In this post, we’ll cover the five most common choices for tech platforms and software that you’ll need to make when setting up your business website….with an obvious bias towards self-hosted WordPress 🙂
We can not cover the crazy amount of options out there, so with each choice, we’ll look at the most common tech platforms.
Top 5 Choices:
- Website Platform
- Website Hosting
- Website Theme
- Sales Page and/or Lead Capture Plugins
1. WEBSITE PLATFORM
WordPress.org (self-hosted) is NOT the same as WordPress.com. To have more control and flexibility to scale your business and website, for our purposes, we’ll be talking about WordPress.org. For a full comparison of the two, see here.
WordPress is an open source software that has thousands of plugins that allow you to extend your website features WITHOUT having to know how to code! You will need a website hosting service to store your database and files that run your website. WordPress is hands down the best solution for small business owners to start with ease and scale their business.
Squarespace is a good blogging platform that makes design easy. Compared to Blogger, Squarespace sites have aesthetically pleasing design templates. The downside to Squarespace which has been around since 2004, is they have limited numbers of templates and less plugins than WordPress offers which tend to cost more to add-on and extend your site functionality as you grow.
Blogger has been around a long time and as a Google product, it’s free! Major downside is the templates are outdated, so it is challenging to design your site to really pop! For the business owner, the real challenge is monetizing a blogger site. It’s great if you don’t care about aesthetics and just want to write and share blog posts.
For a detailed and really great comparison of these choices, click the image below:
2. WEBSITE HOSTING
WordPress is the content platform, but you’ll need to self host your website by purchasing a web hosting plan. Web hosting is simply paying a service company to host (provide storage on their server). Sounds scary, but self hosting is easy to set up and unlike Squarespace, you own and control all of your data and database! Choosing WordPress from the start saves you money and countless hours of research in the long term. Once setup, you’ll have the most flexibility to add features to your site and monetize as you grow with most plugins FREE and easy to implement!
- GoDaddy – Managed WordPress – plans starting at $6/mo
- Hostgator – plans starting at $4/mo
- Bluehost – plans starting at $4/mo
- HostMonster – plans starting at $5/mo
Hostgator, Bluehost and HostMonster all are from the same parent company, Endurance International group, so the service is practically identical. All four options above are great starter hosting services. Choose a WordPress Managed plan and your web hosting service manages the updates and critical infrastructure for you. As your site grows and you need more space, quicker loading of your site, or complete controls that you or your hired developer want to manage, then choose a cloud hosting plan that includes access to cpanel. Cpanel is the “back-end of the back-end” and not somewhere you should muck about, but often a Cpanel plan allows your tech VA or developer more control. Moving your site content from one host to another is easy and often done for you free by the host service where you want to migrate, so have no fears about your choice now.
WordPress powers over 25% of websites including large corporate businesses, so the growth potential is massive. When you grow to a large membership site packed with content, you will eventually want to move to a different host like WP Engine or Siteground.
You will have three additional choices when you purchase your web hosting account:
- Adding security – usually Sitelock – you can add this to your plan or opt for a free plugin after you set up your site to manage your site security. Free security plugin recommended – Sucuri.
- Add email account – Choose an annual or monthly email account or better yet, opt for GSuite at $5/mo and use all of the benefits of GSuite apps to manage your offline business content. If you already use Gmail, you’ll love this option! Note: This choice only applies at your domain registrar, so if your web host and domain registrar is the same. More about your domain registrar below.
- Add an SSL certificate – do it! If you plan to monetize your site OR restrict content behind a login, SSL is essential. This certifies your site as secure and adds the https:// to your http:// url. Early in 2017, most browsers started showing login warnings for sites without SSL, so even if you don’t have a payment gateway set up on your site, you will need to provide the assurance of secure user login to your site’s hidden content.
A website consists of a domain and a host. Not all domain registrars provide web hosting. If you purchased your domain name with a company that does not provide web hosting, you could move your domain registration over to your website hosting company, or not…
Keeping your domain and host with separate companies is recommended for reasons you can read about here.
If you will be using several domains for various websites or even pointing more than one domain to your one website, it’s recommended to manage all of your domains with a registrar separate from your website host. If your domain and host are different companies:
- Your web host provides a server on which you build your website and when you are ready, you “point” your domain name to that WordPress managed server using the DNS Manager. Pointing your domain using DNS (Domain Name Servers) simply tells your computer browser where to go to find the actual website address. The internet relies on websites with IP addresses (numerical) as the true address of the site. When we visit a website, we add a domain into the URL of our browser and the DNS of our domain registrar tells our internet browser “this website is located at this address” sharing a numerical IP address as the true source of the website files that load your website.
If you are DIY and don’t want to get into the learning curve of how to add records to your DNS Manager, and you don’t imagine you will have a lot of branded domains to keep track of in a separate account, then you may choose to keep your domain and host with the same company. If you have a different web hosting company in mind but already purchased your domain at Rebel or NameCheap or similar service:
- To transfer your domain to your host, you would need to go to your original domain registrar and request a transfer and they will provide a code, token, or key to move it to your new registrar/host.
3. WEBSITE THEME
You have your domain and host with a WordPress hosting plan, now you need to choose a theme! If you are using Squarespace, you won’t be self hosting as above, but you will still need to choose a template. The website builder layout for WordPress is called a “theme” and for Squarespace is called a “template”.
The best way to choose your theme or template is to check out other websites you love. Pay attention to layouts you like as opposed to the branding elements (colors, font, and of course imagery) as this is all easily changed to suit your custom brand.
Found a site layout you love and want to know what theme they are using? Here’s a cool trick…
Pretty cool, huh?
The results often show you what theme the site is using and often some of the plugins as well!
If you don’t get a result and the site is not using WordPress, it could be using Squarespace or another platform.
Watch how to find a Squarespace template a site is using…
To determine which template a Squarespace site is using, right click on any page on the site and select “View Source”. Then, find the template ID in the source code using the search function (CTRL+F on PC, Command+F on Mac). When you’ve located the template ID number, enter it in the search field here to find the template name. If you don’t find a template in the code, the site is not using Squarespace.
It is ALWAYS worth it to purchase a premium website theme for WordPress. The content builder will be more intuitive and offer the most features and include page templates to make site layout easier.
If hiring a web designer to build your basic WordPress site (often under $1k), ask if they have a developer license for any of the themes. If you already know you are going to hire someone to build it for you, don’t waste your time researching themes as they will have recommendations and be more familiar with certain themes.
Two common places to shop for WordPress premium themes when buying your own:
- Elegant Themes – Tricia owns the developer license and can download any theme offered here
- Theme Forest
Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is your email marketing powerhouse and where you will store your contact information.
You will want to choose your CRM/Email autoresponder, your Landing Page and Lead Capture platform together. Read on through this post and the fifth tech choice you will need to make before returning to this section to further investigate the email marketing platforms. With intermediate or advanced services (or starter services at a higher monthly fee to add automation), the service may provide email automation with the ability to create landing pages and lead capture forms (email signups). Often though, for the bootstrapped start-up business, you will most likely choose a low cost email autoresponder service and need a simple plugin to start list building with your free product offering.
So, when you choose a CRM, ask these questions:
- How many contacts are within my monthly budget?
- Does it include a landing page builder?
- Do I have to pay extra or go to a “Pro” level in order to get the automation feature?
Even free plans in Mailchimp require payment to add the simple automation of delivering one email to your new contact lead who filled out your web form.
Keep in mind, you can test the email services and if it does not meet your requirements or the technical layout is too confusing, you can extract your list as a .CSV file and import it into the next service you want to try. Once you have multiple automations and several sales funnels running, switching autoresponders is a little more difficult, but something that a technical VA could help you with in as little as 2 hours.
Unless otherwise stated, monthly prices below for 1,000+ / 2,500+ contacts as comparable.
- Mailchimp – free to 2,000 and 12,000 emails/mo $20/$35 (with automation) – Review
- AWeber – $19 for <500 and $29/$49 for 1,000+ and 2,500+ (includes automation) – Review
- Mad Mimi – $12/$16 – more$ with automation and add-ons including Etsy feature – Review
- Constant Contact – $45/$65 (without automation) $70/$95 (with automation) – Review
- MailerLite – $10/$20 (includes automation and landing pages) – Review
- Get Response – $15/$25 (without automation) and $49 (with automation) – Review
- Drip – Free for <100, $41 for 2,500 and $83 for 5,000 (includes automation all levels) – Review
- Convert Kit – $29/$49 (includes automation and landing pages) – Review
- Active Campaign – $9 <500, $17 <1,000, $29 <2,500 (includes automation all levels) – Review
Advanced Marketing Automation Services:
- Ontraport – $79 <1,000, $147 <2,500, $297 <25,000
- Infusionsoft *- $99 <500, $119 <1,000, $199 <2,500, $274 < 10,000, $299 < 25,000
- Hubspot – $$$
*Frequently called “Confusionsoft”, they offer training for $999.
When you choose your CRM, know your expected list size in 6 or 12 months and the features you will need to support the sales funnel or automations you have planned, such as list segmentation, automation (sequences), and built-in landing pages.
5. Sales Pages and Lead Capture
If your email marketing software does not include landing pages or optin forms, your best alternatives are:
- External Sales Funnel Platforms
- WordPress Conversion Theme add-ons
- WordPress Plugins and Sales page designed directly on your site
External Sales Funnel Platforms
Some starter email and CRM platforms include landing page templates. Most often, you will need to create your landing page, thank you/confirmation pages, and potentially upsell pages, separately and ensure they are properly connected. You’ll also want proper tracking of conversions of those pages. This is not always easy with landing page builders that are add-ons to your CRM. Most likely because the CRM was built as a database and email auto-responder as their primary function.
Click Funnels and Leadpages have made the process really easy if you are not technically savvy. Their systems are used widely to create high converting funnels. The downside is the recurring cost. It is not worth holding a Click Funnels or Leadpages account long term for one or two sales funnels, but if you want an easy way to test a funnel, then go for it! If it works and you get more than the monthly ROI, keep it going. If it works and the ROI is not quite there, duplicate the funnel you created there in another system. There are many technical VAs adept at using both of these systems and the funnels are generally quicker than setting up in your CRM-based landing page builder. They tend to have more design flexibility to brand your pages, too!
- Click Funnels – $97/mo
- LeadPages – $25/mo for Standard, $48/mo for Pro (includes split testing and text-to-optin, one-click signup links)
Click Funnels Super Quick Demo
WordPress Conversion Theme add-ons
- ThriveThemes – $19/mo. Click on Our Products to see add-ons to theme. Each add-on priced separately and recurring monthly fees
- OptimizePress – one-time fees of $97 for basic, $197 for templates and more. Marketplace of add-ons and templates available for purchase separately
WordPress Plugins to Collect Leads (directly on your site)
These WordPress plugins allow you to add a lead capture (optin form) to your site using shortcodes on your website pages and using a built-in designer from templates. When choosing these or similar plugins, check which email autoresponders the plugins work with. Bloom and OptinMonster integrate with your email directly. PopupAlly (and many other form builders) require you to go into your CRM and pull the html code you’ll need to integrate with your site.
Bloom Plugin with Mailchimp – Watch below
Bloom Plugin with ConvertKit – Watch below
PopupAlly with Ontraport – Watch below
Messenger Bots – a fabulous new way to collect leads!
Manychat adds messenger automation to your Facebook business page, and now allows you to collect emails within the bot – woot, woot! You can feed those emails into your CRM using a Zap (created with Zapier). Zapier is a free service for up to 5 Zaps (service connections using API that allows data in fields to be sent from one service to another).
Downsides – only useful for audiences on Facebook and this is a new technology that is at the mercy of Facebook’s ever changing rules. You could be shut down, so you want to keep your email list going 🙂