In a few years your website will be made by your personal A.I. assistant
For now you’ll have to make do with either commissioning someone to build it or with having a go yourself.
In this second part of my Digital Pop Up Series, I’ll walk you through the best way to quickly and easily set up shop on the web in order to test your ideas quickly and cheaply.
The website builders I use are easy, drag and drop style online applications. These standalone platforms give you a pro looking website for a reasonable fixed monthly subscription.
The Rise of D.I.Y. Drag and Drop.
As website building becomes more commoditised, you can now do it yourself, or have someone do it for you for a fraction of what it costs to hire a web developer.
Don’t worry, there is a time and a place for hiring web developers, just not at this early stage. This is for launching your business idea. So, lets get this puppy off the ground first, then you can do what you like.
The 4 Pillars of a Smart Business Website
Your website won’t look the same in 12 months time.
So here’s how to avoid spending a wad of cash only to discover everything needs updating a year from now…
1. Don’t spend a tin of money building your first website.
If you have time, do it yourself. This will help you understand what’s involved when you eventually do hire someone to do it.
2. Subscribe – don’t buy.
Find a service that offers monthly subscriptions. Most platforms in this area offer a free trial period before they start billing you. So try before you buy and get that site built over the weekend. The payment trigger is usually when the time is up or you take your website ‘live’ – to make it publicly visible via your URL or domain.
3. Use an all in one website platform and don’t pay for separate hosting.
No studying text books to figure out CPanel or FTP just to get started. No extra hosting costs or cheap unreliable providers and no sleepless nights when your site goes dark. Leave all that nonsense and headache to your platform team.
4. Check that the platform you choose has ‘Drag and Drop’ design functions and uses ‘Themes’ or Templates to give you a headstart.
No point in starting from scratch when someone else has done most of the work for you. The good platforms invest in savvy designers and developers who spend months creating good looking and conversion optimised templates.
Before you begin, be sure your brand, logo, colours in ‘hex’ format (e.g.. ‘#f4f5f6’) and main images are available and ready to go.
Your Website Basics
Regardless of the application or function required on the backend of your digital site, the front end, the visual, customer facing end usually deals in two kinds of code: html & CSS . These are the key ingredients in the recipe that makes your site look, feel and function the way it does in your web browser.
More complex and bespoke applications are delivered with extra code or accessed through a clickable link. We’re not talking complex applications today. We’re just going to focus on the front end and the best platforms to use.
4 Essential Structure Elements
Your website should at least have these 4 fundamental features:
1. Front page: Your home page, normally the first stop for visitors. It’s your front desk, reception area, showroom, whatever – front load your customer benefits at the top and don’t make them work too hard to find what they need.
2. About Us page: This is about you, your team and your business. Visitors have to get to know you quickly. ‘Who am I dealing with here…’. Place real people here with brief, personable LinkedIn style descriptions and headshots if possible.
3. Contact Us page: If you’re new on the scene, chances are that visitors will be wary of you and your offer. Building trust is what’s required for you to begin selling so no hiding. A simple, clear Contact page makes it easy for them to talk with you. The more contact information, phone number, address, etc the less perceived risk in trusting you.
4. Product or Service Page: your offer and the benefits to your customer. Include the price of your product or service whenever possible and surround it with customer testimonials, bold benefit bullet points and a clear stand out Call to Action. Something like ‘Access Now’, ‘Call Now’ or ‘Buy Now’ in a bright, contrasting colour.
And yes, all these can be right there on the front page – but it’s handy to think of them as separate sections.
Platforms I Personally Use
Choose the platform that is best suited to the look and function of your business.
With the growing number of platforms out there, specialisation naturally starts to occur. And while some platforms have naturally skewed toward different industries, I’ve noticed that most platforms remain good all rounders, using their ’Themes’ to dictate areas of expertise.
Here are the Platforms I use for my businesses
I won’t go into Magento here but suffice to say we needed a tech team to manage it. I wouldn’t recommend it for newbies or small stores.
WooCommerce was a better option, though and was essentially a plugin for WordPress, which for me was a good thing as I was familiar with it. It also has a bundle of features that work well. But it required self hosting and manual plugin updates. This turned out to be a bad thing.
We had no problems with the eCommerce function up until we went on vacation and came back to find the Paypal plugin had stopped working a week before. It required a manual update and we’d received no notifications so didn’t realise the problem until we’d investigated the decrease in sales activity. No Paypal meant losing nearly 50% of our buyers. On the same day I found Shopify.
Shopify is becoming one of the largest eCommerce platforms on the planet outside of Amazon and Alibaba. For us small businesses it is quick and easy to get up and going, free themes, drag and drop building and a couple of clicks to setup a Payment gateway. Self hosted and automatic plugin updates.
The Blog area is still not as good to use as WordPress but manageable. And an eCommerce site without a Blog is like a bicycle with one wheel. Ever tried to ride a unicycle?
And because you’ve done your Content Marketing homework, you’ll know that organic sales flow from all the helpful articles and videos you regularly post on your site. Shopify even tracks this – showing you which Blog articles are converting to actual sales over time. I especially like this function.
Tweeking your Shopify site should become a full time occupation, if not for yourself then for someone you trust, who knows how to design retail sales conversion funnels.
I’d recommend talking with Jordy Heiss when you’re ready to level up your store. His speciality is Fashion eCommerce and he really knows his stuff.
Professional Services, Digital Publisher, eLearning or Products, Consulting, Medical, Accounting & Law
Recommendation: The Rainmaker Platform
For most Professional Services businesses, the Rainmaker Platform is the big daddy of them all.
As Digital publishing and ‘Content Marketing’ gains traction within the business community, this platform will become more and more popular. The only drawback I see is it’s rather expensive compared to the others. But it has a ton of built in features: WordPress backbone; self hosted with drag & drop building; podcast hosting; email management; online course management; payment gateway; membership areas; social login and Customer Support that is always happy and fast.
Simple Small Business Website
Recommendation: StudioPress Sites
Inexpensive. Fast setup.
For many businesses who just want a home on the web, Rainmaker Platform will be overkill.
A solid little newcomer and Rainmaker’s little cousin, is Studiopress Sites. This is my #2 choice for a Business website. A paired down version of the Rainmaker kit, based on WordPress and self hosted. Owned by the same Company. One price and secure. Easy to use and manage.
Photography & Videography, Creatives, Fitness and Movement businesses:
Squarespace seems to be skewing more to the visual. And it’s probably due to the rise in importance of visual content on the web. Squarespace handles video and image galleries beautifully.
The only drawback is that it’s not on a WordPress foundation, meaning that if you want to move your site to another platform or your own hosting (which I don’t recommend but nice to have the option) then you’ll need to physically copy and paste the content.
This is a small price to pay for a stunning visual platform. Easy to use and has many functions and applications built in – galleries, podcast hosting, blog, email signup.
You now know my preferences and the platforms I use.
Here is a list of all the DIY website and eCommerce platforms I have also used in the past and recommend you check out to find the right one for you:
- Squarespace – looks awesome and backend is easy to manage.
- Rainmaker – rock solid WordPress based platform that continues to evolve with pretty much all you’d ever need running a digital business.
- Shopify – solid, reliable and popular
- GoDaddy – the Kmart of web domains and builders.
- StudioPress Sites – simple, refined and reliable.
- Weebly – solid, a little clunky on the Mobile side.
- Tilda – looks great in that European Ikea kind of way
- Wix – a good way to get started cheaply and easily.
A note on WordPress
Whenever possible, build a website on WordPress.
Being so ubiquitous on the web also means that the content of one website built on WordPress can be easily transferred to another without too much messing around.
- Don’t spend big on your first website.Subscribe – don’t buy.
Never pay for separate Website Hosting
If at all possible, don’t be locked in to any one service provider or proprietary platform. The exception here would be your eCommerce.
Keep your eyes open for that A.I. Website Builder that’s just around the corner.
- Subscribe – don’t buy.
- Never pay for separate Website HostingIf at all possible, don’t be locked in to any one service provider or proprietary platform. The exception here would be your eCommerce.
Keep your eyes open for that A.I. Website Builder that’s just around the corner.
- If at all possible, don’t be locked in to any one service provider or proprietary platform. The exception here would be your eCommerce.
- Keep your eyes open for that A.I. Website Builder that’s just around the corner.