Escape Routes

How to Start a Website (Part 1)

It was the dawn of the 21st century. Everyone had packed up their shops, closed the company doors and moved to a different world. Great warehouses, small boutiques and cozy shops were abandoned, the “For Sale” signs hanging from their entrances. No longer would they be doing business, paying for property ownership and lugging all their stuff into the store. It was the beginning of the end. Business owners had cleaned up camp and moved it into the virtual world of “online.” It was the beginning of the eBay era.

The Future

Let me be frank: the internet has wonderful advantages as a place to set up a business. Why?

  1. The start-up costs are generally much lower because you don’t have to lease a piece of property to do business
  2. Your shop can remain open 24-7 – a huge advantage
  3. Employees are optional, as is your time “behind the counter”
  4. People from all over the world can visit your shop with ease
  5. The possibilities for revenue are almost limitless

I could go on and on. But how does one do it? You may be thinking, “Mike, I’d love to start a website and begin my business, but I’m not very computer literate!” Well, I have good news for you: it isn’t really that difficult. If you are anything close to “skilled” in programming and web design, then you can probably stop reading this entry right now, because chances are good you already have a site. In truth,  anybody with a decent amount of intellect and half a brain can design a website over time. Designing a successful website, however, takes skill and patience.

Types of Sites

For my purposes, there are two categories of websites for would-be designers (most fall somewhere in between, utilizing elements of both.) There are what I call customized sites and template sites. What does a template site look like? Try looking over some major blog-publishing sites like LiveJournal or Xanga. In other words, these sites already have a certain “look” to them. All the user has to do is write their information in little boxes, upload a picture and voila! They are online!

Content-Management systems (CMS) are becoming a lot more popular these days.  Joomla, Drupal and even WordPress (which is the CMS that this website runs on) are great “template sites” that are highly customizable but require a certain amount of skill.

These days you can do a lot more with templated sites than you could before, as programmers increasingly tailor their creations to suit the “user-friendly” marketing niche. But still, you run the risk of having a site that looks too much like everything else out there, and doesn’t really allow you to fully benefit from whatever needs might arise later for your business.  Some degree of customization is essential.  There is a certain sort of beuaty to designing a website from scratch.

The second type of website is one that requires more extensive programming knowledge. These sites are much more difficult to create, but the end result is worth it. For example, take eBay itself. This website has it’s own unique brand and look that millions of people frequent and recognize daily. If you close your eyes, chances are good you can visualize eBay’s logo and perhaps even their website design. Could anyone have possibly designed eBay on livejournal’s pre-templated helper application? Not an icicle’s chance in Iran.


If you don’t know much about programming or about different options for web design, it is important that you do a bit of research. You don’t have to be the God of HTML or Javascript, but it helps to at least understand (in a general sense) what those are. Just go to your local bookstore or library and read about simple web design. You’ll get a good idea of what is out there. There are some good design programs that make things easy for free. I have used Serif Webplus for Windows, which is very, very user-friendly. I believe you can download some of the older versions (I have version 6.0) for free, though the most recent ones are shareware.

You can also purchase Dreamweaver, which is the cream of the crop, as far as Web Design programs go. My friend uses it and has had a good deal of success designing his site, which is a promotional tool for a travel-based business called Mango Travel. You can see that his website is well customized and has a professional look without compromising any uniqueness. Of course, Dreamweaver is expensive, so you should be serious about creating a site and read up on the program if you wish to make this investment. If you choose to go this route, it’s worth it.

Like everything else in life, you’ll get the most from your website if you are willing to put in the work. An easy site that you can throw together in an hour is not likely to give you the results that days of research and customizing will. Keep this in mind as you embark on this journey.

Next in the series: Part 2 (Web hosting and URL names)


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