… it’s so confusing! I can’t possibly start my own website … right?

Question: Domains, blogs, CSS, templates — it’s so confusing! I can’t possibly start my own website … right?

Answer: Wrong. Gone are the days of super-technical back-end work that only a tech whiz could accomplish. Thanks to an array of simplified tools and support systems, you could easily build your own website in a minimal amount of time, at a minimal cost.

Make no mistake about it: Your website is quickly becoming one of the main avenues by which prospects and referral sources will judge whether or not they want to become your client. Just as you wouldn’t hand out a tattered business card, I encourage you to take a look at your website and consider whether it reflects well on you and your business. Does it look outdated, like a sedan with a dull paint finish, rattling down the road and leaving exhaust in its wake? In other words, is your website stinkin’ up the place?

I’m up to my eyeballs redoing my websites, as well as those of two of my consulting clients, and I’m happy to report that it is much simpler and less expensive today to get a gorgeous website that’s easy to update and maintain. I can also report that it is simple to build a website. If you’re even moderately comfortable using a computer and have a couple of days to devote to the task, you or another bright person in your office, can do it yourself.

What’s changed? In the past, most local webmasters would use such programs as Dreamweaver (now available from Adobe) or FrontPage (since replaced by Microsoft’s Expression Web) to build a website. These programs had very steep learning curves and cost hundreds of dollars, discouraging agents from doing it themselves.

Those impediments are now a thing of the past. Free telephone support from hosting services, as well as easily accessible and free online advice and tutorials, have enticed me to finally make the decision to bring my Web design functions in house. I do this knowing that, for some specific tasks, I may have to bring in a webmaster.Although many hosting services have “build your own website” programs, after having used these services on a couple of projects, I would instead recommend that you go straight to WordPress. This freeware program allows you to quickly and inexpensively build an impressive-looking and robust site. And before you think that WordPress is for blogs only, understand that it can be used to design one-page or multi-page websites that do not host blogs, and whose content will rarely change.

Getting the ball rolling

To start, you’ll need to subscribe to a Web-hosting service that supports WordPress, which will then host your website on their servers for less than $10 per month. You’ll also need to integrate your domain and your hosting service. Most people use either GoDaddy or NetworkSolutions for domain purchases (I prefer Godaddy). For hosting, I use Hostgator, and have also heard good things about Bluehost. All of these services have free telephone support and will gladly help you set up your site.

If you don’t want to do it all yourself, you can hire a webmaster to build your site using WordPress. I recommend searching for a webmaster on Elance, or even posting on CraigsList; make sure to vet your candidates well and request links to samples of their WordPress-based work, as well as at least three domestic clients you can call for references.

Don’t be afraid, and seek help

WordPress allows you to easily change the look of your site with a few keystrokes, leaving behind the hours of painstaking work of years past. To make the process even easier, I bought a popular template called Thesis from http://www.DIYthemes.com. The theory behind this important Web development is called cascading style sheets, or CSS (more than you needed to know, perhaps).

To learn how to build a site in WordPress or do something in the Thesis template (or most other programs), both organizations have user forums and help functions. However, I usually just search in Google and YouTube, each of which will yield dozens of helpful results.  Here’s to your continued on and offline success.

Marilee Driscoll is a speaker, writer, consultant, and creator of the Driscoll Drip ghostwritten LTCI article program.

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