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

My second and last article for Blogging Idol 2011: Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan HeathSwitch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

I am sure each of you tried to change something in your life at least once (lose weight, change the way you do paperwork so you submit your taxes in time and do not get fined, make your developers comment the code they write… you name it). The goal may be clear and theoretically desirable to all the stakeholders, and the means to reach it, not very taxing, but still, for some reason, six months later you discover that your tax receipts are mislaid, you have to pierce another hole in your belt, and your developers spend hours trying to figure out what exactly does this piece of code do, even if they wrote the code in question themselves not yet five months since. Sounds familiar?
Well, Chip Heath and Dan Heath know what ails you. You may have heard of them: they wrote “Made to stick”, a beautiful book about how to explain things to people and make the lessons stick. This book is written using all the lessons from the previous one. It is clear, lucid and sticks to memory. Chip and Dan tell us stories: about a manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service; about a simple technique that helps desperately exasperated housekeepers to overcome the dread of undone workloads and get away from the slough of despond by following a simple routine.

Read the rest of the article on the Blogging Idol website

My article for Blog Idol contest: Cloudcamp 2. Cloud Computing: Return on Investment

This is another session from Cloudcamp that was held in Toronto on April 6, 2010. (Find the article about the first session, with links to the CloudCamp sound files and some presentations, here.) The session was facilitated by Dave Nielsen and discussed the ROI of cloud computing. The following questions were raised:

What is cloud computing anyway?

How do we measure the ROI of migration to the cloud?

What’s the cost of intangible benefits?

When does it make sense for a startup to use the cloud?

Not all of them got answered but some certainly did, and the answers given were very interesting.

(Note: I did not catch the names of all the people who answered questions, so if one of them is you, please let me know so I can acknowledge it properly! – Tania)

Dave Nielsen: I’ve been saying, “Here’s what I think cloud computing is,” over and over and over again and it’s changed a little bit every time, but actually hasn’t changed much at all in the last like 10 times I’ve done it. But it still could. I’m hoping to get to the 80/20 rule where I come up with 20 percent of what is the main thing of cloud computing and 80 percent of the people agree. But basically, here it is: so you know, you guys know the triangle, the pyramid, cloud computing, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service, right? Right here. This is a very, very simple, like over-simplified definition of cloud computing, types of cloud computing.

So Infrastructure as a Service is really providing a service to IT folks. And Platform as a Service is really providing a service to developers where they can put their code. And then Software as a Service is providing a service to business users who don’t want to have to set up anything, don’t want to have to install software on their desktop, right? That was basically the three types of cloud computing but if you don’t know who you’re talking to and they ask you what cloud computing is and you don’t know what type of person they are, or you simply ask yourself, what do all these things have in common, it turns out they really have, in my opinion, three +1 things in common. And the first one is super obvious. What do you think that is?

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: Open Data and disclosures, or Beware of the leopard

With governments looking to do more with less, adopting open government strategies marks an ideal way to better deliver public services and foster increased confidence in government institutions through greater transparency.

Michael Geist

‘Crowdsourcing’ puts many extra hands to work

The move toward open government is now a fact. In Canada (and specifically in Toronto) many  groups such as Visible Government, ChangeCamp, etc. are working on a multitude of new sites and services. The one I want to tell you about is disclosed.ca, a site created by a Toronto developer, Ilia Lobsanov. The site performs web scraping to capture information from government sites about contracts awarded to various contractors. This is, officially, publicly reported information. It is, however,  displayed and stored on hundreds of disparate government sites in various forms, and this hinders the search and use of the information should anyone need it.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: what’s most important in Enterprise IT?

What is the most important thing in enterprise IT?

Some may say, budget. Others, the timely adoption of new technologies.

Not really.

The best technologies may fail and the lushest budget be wasted by human efforts gone astray.

Imagine several new college graduates hired by a big company, as software developers. They all can write code, create design specifications, search information to solve difficult problems. It seems that they have everything they need to settle down and start being productive, right?

Not really.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

Blogging Idol 2010 contest announced

I just registered for participation in Blogging Idol 2010. The registration is open. Join us, it will be fun!

I hope that this year I will blog regularly for the contest, unlike last year when I only gave birth to one post!

My last year’s post for Blogging Idol (by the way, I made one mistake in it: Google Adwords is not exactly free but pay-per-click, and sometimes they give free trials, i.e. credit a newly created account with $50 or $100).

My post for Blogging Idol contest – Your IT budget on a shoestring

You have recently started a business, but don’t have a huge budget for all things IT?

Here are 17 free or inexpensive tools that will help you to establish your online presence and spread the word.

1. Create a Facebook webpage for your business. (Not a group, though; only people who are on Facebook can see a group and participate in it, while a Facebook page can be seen by anyone.) Become a fan (there is a button for it) and ask all your Facebook friends to become fans, too. Cost: free

2. Create your company’s profile on LinkedIn. Cost: free

3. Blog! Blog a lot. Write something interesting and useful, so people want to come back for more. Write often, to become a habit with your readers. Cost: free

4. Microblog! Post on Twitter. (Take care and do not overspam your followers; post something they will find useful – information about freebies, discounts, promotions, news and events, for example.) “Live tweet” events on Twitter. Cost: free

5. Get yourself a good domain name – short and meaningful. Avoid acronyms. Speak to your reader. “YourNews.info” is better than “MyNews.com”. Cost: as low as $9 per year.

6. GoogleApps will give you a free hosting (but you will need your own domain name, see above). Cost: free

7. A business e-mail on hotmail does not look cool. You can get a free business e-mail from Google (but you will need your own domain name, see above). Cost: free

8. You can create your own professional-looking website on a blog platform, choosing one of a million freely available styles. Check out WordPress 2.7 – WordPress has recently grown into a full-scale content management system. Check out Blogspot, too. With Blogspot, you can redirect your domain name to your blog-based website for free, so it has a “grown-up” url and not a third-tier domain name. Blogspot, however, offers fewer features if you want to develop a full-scale website. You can use your own domain name with WordPress, too, but in this case you will have to pay a small amount to WordPress for the redirection (something like $15 a year). Decisions, decisions. Cost: free to $15.

9. TikiWiki is another powerful and free content management system and groupware. It is open source and free, and you can find hosting for as low as 0.95 per month. Cost: from $0.95 per month

10. Attend meetups and various camps: there is DemoCamp, Barcamp, CloudCamp, BookCamp, Podcamp and millions of others. When you register, insert a link to your website and blog. (Many event management systems, like Eventbrite, have this feature.) Cost: free

11. Search Engine Optimization. Check this great document from Google. Cost: free.

12. Use Google Analytics and Google AdWords to find out who is visiting your website and what they expect to find there. Cost: free.

13. Create videos and post them on YouTube. Create responses to other people’s videos. This simple and short presentation was viewed almost 800,000 times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY

14. Inbound marketing. Create a toolkit, give people something they would want to use. Cost: free.

15. Turn your PowerPoint presentation into a Slideshare slide show. Cost: free.

16. Post your ads on kijiji and Craigslist. Cost: free.

17. Give people an opportunity to contribute. For example, create a wiki where people can share their experience and information about your product or service. Cost: priceless. People love to share, and you will contribute to the community building.