How to build a website for your business cheaply and easily
In this COVID-scarred age, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a writer or a Realtor, you need a website to avoid becoming invisible. Don’t worry about your budget. You can build your own website in an hour and it will cost you less than a nice lunch.
You don’t have to be tech savvy to do it, either. If you’ve ever created a customized holiday card or shower invitation online, you’ve already got most of the skills you need to build your own website.
“It’s really easy,” says Daniella Flores, owner of I Like to Dabble, a website about money and travel. “You can make it complicated, of course. But if you just need a simple site that gets your name and contact information out there, it’s fast, easy and cheap.”
Do you need a website?
Generally speaking, you need one when you are a full-time freelancer or business owner who is selling a product or service to the public.
If you’re a restaurant owner, plumber, electrician or retailer, for example, having a website makes it easy for people to find your contact information, what products or services you offer and how much you charge. Or if, for example, you are a freelance author, writer, photographer or designer, a website can enable you to show off your past work, making it easier for prospective clients to know whether you’re an appropriate candidate for their job.
If, however, your business is more of a side hustle than a full-time living, it’s possible to simply create a profile on someone else’s website. Dog walkers and pet sitters can create a profile on Rover, for instance. Tutors can create a profile on Wyzant or Varsity Tutors. Writers might set up a profile on Contently. Photographers could list on Snapped4U.
These online platforms essentially handle all the technology and marketing. However, they take anywhere from 5% to 40% of your revenue in exchange. When you’re making only a few hundred dollars a month with a side hustle, that’s a relative pittance for the convenience. The more you earn, the more those fees add up.
If you want your side hustle to become your full-time business, you should have your own website.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to building your website in less than an hour. Cost? About $12 a month.
Step 1: Pick a name
Decide what to call your site. This is the basis for your domain name — the core part of your website’s unique URL. Since this is how people will find you, your best bet is to keep the name straightforward and intuitive. If you’re an author, you could name your site “Author John Smith,” for example. If you’re a loan broker, you could use your city and profession — i.e. “Pasadena Loan Broker.” Artist? “Susan Jones Art.” Or “Beautiful Abstract Art.” Or “Watercolors by Susan,” perhaps.
Your goal should be to find a search-friendly name that’s likely to pop up when someone is looking for the type of product or service you sell.
Come up with at least a couple of options. That’s simply because your ideal domain name could already be taken. Also know that domain names are not case-sensitive and can’t include empty spaces. So someone who wants to name their site Pasadena Loan Broker, for instance, would type the domain as “pasadenaloanbroker” or “pasadena-loan-broker.”
Step 2: Head to GoDaddy
There are dozens of sites that will register your domain name and help you get online. Wix, WordPress, Network Solutions, Squarespace and DreamHost are just a few. But if you’re looking for a fast, easy and cheap way to create a simple website, it’s tough to beat GoDaddy.
GoDaddy will register your domain name for one year for a price ranging from $1 to $20. If your preferred domain name is taken, you can sometimes buy it from the owner for a more substantial price. However, you’re generally better off picking a name out of those that are available.
Let’s say you want to be known as Los Angeles Cook. Type “losangelescook” into the domain search engine. You’ll find that name is taken — at least if you want the .com ending. So is “lachef.” However, GoDaddy suggests similar website names that are still available. What about “thelachef”? With a .com ending, that was available for the standard rate of $11.99 for the first year.
When you settle on the name you want, hit “add to cart.”
Step 3: Cue it up
Once you’ve bought the domain name and registered with GoDaddy, go to your “My Products” page on the GoDaddy site. You find that by clicking your name in the top right-hand corner of the page. That opens a drop-down menu. Click “My Products.” It will take you to a list of products you’ve purchased, including your domain name. (We recommend that you don’t buy the additional security and privacy products that GoDaddy will probably try to sell you. You’ll get anything you need later, once you’ve built your site and decide on a hosting plan.)
Next to the domain name you just bought will be three buttons: “Set Up,” “DNS” and “Manage.” Click on “Set Up.” That will bring up three more options. Click the one that says “create a website.”
Step 4: Start simple
The next page will ask whether the site is for your personal use, business use or to sell things online. Then it will ask whether you want to build the site yourself in the simplest manner possible; whether you’re sophisticated and want more control; or whether you want someone to do it for you.
Answer the first question as appropriate for how you want to use the site. Answer the second question with “easier the better.”
That will suggest a “Start for Free” option. Click that. This takes you to GoDaddy’s website builder, which is free to use for the first month. (After that, you’ll need to buy a monthly hosting plan. We recommend the standard hosting, which costs $12 per month. It gets you everything you probably need, including site security.)
Step 5: Specify a category
The website builder will want to know what your website is about. Let’s say you’re creating an author website. Type in “author” and it will ask you to choose between “book” and “writer.” Either choice will bring up a sample website populated with stock photos and site features you might want.
Likewise, if you start by typing in “auto,” the site will ask whether you want to do automobile repairs, detailing, auto parts or sales. Be specific when answering these questions. This helps the web builder pick a theme for your site.
What’s a theme? That’s the overall look and layout. This includes headings, where photos are placed and all the little pieces you put together to make the page. A typical site might have a heading, a mission statement, a summary of services, contact information and, maybe, links to social media or testimonials.
There are thousands of themes to choose from, ranging from simple one-page themes to complex themes that include drop-down menus and animations. One of the things we like the most about GoDaddy’s website builder is that it limits your choices to a dozen or so that would work well with the type of site you’re building. This can save you hours reviewing the otherwise dizzying array of choices.
Next, the website builder will ask you to name the site. Your site name should correspond closely with your domain name, but with proper capitalization and spacing. If you bought “thelachef.com” as your domain name, type “The L.A. Chef” or, perhaps, “The Los Angeles Chef.”
Step 6: Pick a theme
Once you answer those questions, the site will take you to a suggested theme. However, the theme that comes up immediately isn’t your only choice. On the upper right-hand side of the page, you can click on “themes” and “try a new look.” That will give you other choices.
When you’ve picked the theme you like best, scroll back to the top right of the page and click “website.” That locks in the theme you’ve selected.
Step 7: Fill in the blanks
This part of building your site is almost like customizing a greeting card. Your theme already has standard art, sample wording and several site modules.
You’ll notice as you move your cursor down the page that blocks of text will highlight. If you want to change that text, click on the highlighted block and plug in the wording you want.
If you want to delete a section, you click on the little trash can icon that appears when you move your cursor over that section.
Want to add a section? Click the little plus symbol that floats between the sections. The site will ask what you want to add — a blog, photo gallery, “contact us” page or PayPal button, for instance. Make your choice, and that section will drop itself into your theme right there.
If you want to change a photo, click it. That will bring up a cue to “update.” Click on that, and it will show you all the stock photos included with your theme. Want to add photos of your own? Click the empty box or the “upload photos” prompt, and you can drag and drop photos from your computer into your digital photo library.
Step 8: Fill in your settings
Once you’ve got the site looking the way you like it, go back to the top right of your screen and hit “settings.” This is the back end of your site that tells GoDaddy where your “contact us” emails should be sent, which accounts to link to your social media icons, etc. Fill in the blanks as appropriate.
Step 9: SEO your site
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” And while a lot of people will charge you a small fortune to do this for you, basic SEO is simple. It’s all about telling Google what’s on each page in a clear sentence.
Let’s say your site is “Meals From the Garden.” The website builder automatically fills that name into the relevant SEO setting, but you have to fill in the SEO site description. You might say something like: “Meals From the Garden is a site dedicated to creating healthy meals from organic produce that you grow yourself.”
If your site has more than one page, you’ll hit the down arrow on the “Pages” prompt to move to the next page description. In the “about us” for your site, you might say: “We are organic gardeners with a passion for making great food with our own produce.”
When you’ve completed describing each of your pages, hit “done.” That will take you back to your completed website.
Step 10: Publish
Take one last look to check for typos or anything else you might want to change. Satisfied? Great. Hit the “publish” button, and within seconds, your site is online. Want to see it like a customer? Open a new window in your web browser and type in your domain name. Voila.
Think you’ve made a mistake and your site is not ready for public consumption? Go back to editing the site, click on site settings and hit “unpublish.” That will make your site inaccessible to the public. Make the changes you want and hit “publish” again.
Congratulations! You know how to build websites. Use your powers for good.
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of money-making opportunities in the gig economy.
Your guide to our clean energy future
Get our Boiling Point newsletter for the latest on the power sector, water wars and more — and what they mean for California.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.