think) the easiest of the three. Choose a theme, edit it with your content, publish and you’re set. It’s easy to change the theme, even after you’ve added your content. And Weebly is owned by Square, so you can easily integrate a payment processor when you get to that point in your business (paid feature). Paid plans start at $6* per month.
Wix is next in line, and although it’s slightly more complicated to use (still pretty easy though), it has more precise controls and (I think) more sophisticated themes to choose from. Paid plans start at $16* per month.
Webflow has the steepest learning curve of these three free platforms, but it enables you to design a website to your exact specifications. Paid plans start at $14* per month.
Inexpensive proprietary platforms offer more features
These next two platforms make it easy to create beautiful websites at a nominal cost. Like the free platforms, you don’t need to worry about backups or updates. It’s all taken care of for you.
Squarespace is an all-in-one platform for websites, ecommerce, email marketing, and even memberships and courses. Plans start for under $20 per month depending on which features you want or need, so you can start with just the basics and add on as you grow.
Squarespace has tons of beautiful, sophisticated templates to choose from and is easy to customize with your own brand style and content.
Shopify is an ecommerce platform that is simple to use. With Shopify, you could have a website ready to start making sales in an afternoon. The platform comes with several free templates to get you started, or you can purchase one in the marketplace for a few hundred dollars.
On its own Shopify is somewhat limited. Additional features require installing an app. Some are free, but in most cases you need the paid versions to get the most out of it. In this way, Shopify’s $30 monthly fee can add up really quickly.
And then there’s WordPress
There are many options for building a website with WordPress which is what makes it the world’s most popular website platform. The first thing you need to know is there are two different versions of WordPress.
WordPress.com (the original blogging platform) is the paid, proprietary version. Like the free options above, your site is hosted here and you can get started for free but your options for customizations are extremely limited. You’ll need to purchase one of their hosting plans to add more features and I find it to be somewhat pricey. That said, it is a good place to get to know WordPress without having to lay out any cash.
WordPress.org is where you can download the free version of WordPress to install wherever you’ve chosen to host your website. Keep in mind, almost all hosts provide and easy way to install WordPress through their admin panel. Some plans even come with WordPress installed so you can just log in and get started. See my video on How to install WordPress on Dreamhost to see how easy it is!
While WordPress itself is a free platform available at wordpress.org, you will need a place to host your website, a domain name, and customizations could come at a cost.
Out of the box, you can start adding content immediately after installing WordPress. There are countless themes and plugins, (some free, some paid) to customize your website to exactly what you want. The drawback is it can take a lot of time to find the right add-ons (not to mention the learning curve) and the costs can quickly add up.
To make things easier, you can install a page builder plugin which gives you a nicer visual environment to create in. Page builders include additional features – also called widgets or blocks – that are not available in WordPress on its own. Any feature not included in WordPress or a page builder can most likely be found in a plugin.
The one warning is try to be careful about the number of plugins you’re using. Too many could slow down your site making it an unpleasant experience for visitors. Also, plugins could conflict with one another, especially when an update is applied. It’s good practice to have a testing or staging site (a duplicate of your website) so you can test what will happen before you update your site.
There are many more ways to build a website out there – in fact, some hosting plans come with a basic website builder. My experience is those builders are severely limited and, dare I say, ugly. Still, if it comes with your hosting plan (don’t pay extra for it), you could use it just to get something up on the web while you work on a better site.
Whatever you decide to go with, remember help is always available. There are tons of free tutorials on YouTube to get you started and lots of people, like me, offering courses and training to help you progress.