Why you need a site
You’re here because you need a website. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you can benefit by having your own website. We live in an age where information is everywhere. It is common place for people to “google” anything unknown to them. That means when someone meets you or is introduced to your business, there is a decent chance they will look you up to learn more. You can have some control over what that “more” is. By designing and managing your own website you gain control over your online brand and image. This means that you can choose what others read about you online instead of relying on what others have said about you or what is publicly shared through social media. Improving your online image can help you land a job, gain authority in an area or niche, communicate more effectively with others, and provide resources and links that can help others (and yourself).
Your options for getting a site
Fortunately we live in an amazing time and acquiring, developing, posting, and managing a personal website is easier today than it has ever been. You basically have three ways of getting your own website for yourself or your business. 1) you can hire a web developer, web designer, or web firm and have them create you a custom site (this can be expensive). 2) you can purchase a web domain, web hosting, and create your own site using a content management system like WordPress.org (this is less expensive, probably in the $100-200/year range), or 3) you can use a website builder to create your own site for FREE. Below I will briefly outline each of these three options.
Option 3: Designing from Scratch (Programming/Coding)
In the “good ole days” of webdesign (up until the early 2000s) if you wanted a website you had to hire a web programmer or developer to create your site from scratch. These developers had degrees in computer science and could speak all sorts of nerdy computer languages (like C++, Java, and Flash). They would often hard code your site using HTML and each page would take hours to construct. Consequently, designing from scratch was, and still is, pretty darn expensive.
While hard coding used to be the only way to get a website, that is no longer the case today (see your other two options below). You might choose the designing from scratch route if 1) you have a lot of money to burn, 2) you don’t want to be very involved in the design process, 3) you have mad programming skills and are up to the challenge. If none of those three points apply to you you’re probably better off using one of the other to options listed below.
Option 2: Using a Content Management System (CMS)
A Content Management System–or CMS–is “a computer application that supports the creation and modification of digital content using a common user interface and thus usually supporting multiple users working in a collaborative environment” (thanks Wikipedia!). What that means in English is that it’s a program that supports you in creating content that you can publish to the web, like a blog. Most websites today are created using a CMS platform, with WordPress being the most popular option. CMS technology is often free, but you’ll pay for premium templates, themes and plugins, and those costs can quickly add up. You also have options for free hosting (where you save your files) and a sub-domain (e.g. wd4everyone.wordpress.com), but you’ll probably want to upgrade before too long so that you can own your own name and have more storage space on someone else’s server.
There is a bit of a learning curve in using a CMS but it is probably worth the effort because if you have confidence working on your own website then you won’t have to rely on others when you site needs to be updated or changed. I recommend you get your feet web with website builders first (see below) and then work up to owning your own CMS site.
Option 1: Using FREE website builders
While website builders have actually been around since the mid 2000s, they have only recently started to become popular among plain folk like you and me. That’s because the technology supporting these builders has finally gotten to the point where you can create something that looks amazing with very little effort. Website builders like Wix and Weebly are really just glorified (or the opposite of that… maybe streamlined?) CMSes that are really easy to use. There are free and premium versions. The biggest difference between a CMS like WordPress.org and a Website builder like Weebly is that website builders employ drag-and-drop technology. The entry point is low and you can easily get set up with one of these kinds of sites in an hour or less.
Why I recommend starting with a FREE site
If you’ve never built a website then I highly recommend you start with a free site using a website builder. The primary reason for this is that it is FREE and if your site is horrible you can simply delete it. This is a great way to start learning about design and as you get better you can always upgrade to a premium version or move over to a CMS or custom site. Look for tips on which site builder to use and how to get your site up and running in the blog portion on this website.
Picking your first Website Builder
Honestly, it makes very little difference in which website builder you select for your first website. Simply google “free website builder” and go with one of the top search results. Right now the three most popular sites are Wix, Weebly, and WordPress.com. Pick one of those and create an account… this should take less than five minutes. Then start messing around. There is probably a tutorial that will walk you through the basics when you create your account. Watch it and then start adding content. It’s soooo easy and there are tons of tutorials online (e.g. YouTube) that can walk you through the process. When you get stuck in any aspect of the design process simply google the problem you’re having and there will be online forums, videos, and tutorials that will help you overcome that obstacle.
This is actually probably the hardest part of the “design” process and the step that holds most people back from having their own website. The truth is, you should only have a website if you have something worthwhile to contribute to the web. Now everyone can come up with and create something worthwhile to share with others, but it may not be easy. Start by thinking about what experience and knowledge you have to share with others and start typing that out. You can throw it up on your first site if you’d like, or save it to a document that will be revised and refined until it’s ready for an audience. If you only have half-baked ideas you can throw those up on your site as placeholders and then go back and revise your post later. This will help you to continue to build and grow your site and works just fine if you haven’t told others yet that you have a site. If you have already done a public launch than you probably should hold off with place holder content.
Transitioning from a Website Builder to a Content Management System
Moving from using drag and drop technology to using a slightly more complicated CMS is probably a lot easier than you think. When you play around with website builders you’ll naturally gleen tips and tricks about how to build any website. You might even learn some of the coding basics and become familiar with other programming language. Many website builders give you the option of looking at and editing the source code. Take advantage of that and learn by playing around with the code. Google is your friend here. If you don’t know how to do something, look it up. Before long you will have some basic programming experience and will be ready to move on to a more sophisticated website.