Creating your own website for a small business

When my partner and I went about setting up our digital consultancy Bright Angles, one of our big discussions was around our digital strategy. We are not a digital execution firm and neither of us can code, but we wanted a good, simple, professional looking website and blog. And being a start up, we did not have a huge budget for this. I wrote a few months ago about taking your business online for $10, which is easy to do thanks to Google Apps for business. Initially our website was hosted on blogger, but we soon hit a lot of limitations in terms of modifications we could make. It was time to move to a 'real' site and the next step was to look for a website editor and host.

I identified three options that make the task of site design quick, easy and not too expensive -  WixWeebly and Jimdo.

All three website builders offer entirely free tools to create your website and also give you an option to publish your website free on their domain (eg. brightangles.wix.com). You obviously have to pay for additional functionality like more hosting space, removing their advertising from your website or linking the site to your domain name.

I used all the three for nearly a week before I took a call. I compared the features and the end result from each product before taking a call. Here is my assessment of each as a DIY website creator and end user.

Wix creates the most gorgeous looking websites and provides the most user friendly editing tools. However, it has some limitations:

1) It is a closed editor with no scope to add your own HTML/ CSS. Not that we know any to add right now, but who knows we may acquire a new skill (or an employee with skills) and then we would surely miss the ability to customize the site.

2) It has the most expensive pricing plans of the three. The basic pricing plan which is approximately $50 (Rs. 2500) per year, still displays brand ads of the site. To get the bandwidth and hosting we wanted, we would have ended up paying at least $150 (approximately Rs.8000) per year.

3) It lacks an inbuilt blogging tool. Incidentally, we prefer to continue hosting our blog on blogspot because it has a better feature set, but many people would like to just have everything in one place.

I would whole heartedly recommend Wix to a small business for whom the look and design of the website is really critical. For example, food, fashion, retail, decor etc. You would need to spend a lot more on a website designer (and be lucky to get a good one) to get the kind of look you can create with Wix. Also, it's a great option to create a temporary site for an event like a wedding, conference or exhibition - then the steep monthly cost does not become a deterrent. If you are using Wix, you don't have to buy your domain separately as it is included as part of every plan.

Jimdo seems to strike a decent balance between pricing and functionality. One welcome feature is that it shows me pricing in INR - I save on the forex transaction fee that gets levied on my credit card when I pay in USD. The basic package (Jimdo Pro) costs only Rs. 3600 per annum and gives me ad free hosting of 5 GB. Out of the three options, it is the most e-commerce friendly, offering ways to easily set up your online shop and link it to your PayPal account.

These are the strikes against Jimdo

1) It has fewer (and less awesome) templates than Wix. Also access to templates is restricted according to pricing plan - Jimdo Business customers get more templates than Pro users. This need not be a constraint if you can get a designer on board, but it does mean extra expenditure or time, which defeats the purpose of a pure DIY website builder.

2) It is a little less user friendly than Wix were you can literally drag and drop any element on your page. On Wix, I would guarantee that even the most tech unsavvy person would LOVE creating a website.  On Jimdo, it needed a little more patience to figure stuff out, but this is only a relative statement. Jimdo is not difficult to use or master.

3) E-commerce options are great but bear in mind that Jimdo's credit card payment option is PayPal based and RBI tends to crack down suddenly every now and then on PayPal.

Still, I think Jimdo is ideally suited for any e-commerce business. The value for money is tremendous - to  set up an e-commerce site with a payment gateway, one would be spending at least Rs. 50,000-100,00. With Jimdo Business, it costs just Rs. 9600 per year. Also, Jimdo does not force you to buy a domain so you can use your own with it.

I left Weebly for last (that's what we went with for our website). There were some things about Weebly that I liked immediately. As a policy, they do not display ads unless you opt for it. They let you link your domain for free with the website. They do not put a constraint on your hosting or bandwith if you are using their services for free. There's a file size limit of 5 MB for a free account but no limit on the number of files you can upload. The only indicator that you are using a free site is a small Weebly ad at the bottom of the page. You can still see it on our site but we will be upgrading to a Pro account very soon. I'm just testing the site for now to see if it runs smoothly. It's the most reasonably priced of the three - Rs. 2600 per year for just about everything we require. Not that we wanted the cheapest option - but if it provides everything we require, then it's good enough!

So what are the negative points of Weebly?

1) The biggest one is that if you use their Ad Sense Widget, they keep 50% of your advertising revenue. It does not make a difference to us because we have an ad-free corporate site. But you need to be aware of this, and circumvent it by using your own Ad sense code.

2) The website editor is a little limited in options compared to Wix (but then, most things are!). It's good enough to create a decent looking, neat website, but it does not inspire you to be wildly creative, which Wix does. Having said that, I liked the Weebly editor more than Jimdo.

I think Weebly is well suited for businesses which want corporate websites, especially services and consultancies like ours. If you want a neat and professional looking site rather than a flashy or elaborately designed one, it does a great job.

I do think that its important for small businesses to be hands on with their websites, and be capable of doing basic editing and adding content. We do not have IT departments and cannot afford to be dependant on external freelancers every time something needs to be done. In fact, such an approach can be disastrous. A friend of mine got her website done through a freelancer. While the work was in progress, she fell into a payment dispute with him and he vanished/ went out of contact. He had all the site information like domain/ DNS access and refused to hand it over so that a third party could carry on the work. 

This is why I think it's better to be independent and in charge of your website - until you can afford your own team to take charge of administration.

Edit : a few friends asked me why I did not review or recommend WordPress in this post. I did take a look at it but in my opinion, it needed a lot more investment of work and time OR money to get it up and running. I did our website on Weebly in 2 hours. I think WordPress is fantastic in terms of customisation options, security and community support. I will work towards understanding it better and probably upgrade our website  to it as a later stage as our web needs get more complex and demanding. I am all in favor of a gentle learning curve where it is possible. You get more time to read up, and you manage to retain all that you learn. Building and editing our site, first on blogger and then on various web editors has given me a lot of confidence to push myself more next time. And I also know exactly what limitations I have come up against in the process. That's the joy of DIY!




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