Tips and Suggestions Based on My Experience
This is a page of what I’ve learned through my process of setting up my own website that I didn’t see a lot of information on/didn’t feel like the information provided was clear enough. This is all based on my experience where I had a little over $100 to spare for my website and had zero experience with setting up a site before. Please note that you should always double check everything I’m writing here with the actual company you’re interested in using; I can’t be held liable for other companies changing or editing their information, so you must ensure that you check out all the information I’m providing you with the correct sources.
I opted to go with WordPress to create my site, but you can also look into other options such as Drupal or Joomla. These are called Content Management Systems (CMS), and they allow you to basically create or build your site. When you purchase a hosting service (which I’ll describe further below), you may have the option to use a website builder or a CMS. A CMS can be helpful in many ways, but the thing that made me choose a CMS over the provided website builder in my hosting service was the fact that if I ever want to switch to a new hosting service and migrate my (built) website, I cannot do that if I use a website builder. However, I can do so when I use a CMS.
Another note is that many hosting services provide a one-click installation option for WordPress (I’m not sure about other CMS options, though, so be sure to check for that if you want something other than WordPress). I made sure to look for this in my options because I didn’t know wtf I was doing at first and didn’t wanna screw around with learning the necessary skills to install WordPress on my own.
Another note is that when I refer to WordPress here, I’m referring to WordPress.org which is the CMS. WordPress.com is completely different– it’s more like a blogspot account rather than your own website. An important note about this difference is that you can only use plugins such as WooCommerce with a .org account, not a .com account. This is an important distinction if your primary reason for starting a website is to sell your own work.
One final note I have is to document everything in writing. If there’s an option to call, e-mail, or live chat an agent, do one of the last two. (Make sure you have chat transcripts e-mailed to you for your keeping or at least save a complete copy of the transcript yourself if that’s not an option.) This way, you can always prove what information you were given, and you can reference it later on down the years when you need it.
First, grab your domain name. You don’t need to host your site with the company you purchase your domain name from. You can’t get a hosting service until you get your domain (or you can purchase them both at the same time).
Your domain name doesn’t have to be expensive. Period. If you find a hosting service that wants to charge you $15/year for your domain (looking at you, HostGator), do yourself a favor and purchase your domain name elsewhere first. What you’ll do if you purchase your domain name separately from your hosting service is simply tell your domain name provider to point your domain to the hosting service you chose by inputting the namerservers provided to you by your hosting service. Don’t worry, they provide you with help setting that up if you’re nervous about it.
I used NameCheap for my domain name provider and got a 36 month term for $32.88, which includes a 54¢ ICANN fee for all 36 months. You can check out ICANN for more information about what it is.
- “Term” refers to the length of your agreement. So for example, if you purchase the rights to 12 months of your domain name (example.com), your term is 12 months. And since this is your first time purchasing a domain with that domain name provider, the first 12 months of your plan is your first term. If you renew it with them the next year, you will be entering your second term of 12 months because it’s your second time getting the domain with that company.
Utilize discounts and coupons: for example, if you can afford to, get a three year term for your domain, and it will be cheaper than a two year term. This is because the number of months you sign up for at the beginning is the rate you’ll be automatically renewed for at the end of your term. So if you purchase a 12 month term, you’ll be charged the rate for a 12 month agreement (or term) at the end of first 12 months. So you can choose a 12 month plan for, say, $15 a year and then pay that amount each year, or you can get a 36 month for, say, $30 for three years and then pay that amount every three years, saving you money in the long run. It also gives you wiggle room for the time needed to earn enough money to keep your site going. For example, if you purchase a 12 month plan, you have exactly that amount of time to begin making enough money to cover your site for a renewal. So give yourself some breathing room if you can afford to!
If you’re ever dissatisfied with your domain name provider, you can switch your domain name to another company (a domain company or a hosting service, your choice). There’s sometimes a fee for this, though, so keep an eye of the specifics of where you want to switch to.
If you can, try to sign up for Whois privacy. I get mine from my domain provider NameCheap, and it’s $2.88 per year. This basically is a service that helps to keep your information a little more private and thus safer. If someone wants to look up the owner of your domain (you), they can easily find your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, etc. just with a few keystrokes. But using Whois privacy options helps to make that step a little more involved. And I’m not getting any money or anything from NameCheap for sharing links with you– I’m just comfortable sharing what information I get from them since I use their service.
Once you’ve got your domain name and assuming you chose not to host with your domain name provider, you’ll need a hosting service. Now, there are a lot of hosting service providers out there. But you’ll want to know a few things about the things you need for your business first.
First, if you’ll be selling anything online, you’ll need an SSL certificate. Now, a lot of hosting services will say, “ Oh, look! We’ll give you an SSL certificate– for up to $69.99 per year..!” My wallet wasn’t about to have that.
An SSL certificate is what makes a url into an https website, which is required for something like WooCommerce. You simply cannot use WooCommerce without an SSL certificate. I don’t know how it works for WooCommerce alternatives, but this is how it works with WooCommerce, so if you want to use this as your shop plugin, you must have that SSL certificate.
You have a couple of options for getting the SSL certificate:
First option: You can suck it up and pay for the SSL every year as your hosting service demands which will make it pretty simple and straightforward, making your site SSL protected from the very beginning (you may need to activate it, I’m not sure since I went with the option below, but the SSL certificate will be provided immediately upon purchase to my understanding, saving you time, effort, and a little stress lol).
Second option: You can go the DIY way and look for a hosting service that has SSL certificate support that allows you to upload an SSL certificate you get for free. If your hosting service doesn’t specifically state that it supports SSL certificates from other sources, it likely doesn’t offer this option. You can usually confirm this by contacting the company and asking, “Do you provide SSL certificate support?” You could also maybe add, “I want to upload my own SSL certificate without purchasing it with your company” or “I want to use an SSL certificate I got through [free SSL certificate provider name here].” You will have to renew this certificate every 90 days.
- You can look for a free SSL certificate at Let’s Encyrpt. They are also super helpful in that they provide you a list of hosting services that have SSL certificate support as an option and permit you to use an SSL from Let’s Encrypt. This is how I found a hosting service after I learned I needed to switch from HostGator to a hosting service that has SSL support without charging an arm and a leg.
After you’re settled on your SSL certificate support, you’ll want to know the Terms of Service for any and all hosting services you’re considering. I was under the assumption that hey, it’s my website, I can post wtf I want, right? Wrong. (I know, I was really surprised, too!!) A lot of the popular hosting services out there such as BlueHost, InMotion, etc., don’t allow nudity of any kind on websites hosted through them, even if it’s a drawing or painting of a nude subject, even if it’s not pornographic in nature. As a body positive artist who creates nude pieces all the time, this was obviously a huge issue. lol So, even if you’re not making nude work, make sure you check out the Terms of Service (ToS) for all the plans you’re interested in, especially the Acceptable Usage Policy. I know it’s a pain in the ass, but those things are super important to understand before you sign up. (Also, I have ADHD, so if you’re intimidated because of that, just know that I felt the same way! I just took a deep breath, then took it one paragraph at a time until I got it. You can do this!! And don’t be afraid to Google, ask for help, etc.!) After a while of reading a lot of them, you kind of get to the point where it’s a little quicker because you know what you’re doing more and what to look for.
Next, document everything. Especially if you’re a newbie like I am/was, this will help you. I created a Google Sheets document that you can check out.
- The technical specs are all listed on the left in the first column, and the following columns show the names of the companies I had narrowed down, along with how they measured up to the technical specs listed in the first column. In these, the four I had narrowed it down to were Brontobytes, GeekHost, HostMantis, and StableHost.
- In the second sheet, I kept track of the ones I had looked into but had rejected for one reason or another. This list was basically everything I saw on the Let’s Encrypt link I mentioned above, plus one or two extras. (I didn’t start the list until later on, which is why they seem to start in the H’s for the most part. lol) I do this because if I ever need to switch to a new company, I have notes on why I had initially rejected them– which is important if the rejection was because they don’t allow nudity. This way I don’t need to waste my time looking into them again.
- I didn’t list it in my Google Sheets document, but another eliminating factor was country of origin– I have enough trouble keeping up with all the laws in my own country (United States), and I know for a fact that I don’t want to have to learn laws in multiple countries when I’m first starting out. I have enough on my plate. There’s also the conversion rate for currencies– for example, if you’re required to pay in UK currency, you’ll end up paying a little more in US Dollars than you would with a service that accepts US currency because of the conversion rate. Another reason is because some companies will have a clause in their ToS that if you decide to sue them, you can only do it in a certain location– which is usually most convenient to them. So a trip to Arizona for StableHost is much more feasible and convenient for me than a trip to the UK. So for Sheet 2 on this document, I didn’t bother putting any hosting service that had their pricing in a currency other than US Dollars.
So for example, I made sure to get it in writing that my artwork would be acceptable content to have on my website before I signed up for a hosting service. This way, if they ever try to close or suspend my account because they think my work violates their terms, I can show in writing that they said otherwise before I even signed up. I may not be able to keep my hosting account in the future, but I’ll be able to get my website that I built through WordPress and maybe I’ll be able to get a refund for unused months remaining in my plan since they breached the contract. But if I were to go to court without that documentation and just say, “They told me it was fine,” then that’s only hearsay and is generally not admissible as evidence. I would lose my account, my website that I built, and my money that I invested into their plan because it’s their word against mine, and I signed their contract.
If a company ever insists that you call or speak with them in a way that is not in writing, don’t agree to anything until you can get it in writing exactly as they’re telling you. If they refuse, it’s probably in your best interest not to do business with them. And double check that if they provide you written confirmation that it’s the same exact thing you wanted to agree to while discussing it before you sign.
Another option you have to protect yourself is to record conversations you have. If you can get the person to agree on tape/video that they’re cool with it, that’s great. If not, or if you’re worried they’ll object, you may be able to do so secretly. This is dependent upon your local laws! I live in New York state where you can record a conversation without telling anyone as long as you are a party of that conversation. (This is as of March 8, 2018, so check for updates before recording!) I don’t know if this applies to video recording, but I know for a fact that it applies to audio recordings because I had to do this once in an abusive work environment and used a voice recording device.
This may all seem a little overboard to you, especially if you’re new and have never had any sort of legal trouble or serious trouble that could lead to legal action. You may be thinking, “I’m a small business, and I haven’t even started my website or sold anything yet, who cares about me?” But I encourage you to think about yourself in the future. Imagine and plan for your success. Imagine that you gather a large social media following, and then you make a lot of sales, which leads to more attention. After you get that attention, new things will happen, and there will be changes you might have never predicted. At that time, you’ll want to have all the basic information you need on hand and already prepared so that a hiccup doesn’t become a disaster and interfere with your income.
Next, you’ll want to know about your hosting service’s backup options. A service may say that they backup your site regularly, but will they restore it for you? And if so, will it be free? Unlimited free restorations? Is there a restoration fee? How much? How much will they restore? And so on.
Next, there a lot of options in terms of types of hosting services. The one I’m using is called Web Sharing/Shared Server/Web Hosting. It basically means that several websites all share the same server. This is different from a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which is where you get your own server. There are definite benefits to having a VPS plan, but those benefits come at a pretty steep price if you’re as restricted as I am/was at the beginning. The good news, though, is that you can always upgrade from a shared server in the future. So if you’re just starting and tight on cash, consider starting with a shared server and saving money from each sale/each month to get your own VPS later on if you desire.
Finally, if you have no idea yet how much money you’ll be making from your website and are worried about how long it will take you to be able to pay for a new term of hosting service (plus your domain renewal), I suggest signing up for a longer term rather than just going for a 12 month plan. This way you have time to build up a follower/customer base and hopefully produce income before you have to worry about renewing. Another plus is that often your service will renew at the same rate you purchased it for (unless you got a deal like $1.99/month for the first term, followed by a renewal rate of $6.99/month), so you save now and later!
What I try to do is set aside money each month from the beginning for the renewal rate later on. So for example, my 36 month plan with StableHost will renew for $126.00 in 2021, which is a rate of $3.50/month. My domain renewal in 2021 will be $32.88 plus $2.88 for the annual Whois privacy protection. So each month, I save at least $3.50 plus $0.92/month for my domain renewal and keep it tucked away for the future renewal date. This is a lot less stressful than having to come up with $161.76 all at once three years from now– who knows what my finances will be like then? So as I like to say, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
Some things you’ll need for WooCommerce that you might not know until after you start your site:
- You need a PHP version of 5.6 or newer, but the recommended version is 7, so make sure your hosting service provides one of those options for you; I think older PHP versions might work with the basic WooCommerce plugin, but if you want to add something like Stripe as a payment option, you must have 5.6 or newer
- You absolutely must have an SSL certificate; I know I mentioned this earlier, but here it is in a checklist for you. :] [smiley] You are simply unable to sell anything without an SSL for your domain if you want to use WooCommerce
- You can only do checkout through a PCI-DSS compliant third party such as PayPal or Stripe with WooCommerce, but if you’re in Europe, you have the option of using the BACS system, something we don’t have here in the States just yet
So I’ll try to update this page from time to time when I get new information or I remember something relevant. I’d love to offer assistance on setting up your site, but unfortunately I am not qualified to do so. I also want to focus on my work, which is art and not web design. :] [smiley] If you have more questions, I hope you’ll consider checking out my Resources page and looking through some of the sites I’ve suggested that are in fact qualified and specialize in web design!
Last updated on March 23, 2018