For those lawyers or small business owners just starting out, setting down roots online can be a daunting process. Not everyone has the budget to hire out a new website construction project, and on the other side, there are numerous sources that will encourage you to DIY – "do it yourself". What frequently happens though, is the new entrepreneur gets stuck. Do you cobble it together? Or, do you bite the bullet and find the budget?
The following advice won't be for everyone, but for the soon-to-be business owner, or anyone who's jumped into business over the past five years, hopefully some of it will resonate.
First off, I'm a big fan of bootstrapping. Not just being self-sufficient to reduce the initial investment, but risking as little capital as humanly possible during your startup period. I'm almost embarrassed to say it now, but I started Stem on a couple of thousand dollars, and that included a new computer. So with this frugal tone in mind, I'd like to offer a couple of tips on creating a bootstrapped web presence:
- Give yourself permission to launch a 'Version One' website. Nothing online is permanent, including this site.
- Learn enough to register a domain, and sign up for a web hosting account. My preference is use two different providers here – one as your domain registrar (example: GoDaddy) and one for the web hosting (examples: Bluehost, Fused Network). And if you do reach out to others for help, make sure everything is registered in your name.
- Use WordPress for your initial website. Why? Because your path to improvement has less hurdles. Designers are plentiful, and you can easily replace or expand your 'Version One' website the moment your budget numbers justify it. Unless you're very tech-savvy, I think WP is the easiest of the major CMS products to get into production.
- For those even less-tech savvy, WordPress.com is also a possibility. But only if you have your domain name on it.
- Monitor with Analytics – Google Analytics is a copy & paste away from showing how fruitful your early efforts are online. Free tools are important considerations for any startup, but Web Analytics services (it doesn't have to be Google) are a required element.
- Delivering the Vision Sooner - Knock off the technical website issues ASAP. The faster you finish 'tinkering', the sooner you rise above to focus on the deliverables that are your business. I make no bones about it when it comes to the startup period. It's a race. Your mortgage may be on the line, and website tinkering is counter productive.
- Good enough. Along the same lines as the previous item, you don't have time to be a perfectionist. Most new entrepreneurs wear lots of hats, or ALL the hats. That means you don't have weeks to spend on your logo, or to perfect your business image coming out the door.
- Know when your startup period is over. Whether it's 6-months in or 18-months in, your 'Version One' website has a limited life span. Simply put: kill it and upgrade your home base. If you're using that same website in Year 3, there's a problem. New businesses are forgiven for bootstrapping; established businesses look cheap, and turn away work without knowing it.
For the new entrepreneur set to launch a service-based business with a virtual shingle, there are always good opportunities to cull expenses. And it's smart! No one can guarantee your offering will gain traction, or that you won't become one of those "new businesses in the first 5-years' statistics. But all other things being equal, your odds improve by dropping your burn rate to as little as possible.
And keep an eye out for #7.