Free Tools for Entrepreneurs – WordPress
The single biggest struggles I encounter with entrepreneurs trying to build a business is marketing. Some small business owners don’t think about it; some don’t understand it; some don’t like it; some cling to the belief that it simply shouldn’t be necessary, as long as their product is good enough. One way or another, though, marketing is always one of the first places entrepreneurs request help.
And though “marketing” is a broad discipline, one of the best places for many entrepreneurs to get started is their own website. A website is to business today, what the phone book was in 1985. And yet, despite all that, according to Carol Tice of Entrepreneur.com, a full 46% of small businesses still do not have a website.
Even more importantly, however, is that — if you chose carefully — your website can be an inexpensive place for you to test your message, develop your content and start reaching out to your customers without the extreme expense of traditional marketing and/or advertising campaigns. And once you’ve had the chance to hone your material, then you can look at how else you can use it.
So, as promised last week, my focus for the final week of 2009 is going to be on the free tools that every business owner can use to help their business. When it comes to my work with entrepreneurs, I usually start most clients off with one key recommendation: WordPress.
While most people know WordPress as a blogging application, the fact is that it is a fully matured content management system that makes managing your website far easier than attempting to deal with a custom coded site. While some large-scale websites may need more advanced functionality, most entrepreneurs that I work with who are focused on getting their first site up and running find WordPress to meet their immediate needs. Even better, your actual core WordPress functionality is free.
Here are a few quick steps to getting a business website up and running on WordPress in less than 2 hours:
Step 1: Select a hosting provider. (Low cost providers are fairly easy to come by. My recommendation is to go with one that uses Simple Scripts. It is a utility designed to help you manage installations of a host of applications on your domain.)
Step 2: Purchase your domain. This can be done as part of your hosting provider purchasing process. Many providers will even register a domain for you for free as part of your sign-up package.
Step 3: Once your purchase is complete, log into your administrative system and go into Simple Scripts. Find WordPress. Select the option for it to “install” in your root directory.
Step 4: After your installation set-up is complete, log into your WordPress admin and go to Settings –> Permalinks. Under “Common Settings” select “Day and name.” Hit save.
Step 5: Activate Akismet. Akismet is a WordPress-built comment spam system. Unless you want tons and tons of porn spam comments clogging up your website, make sure you turn on this Plugin. In order to do that, you will need to go to WordPress.com and create an account (or login if you already have one). Once in, select “My Account” from the main navigation, and then click on “Edit Profile.” The alpha-numeric code you need (your API key) will be right at the top. Copy it, and then paste it into your new WordPress install on your domain, in the Akismet settings page.
Step 6: Go to Appearance –> Plugins –> Add New. This will give you a menu of different plugins that you can add to your installation of WordPress to help you customize it and get the functionality you need for your business website. Some of the common plugins I recommend include the following:
- All in One SEO Pack
- Google Analytics for WordPress
- XML Sitemaps
I recommend these as starting points for new site owners, because they are extremely important in both driving and understanding traffic. Additional options that I personally use are plugins for social network activity and “related post” plugins that recommend other articles that are similar to the one the reading is currently viewing.
You’ll need to follow the instructions for each of the plugins to make sure they are properly configured once installed. Good plugins will walk you through the process, so as long as you follow the instructions, you should be able to get things set up fairly quickly. (And remember, in a worst case scenario, you can always delete the plugin and then reinstall it, if there is a problem.)
Step 7: Pick a “theme.” In WordPress-speak, a “theme” is the design of your site. There are, literally, thousands of themes to choose from, many of them are free. And even “premium themes” are reasonably affordable, ranging anywhere from $20 up to $200. I recommend starting with something free, and going from there. The first place to start looking for themes is within the WordPress admin itself. Under Appearance –> Add New Themes you will find a menu that allows you to browse different themes, see what you like, and install them to try them out.
If you want to use a theme from a different location (such a Woo Themes, which is a popular seller of business themes for WordPress), you will need an FTP utility that allows you to transfer files from your computer up to your hosting provider. An application such as FileZilla is also free, and comes with easy instructions that can walk you through the process. (And any theme you download from another website will also give you instructions on where to upload it once you need to move it into place.)
Now you’ve got a website.
Of course, while this first part is what intimidates many non-technical people, the fact is that installing the site is actually the easiest part. The hard part is developing your content — what needs to be on your site, what makes sense for your customers, and how should it be organized to be both findable and valuable. Later this week we’ll cover more tools to use to help you manage your website and develop its content.
A couple of last words of advice on setting up your site with WordPress:
- Use a secure password that you can remember. Far, far too many people either leave a default password in place (which they can never remember) or use one that is too simple (which can easily be hacked). Keep in mind that this is your business website, and treat your password appropriately.
- WordPress issues updates to the code fairly regularly. It is important to try to stay current, because a great many of the updates are security related. Once the basic WordPress installation has been upgraded, often the plugins will need to be next. You will get messages whenever you log into the admin, so just follow their instructions and you should be fairly safe.
- WordPress is very easy to get comfortable with, even for the least technical people. So play around in the admin (or, even better yet, set up a second install in another directory on your website, so that you can experiment without damaging your main website). To learn more about WordPress, I recommend checking out Yoast.com. Yoast is a site all about WordPress and maximizing it’s value. There are tutorials, information, recommendations and a great deal of content there for someone trying to get up to speed on how to get the most out of their WordPress install.
Finally, many people ask if they can use free WordPress hosting for their blog. For businesses I strongly discourage this for a couple of reasons:
- Free WordPress hosting does not get your site running on your own domain, which is vital for your search engine optimization (SEO).
- Free WordPress hosting has a very tight number of themes that you can chose from, and you cannot modify them without paying.
- Free WordPress hosting has storage space limitations that could limit some of your multimedia options for posting content.
- Free WordPress hosting does not allow you the opportunity to generate any revenue through advertising.
Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.