…and you should too!

– This is the third of a series of posts about launching your online presence and branding.

The single life

single life before wordpressMuch of my early professional background was in the field of technology. I fixed hardware/software/networking problems on Windows PCs and laptops. But even before then I had been dabbling in computer programming. So when the opportunity arose at work, I became an application developer. This was a bit before smartphones were a thing. Some applications I developed were network-based and had hundreds of internal users but none of these apps could be accessed through a browser.

Things changed and I left my job just before I was to develop my first web-based app, and with this I took a sabbatical from any professional involvement with technology. When I needed an internet presence (I opened a web store), I got other people to build it for me. WordPress was around, of course, but he and I didn’t even have a passing acquaintanceship back then.

The Weebly interlude

The Weebly InterludeWhen other people approached me to build websites for them, I turned to a premium account with Weebly (You may take me at my word when I say that this platform will make it very hard for you to “do what you love” and build what you like. However, I am happy to be proved wrong. So if you disagree, you can link me to your exceptional Weebly creation in the comments section). These websites were all hosted within my account. For me, breaking up with Weebly was easy emotionally (I never loved him) but hard physically (I found out that there was no way I could transfer clients’ sites to their own individual accounts and I had to let them all “die” when I decided to move on).

The WordPress Flirtation

WordPress and I met for the very first time on a blind date. A friend and I thought we would like to do business together and we needed a website. I knew I would never go back to Weebly. I had already been hearing good things about WordPress… so I thought I might as well check him out. I installed the CMS (WordPress like Drupal, Joomla and some others, is a “content management system”) within my plain vanilla hosting account and got as far as adding a theme I thought would be suitable for our, in hindsight, ill-advised little venture… and then I felt a little lost. Instead of turning to Youtube videos, I found someone on Craigslist who was able to help me out from Tennessee who explained how posts and pages differed, how the theme fit in, etc. Wow, that was easy! Working a few hours at night, I was able to launch our website within a week. This should have clued me in that this relationship was worth pursuing. But in dramatic When-Harry-Met-Sally fashion, the venture did not pan out and I walked away from the website I had built handing its “keys” over to my erstwhile partner.

The Drupal alliance

Next came WILLiFEST. I met the founders of this nascent film festival, one of whom has since become my partner, and started helping out with running it. The original festival website was built using HTML and I had very little to do with it. A couple of years in, when we decided to switch over to a CMS, we took the advice of someone who had been building Drupal websites for a few years. I knew Drupal’s administrator dashboard was nowhere near as user-friendly as WordPress’ but though my acquaintanceship with the latter had been recent and positive, my WP memories had begun to fade. Also, rather than a blind date, this was a formal introduction. So we built our first and, for me, only website using Drupal. It was complex, if a little tacky, and at the time we had to outsource the creation of certain Javascript-based functionality. Considering all the time, effort and money we put into building this website, we stuck with it for a few years.

We also launched a startup, the building of which was entirely handled by a third partner. Crowdzu was developed in Python and despite our technical backgrounds, neither Michael nor I were ready to tip our toes in those waters.

WordPress was always the one

In the meantime, I was also being slowly drawn back to WordPress. People I knew and some of their referrals still wanted websites. Wix didn’t seem to be a better option than Weebly. I came across nicer looking websites that were built on Squarespace but I expected it to have many of the same limitations. These were all closed platforms which made customization hard. Yes, I had co-built a website in Drupal but it was not an experience I was eager to repeat. My only familiarity with Joomla was editing some content. But I had fond memories of WordPress. The platform had continued to mature. Tons and tons of themes and plugins were available. WordPress websites were almost limitlessly customizable. So, about three years ago, we got back together for a second go at forming a lasting relationship. This time we stuck it out and I am definitely happier for it. I hope WordPress is too. For me, discovering Divi last year was the icing on the cake.

I have since built/co-built several bespoke WordPress websites including this one. I have also helped several people get started with WordPress. You could even say that I have become something of an evangelist for WP. There are particular cases where your website has to be coded in a web language like Python, Ruby (Mark Nyon is our Ruby guy) or PHP. For almost every other situation there is WordPress.

WordPress may have originally started out as a blogging platform but today it is so much more. Like much of the software the web is built upon, it is open source. So if you are so inclined, you can contribute to its core, you can build plugins that work with it or you can create themes for it. Today, millons of people make at least part of their living through their web presence powered by WordPress. In terms of sheer numbers, it also powers more web stores than any other technology. Yes, you can build robust e-commerce stores using the WooCommerce plugin which is now owned by Automattic, the folks behind WordPress. Before you sign up with Shopify, you should consider WordPress because with the latter you won’t be giving up part of your revenue to the platform or pay a monthly fee outside of hosting and standard credit card processing costs.

Get your own website

I will repeat what I have started saying often these days. If you have a business, full- or part-time (I just heard the term “side hustle” a couple of weeks ago and it has stuck in my mind), you should have a web presence. And it has never been easier to have your own website… with a free, mature but constantly evolving and improving, robust technology like WordPress at your fingertips. If you already have a website, make sure it is responsive and (Adobe) Flash-free. If you are stuck with a walled-in platform, consider a move to WordPress.

You can build your own website (Building a basic website is not really rocket science any more though a developer/designer will bring special technical and graphic skills to the table) or you can hire someone like me to build the site of your dreams or to consult with. If you decide to go the DIY (do it yourself) route, there are tons and tons of free Youtube videos that will help you. Some, like the Tesseract video will seem like a great resource at first (I have come across a few people who have tried to follow this tutorial. Please spare yourself three potentially wasted hours of video viewing and many hours of frustration afterwards) but in the end it will lead you down the proverbial garden path. So be careful out there. I think it’s best to Google the specific functionality you are trying to understand and watch a video or read up on it. WordPress.org has an extensive knowledge base and many answered questions. StackOverflow should be your buddy. Every actively maintained WordPress theme and plugin has it’s own support forum. You are more than likely going to have to get your hands a bit dirty and learn at least a little bit of CSS (If you can pick up some PHP and JavaScript along the way, so much the better)… so be prepared for that. In my opinion, you should always use a child theme (I usually start with a blank one).

Depending on your needs, you can host with WordPress.com. The potential downside is that you have access to a relatively limited number of themes and plugins… but everything made available is fully vetted and may very well be sufficient for what you are trying to accomplish. You will also have the power of Automattic behind you. For many people this may be the way to go. Our social media freelancer, Lauren DiTomasso‘s website – OutThereSocial – is hosted at WordPress.com.

Like us, you can also choose to set up your account with a hosting services provider like GoDaddy, Siteground (often highly recommended), or WPEngine (a bit pricey but as the name implies, this is optimized, managed hosting for WordPress alone). If you are savvy enough, you can even set up your website on Amazon Web Services (AWS). There is lots of chatter on the web about which hosting solution you should or shouldn’t use. All I can say is that we use GoDaddy. We have been with them a long time and haven’t yet come across a compelling reason to move away. [November 11, 2017 Update: From now on I will be actively discouraging clients and friends from setting up their hosting account with GoDaddy. That’s saying a lot considering this website is currently hosted with them – in a shared hosting account that is paid up through 2020. Despite having two prepaid accounts with GoDaddy we are currently considering moving away. I may write a separate post about why GoDaddy has transformed into “no daddy” for us.] We are not a reseller of services and all our clients come to us with their hosting solution already in place. At any time, if you want to switch hosting providers, you can easily back up your WordPress website and restore it to a new account. All your content is yours and always portable.

If you decide not to use WordPress.com, you will find that most hosting providers will allow you to install the WordPress CMS within your account with the simple click of a button. If you want to, you can even set up a server environment on your personal computer or laptop and develop your WordPress website locally first. Really, the sky is the limit. Go crazy (in a good way)!

If you choose to hire someone, make sure you check out their current portfolio (Anyone who wants to develop websites can start building up a portfolio by doing a couple of freebies) so you have an idea of what you are getting into. Working with someone local to you can definitely be helpful. We craft every website we build with care and they are not created off a cookie-cutter template. If you would not be willing to work for $5/hour, you should not expect your experienced web developer to do so. Freelancers are also, generally, not continually employed. So you should keep these things in mind when discussing pricing.

Epilogue

I would like to happily point out that we finally created a brand spanking new WordPress website for WILLiFEST this year. If you click through to the archives you can still see our HTML and Drupal versions (It’s like our own private Wayback Machine).

 

 

This post was long overdue. I hope to follow up with the next one singing the praises (despite some recent bumps in the relationship) of the Divi theme (We are not resellers/affiliates) more quickly.

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