The first thing you need to do when starting a website is decide exactly what you want it to do. Is it to promote your freelancing services or books, offer information, or run a social club for all of your writing buddies? What you do with it will affect your decisions surrounding hosting and even domain registration.
Once you’ve established your goals, you’ll need a host. There are a gazillion web hosts, and because we’re starving artists, we have a tendency to leap at the freebies. Like everything else though, ‘free’ web hosts are worth as much as you pay for, so they’re not worth a hill of beans. Invest a little money in yourself and find a host that actually meets your needs, and has a good track record for server reliability. There’s no sicker feeling than working on a website for a few years only to find that the server has crashed and taken all your files with it. (Don’t make the same mistake I did and rely 100% on ANY server. Always back up your work.)
Domain names are important too. You’ll want to incorporate your pen name, publishing company or project into it somehow to make it recognizable and to boost those all important ratings.
As far as actually building your site, unless you’re going to moonlight as a designer, you don’t want to spend years learning HTML. Some hosts come with site builders, and Netscape offers a free program called Composer. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get program, Composer makes web design as simple as writing a letter in Word. You should still have a rudimentary understanding of HTML; Composer likes to throw the occasional curl ball, but you don’t need to be an expert on the subject.
You’ve got your host, your domain is registered, and there’s a smattering of content on your site. Who’s paying for all this? While the initial cost will be incurred by you, advertisers can offset the expense of running a website and generate more income than you’d have gotten writing for exposure only. You could offer advertising space for a monthly fee, but unless you’ve got thousands of visitors trooping through every month, don’t expect advertisers to pound on your door. They want exactly what we all want, the biggest bang for their buck. Your site won’t be of interest to them if your numbers are low (and at first, they will be).
Affiliate advertising is your alternative. Companies such as Amazon.com, Commission Junction, and LinkShare.com all offer a variety of appropriate products to feature on your site. Payrates vary from vendor to vendor, and until you get a regular stream of traffic, it may take time to actually generate any money from them. Google AdSense is another potential source of revenue.
Once you have a fairly complete package, you’ll need to let people know about your site. Add your URL to your email signature and spread the word around at every opportunity. Join networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, or Ryze. Vista offers free business cards for the cost of shipping and handling; take them up on it and have professional promotional material printed for your website. It’s actually cheaper than printing your own at home when you figure in the cost of material and ink, and you’ll have a better looking product to pass out.
Designing and building a website may sound scary, but it can really be a lot of fun. Treat it like an interactive jigsaw puzzle and let your creativity loose. Once you get started, you may find it hard to stop!
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