When it comes to being an entrepreneur, establishing a personal brand through a website is critical to success. Everybody and their mom use the internet to discover new brands, influencers and ultimately to buy new products and services.
Big brands have the advantage of a strong reputation and a crew of professional designers behind their sites. If you want to compete with them, you’re going to have to develop a reputation and a strong web presence yourself. But establishing a website isn’t easy. There are countless places to start. Some are expensive, some are cheap, and most aren’t worth your time.
What’s the best place to start when looking to build your brand and establish yourself as a formidable entrepreneur in your space?
Here’s the entrepreneur’s guide to getting your first website off the ground. We’ll look at your options, and how to figure out the best way to get started, depending on your business goals.
Why having a website is critical for business and personal branding
When it comes to making money online, business and personal branding are huge drivers of sales and influence. Company branding builds trust and an emotional connection between businesses and potential customers. Personal branding helps founders and executives establish credibility, which is crucial for launching successful businesses, especially if they start multiple companies.
Both are important in the business cycle, and it’s good to keep both in mind throughout the process of starting and running companies.
If you haven’t already established your company’s brand—or thought through the details on what sets you apart from your competitors, do that before you start building your website. Here’s a branding guide to help you get started. You’ll think about your business, name, logo, and colors; but maybe, more importantly, you’ll think through who your target audience is and how you want them to feel about your product or service. You’ll also consider your brand voice, or your brand’s personality—are you super casual? Are you more formal and authoritative? Knowing the answers to these questions will help a lot when you’re ready to build your first website.
A study done by SurveyMonkey and Search Engine Land found that brand name was the first thing people looked for when clicking on search engine results:
Branding was the biggest driver of clicks on given search results. Even more so than pricing, reviews, and location proximity.
If we can learn anything from that study, it’s that branding shouldn’t be underestimated. And even though the study says that a brand’s name is most important, think about all the things that go into making sure people remember your company’s name—a lot of that has to do with making your brand memorable. If your company’s name, colors, logo, and voice are almost exactly the same as your competitors, it’s a lot less likely that people will remember you.
A common misconception is that branding is only possible or necessary for companies with massive budgets to invest in Super Bowl-style ads.
But branding, or raising awareness about your brand, can be done with a small budget. On places like Facebook, where the CPM (the cost to reach 1,000) is the cheapest of any ad network ever:
Simple brand awareness ads can reach thousands of people a day, costing you nothing more than a few quarters that can be recouped from your couch.
And according to Forbes, brand loyalty is a big driver in closing sales and selling online.
Most successful entrepreneurs establish themselves with a personal brand that they can leverage into sales for future ventures.
Take Neil Patel, for example. He has been an entrepreneur since he was young, founding top conversion and marketing companies like Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics, Quick Sprout, and more.
He has been praised by the likes of former President Barack Obama, who named him a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30.
It’s safe to say that his credentials are endless. But he didn’t just stumble upon that brand.
He worked relentlessly to grow his multiple ventures from the ground up. Using his own personal website for content marketing and blogging, he has set himself up as an influencer in the marketing industry:
By leveraging his personal brand, he has taken multiple SaaS tool companies to generate millions in revenue.
The fact of the matter is: People look for brands and influencers when looking to purchase products and services.
Even if you have cheaper pricing or a better product, branding can make or break your success.
And the first step to building a strong entrepreneurial brand, company, and presence online is by creating your own website.
So, what are the options?
Website builders versus WordPress DIY?
When looking to create a website for your personal brand or a new venture, you have a few options.
A few of the main options are:
1. Website builders
Platforms like Wix, Squarespace, and Site Builder. These don’t require coding skills—they’re usually visual templates that are easy to use but don’t allow for great customization (that would require technical skills).
2. Custom development
This means hiring/contracting a freelance web developer or an agency to design and develop your site from start to finish.
3. WordPress DIY
Here, you’re creating your own site with WordPress templates as the base. This can require some technical knowledge.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Custom development, or hiring someone to build your website from scratch, sounds incredibly expensive. And for the most part, you’re right.
According to WebpageFX’s website quote calculator, sites can cost anywhere from $500 to $50,000+ depending on factors like:
- Total number of pages
- Style of design: including custom templates, responsive, mobile-friendly, and so on
- Copywriting: explaining your brand clearly
- SEO: making it easy for people to find you on Google
- Conversion rate optimization: getting people to take the right actions on your site
- Content management: ongoing changes to your website’s text and images
- Ecommerce functions: shopping carts or methods for accepting payments
The list goes on and on.
Custom development involves a full-scale team that works (usually) to build you a fully customized site.
But as you can see, that’s expensive.
So, what about website builders like Wix or Squarespace? They are a cheap (and effective) way to build a website without needing to know how to code or having to hire an expensive freelancer or agency.
The third option, using WordPress templates is a great hybrid approach—something between using an out-of-the-box solution like Wix, and hiring someone to build your site from the ground up. But it often requires more custom development on your end, meaning technical skills can be required.
So, how do you decide whether to use a website builder, hire a custom developer to build your site, or launch on your own using WordPress? It heavily depends on your current goals, business, or vision for the future.
Is a website builder right for you?
Website builders like Wix or Squarespace are great for new entrepreneurs looking to get skin in the game or start a personal brand.
They are great for small businesses or startups looking to get their brand and products out into the world without breaking the bank.
If you have a small startup budget, website builders are a great starting point. They are low-cost alternatives to investing thousands into a custom site before you know if success will follow.
When budgets are tight at the start of a company or a personal branding venture, site builders can be a great jumping-off point.
If you fall into one of the following categories, consider using a website builder:
- New entrepreneur
- Looking to establish a new personal brand
- You’re in the startup/beta-testing/MVP phase
- Low budget
- Looking to test the market before making a large-scale investment
If using a website builder seems like the best approach for your business, how do you choose between all the options?
The best website builders for entrepreneurs right now
Squarespace: a visual branding powerhouse.
Everyone has experienced this scenario at least a few times online:
Your browsing websites and you stumble upon a stunning site. One that literally stops you in your tracks.
One that blows you away with amazing design, visuals, and a well-crafted user experience.
Those websites are often common in industries for photography, video, eCommerce, and any visually-reliant niche.
According to BigCommerce, visual selling online generates 71 percent higher conversions. Selecting better, high-quality images can increase conversions by over 40 percent.
Showcasing your brand, company or vision requires visuals. And there is possibly no better website builder than Squarespace when it comes to using them to drive brand awareness and sales.
Squarespace packs some serious social proof, too. High-level industry websites like Pixar and Lyft are built using Squarespace.
As you can see, visuals are at the forefront of the top industry websites that call Squarespace home.
Websites built with Squarespace are relatively cheap, too:
The only downsides come with transaction fees on the Business based plan, meaning Squarespace will take a cut of your sales.
If you want to eliminate fees and unlock more eCommerce features, you will have to choose a more expensive online store plan:
Thankfully, the Basic online store plan isn’t that much more expensive and packs tons of features including zero transaction fees. It’s a great starting point for selling your products and services online.
Plus, they offer 40 stunning themes:
With competitive features for SEO, online selling, and mobile optimization, Squarespace is a visual branding and selling powerhouse in the website builder space.
There is no better builder when it comes to using visuals and a stunning website to drive sales.
Wix: for busy, budget-conscious entrepreneurs.
Most businesses don’t last that long. In fact, according to USA Today’s latest research, 50 percent of businesses won’t make it past the first five years before closing up shop.
With such a competitive landscape in almost every industry and niche, it’s no wonder that most fail.
One of the toughest things to accomplish is a successful, growing business.
Most businesses fail after the first five years for two major reasons:
- Lack of profit
- Lack of financial funding
Knowing these two things, you need something cheap to get yourself off the ground and running.
Something that doesn’t put yourself $10,000 in debt without a proof of concept or sales to back it up.
When starting a new venture, you take on loads of risk. Both time and resources are required to start a business.
And if you go all-in too soon, you risk losing big time.
And that’s where Wix comes into play. With some of the cheapest pricing on the market when features are compared, Wix can effectively help you offload the risk associated with starting a new business or investing in personal branding.
For an unlimited plan geared toward entrepreneurs, you can expect to pay $14 each month.
When totaled out over the year, that’s only $168. And that $168 gets you tons of features, including a free domain, $300 in advertising credit to Google AdWords, free hosting, unlimited bandwidth, 10GB of storage, Google Analytics, and more.
Not only is Wix a budget-friendly option, but it’s also packed with useful features that can help you save precious time.
It’s perfect for the side-entrepreneur who is strapped for time.
With automated email marketing features, you can create drip email campaigns to engage your leads and drive sales:
To get your website found, conducting on-site SEO is easy using Wix’s SEO Wiz:
Following a checklist format, you can get more done in less time without the need to know advanced tactics.
Instead, Wix provides them for you and walks you through each step.
If you are looking to sell products as a secondary source of revenue on your site, Wix allows you to create a store in just minutes:
Connecting to the leading payment systems automatically, your setup work is minimal.
If you’re new to Wix, you can create a free trial account in just minutes, giving you access to testing themes, stores, and features.
Setting up a website takes less than ten minutes. When you’re ready, you can easily upgrade to a premium plan to take advantage of a dedicated, free domain and hosting.
Wix is perfect for the busy, budget-conscious entrepreneur looking for a bundle of features to kickstart their growth without breaking the bank.
Should you pay someone to build your site from scratch?
If you have investment funds and can afford custom development, it’s a great option.
Custom developers can really bring your vision to life. Anything you throw at a custom development agency, they should be able to create.
If you decide to go this route, get bids from multiple developers or agencies. To get accurate bids, you’ll need to know exactly what you want—be sure to spend time brainstorming all of the things you’d like your website to include. Here’s a guide to how to get started on that brainstorm. Send this document to developers and agencies to get a quote, and compare quotes to see which is best for you.
When you’re looking for developers to solicit bids from, look for experienced website builders that have completed similar projects for other clients. You might be tempted to take a chance on someone new to the field, but this can end up backfiring quickly.
If you can find a developer that’s worked with companies in your industry or field, that’s even better. They’ll have a better grasp of your business needs even before you start the project.
While outsourcing this process allows for more flexibility than using an out-of-the-box website builder, it usually takes much longer to get your site off the ground and will cost you more. That being said, it may be worth the investment. Especially if your company doesn’t have anyone on staff with the expertise to build a site. Tech-related companies are likely to have someone on board that has the skills necessary for this, but legacy companies might be hard-pressed to find employees that are able or willing to do it.
Remember that custom web development can go a long way toward establishing a brand. If you’re a newcomer to the industry, it’s even more important to get it right the first time.
But, would building your own site on WordPress be better?
If you need more flexibility in terms of customization, but also possess the skills to develop your own using plugins, themes, and coding, building your own on WordPress is a great option.
It’s also possible to do most of the building yourself, then hire a WordPress developer to handle the more difficult tasks. If you need a custom plugin created, for example, or significant changes made to a stock theme, you can lay the groundwork and have a more experienced developer take care of the rest.
Fortunately, you can get a great start on a professional-looking website without hiring a developer if you want to use WordPress. Most website hosts support WordPress, and the basic installation is free. There are thousands of free themes and a huge number of paid ones that add functionality.
Plugins further expand your options. Some of the most popular plugins help you make your site load faster, improve the display of your images, add interactive forms, improve your site’s SEO, and manage comments.
It all sounds complicated, but WordPress has a large community online that can help you learn the basics. Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org have support forums and articles that will help you get started. WPBeginner is another good source of information, and r/WordPress has an active community of developers and enthusiasts.
If you’re willing to put in the time, you can build a professional-level WordPress site on your own. You’ll need to do a lot of reading and ask a lot of questions, but in the end, you’ll have a website you’re proud of.
If you choose the route of website builder, you have a plethora of options to choose from.
In this next section, I’ll walk you through the best website builders on the market for growing entrepreneurs right now.
Still, want to use WordPress? Don’t worry, there’s an option for that.
BoldGrid + WordPress: a power plugin-users dream.
With a growing brand and business comes the need to expand. To adapt and add new technologies that match the current market.
Anything from Analytics to advertising, advanced SEO tactics, and powerful on-site conversion optimization. Third-party integrations are a great way to build a business and connect your marketing, advertising, and sales chains.
But some website builders aren’t capable of that depth of integration.
And that’s where WordPress excels. With over 74.6 million sites trusting WordPress, it’s a power user’s dream. Currently, WordPress has over 54,000 plugins in their library that are essential for everything from blogging to sales.
WordPress packs a powerful plugin library, a diverse content management system, and the ability to combine with multiple hosting offers.
Using a platform like BoldGrid, you can combine the features of a website builder with the management system of WordPress:
With countless themes, BoldGrid enables easy customization and setup from domains to hosting and a simple five-minute install into WordPress.
While it does require more technical background to navigate, it’s meant for the power-user who relies on deep third-party integrations.
BoldGrid is completely free to use but requires outsourced hosting. For example, you’d need to sign up with a hosting provider like InMotion that provides WordPress hosting:
Thankfully, these hosting plans are competitively priced to full-scale website builders and provide similar features.
If power-using a CMS like WordPress seems essential to fast-tracking growth, using BoldGrid can give you the best of both worlds with a website builder and a top CMS platform.
Build the right site for your business
Creating a personally branded site or business website as a new entrepreneur is the first step to selling products and crafting a reputation.
Having your own website helps you create content, list products, and ultimately establish yourself as a household brand name in your niche.
Branding is still critical to success. If you don’t have personal or company branding, people won’t buy your products. But developing a site is complicated. There are multiple ways to get started and some can be incredibly expensive.
If you have a large budget and a track-record for success with new ventures, custom development is a great route. But if you are testing the waters with a new concept, you can easily mitigate the risks of time and money by using a website builder. Think through what you want and the level of resources you have to devote to your site—and then just get started.