Are you thinking about starting your own craft business website but getting confused? You have heard about ‘free’ website options which sound too good to be true and self-hosted website which sounds very technical and scary. Which to go for?
I know the possibility of creating your own ‘free’ website for your craft business sounds amazing when you are starting out and you need to minimize costs, however before you jump straight in make sure you know why this might not be the cheapest or best option in the long term.
Here’s everything you need to know before you get started about free websites and self-hosted websites. Technical advice and information provided by the wonderful Ben Rosier of Handcrafted Hosting
“What is the difference between a ‘free’ website and a self-hosted website?”
“Every website (no exceptions) is hosted on a server, most commonly now the server is shared, hosting multiple websites. This brings the cost down considerably over having a dedicated server for a single website, which really isn’t needed when you are starting out.
What you need to understand is, whether it is ‘free’ or paid for, when it comes to creating your own website, you will need hosting on a server. Some people rent houses; this is you renting your space on the web for your website.
Unlike when renting a house though, some providers will give you hosting seemingly for free. Sounds nice, huh? As with anything for free, there is always a catch. You’ll either:
– pay in the form of them advertising on your website to your end user (customers/audience), which doesn’t look very professional for your business but boosts their own sales and reputation, or
– they’ll hit you with increasingly expensive add- ons, which are things that you can’t live without as you grow your business, at a later stage.
No business can survive giving things away for free in the long-run; it just isn’t a sustainable business model. Unfortunately, you can’t pay your bills with good intentions or kind deeds. So these businesses have two options, make money off of you or close their doors. If it’s the latter, that site you spent so long cultivating will be gone anyway.”
“I see, so one way or another you are still paying for your own website hosting, that is good to know. Surely though the ‘free’ web builder option is still easier, less technical and could always be upgraded later?”
“You might think so.
Depending on who you go with, you’ll usually have an option of a wide range of themes and a drag-and-drop builder so you can configure your craft business website to suit you. For many this seems like the ideal, easy option and many do create wonderful sites off of them. However you do need to be aware of the limitations in place on free platforms, including storage and bandwidth for your website, which won’t affect you at first, ads running on your website and your website domain name.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the popular free platforms, Wix.
With Wix it’s easy to create a website and you can usually get up and running really quickly however on the free plan your website URL will be something like: username.wixsite.com/sitename/page-url, which is far from memorable.
If you want your own domain name, you need to upgrade. It is easy to do with Wix, but your website is no longer free. It now costs about £30 a year, plus the cost of the domain name, to have a small Wix site with your own domain however, and this is really important to know this option still includes Wix displaying ads on your site to your audience.
If you want to stop the adverts the cost is about £61 a year for personal use, or £93 a year for entrepreneurs, this does include the cost of the domain name.”
(Note the costs are correct on 19/9/2017. www.wix.com)
“Ok, so if I want advert free and my own domain name it isn’t free but at least it is a quick way to be able to start selling crafts online on my own website.”
“These Wix options don’t include a shop option. If you want to sell directly on your website, and not link to your Etsy or other marketplace store, you will need the ecommerce plan which is around £129 a year. This is advert free and includes your domain name.
“I see, it isn’t free but for £120 a year I can have a Wix website, where I can sell my handmade products. I would need to factor that into my product pricing. Anything else I should know about ‘free’ websites?”
“For many Wix, and others, work well and many do create wonderful sites off of them however you also need to know that with web builder platforms you’re always beholden to them. They control what you can and can’t do with your site in terms of design and functionality, and this isn’t limited to your website. In the web space, things are evolving at a rapid pace, and businesses react and update their service as they go. What happens if you suddenly don’t like the changes or they implement price hikes? All of a sudden you’re faced with a large bill, whatever you decide to do, you either have to put up with their changes or pay to have another site built on another platform, and if you go with another web builder, you run the risk of continually being on a hamsters wheel.
“That is all good to know. It sounds like a good option. So what about self-hosted? Is it easy? It sounds technical!”
Having your own self hosted website means you have more choice and control. You initially buy your domain name (starting at £5.99 for .co.uk for a year), you purchase your hosting (this can vary in cost but with Handcrafted Hosting a basic website starts at £50, and ecommerce at £75) and then you pick a free CMS or Content Management System to use.
The Content Management System is a variation of the website builder provided by websites such as Wix, though it can seem more technical, it is like riding a bike. Once you have it sussed it gets easier and easier.
WordPress is a Content Management System which provides a flexible, durable and well supported framework to build your website. Anything you want from a website you can pretty much do with a WordPress site. WordPress is free to use for the most part, however there may be themes and plugins you require which are paid for at a later date.
Note: Don’t get self-hosted WordPress confused with WordPress.com which allows you to create a free blog. You can’t add custom themes or plugins to a WordPress.com, limiting your scope like the web builders.
“OK. I hear WordPress mentioned a lot. The cost sounds reasonable too. How easy is it to set up my own craft shop on a self-hosted WordPress website?”
“WordPress today powers 17 .4M websites, and accounts for 51 % of all websites that use a CMS, making it the dominant player. The website you are viewing this post on now is a WordPress site.
WordPress on its own will not allow you to create an ecommerce website, to do that you need a free plugin called WooCommerce. A plugin is a piece of software that can be easily added to your WordPress website with a couple of clicks to extend functionality or add new features.
WooCommerce is used on 1 .7 M websites accounting for 42% of the ecommerce market.
Once you have the basic set up a WordPress website needs you to design, add content and products in a similar way to any website builder.
WordPress is about more than the impressive stats though, there is also a large eco-system, meaning there are hundreds of thousands of themes and plugins, to allow you the freedom to find a design that suits you and give you the functionality you require, and a large community that provides the answers to most questions should you ever need it both in forums and YouTube videos. There are also many classes and courses on WordPress too, including this website walkthrough course by A Handcrafted Business.
Whilst a designer isn’t a necessity with WordPress, if you did decide you wanted to hire one to create an awesome site then most will be familiar with WordPress giving you also the ability to shop around for both a price and skillset that suit you.
With the price, hosting varies greatly because there are so many options available from shared hosting packages, to VPS’ and even dedicated servers. For all handcrafters starting out with their first site, a shared hosting package will be more than sufficient and is typically a few pounds (£) every month. The prices mentioned earlier are specific to Handcrafted Hosting.“
“So my understanding is that actually an advert free, nice domain name, decent storage Wix website would cost more than the WordPress website. Would the Wix web builder be easier to use though?”
The Wix platform is designed to be super simple and easy to use for anyone, whatever the technical ability. This does mean that the basics of design can be easy but refining or linking to your Mailchimp account, for example, can be very limited.
WordPress can have a steeper learning curve; however with the right guidance and support you can create a very professional website relatively quickly and easily.
It essentially comes down to what you want to use your website for, and how you want to use it and how confident you are technically.
If you simply want a simple one page website to have a presence online then your best option may be looking at the free ’10 minute’ free website option offered by Google.
The take away from this, is that there is no such thing as a ‘free’ professional business website. There are however many options available to you, all of which can help you have your own successful handmade business website online.
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