“I know I should have a website, but…”
If you own or are in the process of launching a small business, you probably don't need me to tell you that you need a website. Yet I am shocked by how many small business owners who don't have a website, especially when they are first launching. Having any business without a website is like having a store with no sign.
Why the hesitation?
Designing and building a website is a pain in the ass. There are lots of confusing terms like “domain name registration” and “web hosting”. There's obnoxious code like HTML and CSS to learn. There's a copy of photoshop on your machine that you understand about .01 percent of. So, building yourself a website from scratch is option A and it requires long hours, lots of specialized knowledge, and the patience of a saint.
Head over to google and search “web design” plus your city or state. You're going to find tons of people with beautiful looking websites who can do the same for you. Now, I'm not knocking professional web design, but if you are just launching a business, spending $1000 on a professional website is not a viable path. That's option B.
Unfortunately, when faced with those choices, the overwhelmed small business owner goes for the worst possible choice: No website at all. No website = No business.
There is another choice
There's actually another choice. We'll call it option C (creative, right?). Option C is to use a free third party web service to build your website yourself. Services like Posterous, WordPress.com and Weebly all give you the ability to build your own sites using their pre-designed templates. It's way faster than building your own site from scratch (plus its hard to mess up when you're not ever modifying code), and it's
way cheaper free compared to hiring a web design pro. There are at least 10 such tools I can think of off the top of my head, but don't make the mistake of choosing a crappy one. Here are the services that I recommend along with some pro's and cons.
Weebly – Absolutely the easiest
Pros: The easiest way to build a good looking website on the internet today.
Drag and drop editor. Literally, no code, ever.
Cons: Plug for Weebly in your footer, unless you pay. Not the slickest looking themes. Some are downright ugly, but you'll steer clear of them.
Example: Take a look at my good friend Abbi's website Dharma Door. Abbi designed and built the site her self, and updates it whenever she wants without having to pay a web designer.
Posterous – Medium difficulty
Pros: Fantastic if you are already on a lot of social media sites (like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr) because every time you post to your posterous site, it can be automatically posted to the aforementioned services plus many others. The result? You spend less time on Facebook and more time focusing on your home base. In my opinion, Posterous has some of the most attractive themes out of all of these services. Post by simply sending an email- any images, attachments and videos get automatically (and almost magically) attached and embedded.
Cons: Not much customization available for themes without CSS knowledge. You'll have to stick with what you get if you don't want to get your hands dirty in CSS. Themes are good looking but all somewhat similar design dynamic- if you're going for a different feel then what they offer, you should look elsewhere.
Example: Check out DanielSchwartzman.com. Dan is a Yoga Instructor, Adventurer, and former Magazine Publisher. Notice the beautiful site theme (courtesy of Posterous), and how Dan's facebook is automatically updated whenever he posts.
WordPress.com – Most advanced of the three, but still medium difficulty
Pros: Fantastic way to get onto the WordPress platform if you've never been. It's the most customizable out of all of these options. You can choose from (literally) thousands of widgets to customize your site. There are lots of great themes and it's fairly self explanatory to upload your own custom header or graphics.
Cons: You'll need to know CSS if you want to customize things like fonts and colors. The post editor is a little tricky at first- you will need to learn a couple of snippets of code if you want to get faster with it. It's not as simple to format text as it is with Posterous and Weebly.
Example: The very site you're looking at now (cloud-coach.net) runs on WordPress, but it's a “self-hosted” WordPress site. WordPress.com takes away all the confusing server and domain setup and starts you off directly with WordPress' powerful blogging platform.
When it comes to getting support, these platforms offer superb communities where other users will be happy to help you. When you build your own website from scratch (option A above), getting help can be a long and arduous process, because nobody will really know what you did except yourself. When you work with a web designer (option B), you often have to pay for changes and updates on top of your initial investment.
The bottom line
Use Weebly if you need something fast, and aren't planning to focus on blogging or sharing media.
Use Posterous if you plan to blog somewhat regularly, or if you're going to share a lot of media (pictures, videos, etc.) Especially use Posterous if you want your site to be easily integrated with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Use WordPress.com if you have a little web experience already, and you're looking to build a blog-focused site. This will be the easiest to migrate over to a full-blown self-hosted wordpress site in the future if things really take off.
Have you used one of these tools to build your own website? Share your advice and suggestions to other readers in the comments!
Still trying to figure out which to go with? Leave a comment below and I'll help you pick the platform that's right for you!