Designing a business website on your own is a massive undertaking, particularly if you don’t have much experience with coding. Fortunately, the ever-growing popularity of sites like Big Commerce and Shopify, along with open source content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress, means there are many viable options that enable business owners to pursue their DIY determination.
Whether you end up contracting some of the work out to a freelance designer, or decide to undertake the whole project yourself, here are four tips that will help you get your first site looking and working the way you want it to.
1. Choose a platform that supports templates
If you’re creating your own site, you need the right tools to make it happen. There are two basic options: an independently hosted web design service, or a self-hosted open source CMS. Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to make sure that there are plenty of templates available to simplify the design process for you.
Templates – also called ‘themes’ – are important, as they provide the basic structure and layout of your site, without the cost of having to design it from scratch. They also help to maintain consistency, which is essential in web design.
“Use a CMS that includes pre-designed themes which you can configure with your own brand colours and fonts,” says Kelly Brough, CEO of online toy store Oola. “My theme in Oola basically defined all of the web elements and kept them consistent. Shopify for e-commerce and WordPress for blogging are good examples.”
2. Keep it simple
When choosing a template, make sure that it meets your basic requirements in the simplest way possible. This extends beyond the structure of the site into page layout and colour usage. Brough recommends business owners with limited design experience should stick with a basic palette of 3–4 colours.
“Designers have a good sense of when to change a colour for accent – they’re trained in those sorts of things,” she says. “For somebody who’s a novice at design, if you give yourself a really simple palette, and you try to really stick to it and be consistent, you won’t inadvertently send confusing messages to your customers when headlines change from blue to green all of a sudden, or ‘buy’ buttons are sometimes red and sometimes blue.”
3. Free advice
One of the most useful aspects of paying for a service like Shopify, or using an open source CMS like WordPress, is the communties of users and designers that surround them. Each major CMS runs forums for the purpose of helping people build and modify their websites.
“Join the forums for your chosen CMS,” says Brough. “There are many people who will help you with issues that come up.”
She claims that the forums on Shopify were particularly useful when designing her online store.
“Sometimes it would be just small things where I would want to change either the location of a line of text or I would want to add a different heading,” she says. “Or things like using my own content on my WordPress blog within Shopify. There was a whole section that tells you how to use the two together. There’s all sorts of small problems that they can help you solve.”
4. Outsource the hard stuff
Creating your own site at minimal cost is an appealing idea to any business, regardless the budget. But, at the end of the day, your site needs to fulfill its purpose. This is why it’s sometimes most cost-effective to just outsource the more complex elements to a designer.
“If you have some design budget, but not enough to for a full site design, use services like 99designs or Crowdspring to get your basic pages created, and make sure you can re-use the same elements on new pages you create yourself,” says Brough.
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