There comes a time in every small business's life where a web presence beyond the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and general social networking sites becomes necessary. It would be just lovely if having a kick-butt website built for you was super affordable, but it's not. In fact, most companies that build websites charge an astronomical amount for a content management system (with good reason!) and if you choose to go without one, you are subjected to being charged for adding additional content (like new products) and waiting for the website company to put it up on your site.
I have no patience for that - and I did not want to shell out thousands of dollars to build my website, at least not right now. So, I had to suck it up and try and build one on my own.
I consider myself pretty computer savvy. I may just consider myself this way because I am married to a techie-geek who is always there to bail me out...but whatever, I can hang on my own pretty well, too.
However, when it came time in "The Pretty Peacock"'s life to create a website dedicated to its wares, my confidence in my abilities dwindled. Quickly.
There are a lot of open source web builders out there. Some good, some bad, some painful to use...but they are available - and you can't beat free! I tried out three different builders/content management systems and found out that:
~ 1 - Your needs vs. your wants are two very different things
~ 2 - If the point of your having a designated site is to sell your work, you need something that is ecommerce focused
~ 3 - It is really important to be able to update, change, and basically run, your site yourself - which means you actually have to understand the way it works
I first started out on this website journey using an incredibly user friendly builder called: SynthaSite. This system allows you to pick from a selection of pre-made templates and you can use a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor so you don't necessarily have to mess with HTML - VERY handy! You also can just drag some pretty awesome widgets right onto your page - good widets, too! Forms, polls, drop down lists, etc etc. It even has a dragable Paypal catalog shot where all you have to do is add your product info and images and it puts in a Paypal button for you. Easy Peasey, Lemon Squeezey (as my 6 year old says). The customer support on SynthaSite is absolutely phenomenal, too. I have sent in support questions at all hours of the day and night and received a response no later than two hours - typically, it was within the hour! Having great customer support when you are trying to build a site is beyond great. It really saves your sanity.
BUT - with anything 'out of the box' - SynthaSite has major limitations. If you have definite ideas on the 'look and feel' of your site and it entails pretty graphics, maybe an ornate background, an unusual color scheme...layout? This may not be the builder for you. It's definitely worth checking out and playing with - it may just suit your needs or be good enough for a while...if anything, it may hone down your ideas on what you do, or do not, want from your own webiste.
After I realized that SynthaSite wasn't going to do it for me, I moved on to Joomla!. This is an open source content management system. It is far more versatile as far as being able to implement all that fancy stuff you may want for your site - but you need to know HOW to implement all that fancy stuff. I seriously wanted to hurt something when I was working with this - and I shouldn't even say that I was working with it - techie-geek husband was really doing all of the technical work and though he is extraordinary, he does not create websites for a living and had to learn the functionality of Joomla! and then explain things to me so that I could actually contribute to the building process.
Although there is a ton of info through forums and the Joomla! site itself really requires you, in my opinion, to be super techie. There is just way too much to dig through and understand to even get your site to look remotely decent. AND Joomla! is not necessarily geared towards ecommerce. It does have several free shopping card extensions and modules, but they are not pretty and to pretty them up would take a lot of work and techie-geek knowledge. If you don't have either of those handy, or do not have access to it...proceed with caution.
Joomla! seems more geared towards social networking sites, or just anything more content heavy. If you're trying to create a site where you are selling something...Magento is the way to go.
Magento still takes a substantial amount of technical knowledge - I don't think I could have even installed it on my own - BUT there are a lot of resources that talk you through it and I saw several companies offering to install it for you for $100 or so. You definitely want it installed correctly!
Once it's installed, you've picked a theme, read through and watched the tutorials...you are relatively well armed to navigate through the creation of your site. I am not going to lie and say it's easy, or even intuitive - because it is neither. But it's worth it. Magento is geared towards ecommerce and the built-in content management system is relativley easy to use. The person who suggested Magento to me in the first place was Springcart Design Lab. They can give you an estimate on what it would cost to create a Magento site for you - and they were VERY reasonable. Had I not been under a time crunch to get my site done ASAP - I would have used their services (they have a waiting list, just FYI!!!). It would have saved a ton of time and hassle on my end to have the site created for me and then had a quick tutorial on how to manage the backend, but my husband and I did it on our own - and it worked out really well (with relatively little swearing!).
Magento has several excellent features and lots of forum help and it is perfect for ecommerce. The Dashboard on your site's admin area gives you information such as what terms were searched on your site and how often, what items have been viewed the most, a few graphs informing you of your revenue, and it's all quite aesthetically pleasing.
I could write on and on about the features, the add-ons, the plues and minues of Magento ,
but you could find all that information with a quick Google search. I just wanted to take a minute to tell you what builder I found to be the most conducive to my needs - which is sellng my handmade, personalized jewelry pieces - and I know there are several other artists/small business owners out there like me who have a growing business and need to have a website that they can manage themselves (control is good!).
Check out the options, do your homework (I didn't, which is why it took me three tries to build my site!), and be reasonable. Your website will probably never be "perfect" - it's always going to need tweaking changing and improving, but you should be proud of it from the moment it becomes 'live'.