After you have identified what you would like to do as an online business or contractor the first thing you need to do is to build some trust in potential clients. In all my experience, what works best is a website. Using a website as an online presence, you can easily advertise your services, portfolio and yourself or your company in general.
You can do this for Free via many services out there like Wix.com. And this is okay as a contractor just starting up with no capital. I would definitely not recommend it if you were serious about your business and here’s why.
1. These sites need to generate an income if they are offering you a free service. They do this by placing an advert on your site. This is in itself leaves an unprofessional feel. And it does not make sense especially because you are not the recipient of any of that advertising revenue.
2. The second thing you need to think about is the email and domain name. With these free services you get a SubDomain. This basically means that you have to append wordpress.com or wix.com to your name of choice. e.g myportfolio.wix.com. Like the adverts, this leaves a little bit on an unprofessional taste in my mouth. Preferably, you should have your own domain name. Most hosting companies out there will give you one for free if you host your website with them. I’ve got a walkthrough here on how to create a website with BlueHost.
So if you are a company or contractor advertising your products and services, free is generally not the way to go unless you are really cash strapped. If you can afford to, I would recommend a custom domain and hosting package.
The other benefit of a custom domain is that you can have a custom email address specific to that domain. So rather than emailing customers or clients from a ‘gmail’ or ‘yahoo’ email address you can interact via your custom domain name. A few years back I almost lost a big client simply because I had a gmail address on my business card. The only reason I got the project is because they personally knew me and what I was capable of. The good thing is that they advised me as such. From that day on, all my email interactions for my company Gadgitech has been via Gadgitech.com.
So that’s why you need an online presence. It is all to do with building trust in your potential clients. Initially, the only thing that you would need to pay for is the hosting. I would recommend WordPress as the platform that you use to create your website. WordPress is a Free content management system that allows you to very easily and quickly create a website. While a lot of sites use WordPress to create blogs, it is not solely for blog type sites. In fact, if you look at my site Gadgitech.com, it is created using WordPress. If you look at this site (WorkOnlineBlog), it is also created using WordPress and so is StrongWhispers.com. So you can see that they have a variety of different looks and feels to them. This is achieved using the concept of Themes. There are tons of free and pay for themes out there and I’m sure that you will easily find one to suite your initial requirements.
If you were going to pay for a theme then I would recommend ElegantThemes. They offer great packages of themes and really good prices. With fantastic frameworks, the themes allow easy customisation without any knowledge of software development.
If you want to really customise it then I would suggest hiring a professional. I had this site designed and developed using resources at oDesk. I’ll give you a price comparison. I was quoted almost $7k to get Gadgitech.com developed by a professional firm based in the US. I ended up spending about $400 via oDesk to have it designed and developed. Similarly for the WorkOnlineBlog. Big difference! I’ll post a walkthrough as to how oDesk works soon.
If you were going to have a site developed, I would recommend using Genesis as the WordPress framework. It really makes your site run fast, it is SEO optimised out of the box and heavily reduces development time. It is also one of the more secure frameworks out there so your site security will be top notch.
For those that are interested in creating a custom domain and hosting package I’ve created a walkthrough which takes you through registering the domain and hosting package as well as how to install WordPress (one click install) and create your first post. It will be a good starting point for you. There are tons of resources online especially youtube that will guide you through WordPress.
If you have any questions, do drop me a note, I will try and get back to you ASAP.
Good luck creating your online presence. Remember in part it’s about offering a good product or service. It is also about building trust in your client base!