There are benefits to using WordPress as your website platform. WordPress began as strictly blogging software, but it has evolved so that with only minimal amounts of programming, it can look less like a traditional blog and more like a “real” website. The big advantage is that, for the non-technical user, making changes is as easy as updating a blog, which means that you don’t have to run all changes, however minor, through a web designer. Dr. Joe’s official site at drjoewebb.com, developed by Interlink ONE using WordPress, looks professional, and is easy to update.
Still, not everyone is happy with the WordPress approach, but an alternative to is a web building tool called Wix. It’s free and offers thousands of customizable templates.
You have several options for getting a website designed and developed. If you are technically proficient, you can do it yourself, and there are many tools today that do make it easy. Alternatively—and this is what we would recommend—hire a web designer. It’s not that web design is difficult per se, but even if you have a decent background in print design and production, web design is not entirely user-friendly. It’s one of those situations where if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up creating a website that hurts your business more than it helps. You’ll also need to stay current on the latest web design technologies and best practices, lest you discover five or six years down the road that your website looks “ancient.” Not all of us have the time to keep up with that aspect of technology.
Regardless of which route you take, there are some crucial elements that should be included in any website.
Every website has, by default, a home page. This is the first thing visitors see when they enter your web address in a browser. As a result, it should make the best first impression of your business. It should be attractively designed and meticulously proofread. It should explain succinctly what your business does and what products or services you offer. A written version of your elevator speech would not be out of place either on your home page, or on an “About” page.
Your home page should also include:
- Your logo or the customized type you use on your business card.
- Navigation buttons or other tools that clearly indicate how to get to other pages in your site, such as samples of your work (if it is something that can be shown on a website), testimonials from customers, a blog (if you have one), videos (if you have any), a detailed contact page, links to things you may have written that are on other websites, articles about you, and other promotional material.
- Contact information. Although you will want to have a detailed contact page that has your physical mailing address and any and all other contact info you care to provide, at the very least, your phone number and a hot link to your e-mail address should appear prominently on the home page—and, in fact, on every page of your website.
- “Chiclets.” These are those little square icons that link to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, or other social media sites.
Whatever other pages you choose add to your site will be a function of the business you are in and whatever supplementary material you have to provide. A blog is a good addition to a website, as it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which you are a credible expert in your chosen profession. You may hold regular events or classes and thus may want to add a calendar to your site and allow people register online. If you make and sell physical products, you may want to set up an e-commerce section on your website. You will need to talk with your web designer and/or web host about these types of options.
Remember that the basic function of your website is threefold:
- to explain who you are and what you do
- to showcase your work, or at least demonstrate why someone would hire you
- to ensure that your company will be found by a Google search
Think of a website as a promotional brochure, which is exactly what it is.
As we continue our discussion of setting up a website for your home-based business, it’s worth mentioning that using the personal “branding platform” branded.me with LinkedIn might be the most efficient and inexpensive way of getting a professional web page. Really finesse your LinkedIn page, make it a point to collect recommendations from colleagues and clients, and that can serve as the basis of your website. The LinkedIn template can then guide you better than many other web page-building alternatives.
You can then use it as your “official” web page, and because it’s a business site and not something like Facebook, you gain credibility. Start at https://branded.me and click the Sign In With LinkedIn button.
Slightly OT, but while we’re here: also be sure to take advantage of LinkedIn’s close integration with the site Slideshare, which lets you post short presentations and videos that are easy to link to your LinkedIn page. This is a much-underutilized promotional platform.
Last week, we wrote about registering web domains for your home business, Once you have your domain, you will need to find a web host. This is simply a service provider that has the computer on which the files that comprise your website will physically be located.
Once you contract with a web host, you can start uploading the actual files that will comprise your site.
What makes for a good or bad web hosting company? A good web host will:
- Have no (or absolutely minimal) server downtime. Server downtime means that no one can access your website—and you will not have access to e-mail—while that server is down. No web traffic means no business.
- Have 24/7 tech support in case there is a problem. Some have chat- or instant messaging-based customer support.
There are other issues as well, depending on your specific web needs, but for most basic web presences, these are the big two.
As with other technological matters, finding a web host is like finding other service providers: it’s always best to get word-of-mouth recommendations.
A Google search will turn up no shortage of hosts, but who knows how reliable they will be? A good place to start is a directory of businesses that are members of your local Chamber of Commerce. If you are working with a web designer for the actual site, he or she likely knows of some hosts they or their other clients have worked with before.
A good start can often be to get your domain name through a hosting company, such as 1and1.com. They often offer domain registration discounts for buying a hosting package, and the packages often include e-mail accounts.
On Tuesday, we posted about registering a domain name for our business, and we should point out that there is a difference between buying and merely registering a domain name. You would only buy a domain—which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars—if you wanted one that someone else had already registered and was selling. If you sold pet supplies and really wanted pets.com, you could pay big bucks to PetSmart (the current owner of that domain), although it’s doubtful they would relinquish it. Less in-demand domains may also be already taken. If you wanted to use your name as your domain, and someone having the same name as you already had reserved that domain, you may be able to buy the domain name from them, if they weren’t using it. Adding your middle name or initial may be one way around this.
Some domains are bought by brokers and “parked.” This means that someone has bought a domain—usually one that has a combination of English words that someone someday may want to use, like, say, DigitalInspiration—and is hanging onto it until they find a buyer. Then they negotiate a price for it. And speaking of website addresses, make sure that you get something that users won’t find confusing. “DigitalInspiration” has a lowercase “L” and an uppercase “I” in the middle, which can be confusing when written in URL format or in a browser’s address box. One blog site about writing, “Pen Is Mightier,” found that its web address “penismightier.com” was, um, easily misread.
If your desired domain name is not being used by anyone else, all you need to do is register it—which is pretty inexpensive (less than $50 for two years). websites that end in .us, .info, .biz, or others, can be less expensive than .com addresses but are harder for others to remember since they are more used to seeing the familiar “.com.” A quick way to see if your desired domain is available is to simply enter it in your web browser and see what comes up.
By the way, if you choose to use Gmail for your e-mail, you can have Google register a domain for you, which you can then use as your e-mail and web address. The cost starts at about $8 a month.
This month’s posts have been looking at some of the basics of setting up a website for your home-based business. Before you begin the process of creating a website, you’ll want to register a “domain.” A domain is your web address, technically called a URL, which stands for “Universal Resource Locator.” If your Web address is www.mycompany.com, your domain is “mycompany.com.” You can come up with any domain that is appropriate, but if you want web browsers to be able to access it on the Web, you will need to register it with a web registrar, such as Register.com or GoDaddy.com. (If you also need web hosting services—which we’ll cover in a few posts—a chosen web host can also register your domain simultaneously, saving time and even a little money.) Vistaprint offers this service now, so you can get business cards and register your website in one place.
When you visit a registrar, the first thing you will need to do is see if your desired domain is available. On the home screens of most registrars is typically a field wherein you can enter your desired website address, and it will tell you if it is available. If it isn’t, you can try to negotiate with the owner for it (we’ll discuss this in Thursday’s post), or—the better option—you can come up with another choice.
When you do an availability search for your domain, don’t be discouraged if “mydomain.com” is taken. Dot-com is not the only option available, and you may find that “mydomain.net,” “mydomain.biz,” etc., is available, although there is something of a negative connotation to a non-“com” URL.
One of the most important tips for picking a domain is to keep it short. It will not only be your web address but your e-mail address as well, and very often you have to spell out your e-mail address for people. The longer and more unwieldy it is, the more likely it is that people will get it wrong—or get annoyed. Avoid using initials unless they are your business name. Get as close to the name of yourself or your business as possible—unless you have a very long business name.
In previous posts, we talked about attendingnetworkingevents, and last month, we discussed the importance of business cards. Would you think of attending a networking event without bringing business cards? How would anyone ever get in touch with you afterward? Sure, you can rattle off your e-mail address and/or phone number and hope they’ll remember them, but that really isn’t likely. And while you could also write your contact info on a cocktail napkin, that is rather unprofessional.
But there is something that, over the course of the past 20 years, has become just as important—if not more so—than the business card. And that is a web site.
In 2012, we published “Does a Plumber Need a Web Site?”, a title that was inspired by an attendee at one of Dr. Joe’s presentations. And the answer is “absolutely, yes.” A plumber—or any business—needs to have a website. A good business website lists the services or products that your business offers, provides examples (such as writing or design samples), offers testimonials from customers, has e-commerce capabilities (if applicable), and above all offers ways to contact you. Some companies are simply using their Facebook business page as their official website. While this approach is free and adequate, we strongly recommend setting up your own unique, professional-looking web site.
The specific steps involved in setting up a website are beyond the scope of this blog—entire books and blogs could be (and have been) devoted to that topic—but we’ll offer some tips to get you started off in the right direction.
There are three overall steps involved in setting up a website:
- buying or registering a domain
- contracting with a web hosting company
- designing and producing the site’s pages
The next series of posts will look at these items in turn.
Before the holidays, we started a series of posts about marketing collateral materials—business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and other “stationery” items your home business may need. The majority of this month’s posts will focus on marketing and promotion of a home-based business, and before we get too far into it, we should dwell briefly on one common element to all of your promotional activities: a logo.
Once you have decided on your business name, you may also decide that you want a logo. Never underestimate the power of a simple but effective logo, one that embodies, in one icon, your business. Think of the Nike “swoosh” or McDonald’s Golden Arches.
Now, your own business logo doesn’t need to be that ambitious (assuming a simple swoosh or arch is ambitious), and it can be as simple as the name of your business in a distinctive or unique typeface and color. Alternatively, either you or a graphic designer can design a distinctive logo, but we would advise, in the short term, that you focus on building your business and not overthinking a logo. If, at some time in the future, you do come up with a great or better logo, you can switch to it and call it a “rebranding.”
If you do want to develop a logo, some things to consider:
- Make sure it’s appropriate to your business. If you are operating a funeral home, you would not want a dancing Grim Reaper to be your logo. Professional services such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners, and medical professionals typically use very staid, conservative type and logos, as they’re trying to convey professionalism and seriousness. On the other hand, if you are a professional party clown, you will likely want to go in the opposite direction.
- Never use Comic Sans.
- If your own name is all or part of the business name, your stylized initial or initials can serve as a simple but effective logo.
- Images that reflect your business type can make for good logos. If you are a dogwalker, use a dog on a leash; if you are a haircutter, an elaborate hairdo or scissors; if you are a personal trainer, a set of weights; if you are a data analyst, some kind of graph or chart.
- Never use Comic Sans.
- Choose a specific color and make sure you always use that exact color. Color is very much a component of what we call “branding” and is an integral part of the logo.
- Do a Google search for other businesses in the same field as yours and check out their web pages. What logos do they use? How effective or appealing do you, as a stranger visiting their business for the first time, find them?
- Do a generic Google Images search for “company logos.” You’ll get a ton of hits and some may trigger some inspiration.
- And, finally, never use Comic Sans.
If you have the budget, you can hire a graphic designer to develop a logo for you, but for someone just starting out in a home business, that may be overkill.