A few years ago I spent a whole lot of time and a great deal more money getting websites done for me, and I was never as happy with the results as I thought I should have been, given the price. One question niggled at me every unpleasant day I endured the unreturned emails to the web dude, the disappearing webmaster who vanished without a trace after billing me, and the smug hideously expensive designer who overcharged grotesquely for a site no one could maintain after he moved on to greener pastures. And the question was… isn’t someone getting websites done quickly and cheaply?
Yes, as I learned from an expensive and totally worth it marketing course. The answer is WordPress, which lets you crank out beautiful sites in minutes, ready to have your greatness poured into them in the form of articles and and artwork which only you can provide. All I needed to know was the minimum to get a WordPress site in shape for me to add pages or blog posts to. Aye, there’s the rub. Maybet these things sound familiar to you.
1. Starting a Website? WordPress is Easier to Understand Than Your Webmaster
How many times has this happened to you? You just want a small website put up. Nothing fancy. A few articles, maybe a contact page, an About page, a news section. You ask around for quotes and then things really get weird.
- One place on the classifieds site looks local at first, but then you realize they’re someplace else entirely. Do you really want to start off with someone who’s effectively lied to get your business?
- Some places appear to charge only $50 or so for an okay-looking site. Maybe too good. How can they charge so little? When you try to email them they can’t communicate too well and they’re in the wrong time zone.
- You get frustrated and find a book on HTML. Oops. Not going to happen.
The good news is, once you know which features are key, using WordPress is almost exactly like using a word processor. It can seem complicated, but then you realize why its features are optimized for maintaining your site, not just making it. I love the fact that I can add pages or news items without ever having even to think of calling in a professional.
2. WordPress Won’t Charge You an Arm and a Leg for Small Changes
You’ve probably heard of WordPress. Maybe even a friend recommend it. There are lots of WordPresses, though, right? There’s WordPress.org, which has so much information your brain short-circuits about 30 seconds into reading their 5 minute startup guide, which appears to be geared toward MIT graduates. Recent MIT graduates.
WordPress.com looks much easier. You can start a blog very easily. However, its features are limited and they can and will shut you down in an instant if you try to use their free blogging platform for commercial purposes. Or your competitors can have your site shut down simply by reporting it as “offensive”.
3. Your Webmaster Can’t Read Your Mind: How to Start Your Website in 8 Seconds
If you look around for web hosting, you will find, almost unbelievably, that buried in the zillions of other features for confusingly varied prices you can have WordPress blogs installed for… nothing? It’s true! All you need is a $12 domain name, about 8 seconds to install WordPress (installing it really is that simple) and you can have your own site running in moments.
Really? Surely there are pitfalls to that approach? And who has the best hosting for the least money if all the other stuff is true? The features they list on the web hosting sites appear to run on forever, yet there are only a few you need to know to get your WordPress blog hosted. A good start: CPanel hosting, free MySQL databases, unlimited disk space, and multiple domain names for one price. Figuring out which ones have beginner-friendly hosting is one area feature lists don’t necessarily provide trustworthy information.
4. You Care More About Your Site Than Your Webmaster
So you have the basics down. You have:
- A domain name
- A web host
- A brand spanking new WordPress installation that already lets you add articles and web pages as easily as you work a word processor
What pages do most sites need? What’s the best way to get found on Google? I can tell you from personal experience the answers may surprise you. There’s a ton of bad information out there yet the gist of what you need can be delivered in an hour or so with a good instructor (or video series).
The most amazing thing about WordPress is that, unlike waiting for your webmaster to drive home from the coffee shop or get back from some kind of “downtime”, you can make changes to a WordPress site the minute you think about them. And you don’t have to pay yourself an hourly minimum to try a fresh approach.
Let’s face it: your webmaster cares about maximizing billable time. You care about giving your customers an awesome experience, one so good they’ll be happy to pay for your product or service. And that can take experimentation.
5. Pay for WordPress Training Once–or Pay Your Webmaster Forever?
WordPress.org has every answer you need, and 100,000 other answers you will never ever care about in your life. Obviously search engines are you friend, but they don’t do a fantastic job of breaking down into easy to understand, beginner-oriented steps the absolute minimum you need your site up and running, and easy for your to maintain.
When I consider the cost of training materials, I compare it to the cost of hiring someone to do it for me. If the training materials cost $99 and an expert costs $60 an hour, can I get my money’s worth by paying the same or less for training as I would for two hours of an expert’s time? Conversely, if I can only pay to get 2 hours of an expert’s time, will that be enough?
There’s an embarrassment of riches in the world of starting a website. WordPress training can go all over the place. Here’s a how to choose the course that’s best for you.
- Free sample: You should be able to download a free sample course that takes you completely through at least one complete lesson, preferably two or three. Amazon’s free samples are the worst, because they always seem to be made up largely of front matter like tables of contents and not so much in the way of actual learning.
- The free sample should contain actionable material that moves you visibly closer to your goal. By the end of it you should know at least one new topic well enough that you can move to the next level, all using the sample. For example, registering a domain name, choosing a web host with beginner-friendly support, or adding blog posts to your new WordPress site.
- The course material should teach in a medium you learn from best. I like eBooks, because I read fast and like to refer back to steps I don’t understand when I’m learning something new. Many people prefer videos because they’re visual learners. Others want MP3 files so they can learn on the bus to work.
- It should be up to date. WordPress makes a couple major changes a year. If you’re going to paying for training, it shouldn’t be last year’s sloppy seconds.
- It better have a money back guarantee. If I can’t return the course within 30 days, which is plenty of time to see if it’s worthwhile, I’m dealing with a company that doesn’t trust their own product. I’ll move on.
I’ve paid for websites to be built–one cost $30,000, and another cost $80,000 and counting (but it’s highly specialized and produces a good income). I’ve paid for many, many smaller websites and I never felt great about value for the money. I always felt that maybe I could have done better myself. Creating self-hosted blogs using free WordPress has turned out to be the sweet spot.
What’s better is that now when I do hire someone, I know very well whether it’s a 15 minute edit or a half-day marathon. Learning WordPress was worth every cent of the books and courses I’ve taken. Starting a website is no longer the mystery it was a couple years ago, because I know how to start a website and have it up and running and ready to be modified by even the least trained user in just minutes.