A Note To Those With Existing Websites:
If you’ve already got a website up and running, don’t worry. Review this lesson with the principles in mind and focus on making updates and improvements in preparation for next week’s lesson. If you’re not already on WordPress, though, I highly recommend you make the switch.
Opening up Shop
In today’s lesson we’re going to setup shop. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get going! Here’s a quick overview of what we’re going to tackle today:
- Choosing a name for your business
- Buying a domain name
- Deciding on a web host
- Choosing a WordPress theme
- Deciding what pages to put on your site
The Right Name
Your business needs a name. There are three main options to consider. You can be self-named, choose a descriptive name (based on the service you provide) or you can choose a name with no connection. There are pro’s and cons to each.
Descriptive name – These are usually popular because they immediately give clients a clear idea of what you do. “Elegant Web Design” or “WordPress Migrators” would be examples. The negative is that you are then locked into a certain niche and you may find you soon outgrow the name and have to either start from scratch or make awkward changes to compensate.
No Connection – Names with no connection to the service (like “Pink Elephant Creative” or “Bright Spark Media”) can be a risk as it means what you do is not immediately clear. It also may be relevant to you at the birth of your business, but can fast lose its appeal and, like me you may end up with a string of names over the years while you try to find that “Perfect Name”. On the positive side, if done right, it can allow you a blank canvas to craft a memorable brand.
Self-named – This is generally the safest option. No matter what changes your business may undergo over the years, your name is never going to change so it is a great way to futureproof your business. It will also help build your personal brand.
At first I was afraid of using my own name, partly because it is difficult to spell but mostly because I was afraid people would think I was a teenager working alone in my bedroom at my parents place (Which was absolutely true at the time!). However, what I learned over time was that people don’t really care if you have a team of a dozen people behind you, they care if you can deliver results. In hindsight I wish I had not been so preoccupied with “looking like a big company”. I really believe my personal brand would have been more effective if I had embraced it from the beginning.
With all that said, no matter which option you choose, I suggest you keep it simple.
For the majority of you, I’m going to recommend that you start with your own name. If you have a very clear focus on what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, great – choose a name that’s designed for growth.A Note About Entities: Some of you may be wondering if you should setup a legal entity for your business. If you’re comfortable doing so, great. If not, I recommend that you skip it – at least in the beginning. Start simple and as the business grows, revisit. This advice is for folks starting in the United States or Australia while I imagine the advice is similar, I encourage you to check with local business owners in your area if you are working outside the USA or Australia.
The Right Domain
Choosing the right domain name is important, really important. Going the simplest route, I recommend that you just start with your name. If you have a rather unique name (like me) this shouldn’t be too hard. If you have a common name you may need to either settle for something slightly dfferent, or perhaps see if you can make a deal to purchase it from the current owner through a domain broker or similar.
You can use a tool like InstantDomainSearch.com to check and see what’s available. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:
- Go for .com – The .com address is the best way to go and people are used to using it. While it may be difficult to find the right name, be persistent – it’s worth the effort.
- Keep it short – Go for a short domain name. JonathanWoldsConsultingBusiness.com is overkill. Trust me, you dont want to use the whole thing every time you give out your email address.
- Keep it readable – As you work to keep it short, make sure you don’t go too short. Avoid contracting or misspelling words to save space. Short is important, but it must be readable.
- Make it easy to say – You should be able to easily read your domain to someone on the phone, which means avoiding the uses of “dashes” and numbers. Try saying, “Jonathan-Wold2.com” outload – the extra dash and the number are a pain.
- Choose A Name – Decide on a name for your business. If you’re just starting out, I recommend you begin with your own name. Start simple.
- Register A Domain – If you don’t already have a domain, go get one. Godaddy.com is the cheapest (around $8 a year), just ignore all the extras they try and sell you.Hover.com ($15/year) is a great choice if you’d like a better buying experience.
Choosing The Right Host
A “web host” is simply a place where your website resides. When someone types in your domain name in their browser, a request is sent to the “host” and your website is sent to them.
There are thousands of web hosts to choose from and picking the right host can be a daunting task! I’ve owned my own hosting company in the past and I’ve had a lot of experience working with the hosting industry, good and bad. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:
- Customer Service – You should be able to pick up the phone and talk to your web hosting company, especially if there’s an emergency. Try calling a web host and see how they handle customer service before you make a decision.
- You Get What You Pay For – There are a lot of low cost hosts promising “unlimited” storage and bandwidth for only a few dollars a month. What they don’t tell you is that performance will usually suffer and, if your site takes off, “unlimited” may come at a higher pricetag. Look carefully at the fine print before you make a commitment.
In just a moment, I’m going to give you my recommendations for web hosts. Before I do, I want to let you know up front that if you decide to go with one of the services recommend, I am paid a commission. Now, that said, I only recommend things that I personally use (or would use). If a company I recommend doesn’t have an affiliate program, I recommend them anyway. You are by no means obligated to use my affiliate links and if you do, I simply accept it as your way of saying thanks for my work on this course. Thank you!
The Hosts I Recommend
The following are the hosts I recommend, in order:
- WPEngine.com – They provide what’s known as “Managed WordPress Hosting”. That means they have WordPress setup for you and ready to go, no installation needed. Then, they keep it up-to-date for you. They also provide backups on a daily basis and give you the ability to “mirror” your site if you want to try something new while keeping your current site available to visitors. The websites also load very fast, which is a big plus. They are the highest priced of the hosts I recommend ($29/month), but they’re worth every penny.
- Pressable.com – Pressable (formerly ZippyKid) is similar to WPEngine with the advantage of being priced quite a bit lower ($25/month for up to five sites). They also provide excellent service. If you want the managed host experience and want to save some money, Pressable is a great choice.
- HostGator.com – Outside of managed web-hosting, HostGator is my favorite choice. Their customer service is phenomenal and I’ve been thoroughly satisfied each time I’ve called. They don’t provide backups, updates, or security support for WordPress (you’re on your own), but if your budget is tight, just over $5/month (when you buy a year) is hard to beat. Use coupon FOURWEEKS for an extra 30% off.
Choosing A WordPress Theme
One of the best ways to put WordPress to work is to use a WordPress theme. There are a lot of great choices available (too many!) when it comes to themes. Here are a few things to consider:
- Simplicity – If a theme feels too complicated, it probably is. Look for a design that’s simple, especially for your own site. A theme that promises an “unlimited number of customizations”, while probably true, isn’t the selling point I recommend.
- Attention To Detail – Look for a theme designer that has a high attention to detail. This is often demonstrated by how well the “Demo” site is put together and by the theme’s description on its sales page.
- “Responsiveness” – A “responsive” theme means that it is optimized for viewing on a mobile device, as well as a traditional desktop or laptop screen. You can test a theme’s responsiveness by visiting the demo site on your mobile phone or by simply resizing your web browser. These days any good theme should have this as a feature, with the astronomic rise in mobile browsing, it is an essential.
- Support – Look for a theme that has the support of a dedicated developer. Don’t expect to be able to call them and be willing to follow their support procedures. Just make sure that they have a support method in place and, if possible, gauge their responsivenes to support requests.
Free vs. Premium
There are a lot of free WordPress themes out there, including some great ones (I include one in my recommended list). In general, I’ve found that the quality that the premium themes provide far outweigh their already low cost and, when it comes to support, more often than not you do indeed get what you pay for. For setting up a business site, I recommend that you go the premium route.
Where To Buy
There are a lot of good options for buying WordPress themes which, unfortunately, doesn’t make deciding any easier. Here a few of my favorite places to look for and buy WordPress themes:
- ThemeForest.net – I have purchased many themes for clients on Themeforest. They have an excellent selection backed by a strong community of developers. Themes average between $40-50 per theme.
- ElegantThemes.com – I use Elegant Themes for almost all my clients these days. Their themes are well designed and have the advantage of being all released by the same team. At $69/year for the standard license or $89/year for developer, you get access to all 75+ themes for a great price. Their new Divi 3.0 theme release is truly amazing.
Themes I Recommend
The following are a list of the themes I recommend. Take a look through each. They are all excellent choices:
- Divi – A highly flexible, solidly-built, mobile-optimized and well maintained theme by the folks at Elegant Themes. I use it almost exclusively now. It is not an exaggeration to say this theme is the best I have ever used. Cost: $69/year+
- Salient – A very attractive, customizable theme. Having said that, the page builder is not as good as the one in Divi. Cost: $59.
- Responsive – A free WordPress with a clean, mobile optimized design.
Plugins I Recommend
The following are a list of the plugin I recommend for common scenarios:
- Gravity Forms – My all-around plugin of choice for setting up forms is Gravity Forms. If you’re looking for a basic, free alternative, Contact Form7 is available, but it is much more limited.
- Stream – Track all activity that takes place within WordPress – a must for sites where you share access with clients. And it’s free!
- Yoast SEO – A solid all-around plugin to help writing content and cover the basics of site optimization.
- Advanced Custom Fields – A great plugin for adding / managing custom fields.
- Child Theme Configurator – It is always good practice to use a child theme if you are planning on making any kind of customization to your theme. This plugin by Lilaea is the best and most simple option i have come across.
- Bloom – If you are setting up a mailing list opt-in etc, Elegant Themes (Maker of Divi) also have a brilliant plugin that will handle this very well for you (it will even do A/B split-testing!).
- Custom Facebook Feed Pro – This is a great plugin from Smash Baloon. they have great support and if you need to embed a Facebook feed this plugin does a great job.$49+
Building Your Site
Once you’ve chosen a theme, it’s time to build your site. As you get going, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep It Simple – Start out small. You only need a few pages to convey what you do and what folks should do to work with you. There will be plenty of time to add and improve later. For now, focus on getting to the very heart of what needs to be conveyed.
- Give Each Page A Job – Make sure that each page has a clear “call to action” and that your visitor knows what you want them to do next. Think of each page as a 24/7 member of your team – make sure that it knows what it’s supposed to do.
- Revisit Regularly – After your website is up and running, revisit it again in a week or two. Go through each of the pages and make updates. Keep the first two points in mind and continue to improve.
Here are the pages that I recommend you create:
- Homepage – In my current case, I’ve gone the simplest route possible and used my own blog as my homepage. To take it to the next level, build a homepage that has context, credibility, and a clear call-to-action.
- Services – Create a page that details the services you offer. For my freelance business, I’ve chosen to specialize in “WordPress Consulting“. In your case, you can do the same, specialize in another area, or just create a page called “Services”. Explain clearly what you offer.
- About – Tell folks about you and your business. Share your personal story and give your potential clients a perspective on who they’ll be working with. People like to work with folks they can relate to, at one level or another.
- Happy Clients – Build a page to list your clients. In your case, you probably won’t have any yet – and that’s ok! Keep it private for now or, if you’re feeling particularly bold, publish it and include a letter to your first client, offering them a strong incentive for contacting you and being the first client. In my case, I’ve merged my “Happy Clients” with my services page.
- Contact – Include a page with a contact form and instructions for getting in touch with you.
It can be hard to find quality photos or textures to use on your site if you dont know where to look, so here are a few resources to get you started.
Shutterstock – This is where I get the majority of my Stock Photos from, it seems the pricing to quality ratio is pretty good.
iStock – Easily the best known stock image marketplace, massive library, but probably one of the more expensive too.
Pixabay – This is by far the best free stock photography library I have ever found. It depends what you are looking for, but if you are willing to be patient and think creatively about your needs, it can be a great solution.
Subtle Patterns – Sometimes a nice pattern can go a long way, this site is one of the best places I have found to get them.
Getting To Work
We’ve covered a lot of ground! In next week’s lesson, we’re going to focus on getting your first client. For now, though, here’s what I want you to do between now and next week:
- Choose A Name/Domain – Decide on a name and buy a domain name for your business.
- Build Your Site – Pick a web host, choose a theme, and get your website up and running. Remeber, Perfection is not what is needed, if you wait for your website to be “perfect” you will never launch. Just make sure you are at least 80% of the way there and you can improve/iterate later.
I am sure you’re going to have some questions! I’m here to help. Send your questions to email@example.com. No question is too simple or too silly. I look forward to hearing from you! Once you get your site up and running, send me a link!
Hey there! I am always looking for ways to make these lessons even better. Would you take a moment to send me your feedback?