How to have a business website for (almost) free

A friend of mine asked today how people who start a business get a website for that. I decided that it might interest other people too, hence this post.

You do the following:

1. Decide on a domain name. It must be short, sweet, easily recognizable and easy to remember. It must attract customers and be informative. For example, my website for tax credit consulting business has the domain name sred4you.com (SR&ED is one of the main technology-related tax credit programs in Canada). Another of my business sites is getyourmessageacross.com. Don’t call your website “mynews.com”, because no one is interested in your news. Call it “yournews.com”. It should be about your customer, not your own good self.
There are other considerations. A .com domain is more expensive but looks better. If you want a .ca domain, you will have to register with CIRA (it is free and very easy, you basically just need to confirm that you live or do business in Canada). .org domains are good for non-profit organizations. If your business is related to IT, you can get an .it domain which is cheaper than .com and you don’t have to live in Italy to register it.
2. Go to a website that sells domains (I went to godaddy.com but people tell me there are better ones) and check whether your domain name is already taken. It probably is – pretty much all the one-word domains already are. In this case you can either invent another domain name or try to buy your original one from whoever got there first. Some people buy domain names or even all the possible 4-letter acronyms hoping that one of these will be in high demand (like, for example, MSDN or AIDS) and they will make a profit. Your second-level domain name (this is the ABCD part in ABCD.com) may be available with another first-level domain, e.g. ABCD.org instead of ABCD.com. Sometimes, if your domain name is not available, the registrar site will offer you variations, like precisionABCD.com instead of ABCD.com. Don’t go for  that. Everybody knows this trick, and someone with the precisionXXXX.com domain name will appear a) cheap, b) lazy, c) devoid of imagination, and d) prone to choose the least resistance path. That is, unless your business really deals with precision machinery or something. What you can do is search the available domain names for your keywords right there on the registrar’s site: if you are going to be in patent research business, for example, you may search for “patent” and find out that “fastpatentsearch.com” or “thebestpatent.com” are not taken and can be yours.

3. Pay for the domain name. It will cost you somewhere between 10 and 20 dollars per year. While you are paying, the registrar site will probably offer you to buy their hosting (for just $20 a month) and their services for website development (just another $15-20 per month). Don’t do that. In a minute I am going to tell you how you can have free hosting and develop your site for free which will save you about $600 per year.

3a. Never ever be late with the annual payment for your domain name. Once you fail to pay, the name is up for grabs, even if it is your own brand name or something. Anyone can buy it and will have no obligations to return it. This happened to Microsoft when it forgot to renew hotmail.co.uk (I am not kidding!)

4. Go to a blogging platform (either blogger.com or wordpress.com) and start a blog. The URL for it will be something like mynewblog.blogspot (or wordpress, or whatever).com. Add a few pages and a few articles (the difference is that a page is pretty much like a page on any other site, while new articles are added from the top to one and the same page which looks like a blog we are all used to see). Honestly, it is not difficult at all. Anyone can blog. Now play with various “skins”/appearances. There are lots and lots of them available for free. You can select a serious theme or a frilly one, dark blue or magenta colour schema, a two-columns or three-columns layout, a header to which you can add any image you like, etc. The “blog” page is by default the main page of your site (yes, you almost have a site now!)  but if you like you can make another, stationary, page the main one.

5. Now go to your blog’s settings and set up redirection of your blog name to your domain name (johnsmith.blogspot.com must redirect to yourchosendomainname.com or whatever your newly bought domain name is). Blogspot allows you to do that for free, WordPress will charge a small amount of money per annum. Both of my sites, sred4you.com and getyourmessageacross.com, are on Blogspot. When setting up the redirection, if you are on Blogspot too, don’t forget to check the “add www in front of the URL” flag, otherwise the URL would not redirect to your website. (I.e. http://www.sred4you.com would work, but just sred4you.com would not.)

6. Wait a little (up to 24 hours) until all the domain name servers on the Internet get wind of your new domain name. Now you can type http://www.yourpreciousdomain.com in the browser address line and actually get to your website! Indeed, you have a website now!

7. To further customise the layout, you can add widgets (they are just building blocks of text, basically) with any text you like or content from other sites. For example, my blog that you see now has a widget that displays my tweets from Twitter and another that displays my books from Goodread. No programming was required – you just go to the Appearance/Layout view and drag and drop the widgets you like to the site layout.

8. You will see ads on both sides on this article in my blog. Don’t have ads in your business website. Your business website should advertise only one thing, and that’s your business.

9. If you are very serious about all that, you can buy hosting and create a standalone site using one of the platforms available for free, e.g. WordPress I already mentioned, or Drupal. WordPress is a fully fledged content management system (CMS, for short) by now. Drupal is also available for free and very easy to manage. This site (it belongs to our church parish) was made in Drupal.If you can program (even a little), you can do many wondrous and beautiful things with Drupal.

Now your website is ready, don’t forget to add its name to your business cards! Good luck!

Another of my  articles about media needs of a startup business with a small budget

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Frugality is overrated?

I came across this article on saving money and started reading it with high hopes that it will point me towards prosperity and alleviate my financial cares.
But no. I was disappointed, as I have been many times before. All the advice given in this article (and many others like it) can be divided into two groups: those that are trite (“when buying, try to separate your needs from your wants”) and those not applicable to me or not very helpful (for example, I work from home and do not drive around a lot, so the gas-saving measures will not make any big difference to my budget).

Coupons are another of my pet peeves. The Simple Dollar and other frugality blogs seem to get miraculous value from them. The Simple Dollar‘s Trent says that using coupons he has been able to buy large boxes of cereals and bottles of shampoo for as low as ten cents. I don’t know what’s the trick here. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe grocery coupons in the US work in an altogether different way than in Canada. Maybe groceries there are much cheaper. I don’t know. In my case, all the coupons can be divided into two groups: those that are only good for a small package (in which case I will get a much better value buying a large package anyway, and then I would not be able to use a coupon), and those for products that I don’t buy anyway (something overprocessed and overexpensive, in a box or a jar with a brightly coloured label). For some reasons, coupons for simple things like bread, fresh meat or vegetables never happen.
Besides, most coupons are not valid in conjunction with any other discount. Is that a purely Canadian thing?
One more thing. Trent clips his coupons out of a newspaper. Deduct the cost of newspaper subscription from the coupon savings, and what do you get?

Possibly it makes better sense to try and earn more than to save more, after all. But, alas,  at the end of the day, this is also trite.

My resolutions for February (#LifeCampTO)

Following LifeCampTO, I decided to post my resolutions for February. I always found that talking to people about what I am going to achieve actually stimulates me to do it. So, here goes:

1. Spend at least 1 hour a day proactively promoting my business (like sending out emails, calling people on the phone, making presentations).
2. Make steady progress with the Russian translation of Someone comes to town…
3. The first revision of my translation of Iris Murdoch‘s Philosopher pupil has returned from the editor – I have to implement her suggestions and make at least one more iteration before the deadline (March 1st). Hopefully one iteration will be enough.
4. York is back to classes! And my technical writing class is on starting the day after tomorrow. This semester, long overdue, will end on March 1.
5. I start working on another SR&ED claim tomorrow. Tight deadline on this one, too – possibly the end of February.
6. I need to put up my website, finally. I sorted out the domain names, too (registered getyourmessageacross.ca, findyourpast.ca and sred4you.com).
7. I will be helping Reuven Cohen at the CloudCamp.
8. I want to go for a 15-minutes walk daily and drink a lot of water, according to Flylady‘s advice.
9. I need to contact all the people whose business cards I collected over the last month and invite them to my SR&ED presentation.
10. I have to set up the date for the said presentation and find a location (I think it will be CSI on Spadina, if I can get it).

I think that’s all, but if anything else springs to mind, I will put it here. If I don’t achieve these goals by February 28, you can hold me accountable!

LifeCampTO notes

Sacha Chua posted notes from LifeCampTO. They are full of productivity and motivational tips and good advice.
http://sachachua.com/wp/2009/02/01/lessons-from-lifecamp/

The next LifeCamp might be held on February 28, 2008. I’ll keep you posted.

Obtaining your free credit report in Canada

Each Canadian is entitled to receiving his or her credit report for free once a year. (Lots of people don’t know that, and the credit reporting companies, for obvious reasons, do not advertise the fact: they’d rather sell you a service for nice $$ per year doing essentially the same thing.)

So here’s how you can obtain the report for free:

By coming in person, in Toronto (by the way, you will not find this information on Equifax’s website)

Go to Equifax office located at 5700 Yonge (@Hendon, one block north of Finch; you can also get there directly from the Finch subway station). This branch used to be at 110 Sheppard East but moved here. The new office is located at concourse level behind the elevators, and there is no sign except for a small printed one.

Make sure you have the following with you:

      all addresses that you lived at for the last 5 years
      2 pieces of ID(*) including one with your current(**) address
      something interesting to read, as the line may be quite long.

——
(*) These have to be official pieces of ID, including one with a photo. E.g. a plastic driver’s license or a passport or a major credit card and a bank statement. Pay stubs and OHIP cards do not qualify.
(**) I saw a woman turned back because she had moved recently (having indicated the fact on her application) and all her documents still showed the old address. She produced a pay stub with the new address, but it would not do.

You get the printed report immediately. Please note that you cannot obtain your credit score that way; with Equifax, it can be only done online for $$.

By mail from anywhere in Canada

You will find the instructions here in small print on the right side of the screen under “Related resources”.