Building your website

Beware self obsessed web designers

Employing a 'web designer' to build your site is usually the first option people think of but be aware that web designers may have a vested interest in your site that wont benefit you, it is very easy for a website to be a 'triumph of design over content', be sure that your content is not submerged beneath the ego of the designer, you may not need an all singing dancing website with flash animations. Is he or she designing for you or just adding a demo site to their portfolio?

You may just need a simple design that showcases your products or services, if the designer shows little or no interest in your content then get someone else, a good design will take its lead from the content rather than you struggling to fit your content into the design as an after thought.

Website builder applications

There are many companies offering you the opportunity to build your own site yourself using their own companies website builder application, some of these are very basic if your looking for a quality site it probably isn't the way to go, your site is only going to be as good as the program, in most cases it is pretty basic and is just a ploy to get you on their books and take your money. If you want to go this way make sure you get to try a demo of the application before you part with any money, if you don't your buying that proverbiable 'pig in a poke'.

Tools you will need

If your going to have a go yourself you will need a minimum of 3 items,

1) An FTP program, this is just a little program that allows you to connect to the 'backend' of your website to transfer pages in and out of your web space. We recommend FileZilla its free and well supported

2) An Editor of some kind to view and edit the html in your pages, the simplest of these is notepad or any plain text editor, there are plenty of 'website editor programs' available from the simple to use free HTML Kit which we do recomend to the not so simple and expensive like 'Dreamweaver' but just a small warning, you will come across the term WYSIWYG, this stands for 'what you see is what you get', basically there are 2 approaches, you can design from the code(HTML) up to make the design or you can build the design using a WYSIWYG program that will then output the code onto the page, this building from the design view can be easier for the beginner but it has its drawbacks, the best WYSIWYG programs are very complicated to use, so be prepared to spend a sizable slice of time learning how to use it, in fact since these programs produce less than perfect code its probably easier to learn the code in the first place since you may need to 'de bug that final pages. If the WYSIWYG program is not that complicated then it's probably only going to produce very basic designs and you're probably better off not bothering with it.

3) Get a photo editing program for your pictures, there are many available but don't be tempted to go mad and pay out loads, they can be complicated to learn, all you need to be able to do at this stage is to crop or cut a picture and resize it to fit your web page. We recomend Gimp, its free and has all the features you will need to get started.

Website templates

If you don't want a shopping cart a good place to start is to find a free or paid HTML template site. There are companies us included that offer website templates, that is 3 or 4 pages that you can just copy into your web space and customize, if you want a reasonable looking site and you are prepared to learn a little html this is a good option but remember your getting a template available to other people so expect to come across other websites with the same design, so dont leave the generic banner images and menus as they are put in your own. Find one that you like and put it on your desktop, because its just plain HTML and doesnt need processing by a server you can build and play around with your template design and it will function the same as if it was hosted by a server (except the contact form if it has one, these are usually processed by the server). This is a cheap easy way to see if you can grasp the basics

Shopping carts

If you do want to start with a shopping cart then you will also need a payment method or processor, the simplest way is paypal so look at their site and open a business account with them, you can then use their shopping cart generator which allows you to create products and price info on their site which you then copy and paste into your own static pages. Because a paypal merchant account is free to set up it is perhaps more widely supported by indepenent shopping carts so even if you don't want to use their shopping cart you can still use them as a payment processor.

If you want to host your own shopping cart there are many independent ones available. An independent shopping cart will send your payments to paypal or any other payment gateway for processing, There are shopping carts you pay for and others like 'Zen cart' which are free, you will get more support from paid ones but free ones usually have forums and help sites to answer your questions, whichever way you go you will probably need some help setting it up, some hosting companies us included offer a selection of free independent software applications in the hosting package so its worth shopping around to see if you can get it all provided for one cost, since the shopping cart or application is independent of the hosting company you can move to another host if you want without having to start again.

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