Being a computer guy is a bit like being a doctor. Not in the vast amount of learning (I don’t even have a degree in CS), nor in the paycheck (no mid six figure salary here). Rather, on finding out that you have some job associated with computers, people will ping you with questions:
- Why is my computer running slow?
- How do I send video with my email?
- Can you make me a website?
I usually beg off the first two questions claiming lack of expertise. The third question always perks up my ears–building websites and web applications is my area of expertise.
However, many times, I find that people don’t need a website, they need a web presence. This is entirely different–websites imply a level of maintenance that is often more than is needed. A web presence is perfect for a offline business that simply wants to establish a beachhead on the internet, but likely won’t interact with users via the web (more likely via phone or email). In other words, a web presence is like a brochure for the company–designed once, changed rarely, and read many times.
(A quick note: I believe most small businesses will benefit by using the internet to enable new ways of interacting with customers, but such applications can be a big leap–starting out with a web presence can be a great first step.)
A friend of mine often recommends leveraging other websites, like myspace or facebook, to provide a web presence for small companies and independent operators. I prefer blogs.
Here are the steps to set up a web presence in two hours. I assume you can create a word document, have an email address, and have access to a web browser.
- Gather your page content together. Typically, you should have a home page explaining what you do and what you offer. You should have a contact page, explaining how people can get in touch with you, including phone number, maps, etc. Any other pages are optional, but other useful ones may include how to donate to your organization, a portfolio of your services, or a links page pointing to other useful information about your niche.
- Choose a blogging site. Two main ones are wordpress.com and blogspot.com. WordPress has a better post editor and handles pages more gracefully; it will in general be easier for neophytes to use, but does not allow advertising. It also is easier to migrate to a full featured website. Blogspot gives you more options, in terms of layout control and look and feel. I’ve heard that content on blogspot is easier found by google. Either one of these is a fine place to start.
- Sign up for your blog. Make sure you get a name that makes sense: joesmithesquire.wordpress.com, for example.
- Work through a tutorial/faq: Here’s one for blogspot (called blogger in this tutorial–they’re the same). Here’s one for wordpress.
- Add your content in pages via cut and paste. If you are using blogspot, you will need to set up the ‘Blog Posts’ section of the layout to only show the last post, and then make sure to have your home page is the last page you add. If you are using wordpress.com, you should just create pages. Set your homepage by going to ‘settings’ then ‘reading’ and set ‘Front page displays’ to ‘a static page’.
- Choose a theme from one of the many options provided by the blogging sites. It won’t be perfect, but it will be free. You can always spend money to customize the look and feel later (to re-do your brochure).
- If you want, you can register a domain name, like joesmithesquire.com, (GoDaddy will be happy to help with this for about $10/year) and point it to the blog. wordpress.com charges $10/year for this feature, blogspot is free.
That should be it. It’s not perfect, but setting up a web presence lets you get your organization world wide publicity for the cost of a few hours of learning. You can now maintain it; if any information changes, you can make those modifications without paying expensive people like me 🙂 .