April 18 2012

Do a search in almost any search engine with the words “website” “build a website” “or anything else you can think of when looking for help setting up a website for your small business, and you will find lots of titles telling you they can give you a website for free.  It sounds great …and FREE! Why would you pay someone to do this for you? They make it sound so simple! You don’t have a lot of money, right? It can’t be that hard, right?  Well …perhaps.  But I caution you not to jump right in without doing a little research first.  I have a few thoughts to help guide you while you browse through these offerings.

First of all – if you don’t understand their terminology and only have a general idea of what they are talking about, then perhaps doing it yourself is not a great idea. At least not the first time you get your feet wet.

Next – read every detail of what they say to you. It won’t help you if you are unhappy later and they come back and tell you they told you all about that feature on page one.

As a general rule, they are offering something ‘free’ but you still have to pay for everything else. It is a good idea to look at the bottom line or final actual cost before committing to a contract. Compare apple to apples; term to same term.  It may be the domain name that is free, or the templates etc to build the website (yourself) or even the first year of hosting – but you are locked into subsequent years at an inflated price.

Similarly, offerings at greatly reduced prices may actually be exactly what you want; minimal pages, no support, no changes, no custom graphics, no email, no help with your visibility etc… However, what usually happens is that you sign on for a basic package at a super rate and then you find that that it doesn’t actually do the job for you.  Then you are stuck (at least for the year) with an inadequate website that does not promote your business, club or service the way you want and it is either going to cost you a lot of money to get it up to par, or you waste a year or more before you can start over by hiring someone to re-design the site.

Here are a couple things to watch out for when you are deciding how you are going to proceed:

1 – Make sure the company provides good support. You want to be able to talk to an actual person right now. You want 24/7 service if possible. At the minimum you want them to get back to you, in person, within 24 hours.  If your site is down or if there is a major problem you don’t want to “close your doors” for longer than that.  Confirm what type of support they provide. Is it just for specific problems? Or all problems. Do they charge extra for support?  Are they limited to 9-5 Monday to Friday support?  Are they well trained?  Does their support team even exist? Do they ‘farm out’ their support service?

2 – Take a good look at the templates and procedures needed to set up your site. Are the templates interesting and varied? (Sometimes they all look basically the same) Is there one that might be a good fit with your business? Are they easy to use? Do they include the features you want? I have tried to follow some of the instructions for some of these “build it yourself” websites and find them very complicated and confusing. I’m not saying that I couldn’t have completed the exercise but if I wasn’t already trained in website construction and several programming languages, I would be lost. It is possible you might be too.

3 – Watch out for hidden fees.

4 – Make sure that the “Free” product will actually fit your needs. I think that 5 pages & 1 GB of memory, no dedicated email, and no help (support), is not going to work for anyone.

In the end, after you have you have spent a few days doing research and looking at different companies, you may decide to give it a shot and tryout one of these “Get it cheap” or “Get it Free” offers. If you have enough computer knowledge and experience, it could be fun. (So long as you understand that it is NEVER FREE) On the other hand, perhaps it would turn out to be cheaper and less hassle for you to hire someone who knows what they are doing. It will still require your involvement, but you will be able to rest assured that you will get a website that will represent you and your business in a unique way that you can be proud of.

I hope this helps. The decision is yours and I wish you all the best in your choices.

Next week I will talk about considerations regarding the newer platforms for website viewing like the PC, Laptop, ipad, SmartPhone etc. and how that may affect you.

Thanks for visiting,

Olwen

Sandstone Studios Web Solutions

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