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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My article for Blog Idol contest: Resources for technology-related startups in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This article contains some useful information that I inevitably accumulated over the past few years, as a SR&ED consultant and as someone who has recently started a business. It might save you some time that took me to figure out all this. Good luck with your startup!

Various camps, startup drinks, green drinks

Startup entrepreneurs and people who has been there and done that regularly meet to have a drink, exchange battle stories, get a sound advice and find a potential business partner or even an angel investor. Startup Drinks is a simple concept: a grassroots effort to make sure startup folks get in touch and stay in touch.

The same refers to Green Drinks which is a casual, monthly forum for environmentally-oriented individuals to have a few drinks, mingle and toss around ideas.

By the way, the next Green Drinks together with Startup Drinks will happen on May 26 at Grace O’Malleys – 14 Duncan Street, Toronto, from 5:45 to 9:00.

Various camps are also held in Toronto every month. See the description of some in this article. The admission to them is affordable or free. (Some impose a nominal fee to ensure that people who register do indeed show up, and your admission pays for your first drink.) Among other nice get-togethers, I should mention Product Camp and Girl Geeks Dinner.

Democamps

Democamps are such an important feature in the life of Toronto technology scene that it is worth a separate mention. An evening of beer, cocktails and tech demos for designers, developers & marketers, Democamp became quite an institution. It was conceived in Toronto, but now there are democamps in other cities and towns, too.

http://democamp.com/

Creative spaces for independent entrepreneurs

When you work from home, it is very difficult to concentrate! Independent business owners know that better than anyone. Besides, sitting between the four walls tends to get lonely. Because of that, several creative spaces opened in Toronto. Their founders, entrepreneurs themselves, formed a community of like-minded people and opened spaces downtown, offering reasonable monthly rates in a comfortable space. Born from the feeling of collaboration and connection found at events such as BarCamp and tech conferences, coworking is the social interaction of independent entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, developers, and writers out of their homes and cafes and into a creative space. A coworking facility is the shared office space for these individuals, where they can work independently in a social way. Rachel Young and Wayne Lee cofounded Camaraderie. Tonya Surman founded Centre for Social Innovation at 215 Spadina, and CSI recently acquired another building in the Annex to expand their space.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

Software documentation survey

What kind of documentation do you use when you’re programming? How useful do you find it? If you have three minutes to fill in a very short survey on the topic (it’s literally half a dozen questions), we’d be very grateful for your feedback.

My article for Blog Idol contest: My Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working

Our dependency on technology becomes rather alarming.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the country in an 18-century house, you will be able to get some firewood in the forest, bring water in a bucket from the river, catch a rabbit with a snare made of your suspenders, and roast that rabbit in your fireplace, or, at worst, on a barbecue in your backyard. And you will be able to have a proper outhouse of the system our great-grandfathers used.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the city, on the 18th floor of an apartment building, you are helpless. There is no water source, no way of using the washroom and no way to cook food (most certainly your cooker uses gas or electricity).

What I wanted to say is, today my Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working.

I have a Hotmail account. It is about 12 years old. It is the second e-mail address I got in my life. For many years it suited all my needs.

When I had to switch to Outlook Express, it took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly.

About a year ago I started using full-scale Outlook, just because some illogical behaviour of Windows prevented me from doing something I needed, otherwise. It took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly. Outlook has some extremely strange bugs but I eventually got used to them.

Then Microsoft decided that this is not good enough.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Philippa Fawcett, English mathematician and educationalist

Related post: What do you think of diversity?

My post from the previous year: It’s Ada Lovelace day!

Philippa Fawcett’s parents were Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett. In many ways they are more famous than their daughter Philippa. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a leader of English suffragists (the movement to grant women the vote). She had worked tirelessly, not only for the vote, but for the cause of women’s higher education in Cambridge. In 1871 she co-founded Newnham College in Cambridge, one of the earliest English university colleges for women. We take higher education for granted; however, it was not always so. The idea of women attending the University was greeted with derision when first seriously raised in the 19th century. In 1868 Cambridge’s Local Examinations Board allowed women to take exams for the first time. The first female colleges were formed in 1869 (Girton) and 1871 (Newnham). After that women were allowed into lectures, albeit at the discretion of the lecturer. By 1881, women were allowed to sit university examinations. Starting from 1921, they were awarded degrees rather than special certificates.

Henry Fawcett was a professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and Postmaster General in Gladstone’s government. (As Postmaster General, he introduced many innovations, including parcel post, postal orders, and licensing changes to permit payphones and trunk lines.)

Millicent Garrett also had a famous older sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who was a pioneer of women in medicine. She attended lectures and surgical demonstrations, from which everyone sought to exclude her. Some years later she had been elected President of the East Anglian branch of that very British Medical Association which at first had debated whether women could pursue rigorous medical studies.

Growing up in such intelligent, broad-minded and forward-thinking family surely stimulated and developed Philippa’s mind. At the age of fifteen Philippa was showing such outstanding ability at mathematics that her parents employed a mathematics tutor. She also began to attend mathematics lectures both at Bedford College, the first British university to grant degrees to women, and at University College London where she studied pure and applied mathematics from 1885 to 1887. Philippa Fawcett’s outstanding results in algebra and geometry led to her being awarded a Gilchrist scholarship to study mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge, the women’s College that her mother had helped to found. Read the rest of this entry »

Ada Lovelace Day 2010

I just pledged to participate in Ada Lovelace Day 2010, i.e. to publish a post on Women and Technology in my blog on March 24. You can join me and the others at http://findingada.com.

My post for this year: Philippa Fawcett

Here’s my post from the previous year: It’s Ada Lovelace day!

Related post: What do you think of diversity?

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.