By Sandy Penny
I paid for a Web site through Yahoo for seven years. It was only $20/month, but over those years, I spent $1680. At the time I signed up, I was living in Houston, making plenty of money, and that was nothing. It was a bargain.
Since then, my life has changed. I have retired from the corporate world, and I have scaled back of my own accord. I did not lose my job or get forced to make the change, but I felt it would eventually come to that. I was mainly working in the financial industry at the time, and the writing was on the wall.
When I lived in Taos, their economy was shocking after living in Houston. The only jobs available to me were in the hospitality industry. I went to work at front desk of the Quality Inn for $7.50 an hour, moved up to $8.50 at the Taos Inn, and managed an Art Gallery for $10/hour. I was making that much money in 1970 at 20 years old. Fortunately, my little writing studio was cheap, and I no longer had credit card debt, having given it up after my last marriage. Fortunately, I had a few clients from Houston with projects I could do remotely to bolster my income.
The point is, I had to start examining all my purchases and be more frugal where possible.
I started looking at the monthly deduction from my bank account for my Web site, and as a writer, the site was not really performing that well for me. I figured I could just as easily use one of the free sites as continue paying.
My web designer friends talk trash about templated sites, but I find them usually easy to navigate, easy to build, fast to launch and easy to edit.
I Googled free Web sites, and came up with some good ones.
Most free sites have a lot to offer: free web hosting, free template choices, MS word style page editor, photo storage with access to photo editing tools, video features, blogs and forums, events calendar, and lots of widgets to personalize your site, PayPal and other payment options, social networking, traffic tracking, upgrades, and restricted access pages, if desired.
Domain names usually have an annual registration fee from as low as $5 to about $20/year, mostly around $12.95 for a .com these days.
You have to check out what the sites offer for free and what constitutes an upgrade. That’s sometimes difficult because they don’t give you access to the templates or identify upgrade items until you join them. Well, hey, it’s free, and you can always disable your account if you don’t like it. It does take some time to investigate, but to me, it was worth it. From investigation to launching the site, I spent 18 hours of my time. In Taos wages, that’s around $200 from start to finish.
The real test of whether you want a free site or not is whether you have the time to do the background work, the skill to use the site building tools, a visual eye for design, and the ability to define the content that will best serve your business.
I chose Synthasite, now Yola.com for my free space. I liked their tools and their templates. There were a couple of things missing that I wished for, and over time, they have added those. After 8 years with them, I am still satisfied with the options they have, and the additions they continue to make.
I would like an automatic “sign up for updates” button, but it’s not offered. After doing the research, I signed up for a free account with MailChimp.com, where I can create sign-up forms and automatic mailouts for sites and blogs.
Yola also didn't offer tracking automatically. I had to add that from a third party. Now it does, but I still use my free account with StatCounter.com. I love the ease of use, and the depth of information it offers.
Check out my site at http://writingmuse.com. If you use a subdomain for free, you may have a small ad on the page from the free site. Check out this one of mine. It's a free site: http://simplewebclasses.yolasite.com/. With a paid account, you will get better templates, but if you are creative, you can use a plain template and make it spectacular.
For $12.95/year, I bought my previous domain name, http://writingmuse.com. Once you have a personalized domain name, you'll have to buy a hosting plan. I have Yola Silver. I can build up to 25 websites and point new domain names to them for the same price paid per month or per year. Choose your payment plan. You get a discount for the annual payment.
After trying out webs.com, formerly Free Webs, it was more difficult to use, has less file space, and large ads on your pages. Although it seems to offer some tools I like, email list building and web rings, Synthasite was easier, more user friendly. Honestly, Free Webs was not intuitive, and I'm pretty savvy. I'm glad now that I went with Synthasite. Webs.com own site is very well done and sophisticated, but it just didn't work for me. It will also be more crowded because it's being highly promoted, and I’m unsure of its reliability if it gets super busy. Since, as a writer, I don’t have or need millions of hits, I’m good with a smaller server for now. I also tried out 18 other free builders, and there were good and bad things about them all. I'm really happy with the choice I made, and I'm still with them after 8 years (now Yola.com).
Wordpress is big these days, but I don't find it easy to use at all, so I refuse to go that route.
So, free site or not? It’s up to you, but well worth exploring. And, there is no reason not to launch a business with a free site, because if you make money, you can always upgrade later. If you don't, you've only spent your time, not your cash.
Contact me at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, price quotes, project discussion or writing, editing, or marketing/writing coaching assistance. Read my web samples at http://writingmuse.com. Check out my sample websites at http://simplewebclasses.yolasite.com/web-gallery.php. Let me know how I can help you.