I’ve been getting a lot of requests for web design work lately. I can’t complain because I enjoy doing the work and it seems to be as in demand as ever. It’s something I’ve done on my own for a long time, but never for money, so it’s been nice to start getting more and more work in this niche.
When I got my first few requests for webdesign late last year, I found that it was easy for the work to suck up a lot of my time, and my customers (small business owners or organizations) don’t have a huge budget to pay me for hours of work.
So I’ve been looking for a way to streamline the webdesign process. By saving time I’ll be delivering a more affordable product to my customers while freeing myself up to do more work, since webdesign is only one of many computer-related services I’m offering. Yet I don’t want the quality to suffer.
Over the last couple of months I’ve developed a system for building websites that allows me to provide a clean, professional, unique website for my clients in about 30 minutes, and my customers have been loving the outcome.
I’ve heard some techs mention their reluctance to offer a webdesign service for various reasons. So before I get into the details of my system I wanted to make the case for webdesign as a service in your computer business.
Customers Expect It
Many of my current webdesign clients are customers that hired me to do other computer repair related tasks first. Every now and then they would ask me if I built websites. Not wanting to pass up a potential opportunity I answered “yes” and sure enough I had myself some new projects.
As computer consultants, we know that there’s a pretty big difference between computer repair and building websites. Technibble recently featured an article detailing some of the potential pitfalls that computer techs can run into when they try to offer webdesign services without understanding what they’re getting into. It’s not for everyone. But my process below should allow almost any technically savvy consultant to build websites for clients easily and quickly.
Built-in Advertising and Link-Building
One of the cool by-products of webdesign is that most clients won’t mind if you leave a link back to your website on the one you designed for them. A simple “Website designed by xxx” link in the footer should be sufficient and shouldn’t be intrusive.
What this does is twofold:
- It provides free advertising. People who visit that website may notice the link and, if the site is well designed, they might contact you for a project of their own. I know there have been numerous occasions when I’ve visited a well put together website and scrolled to the bottom to see who designed it.
- It provides a link back to your website for the purpose of improving your SEO (search engine optimization). One of the key factors in how Google determines whether or no to put your website toward the top of people’s searches is based on how many quality links you have coming into your company website. Unlike links from directories or social media, links from websites that don’t have lots of links to other websites on them may provide more value in the eyes of the search engines. The websites you build for your clients probably fit the bill.
Work From Home/Office
Another great benefit of web design is that it can be done from your office location, whether that be at home or elsewhere. The on-site computer consulting game can burn you out quickly. Not to mention the time and money lost on the road driving from place to place. Any opportunity to work from home should be a welcome addition to your arsenal.
Most Local Businesses Have Simple Needs
This is the revelation that truly made me a believer and caused me to officially add webdesign to my list of services. I didn’t need to be a brilliant web design guru. I didn’t need to know all there is to know about HTML, CSS, Flash, Java, etc. Most of my clients are small business owners. All they are looking for is a simple presence on the web to highlight their services and bring in new customers. This isn’t rocket science. Most of my customers are happy with a 5-6 page website with a contact form and maybe some social media buttons.
The 30 Minute Website
Here’s the break down of my website building process. As you’ll see, it requires little to no actual web design skills, though it does take some computer savvy. At the end of this process, you will have a simple informational website with 4 or 5 pages of content (provided by the client) and a contact form.
- Install WordPress (1-5 min)
- Choose and Install a Theme (5-10 min.)
- Install and Configure Plugins (5-10 min)
- Customize Theme (5-20 min.)
- Add Images and Content (10-20 min.)
The foundation of a well constructed, easy to update website is WordPress. It’s that simple. For those who don’t know, WordPress offers the industry leading free content management system. What I like about it is that:
- It’s easy to install.
- There are a plethora of free and premium themes available.
- It’s easy for customers to update their own website (more on why this is a good thing later)
- There are a plethora of free and paid plug-ins that allow you to add almost any functionality onto the site (shopping carts, forums, membership areas, videos, social sharing, just to name a few).
So I start all my websites by installing WordPress. You’ll need a database available and most hosting companies provide them with your hosting account. My host of choice is Hostgator, not only because they are easy to use and have great customer service, but also because they offer a white label program (also known as a reseller program) which allows you to sell their hosting to your customers as if it was your own.
Hostgator (as well as GoDaddy and many other major hosting companies) provide an easy automated WordPress install. Ask your hosting company if they have one. With the click of a button (and the entering of a few pieces of information) you have a working WordPress installation.
If your hosting company doesn’t provide an automated installation option, it’s still pretty easy to install WordPress on your own by following this handy guide.
Choose and Install a Theme
Once I have installed WordPress I need to find a theme, or a skin, to install. This is the piece of the puzzle that saves the most time for me. Instead of developing a website from scratch, I use a theme as a starting point. Then usually it’s simply a matter of changing a few colors and maybe some layout tweaks and, viola! You have a professional-looking design in a fraction of the time.
Choosing the right theme package took me some time to figure out. There are many very good looking free themes out there for WordPress websites. The problems I ran into with free themes were that they were very inflexible or didn’t offer the right amount of variety.
That’s when I discovered the Genesis Framework by Studiopress. Genesis offers a framework on which you can install one of up to 40 pre-made “child themes”. These child themes range in style and design and can fit almost any business. I’ve build about a dozen client websites (some shown at the end of the post) all using Genesis child themes and I’ve always been able to find one that fits my client’s needs.
There’s a package that allows you to purchase the entire catalog of themes for only a few hundred bucks. That sounds like a lot, but you’ll get your money back for it after your first few happy website customers.
Granted, you will need to know some HTML and CSS if you want to customize these themes, but it’s really much easier than building a site from scratch.
Install and Configure Plugins
This is where WordPress really shines. The plugin developer community for WordPress is gigantic. There’s almost a plugin for anything you can think of.
These are the plugins that I always install for my clients:
- Contact Form 7 – Allows integration of an easy to configure contact form. I recommend customers use a contact form over posting their email address in order to avoid spammers that crawl websites for email addresses.
- Genesis Simple Edits – This plugin lets me easily modify the footer of the Genesis themes so I can add copyright information and a link back to my consulting website.
- Ultimate Coming Soon Page – This allows me to easily put up a “Coming Soon” or “Under Construction” page that new visitors will see when they visit the site. The beauty is that you won’t see that page, so you can continue to tweak and view the site while you work on it.
- Akistmet – This one comes bundled with WordPress (but you need to activate it) and it provides spam protection for the comments on the blog posts of the site. Even relatively new sites can get comment spammers so it’s a good idea to install this one.
Studiopress themes include many build in options to customize them. You can change the position of the sidebars and add dynamic elements to the home page like a slider image, videos, or featured posts. Many themes also include color schemes you can choose from.
If you’re familiar with CSS then you have access to a very well-structure stylesheet which you can use to make endless tweaks to the header, colors, fonts, layout, and anything else you wish to change. The Studiopress forums are also full of tips and tricks from users and developers to help you get around any design issues you might find.
Add Images and Content
Finally, you need to add all the images and content the customer needs to fill out the website. You’ll want to make sure the customer provides this to you ahead of time. Then it’s just matter of copying and pasting that content into the pages and posts via the WordPress backend. Wordpress is built for content, so it’s very easy to format text and add links, images, or video into the pages. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can create pages in WordPress. Plus they provide tons of resources, like an online manual and forums, to help you figure it all out if you get lost.
That’s all there is to it! It may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you’re not familiar with WordPress. But once you get over the (relatively small) learning curve, you’ll be churning out websites like a well oiled machine.
Here are a few examples of websites I put together using the method above. As you can see they all look fairly different, they’re clean, and they’re professional. All of my customers have been very happy with the results for the price. These all took 30 minutes or less to build, though the Carpet Palace website took longer to finish because I needed to add galleries of carpet samples, etc. You can click on the image to visit the live website.
Summary of Recommended Resources
- Hosting: Host Gator
- Content Management: WordPress
- WordPress Themes: Studiopress (Genesis)
- WordPress Plugins: Contact Form 7, Genesis Simple Edit, Coming Soon Page, Akistmet
With this process you can knock out multiple websites a day or easily train an intern or assistant to do the work. It’s very scalable that way.
Do you provide webdesign services for your clients? What tools and processes do you use to design websites for your clients?