It would not be hard to spend $1,500+ hiring someone to build you a new website, and even that would be considered a bargain. However, in today’s tech-savvy market, the costs of not having a good website could end up costing you much more than that.
One option for the solo on a budget is to build your own site. I spent a total of $285 making my website and it measures up to all of the “professionally” designed sites that I’ve compared it with. Here is an outline highlighting the most important aspects of creating your own website. It is written for an audience that I have assumed is starting with little or no technical background, as I did when I built my site.
Before installing WordPress onto your hosting account, buy a domain name for your website. Then install WordPress onto that domain’s root directory in your hosting account (if you install WordPress into its own directory, it will show up in the address bar when someone goes to your site—www.mywebsite.com/WordPress for example). Godaddy offers a one click install of WordPress which is straight forward, and they also have good support to walk you through any issues. Also, if you haven’t already set up a hosting account, go with a Linux account instead of Windows because, at least in my experience, they are easier to work with. There are quite a lot of little issues that can arise based on your host’s interaction with WordPress. Out of an abundance of caution, and because doing something wrong at this stage could wreak havoc on your site later, if you’re unsure about something I would talk to customer service at your host before proceeding.
After installing WordPress, familiarize yourself with how it works. This is one of the most arduous and daunting tasks in the whole website building process, but I can assure you that the learning curve is very steep, and the knowledge you gain will be well worth your time. The WordPress codex is an invaluable learning tool, and is available through their website. Moreover, WordPress is currently very popular with website designers, making it very easy to find information on the web on how it works.
Buy a Professional Theme
WordPress sites are created using themes. A theme is like a “skin” or a template onto which you place your content. Don’t fall into the same trap I did at first and try to create your site using one of the free themes WordPress offers. Instead try a site like themeforest.com (I’m sure you can get good themes elsewhere, this is just where I got mine) and pick out a nice looking, professional, highly customizable theme. This step alone will save you countless hours of work and frustration. All of the professionally created themes at themeforest have a demo site which gives you a good idea of what looks and layouts the theme is capable of creating.
A few things your theme should have:
- Good support. This cannot be overstated enough. Check your proposed theme’s support blog or section, and see if the creator replies to questions in a timely manner; if he replies in comprehendible English, and if he’s willing to really help you if you run into a major problem. The creator of the theme I use (PureVision) is very reliable and even asks for screenshots from people who are having problems and then will correspond by email until the problem is fixed.
- A nice-looking contact page template.
- Lots of customizability in terms of fonts, colors, sizes, widgets, etc.
This is a screen shot of a section of the options settings for the PureVision theme I used to build my site. As you can see, there are many customizable features.
Get Photos and a Logo
As they say here in Chicago, a fancy website theme and two bucks will get you a ride on the bus. Meaning, a nice theme, by itself, isn’t good enough—it needs good content.
Get some quality pictures taken of yourself for your website. I asked a high school friend who’s now a wedding and bar mitzvah photographer to take the photos for me and he agreed to do them in exchange for some legal advice. Use your bargaining skills and remember that most photographers that you would hire to do this sort of thing are the photography industry’s equivalent of solo practitioners. Meaning, they will most likely need services and advice in areas ranging anywhere from corporate organization to office management.
You will also need a logo for your site. I did a lot of research in this area (see next section) and it is my opinion that next to the pictures, the logo is the most important part of making your site “feel” professional. You could use plain text for your site heading, but I think that a custom logo gives your firm a more serious and established look. I paid $250 for my logo, which I hear is about industry standard. Also, and this is getting a little more technical, but you’ll probably want the logo in png format for your site, which gives the logo an integrated, rather than pasted-on look.
Spend some serious time scouring the web looking for good, creative, and appealing lawyer and law firm sites. Create a tab on your browser and call it “website ideas,” and favorite all the sites that inspire you. Pay attention to how the sites are organized; how their pages are broken down, what the pages are called, what content is grouped together, what types of information are available on the home page and what information you have to navigate to. Imagine the content on your site and how it will work with the ideas you get from other sites.
You should have a good idea of how you want to organize your website before you start writing any content. I mapped out my site with a pen and paper using a sort of modified venn/hub and spoke diagram. Focus on organizing pages and sub pages first. Then write the content for each page, sub-page, and miscellaneous text. Here too you can get good ideas from some other sites in terms of what to include and what not to include.
Put it all together
Upload all the photos you want to use onto your WordPress media bank through the admin dashboard. Add pages to your site, and then add the content to those pages. This is also the step where you can let loose your inner creative genius. Play with color schemes. Try different layouts. Move the order of pages around. Include sub-pages in drop down menus from the parents, or don’t and just create a menu on the sidebar with links to the sub-pages. Ask some trusted associates and friends for feedback at this stage. It will help to have a fresh set of eyes look over your work.
Above all else, your goal at this stage should be twofold: make the site as user-friendly and navigable as possible while giving it a great look and feel. I found myself frequently focusing on the look of the site at the expense of functionality and navigability.
Some final thoughts
I guarantee that at some point during your website building adventure you will sit back, look at your site, and think to yourself: “damn, that looks awful. I should just hire someone to do this.” I said it to myself a bunch of times. In the end though, if you stick it out, you will have a great site, and you’ll also have a skill that will serve your law practice indefinitely. One of the ways website builders make money, which consequently means one of the ways that law firms spend money, is by charging “maintenance and service” fees for updating websites. If you build your own website, not only will you not have to pay these fees, but you won’t have to call someone every time you want to tweak your website. Which, by the way, is something that I find myself doing constantly.
And finally, don’t forget to do these things:
- Install Google Analytics;
- Consider Google AdWords to drive traffic to your site;
- Send an email to all of your contacts and associates and let them know about your new site.
Augustus Moss is a Chicago criminal defense attorney.