Your company’s website is one of the most powerful marketing tools you have at your side – and clients not only appreciate being able to find you online, they expect it!
If you have previous experience creating websites, that’s great. If not, have no fear – there are a number of inexpensive options today for creating an online presence for your wedding business, both for the do-it-yourself enthusiasts as well as for those preferring to leave it to the professionals.
We’ll cover three options for creating a business website below including:
- Website Builder Services
- Blog-Based Content Management Systems
- Designing a Website from Scratch
At this point, don’t worry about actually building your own site yet—we’ll cover that in the next section. For now, simply determine which of these three options you feel would be most manageable for your current level of technical knowledge and website goals.
First, a little background on web design before we begin…
Once upon a time when the internet was in its infancy, web publishers had limited options available for managing a website. Web pages on any given site were coded in HTML (hypertext markup language) by hand, and any large-scale changes to the look and feel of the website would sometimes require the painstaking work of modifying the code on each and every page of the site.
Jump ahead to today, and things couldn’t be easier for getting started building a website (even with no coding experience.) For wedding professionals who offer a service rather than a product for sale, there are a range of options for developing a business website.
website builder services
The easiest way to get started and get your business online is by signing up for an online website building service. Often free or low-cost to get started with a basic site, these template-based services allow you to choose a look and feel for your site, enter your business information and upload photos, and choose a free or custom domain name.
The advantage of this set up is that you don’t need any technical knowledge outside of basic web navigation skills, and maintenance of your site is worry-free; just log on and make updates to your website as need be. On the flip side, you won’t end up with a site that is 100% unique since other companies may choose the same template to customize for their business. However, this is a great way to develop a professional-looking website quickly, and you can always hire a designer later on once you have a larger budget to do so.
Here are a few popular website builder services:
blog-based business websites
A second option available to wedding service professionals is to build a business website using a blog-based content management system such as:
- http://www.wordpress.com (WordPress-hosted blogs)
- http://www.wordpress.org (self-hosted blogs)
Even if you don’t actually need a blog for your company, a blog-based content management system can once again be a great way to establish your online presence quickly and with little technical know-how.
Instead of templates, blogs rely on “themes” to define the look and feel of a website. In the case of WordPress.com, there are literally hundreds of themes (both free and paid) which you can choose from for your business. Once you choose a theme, all that’s left to do is to create the necessary pages for your company’s information and publish your site. Choosing a different theme in the future is as easy as clicking on the new theme you’d like to use; WordPress.com will handle the rest!
You may also choose to self-host your blog-based website on a separate server, rather than on WordPress.com, for example. In this case, you’ll need to find a reputable web hosting company and purchase a domain name for your website (see “Choosing a Hosting Company” and “Selecting a Domain Name” below) and then install WordPress on your site through your web hosting control panel or by downloading the free code from WordPress.org.
While this requires a bit more work initially, there are benefits to a self-hosted setup including being able to modify your blog’s theme yourself (or designing a new theme) by having access to the code, being able to extend the functionality of your website by installing plugins on your blog, and the ability to back up your website via FTP.
Tip: If you do use a blog-based content management system to build a website, use pages rather than posts for any static website pages such as your “About Us”, “Contact Us”, etc. pages. Save posts for actual blog posts if you do decide to blog about your business.
Tip: A nice way to incorporate an actual blog into your company website is to post a photo or two (or more) from each wedding you’ve worked at and write about your experience, what you thought about the venue or your admiration of the bride and groom.
designing a website from scratch
A third option for starting a website is to simply do it yourself, either with the help of WYSIWYG web editing software or a local web designer. With this method, you’ll need to sign up with a web hosting company and choose a domain name (see below).
If you don’t have a budget to hire a web designer just yet, you can download a free web editor and create your web pages yourself. If you know how to use a word processor, you’ll be able to use a web editor with little difficulty, as the process of designing a page of content is very similar. Here are a few free programs that you can download to get started:
You’ll also need an FTP2 program in order to transfer your finished website files to your web hosting account so that they’ll appear online. We recommend the free program FileZilla for a trustworthy file transfer application.
choosing a hosting company
Hosting your own website or blog begins with signing up for a monthly or yearly web plan through a reputable hosting company. If you sign up for a year or more of hosting, you can often get plans as inexpensive as $4.00-$6.00 per month which should accommodate the needs of most wedding business websites.
When researching hosting providers, you’ll want to compare pricing packages and features offered as well as disk space, server uptime and support hours. If your website ever goes down, having access to 24 hour support will ensure that you can resolve the problem quickly.
Here are some popular web hosting companies which all offer similar features and plans:
selecting your domain name
No matter which one of the above options you end up choosing, you should definitely invest in your own domain name for your wedding business. While you can use a free subdomain on Weebly, WordPress, etc. as your business URL (for example, http://DJRick.weebly.com), your own domain name is a very small investment at around $10/year and makes your business appear that much more professional to your potential clients.
Tip: Remember—you’ll want to print your business URL on your business cards, stationery, etc., so try to make it as professional and memorable as possible.
Nearly all web hosting companies offer a domain registration service so that you can both order your domain name and host your website through the same company. However, we actually recommend registering your domain through a separate domain registrar rather than through your web hosting company. That way, should you ever want or need to change web hosts there won’t be any holdup with also having to transfer your domain to another registrar at the same time.
You should try to secure a .com domain for your business URL, however you could also consider purchasing a .net, .co, .info or another available top-level domain (TLD) if your desired .com domain name is already taken. Also, your URL should ideally be the name of your wedding business, as this will help with branding your business in the eyes of potential clients as well as the search engines. There was a time not too many years ago when the belief was that using a keyword-based domain name would help your site rank better in the search engine results (for example, http://www.losangelesweddingdj.com) – however, it is not necessary to do that anymore unless of course that is the actual name of your company.
your business email address
All website services or hosting companies will include at least one email account with your account, and the end of the email address should be your domain name (ex. firstname.lastname@example.org.) Using an email address that matches your domain name automatically makes you look more professional, so take advantage of it! Use your Gmail or Yahoo address for your personal mail only, not your business email.
If you have employees working for you and would like to set up a different email address for each of them, you should be able to easily do this by creating those additional accounts within your web hosting control panel (most large web hosting companies provide an unlimited number of email accounts with your hosting plan.)
Even if you don’t have other employees, you can create email “aliases”* such as email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc. By creating an alias rather than an actual separate email account, each of these boxes will collect mail and forward it to your main email account. That way, your company will have the appearance of having multiple departments to handle client correspondence—yet another way to create trust with prospective brides and grooms.
* To create an email alias, go to “Email Accounts” or similar in your web hosting control panel, and then follow the instructions to create one or more aliased addresses.
Tip: If you use Gmail and would prefer to receive and send business mail from the Gmail interface rather than having to log on to a separate email program to check your business mail, you can set that up on Gmail’s Settings > Accounts screen. Under “Send Mail As”, click on “Add another email address you own” and follow the instructions to add your business email account (note—make sure not to set up this new account as an alias.) You’ll also want to select “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” on the Accounts screen so that your outgoing business email will look professional by coming from your business email account (your clients won’t know that you used the Gmail interface to send the email.) Then, click on “Add a POP3 mail account you own” under “Check mail from other accounts (using POP3)” from the same screen, and follow the instructions to once again add your business email address so that Google will fetch your business email and display it in your Gmail inbox.