Developing a web page for your business has always been a bit of a pain. In the past, I’ve outlined the various things that you need to do to put your business online: buying a domain name, getting a web hosting company, pointing your domain name to your website through a “domain name service” provider, setting up a web content management solution, getting a template for your website, and so on. It’s not easy for the non-technical, small-business manager. In the past, I’d have suggested that you go and find a local specialist to help.
Well, this geek is not too old to learn new tricks. A few weeks ago my daughter introduced me to a service that has eliminated almost all of the complexities of setting up a website. The service is called SquareSpace. And boy, have I been impressed! The service allows you to quickly create a website by selecting from one of many different preset templates which you may then customise. The service even allows you to register and host a domain name of your choosing without the complexities normally associated with domain name services. Best of all, SquareSpace is one of the easiest and most practical website content management tools that I’ve ever encountered for small business. In short, SquareSpace does everything that is on my shopping list for small business, but it simplifies by the process so that even my father could set up a website!
Is this new fang-dangled service for you? Well, SquareSpace allows you to set up your website and play with it for two weeks completely free of charge – you don’t even need to enter your credit card details. This way, you get to see whether or not SquareSpace is right for your business before committing.
So how do you get started setting up your new website?
First of all go to www.squarespace.com and then select the “Get Started Button.” No surprises so far.
Next, select a template for your web site. Templates are the ‘look and feel’ of your website. SquareSpace has many different templates to choose from. All are ‘responsive designs,’ which means they will automatically configure themselves for computers, tablets, smartphones and even SmartTVs. So not only do you get to build a new website, but you also get a mobile version of that website.
In other web content management solutions, such as my old favourite Dot Net Nuke, templates were generally add-ons which cost anywhere from $20 to $160. SquareSpace provides its templates free, as part of its service.
So, how do you choose a template that will be suitable for your company? Simply take a look at how other people have used them. When you click on a template in SquareSpace, you have the option to “Live View” the template. This will take you to an example website that uses the template for real. As you look at the various template designs, don’t get too hung up with the photos and text. Instead, think about how you navigate around the demo site, how the fonts and headings may look with your own words on them, where the images are placed and how your own images could be used in a similar way. In other words, look at the style and structure of the demo website, not the content. Then choose the template that would best serve your online customers.
Also, don’t worry too much about choosing the ‘right’ template. You can change your mind at any time. Even after launching your website live you can select another template. All of your web site content will automatically be converted to the new template. Easy!
To select a template, simply click on the template you like, then click the “Start With This Design” button. You will then be asked to enter your personal details: name, email and a password. That’s it. No credit cards. No onerous company registration documentation. Nice and easy. I wish other sign-up forms were this simple!
Once you are logged in, two things will happen. First, SquareSpace will send you a confirmation email which includes the link to your new experimental website login. Don’t lose this email! You will need that link to revisit and continue editing your website later on! Second, you will be asked to fill in some basic information about your website, such as its name. Don’t worry; you can change this later.
Finally, you will be taken to the SquareSpace website editing tool. A bunch of predefined pages will have been created for your consideration. When you click on any of these predefined pages in the ‘Main Navigation’ menu, you will be given the option to remove the predefined page OR “make a page like this” which copies the page and then lets you edit the content to suit your own business needs. This is a really fast way to build your web site. You can replace the headings and text with your own by typing directly on the page. Likewise, you can double-click on any image and replace it with a photo of your own.
In addition, you can add new content to your pages, including: text and headings, images, galleries (great for showcasing your specialist plants!), video (great for how-to gardening tips), product and shopping services, forms to collect information, newsletters (for communicating with your customers via email), google maps (great for showing people how to get to your nursery), calendars (good for running special events), menus (for those of you with catering), blogs, and even social media integration. Basically, there are enough plug-in features here to meet 95% of all small business’ needs. To add new content, you simply move your mouse around on the web page until you see a little plus signs (+) appear. A click on any of these will allow you to insert new content at that spot. You can also drag and drop content you have added to the page to new locations.
As you play with SquareSpace, you will begin to see that editing your website can be done without the need for the special techie or web designer skills… you can take over control of your website and the content. For a small business manager, this is a big plus, as it means you can be more reactive to your online market: you can try out different approaches and messages, without having to constantly go back to web designers.
Once you have your web site developed, or even partially developed, it comes time to get serious and pay for the service. SquareSpace has three packages: Personal (US$8/month), Professional and Business. For many small businesses, Personal is more than good enough. Start with that package. You can always upgrade later if you find you need some of the extra features. Keep in mind, this monthly fee includes everything: website hosting, storage, templates, content management software, domain name, etc.
Once you have filled out the billing details, your account is immediately activated.
You can now register a domain name for your website at no additional charge.A domain name is what people will type in to get to your website, for example, www.mynursery.com. To set up your own domain name, you click on the settings tool item (the little cog in the side panel of the website editor) and then the Domain menu item. From here, you have the option to enter any domain name and, if it is available, SquareSpace will register it for you, set up all the technical stuff (DNS settings, hosting of the DNS, routing, etc) and then associate it with your website.
This means your website will be able to be accessed with www.yoursitename.com. And you don’t need to know a thing about how it happened. It just works.
SquareSpace is not the only web tool on the market. Nor is it the cheapest. But it is economical and, most important of all, easy enough for small business owners to use without having to rely on techies or web designers.
In fact, I been so impressed the SquareSpace that I have already begun to move some of my traditional (and technically powerful) technology websites and blogs over to this new service. It’s not that I can’t run these other websites myself, as I must admit I am rather technically adept. But why mess with technology, when for about the same price you can get the same result with almost no effort?