Tools of the Trade: Free & Nearly Free Ways to Build Your Online Presence
Carpenters have hammers. Artists have paint. Sculptors have clay. As an entrepreneur who creates content and resources for your customers, you need tools, too. But let's face it, there are so many out there. And some of them are VERY expensive - especially for someone who is just starting out.
Today, I want to give you three fundamental tools to help you get started on the right foot. Each of these elements will help you express your brand vision in different ways. It's a good idea to first decide what you want to be known for, what you want to sell, and how you want to sell.
Step 1: Tools for Your Website
There are a lot of players in the market today, and all of them offer some type of free service. It can be overwhelming to try and decide where to start. Here are a couple to consider, and then my favorite.
Wix has been around for awhile, but recently they began promoting their products and services in a big way. Plans like Wix provide all-inclusive services, including a free domain, or you can bring your domain with you. They provide several pricing options, so it's easy to get started and then upgrade.
Squarespace website builder promotes itself as the most beautiful. And, when you look over their website you can see why. Elegance is obvious. They also offer two categories: website and online store. All of their paid plans offer a custom domain, which is important. The price is a bit higher than Wix, but their business plan offers professional email from Google and an internal email capture option in the Business plan. All also provide SSL security, which is vital when you are collecting personal and payment information.
Shopify is well-known in the artisan community. When you want a full-featured, built for e-commerce store, this is the place to begin. Shopify is your webstore, built on their platform. As a bonus, there are no limits to the types of items you can offer for sale on the Shopify platform.
Along with a custom domain, Shopify offers you the tools to sell your products across multiple channels, including Point of Sale, Buttons, Buyable Pins for Pinterest, Facebook integration for your store and Messenger, and the Amazon marketplace.
Interestingly, they also help you find items to sell in your store, if you don't already have products.
WordPress: The First Stop & My Favorite
I'm talking about WordPress (dot) org here - not the (dot) com. And it's important to make the distinction when you're talking about these website tools. You can create a free website today on WordPress.com. However, you will not have a dedicated domain name. Read more below.
WordPress is the framework of your site. Consider it the skeleton of your web presence. Because the options are limitless when it comes to how to arrange your content, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming if you aren't tech savvy.
However, the most important element is that it is YOUR property - which sets it apart from Wix, Square, Shopify and any other web platform. What you create belongs to you.
Using WordPress(dot)org allows you to use plugins. Plugins are what make your website sing. Along with thousands of free and premium plugins, the options for themes - how your content shows up on the page - are all but endless. My favorite is Thrive Themes. This site is built on WordPress.org with Thrive products. But don't worry, WordPress provides hundreds of free themes you can use right out of the box.
An Important Note about Hosting for WordPress.org
To use WordPress.org, you need to own a dedicated domain name. You can purchase a domain name from a lot of places. Just know that prices vary. The website, Instant Domain Generator allows you to type in a name to see if it is available.
Not only do you need a dedicated domain name, you need a place to host your website. Just about any website hosting platform will allow you to register a domain name. You can see a list of registrars in Top 10 Best Website Hosting's list.
My personal favorite and go-to is GoDaddy. Along with web hosting, I also purchase my domain names through them. I've been with them for over ten years. Their customer support has always been great and they are quick to offer help. They have many plans and can grow along with your business.
Step 2: Tools for Your Email
No matter which tool (or tools) you choose to host your business on, you MUST collect email addresses. Even as you are building your social media presence, the ultimate goal is to get email address and create an offsite business relationship with customers and potential customers.
Most every ESP (email service provider) will offer a free trial. The best thing you can do is choose the one you like best and go with it. In my opinion, the top 3, based on ease of use are Mailchimp, Convertkit and GetResponse.
Step 3: Tools for Your Graphics Design
Like most of the tools I've mentioned, the tools available for creating custom graphics is almost endless. From free (Canva and PicMonkey) to high-end (Adobe Photoshop) you can take your pick. Of course, it depends on your graphics experience and budget which is the best for you.
Stencil: My Choice for Graphics
Certainly, I've tried a lot of different tools for graphics, but Stencil is by far my favorite. I love that I can create an image once, and with just the click of a button resize it for all of the different Social Media platforms. I can even text images straight to my phone to use in Instagram. And everything is included in one price, you just get to decide how much you need. Of course, you can start for free to check it out.
Photoshop is a different animal. And in the realm of graphics tools, it requires quite a bit of skill. As a result, I'd recommend it only if you have a background in graphics or want to invest the time to learn. Cost is around $20 per month.
Putting it All Together
Without a doubt, all of this can seem a bit overwhelming, especially when you're just starting out. I'd love to help you create a game plan. Why don't you schedule a free conversation with me? I'll help you summarize what you want to do in your business and we'll create a roadmap to get you started.
After all, it is YOUR business and it should represent YOU! Schedule Today.