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

Employers should not think they are God’s gift to people

Got a message through LinkedIn today.
“Hello Tania,
I just saw your profile on Linkedin. We specialize in SR&ED. Please send me your resume should we have a need for a Technical Writer. Your enthusiasm jumps off the page.”

This is really priceless. The author of the message did not even bother to say what kind of company they are, what are they looking for, what kind of a position they have, etc. (Yes, I could have looked them up, perfectly well, on LinkedIn or wherever, but if someone wants something from someone else and is trying to make the acquaintance, they should introduce themselves, just to be polite.)

They did not bother to ask me whether I am looking for anything right now, whether I WANT to work for them or not. They just condescended to put me on the list and keep me on file – and it looks like they were 150% sure that I would rush, head over heels, to send them my resume (losing my slippers on the way, as we say in Russian). I don’t think it is THAT bad in the job market that people would react to such “compelling” invitations; at least, in the job market for SR&ED writers. I see SR&ED job posts daily on Twitter. Am I missing something?

P.S. And the moral of that is: if I ever start looking for another position, I probably would not consider working for the company in question. See how much you can achieve for your company’s image with a short 2-line note?

Crappy policy of LinkedIn

Today I wanted to invite someone to contact on LinkedIn and got the requirement to enter their e-mail address, followed by this warning:

“Your account has been restricted because a significant number of LinkedIn users whom you have invited to your network have indicated that they don’t know you. Use of LinkedIn is subject to the terms of our User Agreement, which you have violated. An example of the violation includes breach of Section 11, LinkedIn User DOs & DON’Ts.”

It says further that I can remove this restriction by acknowledging the policy, but if they “find me in violation” again, they may suspend my account altogether. I counted the “Don’t know” responses to my invitations and found there are exactly 10 of them. What the hell? I have had a LinkedIn account for, probably, 5 years or more, and I have over 500 contacts. In all these years, during my interactions with all these numbers of people just 10 of them said they did not know me. I would say I am a paragon of prudency and trustworthiness.

By the way, it is not true that these people did not know me: I always use only the business cards people give me (their own business cards, that is), and only after talking to them at a conference or something like that. In all these cases where the people said they did not know me, what they really meant was that they did not know me well enough and preferred not to connect. LinkedIn, however, does not distinguish between this case and the case when a complete stranger approaches you after telling LinkedIn he’s your friend. As God is my witness, I receive a lot of this crap, especially from recruiters, and this definitely must be stopped. I understand the need for such policy and I am all for it. But there is an obvious difference between approaching a complete stranger under false pretenses and trying to connect to someone you met at a conference and exchanged business cards with.

Also, I entered those e-mails when I sent out the invitations (since I had the business cards), so I don’t really see how the requirement to enter emails would prevent me from sending those invitations in the first place. Therefore, the policy is not only insulting but useless.

And the moral of that is… LinkedIn’s usability, that was always great, started, sadly, to leave much to be desired. I am not going to “remove the restriction” because the way they phrase it, it is an insulting lie. Agreeing to what they say basically equals admitting that I was trying to deceive people to get in contact with them, and agreeing to LinkedIn removing my account altogether on the slightest pretext. For example, if somebody else says “don’t know her” instead of “don’t know her well enough” (and the latter option just is not there when you accept or reject an invitation).

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.

 

 

LinkedIn events application is horrible

LinkedIn events application is horrible.

1. There is no sorting whatsoever. You cannot sort the events by dates so the closest or the latest are on top. You have to browse the entire list every time to see if there is anything new – seriously, who has patience to do it?

2. There is no “Show me only the events in my area” option. You can limit the list to, say, November and December and your area, but you have to do it manually every time you want to browse events. Why would I want to see on my home page the events that will take place in May 2009 in India, when it is still November 2008 and I am in Toronto, Canada?

3. The past events are not removed. E.g. today’s the 14th, but I still see a Nov.11th event on my home page. This is ridiculous beyond belief.

4. I cannot specify a certain date range and see the events within that date.

5. I have to press the “Not Attending” button TWICE to make it really do something.

6. If I want to look inside the event description and go back to the events browsing, I have no other choice but to return to the very beginning of the list and browse again to wherever I was (8th page maybe, so I have to memorize where I was before going and looking at the event; opening this event in a new page isn’t working).

7. There is no option for seeing/selecting events posted by my contacts.

8. LinkedIn allows anyone – yes, your eyes do not deceive you, that’s ANYONE – to update events posted by anyone else.

Summary: if I released to the public something THIS half-baked, I’d have died of shame. It looks especially lame compared to the seamless integration of Meetup with Google calendar and the smooth event handling done by Facebook. Yes, and have I mentioned that LinkedIn does not offer any integration whatsoever?

My social networking (for business and pleasure)

I talked to my SEB program advisor the other day and mentioned that I try to attend one networking event a week, and not more than that (otherwise, I would have no time for the actual work). She was pleasantly surprised that I manage to find so many networking events while some other people just have no idea where to go and how to start. In fact, once you have a social network established and use the proper tools, the information starts coming from all directions.

All the further stuff is trivial for a digiterati, so, if you heard of Twitter or know what a RSS is, don’t bother to read on. However, today I got another reminder of the digital gap: a classmate in YorkU proudly mentioned she was going to a workshop where they will teach her to use comments in Microsoft Word and other advanced stuff. So, I suppose, these notes could be of use to someone. Read the rest of this entry »