28th Nov 2012
In the UK Business Forums (UKBF) Startup Clinic, sponsored by Microsoft, entrepreneurs considered how startups can produce a great website on a tight budget. Lucie Mitchell reviews the discussion.
For many entrepreneurs, having an online presence is key to the success of their business. However, building and designing the right website could take up a great deal of time and money. So how do you ensure you end up with an effective and engaging website that doesn’t blow your budget?
Try some free tools
There are many content management systems (CMS) out there that are free to use, such as WordPress and Joomla, that enable you to build your own website quickly and at no cost.
UKBF member 'roibot' advises: "If you're just looking for a cheap, simple, quick way to get online using your own domain, make sure you register the domain yourself and that it's built on a simple CMS like WordPress so you can easily edit the site yourself when you get to that point."
UKBF member 'cocodude' adds that these kinds of sites can be a good alternative to paying someone to design your website: "If you want to save a bit of money on the design, you could look into solutions such as getting a simple WordPress site, for example, up and running. This is pretty easy and there are plenty of simple templates to choose from."
However, if you want a really impressive, good-looking website, and don’t have that 'artistic flair' to design it, says 'cocodude', then you'll probably need to pay someone something.
"I certainly don't have that flair but the actual hosting side of things needn't be difficult and, to be honest, it really grates me when some other hosting providers make it difficult for non-technical users.”
Rent a website
If you want something a bit more polished, but money is particularly tight, you could consider ‘renting’ a website, says UKBF member 'tnet', from companies who will create a website for you for free, and then charge you yearly for maintenance, hosting and domain cost.
"So you can start with a pretty great website and pay no more than £100 for the first year. For this amount you can get a nice-looking website, standard search engine optimization and social media marketing package. If you're going to hire someone to develop the website by the exact same standards then you'll need to pay much more right away."
However, UKBF member ITsoldUK warns that while renting a website may suit some tight budgets, there are a few questions you must ask yourself first to ensure it fits your plans.
"First, what is your total budget for launching via a direct-owned site and three years ongoing costs, including hosting? Second, what is the total cost of renting a website for the same period? Then consider issues that may arise such as site ownership (have you got full FTP control over your domain and website?), updating, resources available - such as web space and visitor contention - and server locations.
"Many get trapped and find that they can only do a small fraction of what they need and then have issues relating to site development; a year is a long time," he adds.
UKBF member 'Donal' points out that the most important thing to ensure is that you own the domain.
"There are businesses that will host and install WordPress for you, for the price of renting. But you own the domain, so if you decide to leave the provider, you still own your domain. This is so important."
Build your own website
UKBF member 'bandlx' believes that entrepreneurs on a budget should have a go at building their own site.
"When I started this business I had pretty much no budget, and no choice but to try myself. For £30 I purchased some software and built a site that was optimized very well. Within three weeks many of my pages were on page one of Google and still are. My site generates new business daily because it's set up to be found... And honestly, it was very straight forward."
Although it takes up a lot of your own time, adds bandlx, building your own site can save you a great deal of money. “My site costs £1 per week to run and cost me only my time to build.”
However, UKBF member 'reload-design' warns that unless you know what you are doing, it is never a good idea to build your own website.
"Whilst the internet is becoming much more accessible for many people and more businesses are getting online, to start out with a poorly-executed website could mean disaster for your business.
"There are so many factors to consider when building websites; it's not just a case of making a layout on a template builder. Techniques that novices use (shoddy link-building, keyword stuffing, creating user-unfriendly sites, poor site architecture etc) will invariably lead to your business appearing lower in search engine results."
Eight web design tools
- Microsoft Office 365: Powered by SharePoint Online, a feature of Office 365 allows customers to choose a domain and then build, publish and maintain their website
- Geeklog: An open source CMS that supports multi-author websites and plug-ins
- Moveable Type: A social publishing platform for building websites, blogs and social networks, especially good for community-based sites
- Textpattern: An open source CMS that allows you to easily create, edit and publish content
- Joomla: A CMS that enables you to build websites and powerful online applications
- WordPress: An easy-to-use and very popular self-hosted blogging platform
- Drupal: A free open source software package that allows you to easily organise, manage and publish your content in a variety of ways
- Moonfruit: Software that enables you to design your own site and automatically create a mobile optimised version