A Website For Free – Is It Really Possible?

A Website For Free – Is It Really Possible?

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” – Warren Buffett

 

If you conduct a poll among computer-literate people, you will notice certain hesitation among them about whether it is possible for a website to cost you absolutely no money or a really insignificant sum. If I tell you that you can create a website on your own in less than eight hours absolutely for free, many of you will question my sanity. But it is a fact. The reason to have so many websites on the internet is that the average internet consumer may create one, one way or another. If some 15 years ago this would have been an uphill struggle, now it is just a matter of will, trust in your own skills, and training.

Over the past years, the world crisis set huge demand for online services. That is why it is getting harder and harder to get into web studios or freelancers’ schedule. Because of the high demand, web studios and freelancers, on their part, follow the market principle and hike the prices, which kills the small entrepreneurs, who wish to enter the big game with a slight investment.

My task is to open your eyes and make you realize that your internet business may cost you much less than you expect. Of course, I do not expect you to be designers, programmers or engineers. Just on contrary, I expect you to be computer-literate and to know how to work with an e-mail. Anything else is a matter of reading and learning. I would like to note that despite being good, the undermentioned solutions are standard to a large extent. In other words, if you have a unique idea to develop a new search algorithm, which can outplay Google, these solutions will be of no use, but if the uniqueness of your idea is found not in the technology but in the content, services, and products, or in the way they are presented, then you should get down to business and let us begin.

A media website example

If your idea is reduced to simply publishing a certain type of content in the form of text, photos, or voice, your website is of the relatively standard type. For that purpose, you may use one of the many blog platforms in the world, namely – blogger.com, wordpress.com, etc. In this case, you will get a name of the type yourname.blogger.com and your project will be ready in seconds, absolutely for free. However, this way you will be involved in a long-term commitment to this address.

If the service stops or if the website grows big and you wish to develop it further, these services will be of no use, although some of them offer the purchase and use of real domains of the type yourname.com. When using such a blog-platform, you do not need to install anything. Everything is free and you can get it as fast as you register a new e-mail. If you want bigger control and opportunity to develop the website further, however, it is better to take matters into your own hands.

My proposal is to buy your own domain of the type yourname.com and install WordPress’ blog platform on it. The difference between this and the previous option is that in this case you download the system in question and you install it on your hosting. This way you get absolute control over it on your website.

In order to do it, you should enter wordpress.org (pay attention to the fact that the address of the other service is different – wordpress.com).  The system is translated into tens of different languages. I will not go into all of the details about how to install the software in question on your hosting because the process is perfectly explained on their website. A professional will need about three minutes to install it. If you decide to train yourself and do it on your own, it will take you between thirty minutes and one hour.

You may be surprised but your website will be 90% ready. Thanks to WordPress you have a powerful system with which you can create pages, publish articles, news, videos, galleries, you can also put a search engine, archive, and whatnot. WordPress has everything needed for a media (and not only) website. The designs are not the prettiest and the best you have seen and that is why they are free.

If you are ready to pay a few dollars, you may buy a relatively nice design from templatemosnter.com, which also provides an installation service. The prices vary between $60 and $80, while the installation costs about $49. A professional will not pay the installation fee because this procedure is simple and routine. However, a non-professional may face difficulties. Thus, if you really do not understand anything about website creation, you should pay for the installation and make your life easier. Another website offering such a service is themeforest.net where the prices start at $1 but the better offers vary between $30 and $70.

The system offers more than 1,500 free designs and tens of thousands of applications. They make the website more attractive. You may install new extras in minutes – comments, galleries, currency exchange rates, weather, email bulletin, Facebook and Twitter buttons, etc. I can hardly list a single percent of the options because there are hundreds of applications for the different types of websites. Even I was surprised to see some of them, such as an application for posting an automatic comment under an article without reactions, which aims at inciting a discussion. You write an article, while the application comments on it simulating human activity with the purpose to provoke a response from other users.

The last time I had to assist a friend in launching a company website, the entire procedure of purchasing a domain, hosting and installation took me about thirty minutes. He found it hard to believe that I would launch his new website while we were having a cup of coffee and he was astonished that after waiting and wasting time with different web developers for months he got what he wanted in a cup of coffee’s time using the free Wi-Fi of the café we were in.

If you want more emotions, apart from WordPress you may also use systems like drupal.org and joomla.org. The procedure on the selection of a design is the same as that of WordPress, both in terms of speed and price. I have to warn you, however, that if you decide to use Joomla, it is advisable to have iron nerves.

Online store for free

The online store offers are always more expensive than the offers for any other type of a website. This is due to the fact that they are much more complex, require certain knowledge on behalf of the developers, starting with the stocks and supplies, going through the credit and debit card payments and bank transfers, and ending with the invoicing. Many people have told me: “The news websites are a piece of cake but the online store is a very serious thing and it is about money.” Well, so be it, we will not start the online store while having a cup of coffee. Let us do it while we are having lunch. You think I am joking? Let us begin…

Go to prestashop.com and download the software for an online store. It is easier than you think – you press the big DOWNLOAD button and here it is! The installation is as easy as with WordPress and the instructions here are so easy that you can hardly do something wrong – it is full of arrows, pictures, and explanations. Unfortunately, the instructions are not available in all possible languages but yet this software can save you thousands and you should not fuss over trifles.

Designs for an online store can be found on PrestaShop, as well as on the above-mentioned addresses. The prices are almost the same, both for the design itself and for the installation. An important element in the ordering of a design is to choose for the store to be installed with exemplary products in the database. Often when you install an “empty” store, without any products, it will simply not start operating. If this happens to a person, who is faced with the creation of their own website for the first time, they will think the problem is them, while it is not.

You are ready!

Most people with serious business ambitions are left with the unpleasant feeling of being deceived. How can something that everyone may download and install on their own be taken seriously? What is more, it costs either nothing or in the worst case about $100 – $200. If this is everything a businessman needs to start a new business then everyone would have done it already. There is something wrong here, isn’t it? Did you ask yourself the question how this was possible? Why someone, who can sell this software for thousands of dollars, decides to offer it for free? Why designers charge you hundreds of dollars, while someone else does it for free or for an insignificant price? Why a programmer or a company will need three or four months to program the online store for a four or five-digit sum, while you can do it for free at this very moment? Why would anyone do anything for free? The answers to these questions are found in the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Here is how things stand:

Someone has developed the PrestaShop system and launched it for free so everyone can use it. Currently, more than 200,000 stores are using this software to sell their products. These stores have been started with a zero budget. Some of them, however, have decided to buy a design from the same company. Once the business is started, you may include additional services to the store – all kind of goodies you can think of cost a few bucks and they can appear on your website in minutes.

For instance, you may wish that the payments are done not only through ePay but also through PayPal, 2CheckOut, and others. You pay an insignificant price and download the application. If you wish to have a perfect weekly bulletin with the best offers sent to your clients, you pay a small fee and you get this functionality, too. You can add more than 5,000 functionalities depending on the complexity and importance of your business.

Have you ever purchased a new car? If you have not, you will eventually do it when your business starts working well. In this case, you will be faced with the same approach. There are cars that cost $12,000 – without servo drive, air-conditioner, music, Parktronic, cast wheels, electric windows, central locking, ABS, and several other extras, which everyone thinks are absolutely logical. You can buy a car without these extras, you can drive it and work with it. Many taxi drivers have similar cars without extras or struggle to get at least some of them. The procedure with the online store is the same. The difference is that when you buy a car without many of the above-mentioned extras, you will have to pay a stiff price to obtain them if you change your mind later.

With the online store, you get a fully operating system with all vital modules that guarantee 100% functioning without additional payments for applications and extras. The good thing is that when one day you have more money for investments, you may spend $10, $100, or $1,000 to get some goodies that will ease the work or make the online store more attractive. What is even better is that you can do this in minutes. There is no need for negotiations with the programmers, no need for planning, assigning, testing, and waiting… you make the payment, start the installation, and get any extra you want.

I must confess that when I found out this software some time ago, I was so impressed that I wanted to launch an online store immediately. I had no idea what I was going to sell, neither whom I was going to sell it to, I simply wanted to use it because for the first time I had such a powerful instrument for online trading in my hands. And the best thing is that it did not require a single line of coding.

There is absolutely no sound reason to start an online store designed especially and personally for you. There are many different opinions on the matter and you will often hear that the software developed especially for you is much more protected, that it is an individual solution, which is more secure, more stable, and of better quality. It sounds good in theory but the individual solution is not always more secure, safety can hardly be guaranteed without the necessary tests and launching the website in real time, while as far as the quality is concerned, even if it is good enough at the moment when you are handed the system, it starts getting old immediately.

The reason is that the used technologies, when the project was being developed, start getting out of fashion with every passing day. You may have a secure and stable product today but a hack for exactly the same technology used by your website can be created in just a few months and then its stability will be questioned, too.

Individual solutions require more complex maintenance rendered by a person acquainted with your project. For instance, if your online store is developed by programmer X, whose work you are not satisfied with, you may address programmer Y, who, however, will need two or three times more time to work on the code developed by their colleague, being unaware of what is happening and how.  Often every new programmer re-writes the system to facilitate their work because it is easier to start from scratch than re-coding it. Of course, this will cost you time and money.

What does open source mean?

If you chose to develop your project on your own or use a ready-to-use application, either a paid or a free one, you will be definitely faced with the term Open Source. The history of the open source dates back to the distant 1984. At the first hacker’s conference in the world American writer, Stewart Brand addressed Steve Wozniak by saying:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Information wants to be free. This is the slogan that changed the world of information technologies. This slogan is used by hackers, WikiLeaks, as well by many programmers around the world. And by information, they mean the source code, too. At the background of the companies offering paid software products, protected with patents for every single thing you may get a patent for, the supporters of the open source create alternatives that are free or cost a near-zero price. The code is not closed, secret, or protected with all kind of fantastic patents, on the contrary – it is open and everyone, who has the knowledge and willingness, may contribute to its development.

Here is how things stand – a company, which has a certain number of programmers may count on them from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The open source software, however, may count on a countless number of enthusiasts, who dedicate their free time to the common cause. It sounds strange and you cannot get it the first time around but this is normal because the Open Source is not just some term, it is a way of life. To understand and make sense of it, you have to experience it and become part of it.

I guess you are wondering why I am bothering you with these revolutionary ideas? Because they are directly connected with everything we have been discussing so far. The free products I recommend to you are an open source software. This means that apart from the group of coordinators, there is an unfathomable team of thousands of enthusiasts behind them. This means that when one of them finds a gap in the system, where your website may be hacked from, they will signal the developers. If they are competent enough, they may even offer a solution. This way your system gets newer and newer versions absolutely for free and it is always “on the cutting edge” both in terms of technology and security. Something that is very difficult to achieve, especially financially, when you pay someone to develop an online store exclusively for you.

It will be hard for you to immediately accept the idea of the free and open source, to hug and integrate it into your business, especially if you have never been faced with such ideas and models of work. Society is seized by a feeling that everyone is using products with closed source, which cost money, such as Windows or MS Office, for instance. If you do some research though you will learn that Google’s operating system – Android, has an open source. It is used for cell phones and tablets of brands such as Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, and many others.

If you think that this is not enough to guarantee that you can trust an open source product, you may be surprised to learn that the French parliament recently adopted an open source system and now uses Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows, and OpenOffice instead of MS Office. Different open source products are used by the state administration in Munich, universities, the labor office and, postal services in Germany; the Department of Defense, federal courts, postal services, Navy, Federal Aviation Administration, and the White House in the United States of America; many state and municipal institutions in Russia, Mexico, Brazil, and even Bulgaria.

If you don’t trust yourself enough…

Let’s go back to your website. It is really annoying for an inexperienced user to install software on their hosting – to deal with database, PHP versions, troubles with files’ CHMODs, or irritating errors caused by Mod Rewrite. I must confess that while it took me a cup of coffee’s time to install random software, the truth is that you will have to spend more time and nerves. When I told you all these methods of developing the project on your own, I did not mean to turn you into web developers. My goal was to open your eyes and show you that things may be done this way, too. Now, when you know how much time it takes, you can address a person, who is an expert and tell them what you want – to install a store, a blog, a forum, and so on.

Then, for a moderate cost, you may hire a programmer and get the needed software in no time. The programmer will be happy to get paid for such a simple job, while you will be happy to have your own online store developed without waiting for 3 months and paying a four or five-digit sum. The information about how much a service costs and how much time it takes to render it is priceless. Consider how many times different construction workers hired to do some repair works at your home, or car mechanics, have told you absolute nonsense hoping that you cannot make a difference between a water pump and carburetor, or between concrete and Teracol. The more prepared you are, the more time and money you will save.

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