Can you create a website for under $100? Of course you can! I did it, and so can you!
Is it easy? Maybe yes, maybe no. A person knowledgeable of HTML and CSS can whip out a website very easily for a low price. For someone with little to no skills, then it all depends on your willingness to learn and your intestinal fortitude.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a web designer. Nor am I a programmer. But I do understand a little of HTML and knows how to use Frontpage (yes, the antiquated and now defunct web authoring software).
The Project: Redesigning WomenHomeBusiness.com
Women Home Business was launched in 2005, and it was starting to look dated (not to mention slow loading). The site was designed in such a way that updating universal features (e.g. yearly copyright information) means painfully going through each page to change the information.
We initially thought of hiring a web designer to create a new look and functionality for the site. However, I volunteered to do the project and redesign Women Home Business
as I was looking for a new challenge.
Redesigning Women Home Business was a three-month long process for me. Since it was not a rush job, I was able to take as much time as I need to do what needs to be done. Was it a good use of my time? Probably not in the sense that my main strength lies in developing content, but the skills and knowledge I learned from the process made it all worthwhile.
The new site is a huge improvement over the old look of the site: it is easier to navigate, has stronger aesthetics, and sports a cleaner (and definitely fresher design). Best of all, I did it for under $100.
How did I do it? Here are the steps I took:
1. The first step is to understand your needs. Before looking at any content management systems or templates, know what you want from a new design. Look at what’s working in your old design, and what you need to change. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What contents will I have? Group your contents by corporate/company information (about us, advertise, contact us, etc) and your content categories
- How do you want to present your content?
- What do you want to show on the homepage?
- Are you selling or planning to sell advertising? What ad spaces do you need?
- Do you want to feature some of your content?
- Are you going to have multimedia features, such as videos?
2. Use a free content management system or CMS. Examples include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and many others. I went with WordPress for Women Home Business.
Read the feedback of others in forums to see the pros and cons of using the CMS you are most interested in. I highly recommend checking out the Content Management Systems section of WebmasterWorld.com, which typically offers discussions on various types of CMS.
It took me about a month to decide on the template I want for WomenHomeBusiness.com. When I decided on the WordPress platform (Joomla and Drupal has too steep of a learning curve for me), I looked at all free and paid WordPress templates. I studied user comments about the template to determine how easy it will be to customize.
3. Search for an inexpensive (and there are even free) templates for your chosen CMS. Then you can start looking for template/s that already allows for what you need. Or find those that you think can be easy enough to customize to suit your needs.
I found a template I like from Studiopress.com for only $59 (and for $140, you can download and use all of their templates). Studiopress.com, the vendor I used for Women Home Business template, has a tutorials section on how to configure and customize the templates, from changing the background color to adding thumbnails on the homepage. For specific questions not addressed by the tutorials, the forum attracts users, web designers and programmers adept at using the design theme. They can help troubleshoot problems and address customization questions.
4. Configure the theme design based on how you want to present your content and how you want its aesthetics to look including colors. If you are going to buy a template, do not just consider the design and aesthetics. Consider availability of free customer support, including an active forum of users of the theme.
Of course, the level of customization – and how far you want to push the template to avoid making it look the same for hundreds of other sites using it – depends on your skills and willingness to learn.
5. Configure the CMS to your liking. What I like about WordPress is the presence of a huge number of plugins available, from search engine optimization to securing the database to even creating surveys for your users.
6. Use the forums. However, before you hit the forums, read and re-read the instructions of your chosen CMS and template. Only when you can’t make heads or tails of the instructions should you go to the forums. You’d be surprised to see many experts willing to help you. The key is to ask the right questions. Be specific in the questions you ask in the forums. Here is an example of good and bad way to phrase your question:
- Bad: How do I move my WordPress?
- Good: How do I move WordPress from its current directory to root directory?
Better-phrased and exact questions allow you to get better responses. Don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions. I even went to the point of asking what “root directory” means because I honestly did not know!
7. Enlist the help of friends. There will be portion where your limited know-how demand that you seek outside help.
For Women Home Business , it was the header design. I enlisted the help of a graphic designer friend. For the cost of one lunch, I was able to have a nice-looking and eye-catching logo and header that encapsulated what Women Home Business is all about. Note that I requested quotes from other designers and the quotes I got ranged from $400 to $2000 for the logo and header design.
8. Back up your files regularly. You are going to make mistakes, and it is best to regularly backup your files and databases.
The key point: If you want cheap, you have to know how to do it yourself, or be willing to learn and do it yourself.