It's amazing how much has changed from the old days of building websites, especially when you had to hire a web site designer to make your website that ended up costing you a lot of money. In those days, you still had premade HTML and Flash (remember flash?) templates. Eventually we started to see content management systems come into view like Mambo, Movable Type, and WordPress.

Of course, there were more than the three that I just mentioned, and yes, both Movable Type and WordPress are content management systems, but these were built as blogging platfoms.

Websites are getting Easier to Make

I won't bore you with a history of web design progression, but we know that most people who run their own website are more likely to build their own using premade templates or themes. Let's face it, it's become a lot easier to start your own website whether for personal or business.

However, there are a few things you need to know before you embark on your new and exciting project, so I will take you through some of the many important points of getting started.

Plan Your Website on Paper

I know it's easy to get excited to just jump right in and get started, but let's take this one step at a time to ensure we don't miss anything, otherwise we may find ourselves falling into an unexpected situation later on.

Get yourself a pad of paper and a pencil (or pen) and sit down at the table with a nice coffee or tea. Find a place where you won't be interrupted or distracted. Now it's time begin making notes about your website in whatever form works best for you, and then consider the following questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your website going to be about
  • What "must have" features do you need?
  • What "wishful" features would you love to have, but not required?
  • Do you need media like videos or photos, and if so, how will you obtain these?
  • Do you want a custom designed website or will you use a premade WordPress theme?
  • Do you have a budget set for this?
  • Do you have a timeframe set for completion?
  • Will you be the one building and maintaining the site?

This helps to give you an overview of what your website will be about and how will it be built. I will briefly take you through each of the points for more insight into each one and hopefully prepare you for what could be an amazing experience.

(1) What is Your Website About?

The heading is self-explanatory because it gets straight to the point by asking what is your website about. It doesn't make sense to begin something if you do not know what it is. For example, when I build earlier this year, I wrote out exactly what my website will be about. To answer the question, I had written  "Shaped Pixels will design and sell premium WordPress themes and provide valuable information and tutorials to help others build their own websites".

That was my starting point because I needed to know what my website was going to be about.

(2) What "Must Have" Features do I need?

Once you know what your website will be about, now it's time to list out what features (and functions) do you need to have. This helps you determine if you need anything special such as plugins or scripts.

Let's use Shaped Pixels as an example again and list out what features I needed:

  • I needed to have the ability for customers to sign-up/purchase themes
  • I needed the ability for customers to download themes
  • I needed a portfolio to showcase themes
  • I needed a blog to post articles

I could break down each one into specific features, but I started off with the main features in basic form.

(3) What "wishful" features would you love to have, but not required?

This is more of a luxury wishlist of what features you would love to have but either cannot add them right now because of time constraints or perhaps not enough in your cost allowance. Still, think about your wishful features, but don't spend too much time and effort on it until you get to a point in time when you are ready to implement them.

(4) Do you need media like videos or photos, and if so, how will you obtain these?

Most websites have one thing in common...they have photos, illustrations, videos, or other forms of media. If you are building a professional looking and functional website for a business, you don't want crappy looking media, so this is something you should keep in mind when planning things out. 

You have many options for obtaining such media, whether paid or free, but what is important is to make sure you are allowed to use the media for your own needs. Remember, most if not all media will have some form of license attached to them, so the last thing you want to worry about is being sued for using copyrighted material that belongs to someone else. When you go to stock photo sites, make sure you read their license terms of use, or if you use media from other sources like Google, Flickr, or any other resource, make sure you can use the image, video, or illustration. Just because you see it there, does not always mean you can use it.

IMPORTANT Any time you use media from another source, make sure you are allowed.

(5) Do you want a custom designed website or will you use a premade WordPress theme?

Designing a custom website can be one of the most expensive experiences you will encounter. We're talking 1000's of dollars for a professional designed website, so if you got the money and you want something unique to your own business and website, then this is probably the solution for you.

Long ago, hiring a web designer was the only way to put a website together, but since templates and themes have become the norm, the need for spending $5000 (or more) on a website is not the only a great way to start up a new site, it's also a very low cost solution as well. Themes for WordPress are more than abundant, they are everywhere and they are easily found. Themes and templates can be free or they can be "premium" or sometimes called "professional" which means they have a price that you pay to download; prices usually range between $20 to $80. 

Deciding whether to go with custom design or a commercial theme is something only you will know the answer to. The important part is to know the the advantages and disadvantages with both options.

Advantages of a Custom Designed Website

  • You get a design that is unique to your website only
  • You can get exactly what you want
  • Your site will be more adaptable to your business needs
  • Scalability is easier

Disadvantages of a Custom Designed Website

  • The cost
  • A custom website will take a lot longer to complete
  • If you hired a designer and they disappear, you could find yourself in trouble should anything go wrong
  • If you plan to maintain your website, will you be able to work with the code?

Advantages of a Theme or Template

  • Low cost to start up
  • Faster to get up and running
  • Theme developers often include theme support if anything goes wrong
  • Most will include free theme updates up to a year

Disadvantages of a Theme or Template

  • What happens after your year of free support and updates has expired?
  • Some theme developers offer horrible support (it's more common than you think).
  • A lot of themes are coded poorly and for WordPress themes, many don't use current standard WordPress coding methods
  • There are a lot of themes that are coded in a way that is really complicated, so customizing it could be a challenge
  • Your theme won't be unique to your website because many others will be using it as well.

(6) Do you have a budget set for your new website?

Even free websites can come with a cost, so you should consider what kind of budget you can afford for your new project. If you are wondering what can cost you money with a free website, here are a few possibilities:

  • Hosting costs - do you need a new one or do you need to upgrade?
  • Domain costs - don't forget that domains do cost money
  • Internet access - do you need to upgrade your current package?
  • Backup services - Will you be using a paid service? *Always keep backups!
  • You may decide to use a commercial plugin instead of a free one
  • What happens if you run into a problem and need to pay for support or a designer?
  • When theme and support expires, will you be renewing it?

Even if your website costs $1 per month, that is still part of a budget that you need to be aware of.

 (7) Do you have a timeframe set for completion?

As with anything, you want to know how long something is going to take you to get setup from start to completion. Custom design is one that can take months to accomplish, but even if you build your website with a theme, this still demands some time commitment. It's not just the initial setup of your site design, it's also things like planning and laying out your site's content and navigational structure. Let's not forget about a theme's learning curve because many often have complex features and settings that may not be as easy as one may think.

In a perfect world, once you install a theme or log into your website for the first time that everything is magically created and in put into the right place from the start. The reality is that you still have a lot of work to do and the one important thing to remember is to never take time for granted because it can cost you. Another reason why it's important to plan everything out is so you have the answers to every possible thing that could go wrong.

I mentioned about theme learning curves...every theme has one. Some will be extensive, you could find yourself getting discouraged and end up feeling like you just wasted valuable time and money, while others are easy to use and can get you up and running in little time. Like the old adage "Expect the unexpected" holds very true.

To give you a good example, let's talk about Shaped Pixels...I originally planned to design themes for and I've already started building my website to accommodate that market segment of WordPress. After a full month of development, I found out they were no longer taking in new theme authors. Long story short, I had to completely change everything which then added 2 more months to the Shaped Pixels launch window. What should have been 1 month, now took me 3 months.

(8) Will you be the one building and maintaining the site?

This relates to the topic of whether you plan to create a custom design or if you will be using a premade theme because this part will focus on maintaining your website. When I say maintaining, I am referring to the ongoing maintenance of updates, bug fixes, design adjustments, and most importantly, the creation and management of your site's content.

You need to consider what your HTML and CSS skills are when it comes to customizing your theme and even creating professional looking content. Customizing your theme obviously requires some basics of HTML and CSS, but to make content look very professional with different layouts and graphics, having these skills will greatly improve the overall look of your website. The truth is, everyone running a website should have some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

In Summary

Creating your own website is not always going to be a quick and simple to do, but the more prepared you are, the better. Get a piece of paper and start writing out everything relating to your website, and you will be surprised at how much is really involved once you see it on paper in front of you. The more organized you are, the less chances you will experience the unexpected. If you ever heard the boy scout motto, it's "Be Prepared!"