The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Website Yourself

Are you in the right place?

If you’re reading this, you’re either thinking about creating a website for your business, improving a website that you already have, or wondering if you’ve missed something when you DIYed your website.

If that’s you, great!

Stick around and I’ll take you through the sometimes (okay… often) confusing world of business websites. In a time where people embrace a lack of options (hello Apple), websites are still stuck in the world of plenty.

There are so many platforms, and you can’t search for anything vaguely website related without drowning in information.

This high-level guide is my gift to you to cut through the crap. Not only will you find the answers you’re looking for…in plain English, I sprinkled in memes and gifs (from Giphy) and other images (that I made myself) to make this fun.

If you’re still reading, you identify as one of the people from the first paragraph, and you’re probably now wondering just how I’m going to show you how to do this yourself?

By doing an Apple on you (and yes, I realise that sounds kinkier than it should). Through this guide, I’ll provide two options.

There’ll be a DIY option for those of you who want to grab the reins and dive in yourself…

Those of you who like to feel the pride of having done something with our bare hands. Be that typing, pointing-and-clicking. Whatever. We clicked the button and made this thing!

These are the options where you (or your employee) will need to do a fair amount of work, but that’s fine. If you need it to be “in house”, the DIY option is here for you.

There’s also another option, for those that like to make decisions and have it done for them as much as possible.make it so 1

A Starship captain doesn’t ensure the warp drive is operating at maximum efficiency, he just asks for warp 7.6, and tells people to “Make it so.”

This option is for you.

Most of us will go for a mix of DIY and Done for you options. For certain aspects of our business, we’ll be more comfortable with the idea of getting our hands dirty, and that will depend on you.

This is a long guide, though, and not all decisions will be as important.

Use the table of contents below to jump to what matters to you. If you’re second guessing a decision you made, find it in the table of contents and see what I suggest.

Good job either way. good job 1

You made a decision. A decision executed is 100% better than not deciding at all.

One thing; don’t use this guide to add to your analysis paralysis.

If you’re stuck on something, find it in the table of contents, read what I have to say and then use it to break through whatever is blocking you.

If you just want the conclusions, without reading why, then you can opt in for a PDF version of this guide, and an actual checklist (with handy check and save functionality to keep track as you work through the decisions and tasks I write about here.

One half of the checklist is for a complete DIY job, where you’re doing it all yourself, and don’t need any services or tools to play well with other people.

If you’re looking to hire someone to do aspects of your website that you would rather not do yourself, the other half of the checklist is for you. It recommends tools and services that allow you to delegate your tasks, but ultimately still maintain complete control.

Your website is the ultimate ‘choose your own adventure’, and you’re in complete control. Mix and match to your heart’s content, or go in a completely different direction once you’ve read this guide.

This is YOUR show.

are you ready 1

One thing I want to clarify here and now: Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links. For me to include an affiliate link, I have one simple rule: Do I use this service myself? These are services that I pay for myself, and am happy to recommend to others.

If you would rather not use an affiliate link (which won’t cost you any extra), you can always Google the name of the service and find the signup page that way. Any affiliate links will have “(affiliate)” after them.

Ok, onto the guide.

There’s an infinite amount of tweaking and tinkering someone can do with a website (believe me, I know. I’m familiar with the rabbit hole that are WordPress plugins). To make sure we’re both on the same page, I’ll define the site I’m describing here:

“A website that is secure, and has the means to display content for your audience to consume, along with opt ins (to allow them to sign up to your email list), lead carrots (to thank them for signing up to your email list), and to allow your audience to buy things from you.”

In this guide, I’m going to take you on a high-level journey through the basics of setting up a website for your own business.

I will make suggestions, and they will often be opinionated ones.

You don’t have to accept the suggestions, so if the app or service I recommend isn’t something you want to go with, look for something else that meets the criteria I used for choosing that app or service in the first place.

Still with me? Okay, here we go…

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Website Yourself
Are you in the right place?
Who am I, and why should anyone listen to me?
Part one: Your infrastructure and website
Decision #1: Your Domain Name System (or DNS as you’ll likely see it referenced)
Your DNS: Summary
Decision #2: Your platform
Self hosting
Managed hosting
Your platform: summary
Decision #3: Your theme
“Here be dragons!”
Your theme: summary
Decision #4: Your opt ins and landing pages
Your opt ins and landing pages: summary
Decision #5: Securing your site, to do or not to do
Securing your site: summary
Part two: Your supporting services
Decision #6: Your email list
Your email list: summary
Decision #7: Your payment provider
Your payment provider: summary
Decision #8: Your analytics
Your analytics: summary
Part three: Guide bonuses
Part four: Working with your freelancer
What are the relevant details?
What does the freelancer need from me?
What if I’m not happy with the work the freelancer delivers?
Part five: Common pitfalls, and how to avoid them
Forgetting to fill out the WordPress settings
Assuming that what is true for you is true for everyone. Test, test, test…
Collecting underpants
Updates: WordPress and plugins
What to do when the shit hits the fan
Redirect loop of doom
Editing the database
Worst case scenario: restoring from backup. HTF do I do that then?
Clearing browser caches, including HSTS (whuh?)
Identifying plugin conflicts
Part six: Question and Answer
What’s the best way to test an audience/build a quick site to see if it’s a niche worth exploring, without committing to weekly blog posts for a year and never knowing if it’ll go anywhere? How do we validate?
Part seven: Your future, and how to go beyond this guide
What’s next?
Create remarkable content for your site
Immerse yourself in your audience’s problems
Deliver your products to your audience
Create a community for your high-end products
The End of the Guide

Who am I, and why should anyone listen to me?

Hi, I’m Jonathan!

I’ve been a computer geek since I was six, when my Dad brought home a BBC Micro Model B for the family.

That was the beginning of a life-long love affair with computers, and everything you can do with them.

 bbc micro model b 1

From http://www.computinghistory.org.uk

I learned about them throughout my education and started my career at a commercial web development company fresh out of University.

I’ve worked in the public sector, the third sector, and I currently work in the private sector. I’ve worked on internal websites for use within an organisation that are used by a handful of people, websites that present the face of the company to the world, and eCommerce sites that are visited by tens of thousands of people a day.

Alongside all that, I’ve helped friends, and family, and friends of friends of family members, and friends of friends of… you know how it goes.

I’ve helped a lot of people with various website technical issues. I’ve developed sites from scratch, I’ve improved existing websites, and I’ve tweaked small parts of sites.

I’ve read a lot about websites, learned a lot about websites, and played a lot with websites. I’ve developed sites in my day job, and in my free time.

And I get testimonials like this:

“Dude…Jonathan is a f*cking rockstar and you better get on his radar before everyone else does.  Not only does he know an incredible amount about websites and IT, he’s a lovely person.  I really feel like I’m talking to a good friend when I reach out for help.  He makes having tech issues less scary and not the end of the world.  If you need help with something or you simply don’t want to do this kind of work yourself.  Jonathan is your man.” diana tower profile

– Diana Tower from dianatower.com

Wouldn’t it make sense for you, as a smart entrepreneur, to pick my brain a bit?

If you agree, read on. If not, I hope you find what you’re looking for elsewhere, but before you leave I’d love to know what you WERE looking for.  

Shoot me an email and let me know so I can nail it in the future.

Go to Table of Contents

Part one: Your infrastructure and website

Decision #1: Your Domain Name System (or DNS as you’ll likely see it referenced)

This is where you register your domain names (or domains), and set them up to point at various services. I’m not going to go into too much technical detail about DNS here, as it’s very easy to tie your site up in knots using it but I will try to explain it in simple terms so that you will know what’s going on.

In order for Joe Bloggs to see his company’s website on www.joebloggs.com, two things need to happen:

  1. The site has to be hosted somewhere (we get to that part in the very next decision)
  2. The Internet needs to know where to find it.

DNS is the agreed way to direct visitors to individual websites in a way that is extensible, scalable, and accurate. A domain is a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that tells your browser how to reach the content that should be displayed when you go to it.

It does this under the hood by tying the domain to a specific IP address, which is like a geographic coordinate for a web server, or to a canonical name (which will then reference a specific IP address).

These records have agreed upon terminology, and are A records (for the specific IP address) and CNAME records (for the canonical name).

For the purposes of this guide, you’ll need to set up an A record and a CNAME record. If you are setting up a custom email address, you may be required to set up MX records as well (i.e. Google Apps for Business).

Generally, the services you are setting up will also provide instructions. These instructions are often, necessarily, generic.

There are good DNS provider specific guides out there though.

Everything that you normally need to handle as a part of setting up your services can be found on Google.

So if you have a DNS provider already and want to know how to point a domain at an IP address or set up a cname entry, then just type what you want to do + the DNS provider into Google, e.g. “set up cname record godaddy”

dns google 1

The top result is typically a how to guide for your specific DNS provider, in this example, it’s GoDaddy.

If you’re comfortable handling this yourself, there really isn’t much to decide. Pick one and go with it. I personally use 123-reg.co.uk (affiliate), pop your desired domain in the search box and follow the prompts.

If you’re going to be delegating DNS management to a consultant, then your best bet is GoDaddy (affiliate) as they allow DNS management to be delegated to another account (and then removed when the work is done). There’s no swapping of usernames and passwords going on.

To make this even easier for you, I made a Recipe Book detailing how to delegate for all of the services I recommend that support delegation; one of my gifts to you.

Gain access to the bonuses.

Your DNS: Summary

DIY Option: 123-Reg (affiliate)

Freelancer option: GoDaddy (affiliate)

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #2: Your platform

What platform are you going to be running your website on?

I don’t mean whether to go with Linux or Windows for your operating system, as that’s down to personal choice.

I don’t even mean what particular software you’re going to use. I recommend WordPress, but not because it’s the best out there.

No, I recommend WordPress because, as a product, it has achieved critical mass in the online space which ensures that you will easily be able to find a how to guide, or someone that can help.

For example, if you switch the domain that your WordPress install responds to over to your new domain before you’ve pointed your new domain at your WordPress installation, your site dies. cliff 1

It will immediately redirect to your new domain, without caring whether that domain is actually leading anywhere.

Because the WordPress community is large enough, the chances that many other people have run into the same issue are high.

Very high in the case of WordPress.

And because of the size of the community, there is also a higher chance that that community contains a large number of developers, and techies. People that would take the time to figure out what is up, and then how to solve it.

You will be able to find an answer to your WordPress problems online somewhere easily. There will always be someone that can help you out of a tricky situation, or point you to one of thousands of plugins.

There are two real options for WordPress hosting, 1) doing it all yourself, referred to as self hosting, and 2) having someone carry a lot of the burden that comes with WordPress hosting for you, referred to as managed hosting.

For your first decision, you are really choosing between managed hosting, or self hosting. Do you want to control (and by extension, be completely responsible for) every aspect of your website? If you already know you don’t want to self host, jump to the conclusion, go with the contractor option, and skip the techy explanation.

Let’s dig into those two options:

Self hosting

Self hosting is the purest form of doing it yourself.

You’ll need to:

You’ll also be completely responsible for setting up a system to backup (copying all your files and data to a different location so that they are preserved should your website run into problems) your website and its content (you do back up everything regularly, whether it’s your website or the last decade of financial returns, right?  If not…it can be painful…I’ll show you how in a minute).

After that, once you have your site up and running, you’ll need to monitor the WordPress site/your dashboard, checking for when there’s a WordPress update available. When one is available, you’ll need to:

  • Backup your site, both the database and the PHP files (so you can recover if it goes wrong)
  • Trigger the update (if you’ve set it up incorrectly before, the automatic updates won’t work, and you’ll need to manually copy the files to the server again and then try and update)

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” you may think.

And you’d be right, that isn’t so bad.

What is bad is when an exploit or flaw is discovered in WordPress, one that allows people to gain access to your entire user database perhaps? Or what about one that allows someone to gain access to your admin area (and therefore hijack key parts of your site)?

Maybe they’ll redirect your mailing list settings to their own server? Maybe they’ll redirect your payment settings to their own account?

Maybe they’ll just delete all the files in there? You do have daily backups, yes?

If a flaw is discovered, you need to download the patch, as soon as it is identified, and install it on your server. This blocks the flaw, and prevents bad people from doing bad things to your site.

And that’s where managed hosting comes in.

Managed hosting

Managed hosting is where you don’t have to worry about downloading and installing WordPress.

Nor do you have to worry about keeping the base platform up to date. Your managed host will have processes in place to ensure that platform patches are tested, and then installed on your server according to a schedule that is fully communicated to you via email.

They will also take action and install any zero day exploit patches that surface. You generally get told about these after installation, including any side effects that may happen (certain plugins may stop working for example).

99.9% of the time, side effects of a zero day exploit patch are far more preferable to the risks of not installing them immediately.

So that being said, I strongly recommend going with managed hosting.

I go with managed hosting and I know how to manage a self hosted installation of WordPress. I just don’t consider it a worthwhile use of my time to manage the installation itself, as it’s not where I’ll add the most value to my business.

Go with managed hosting.

I use WPEngine (affiliate). 

It’s not the cheapest out there (but at $29/month for a single install, it’s not going to break the bank either). It’s been rock solid reliable for me in the years I’ve been a subscriber.

A great feature WPEngine has is account delegation (both partial, with no billing, or full, allowing the person you delegate to buy options as your account). Account delegation allows you to grant someone administration rights to your WPEngine account, without having to change passwords and letting them log in as you.

Some services are stuck in the dark ages, and don’t yet allow delegation. I try not to recommend these, as delegating responsibilities for your site is much easier to do when delegation is available.

After all, if you’re getting your castle cleaned, you don’t sign over the lease to the cleaning company.

You just grant them temporary access to the property.

Account delegation is just that, granting a contractor temporary access to your website.

If you still want to self-host after reading that, go with Bluehost. WordPress.org recommends it as well, so it’ll be fit for purpose.

Once thing I’ve deliberately not touched on here is WordPress.com. It’s WordPress.org’s very own managed WordPress hosting.

I don’t recommend it for the single reason that you are limited to the plugins that they approve.

As an entrepreneur, a lot of the power of choosing WordPress as your platform comes from the sheer range of plugins.

Don’t limit yourself by going with WordPress.com.

Your platform: summary

Contractor option (and generally what I will recommend to anyone, even DIYers): WPEngine (affiliate)

DIY option: Bluehost

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #3: Your theme

I don’t mean the nuts and bolts of exactly how the site looks. No, themes have come a long way on WordPress, and some themes are almost platforms within a platform now. 

I’ve used a vast number of themes in my time with WordPress, and some look great as long as you alter very little!

Others will give you a ridiculous amount of customisation options out of the box that don’t require you to dig around in the code.

The best themes, in my opinion, are ones that come with integrated content builders. A content builder allows you to put together a great looking site without having a deep knowledge of how to write HTML code.

Your theme is an area of WordPress where I’m extremely opinionated. It wasn’t so long ago that I would have said you’ve only got one real option: X by Theme.co.

Which would’ve been a bummer for this checklist, as I promised two options for everything.

Fortunately, Theme.co came to the rescue again, by releasing a new theme, Pro. Pro is X gone large.

There’s more to tweak, and you’ve got a hell of a lot more control over things like your headers and footers, and it’s introduced Flexbox into the mix, allowing you to perform layout shenanigans that would have caused you to weep before.

With X, you were offered an extremely powerful page builder called Cornerstone. Pro takes Cornerstone further, and integrates it more deeply into the theme.

Pro also adds two new editors, one for headers and one for footers. These offer you “from the ground up” control over your headers and footers, rather than just the ability to change backgrounds, text colours, fonts, and adding a logo.

There are also numerous new features that will really appeal to professional designers and website administrators.

For example Pro comes with a font manager and a colour manager, which enables you to define and set up the fonts and colour schemes used by your brand.

These definitions are then used across the site without any micromanagement on your part, ensuring you present a consistent look and feel across your website.

It’s hard to do justice to the new header editor, so my recommendation is to view the video near the bottom of their sales page and see for yourself. The new header and footer editors are essentially mini-content builders to really allow you (or your employee, or freelancer) to really bring your vision to life.

The decision here is whether you think you’ll make use of that extra functionality. X is $59 (affiliate), while Pro is $75.

Both are great. If you’re having trouble deciding, go through the following questions, and tally up the number of yeses you decide on.

  1. Is it important that you have the ability to completely micromanage your header and footer contents and visuals?
  2. Is it important that you are able to create font and colour palettes for your site that can be managed in a single location?
  3. Are you likely to need different headers and footers for parts of your site?
  4. Have you struggled getting your content to look how you want it to look, trying to ensure that your content columns are balanced and the same size?
  5. Have you ever tried to centre text vertically, and been adamant that your design needs that to be possible?

If you’ve said yes 3 or more times, you’ll probably benefit from Pro over X.

“Here be dragons!”

here be dragons 1
From https://www.gislounge.com/here-be-dragons/

There is one concept in the world of WordPress themes that is critical to understand: Child Themes. This particular subsection matters, even if you’re not using X or Pro.

Do not skip it.

Picking a theme isn’t the only thing you need to do.

You also must set up a child theme. You’ll be ever so grateful when an update comes along and you don’t lose all your settings.

How do you do that then? I’m glad you asked.

First, I’d like to explain why child themes are important. They allow you to customise your chosen theme by adding a layer on top of the default X or Pro theme (or whichever theme you went with in the end).

It is this layer that you make your modifications to.

That way, when X or Pro is updated, you can apply the update, and your child theme will automatically pull through any upgrades, while preserving your changes.

If you edited X or Pro’s files directly, those changes would be blown away when the time came to upgrade to the latest version.

Now, onto the how.

If you’re not using X or Pro, your best bet is to follow the instructions on the WordPress Codex, or looking around to see if your chosen theme has provided a Child theme already.

If you’ve gone with X or Pro, that’s remarkably easy, and covered by Theme.co themselves. As just a small example of their superlative support, they’ve provided child themes for both their themes. This link requires that you have bought X or Pro. If you aren’t going to get them, you should look for a child theme for your chosen theme.

Once you’ve downloaded your matching child theme, upload it to your WordPress website by following the steps below:

  1. Go to your WP Admin dashboard
  2. Navigate to “Appearance” > “Themes”
  3. Click Add New
  4. Click Upload Theme
  5. Select your downloaded ZIP file and click Install Theme
  6. It will upload, check that you have X or Pro installed, and then offer you three options
  7. If you’ve applied this to a fresh install of X or Pro, go ahead and click Activate, and you’re done. Otherwise read on.
  8. If you have already customised X or Pro a bit, you’ll want to take note of your settings and changes, as you’ll need to reapply them to your child theme. You can click Live Preview to get an idea of the differences you’ll want to look for.

If you’ve made changes to the parent, don’t delay the work. It will need to be done at some point, and now you have the ability to look at what you’ve changed and move them over to the child theme.

If you update the parent theme, either deliberately or accidentally while thinking about something else, you’ll blow away those changes.

Treat this second chance as a gift, and reflect your changes over to the child theme.

I repeat, the work will need to be done at some point. I’ve been there, on both sides. It sucks, but it’s not insurmountable.

Even if you don’t go with X or Pro, and instead go with something like one of ThriveThemes offering (see the next decision), you should still create a Child Theme. You may not customise your theme at all, but if you do, you’ll be ever so glad you created the child theme.

Your theme: summary

Streamlined option: X from Theme.co (affiliate)

Most flexible option: Pro from Theme.co

Don’t skip this: Set up your child theme!

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #4: Your opt ins and landing pages

This section, more than any other, is likely to have jargon that you may not have come across before, so to begin with we’ll define “opt in” and “landing page”.

An opt in is a term that, for our purposes, means two things, depending on the context.

In the context of your emailing list, an opt in is a subscriber, someone that has opted to be included on your mailing list.

In the context of your website, an opt in (often used with form, i.e. opt in form) is a means for a visitor to declare that they want to join your mailing list.

This is my opt in (it’s an image, don’t try filling it out!).

my opt in 1

A landing page, sometimes called a squeeze page, is a page that is created to sell an offer. Sometimes the offer is free, and other times it is paid. It’s so called as typically people land on it from outside of your website.

  • A Google search that throws up your product page.
  • A Facebook ad created to direct people to your landing page.
  • A link in an email you send to your mailing list, or within a post you made on Reddit, Medium, Quora, Facebook, or any other place like that.

Many companies will have a homepage that is fairly generic and covers all of their business offerings. You don’t want to direct people to that page, especially if you’re paying for the privilege of sending them there.

No, you want a tightly focused page that has only one aim, to turn that landing page visitor into an email list subscriber.

You want them to read your landing page and then opt in via a form on the page somewhere.

Quite often your landing pages will have different styles to the rest of your website, and no menu in the header or footer.

You want people to sign up, or leave.

This guide has a landing page of its own. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the guide in PDF format, plus a slew of bonuses, you can.

Many themes that are intended for online marketing will have a page template that has no header, no footer, and no container.

Some themes will have specific landing page creation options.

Okay, now that we are on the same page (heh heh!) with the definitions, let’s talk about the decision.

There are THOUSANDS of options out there for opt ins and landing pages.

There are 19 pages of themes on Themeforest that include the words landing page.

There are third party services that do nothing but deal with landing pages and opt ins (Leadpages, and Unbounce to name but two).

There are third party services that offering them as a part of a package (Sumo, and ThriveThemes for example).

Even ConvertKit offers a rudimentary landing page option.

I firmly believe that you want to control your landing pages just as you want to control your website and your mailing list.

For me, this means using something that resides on your website.

I used Sumo in the past, and they were more than good enough. It always felt like a not-quite-there add on though.

I’ve been exploring options for a while now, and for at least the next 12 months, I’ve settled on ThriveThemes to provide my opt ins and landing pages.

There are a few reasons for this, but the primary one was that the entire package they offer was really, really good.

There are even Themes available as a part of ThriveThemes, and I plan to try them out on another site of mine.

For now, I’ll be sticking with Pro for my main website theme.

You may have seen the landing page for this guide. If not, you can view it in a new tab.

You’ll note that the style of the landing page doesn’t match the rest of my website.

You’ll also note that there are no links to my website from that landing page.

Everything on that page is geared towards convincing the visitor that exchanging their email address (and a place in their email inbox) is a good trade for the offer.

It’s my hope that the offer is enticing enough for people in my intended audience (people like yourself), while being enough to dissuade people who are NOT in my target audience.

I would much rather have a small, but engaged group of people who benefit from my writing on my list than a large, sprawling list covering every possible audience out there.

The latter is much more expensive than the former, in every way.

Something like Leadpages, ThriveThemes, or any other landing page/opt in system is NOT necessary.

Again, it all depends on whether you want to do it yourself (my landing page IS just HTML after all, with a form in it that connects to my mailing list provider. It’s perfectly doable with plain old WordPress and MailChimp for instance) or whether you want someone else to do it for you.

I consider ThriveThemes (and Sumo, and LeadPages, etc) to be shortcuts.

You pick a template, and you modify some text, alter some images, change the colour scheme, and Bob’s your Uncle, you’re done.

It will take a lot longer to do manually.

That’s why these services come with a price tag.

In general, what you’ll want to set up are:

  • A landing page for every product you offer, free or paid.
  • Opt in boxes for relevant offers on any piece of content you produce.
    Offering an email course on fixing a domain name that no longer matches your business on a page that talks about the importance of the right domain is a great idea (Note to self: That’s a post I need to write, I have the course already!).
    Offering the same email course on a post about the best way to work with ConvertKit? Not so well targeted.
  • Links to your current and/or primary offers from your homepage.

Your email list service will most likely be able to create and display opt in forms on your WordPress site.

Both my recommendations of MailChimp and ConvertKit can do this.

It may even be able to offer rudimentary landing pages, as in the case of ConvertKit.

At worst, you can create a landing page yourself using WordPress and X or Pro (check your theme if you’re not using one of those to see if it simplifies landing page creation).

Your opt ins and landing pages: summary

DIY option: Use your mailing list provider and your WordPress theme

Shortcut option: ThriveThemes (affiliate)

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #5: Securing your site, to do or not to do

Google is increasing adding benefits to sites that are Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) secured, both in their index rankings, and in the Chrome browser directly.nooooooo 1

I fully expect them to eventually add a piece of functionality that audibly screams “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” as you start to enter text into a box on an insecure page.

If you went with WPEngine as your WordPress host, then adding SSL to your site is a relatively simple process.

I created a free email course that takes people through this process. I’ve also added a PDF version of that course to the bonuses that you can get as part of this guide.

If you’re hosting with someone else, then the process will differ for you. In general, though, it goes like this (forgive the technical jargon here, this particular process IS a very technical process):

  • Set up a valid SSL certificate on your host, or web server.
  • Set up HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) versions of your domains on your host, or your webserver (if self-hosting)
  • Ensure there is no external redirection going on (other than WordPress redirecting to the domain you set in Settings). If there is, disable it for a bit.
  • Change the WordPress URLs to the HTTPS version, and ensure it works as expected.
  • Add in a redirect rule that redirects any access via the HTTP domain to the HTTPS domain.
  • Add back in any other redirects you may have in place (old, and alternate, domains) making sure to update them to HTTPS instead of HTTP. This saves a round trip whenever someone visits your site.

Now, if you don’t come from a technical background, I realise some of that probably doesn’t make sense.

That’s okay, any contractor or consultant worth their fee will know what that means, and be able to do it for you and now you’re able to feel confident asking them to do it.

Securing your site: summary

I really don’t consider this to be a decision to make at all.

Secure your site, especially if you’re using WPEngine or another managed host where it’s trivial to set up, or contract someone to secure it for you.

You benefit greatly from your audience perceiving your site as trustworthy, and it’s worth the relatively minor hassle.chrome padlock 1

Your website will also gain the secure padlock in browsers.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at this point, that’s okay. It’s normal, in fact, especially if some of this is unfamiliar to you.

If you’d rather not worry about this and just go for the concierge service, let me know and I’ll help you get from wherever you are to wherever you want your site to be.

Go to Table of Contents

Part two: Your supporting services

Decision #6: Your email list

If you already have a list, move on to the next decision.

Seriously, an email list is something you want to set and forget, until you outgrow it (either in pure numbers, or in functionality you want).

If you’re still deciding on what list to use, that typically means you don’t have a list yet. Don't overthink pointless decisions

That also means that how cheap or expensive your email list manager gets at 3,000 subscribers is irrelevant just yet. Believe me, if you’re doing it right, when you get to a large number of heavily engaged subscribers, you’ll be getting money thrown at you, due to having spoken to your audience and listened to them telling you what they want you to make.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to work with many email list providers. For small business owners, and new starters, two have risen above the pack in that time.

MailChimp and ConvertKit (affiliate).

MailChimp has a free-forever starter offering that will take you up to 2,000 subscribers, allowing you to send 12,000 emails to your list.

ConvertKit’s first offering is $29/month, which takes you to 1,000 subscribers, allowing you to send unlimited emails to your list.

Let’s look at 1,000 subscribers to illustrate the difference between those two services:

  • MailChimp: You’ve got 1,000 subscribers, which means you can send 12 emails to your entire list over the course of a month.
  • ConvertKit: You’ve got 1,000 subscribers, and can email them daily if you wish.

That means your email list decision is really a content decision. Let’s say you want to email your list every day. That effectively brings your subscriber cap down to 387 before you need to move to a paid plan.

For MailChimp, the ranges are: 501-1,000 subscribers for $15/month, 1,001-1,500 subscribers for $20/month, and then 1,501-2,000 subscribers for $25/month.

ConvertKit’s scale is less granular: 0-1,000 subscribers for $29/month, 1,000-3,000 subscribers for $49/month, and then 3,000-5,000 subscribers for $79/month.

For both MailChimp and ConvertKit, if you get 2,000 or so highly engaged subscribers, you should be able to afford whatever mailing list software you want. It’s only really in those early days that price may be a concern.

I personally use ConvertKit because I like the administration side of things better than I like MailChimp’s. That’s not to say MailChimp’s admin area is bad.

To illustrate, look at these two images:

convertkit admin 1

mailchimp admin 1

The first one is ConvertKit, and the second is MailChimp.

MailChimp is built around the concept of multiple lists, while ConvertKit is built around tagging. You have one list and tag subscribers based on automations, how they signed up, and other things they’ve done (you can add a tag manually for an offline reason, i.e. you met them at a conference).

In terms of the two, Subscribers is broadly analogous to Lists. However, if I want to go to a form, I need to first go to the list the form is related to and then dig in deeper. As ConvertKit has one big bucket full of individually tagged subscribers, everything that works on that list is a click away.

That just feels better to me. The automation tools in ConvertKit are more powerful too, and that’s something that feels more important to me. They’re visual too, which works for me.

Within automations, you can also add simple rules such as “if customer signs up on form a, add them to sequence 1”. A sequence is just a sequence of emails. My emails are text content as opposed to html pages within email, so the editor for ConvertKit is ideal for me.

Broadcasts contain the one shot emails I have sent out.

Everything has it’s place, and the places make logical sense to me.

However, ConvertKit hasn’t yet implemented account delegation, so for some business owners working with contractors, MailChimp is the better option.

I would say this decision depends mostly on whether you are going to DIY, or if you’re going to delegate. MailChimp has account delegation built into the system, whereas ConvertKit doesn’t.

If you need to delegate mailing list setup to a freelancer, go with MailChimp for now. If you don’t, go with whichever of the two appeals to you more.

One last thing, if you’re using MailChimp, make sure you have your default values set. The mail merge will use these if your subscriber doesn’t have a first name or last name set.

And if you have a mailing list already, stick with it until it’s too painful to remain with whoever it is!

Your email list: summary

DIY option: ConvertKit (affiliate)

Contractor option: MailChimp

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #7: Your payment provider

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. Don't make this decision yet

There really isn’t a decision to make here. Not in the beginning. If you haven’t got a product yet, and are still in the audience building stages, stop reading this.

You don’t need it yet. 

In fact, I’m not even covering eCommerce platforms in this guide. This guide is aimed at people who can get along with simple PayPal invoices or Stripe simple checkouts.

You’re still here, aren’t you? Okay, then…

If you get asked by someone if they can buy, and they are waving money at you, just send a PayPal invoice and get paid. 

Until you have a product you’re gearing up to launch, you are unlikely to be pushing the numbers required to give this a huge amount of thought. At the low end, most payment providers are very similar.

So what I’m going to do here is point you at two options.

Pick one, set it up, test it, go live with it, and move on.

You can even set them both up as options if you really can’t decide and let the customer choose what they prefer.

PayPal is a name that most people know of. It’s also actually a benefit to enticing people to buy with you, as buying something with PayPal is extremely painless, with very little searching for credit cards in most cases.

Another option, if PayPal is undesirable for whatever reason, is Stripe. Stripe is a platform that allows private individuals, and businesses, to accept payments over the Internet.

Stripe can be integrated so that it fits in with your site, and they offer a popover checkout. I find the branding for Stripe to be less intrusive by default than PayPal’s but this may not be an issue for you.

Stripe is slightly cheaper than PayPal when you add up all the nuances in the billing, but you do lose the convenience factor of PayPal.

Service

PayPal

Stripe

Take payments

$5 per month

Free

Accept Amex

Standard: Same rate as other cards
Pro or advanced: 3.5%

Same rate as other cards

Chargebacks

$20

$15

Refunds

Transaction fee

Free

International cards

1% to accept, plus 2.5% currency conversion (if applicable)

Free to accept, plus 2% currency conversion (if applicable)

Card authorisation

$0.30

Free

As you can see, PayPal extracts smaller add on fees all over the place. Far more so than Stripe which is very straightforwards.

The ease of use (from a buyer’s perspective, not necessarily the seller’s) of PayPal often makes it worth offering as an option.show me the money 1

Let’s do some roleplaying.

You’re about to release a $197 product. How do the two payment processors stack up?

This assumes you’re using PayPal Pro for the additional features such as cart customisation and a better experience over the Standard offering.

You’re selling something. That means you’re already paying PayPal $5.

PayPal: $5, Stripe: $0.

On day 1 you sell 5 copies, one of them to an Amex user, one of them to a foreign currency buyer, and three to your local currency buyers.

Amex transaction: PayPal $7.20, Stripe $6.01

Local currency transaction: PayPal $6.01, Stripe $6.01

International transaction: PayPal $6.01 plus $4.93 (conversion when transferring to your account) plus $1.97 just to accept the funds, Stripe $6.01 plus $3.94 (conversion when transferring to your account). That gives us totals of PayPal $12.91, Stripe $9.95

That brings our day 1 totals to:

PayPal: $7.20 + (3 x $6.01) + $12.91. $985 in sales, taking home $946.86

Stripe: (4 x $6.01) + $9.95. $985 in sales, taking home $951.01

At low sales numbers, the differences aren’t huge. This brings me back to my statement earlier that this isn’t something you need to worry about at low transaction numbers. Pick one, pick both, it doesn’t really matter.

Now let’s say you re-release a product down the line to a much larger list, and your day 1 sales are 5000 instead of 5. All the numbers are multiplied.

$985,000 in sales done on day one.

With PayPal, you’ll be taking home $946,860.

With Stripe, you’ll be taking home $951,010.

We’re now $4,150 better off going with Stripe over PayPal. The more you make, the more Stripe shines.

Your payment provider: summary

If you still can’t decide, go with Stripe.

My reasoning for this is PayPal have historically had a reputation for putting holds on accounts, seemingly at random, and then you have to deal with the pain and suffering that is PayPal’s technical support department.

In the early days, you may as well just offer both. As such, I have option 1 and option 2 here, instead of DIY or contractor. Both payment options will require a certain amount of finicky setup to implement properly (or a plugin that simplifies matters, such as GravityForms, that allows for payments to be collected).

You’ll also have to jump through the necessary hoops to set up the payment providers.

Option 1: Stripe

Option 2: PayPal (don’t forget to set your country via the flag icon)

Go to Table of Contents

Decision #8: Your analytics

This isn’t really a decision like the others in this guide, with the two options being “collect analytics” and “don’t collect analytics, yet”.

I’m going to come right out and say my recommendation is to collect analytics data now, even if you only have your Mum visiting the site regularly.

I’m also going to say that in the early days, just use Google Analytics.

logo lockup analytics icon horizontal black 2x 1

You may never need to move to another analytics provider, but there are specialist options (and these should only be considered if you can conclusively state the benefit you’ll get from moving to them).

You really only benefit from analytics when your traffic is high enough for you to be able to spot patterns.

You will also benefit from having implemented analytics tracking on day 1, as you’ll be able to track the (hopefully) steady growth of your audience over time.

This guide won’t be explaining how to use Google Analytics. An entire guide this length could be written about Google Analytics, and all the ways of using it.

I’ll just explain what you need to do to start tracking your audience, and, as a bonus, take you through the process of excluding your IPs from the report views (so that you don’t mistake your own obsessive checking of your site during a launch as a surge in visits. Been there, done that).

First, you’ll need a Google account. Hopefully you’ve got one.

  1. Navigate to https://analytics.google.com/ and log in with your Google account. You can click on More Options and then Create Account if you need to create a Google account as well.
  2. Click Sign Up once you’ve logged in.
  3. Website will be selected, don’t change this.
  4. Fill out the form, setting your Account Name, Website Name, Website URL, remembering to change to https:// if you have implemented SSL as recommended earlier in the guide.
  5. Finally pick your timezone settings, then click Get Tracking ID. Once you’ve accepted the Terms & Conditions, you’ll see your Tracking ID.

Now switch back to your site’s WP-Admin. It’s time to install the Analytics plugin.

Many themes come with Analytics tracking code options. If you’re certain you will stay with your chosen theme, use these.

If, like me, you know you’ll change the look and feel of the site at some point, and cannot guarantee that your theme of choice will remain, then install a separate plugin.

The one I use is https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-analytics-dashboard-for-wp/

The instructions from this point on assume you’re using that plugin.

Once the Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress plugin is installed, activate it. This adds a new menu item called Google Analytics. Go there and click “Authorise Plugin”.

gadawp1

You’ll be presented with a “Get Access Code” link, in red, and a box below it to paste the code into.

Click the link, authenticate with the same account you created your Analytics account with, and copy the provided access code into the box and submit it.gadawp2

If you have more than one View available (which you won’t if this is your first website), you’ll need to select the relevant one in the drop down box.

Click “Save Changes”.

Now, when you go to the Dashboard in WP-Admin, you’ll see a new Google Analytics Dashboard widget. This shows some of the data that you’ll see in Google Analytics proper.

Now, return to Google Analytics, as it’s time to exclude your IP address from the views.

Go to the Admin section of Analytics (the gearwheel near the bottom left of the screen). You’ll see three columns: Account, Property, and View.

gadawp3

Click on Filters in the View column, then + Add Filter.

In a separate tab, do a Google search for What’s my IP and copy the IP address Google returns as your public IP address. It’ll be 4 numbers, separated by periods.

Return to Google Analytics, name your filter (i.e. My IP), then select filter type of “Exclude”, select source or destination of “traffic from the IP addresses”, then select expression of “that are equal to”, and, finally, paste your IP address into the box.

gadawp4

Click Save, and you’re done.

Your own IP is now excluded from your Analytics views. If you have a contractor or other employee working for you, you may want to ask them for their IPs as well.

Only do this with your contractor if it’s a long term business relationship, as it’s probably not worth it otherwise.

Your analytics: summary

You’ll be setting up Google Analytics at some point.

If you want to know more about your audience, and figure out what content you create is resonating, then you’ll want to set it up.

If you set Google Analytics up early, when you have no traffic, you’ll be able to watch your site grow.

I recommend setting it up immediately, but it is ultimately up to you.

At minimum, you’ll want to set it up before you do any sort of launch, whether the offer is a free or paid one.

And we’re done. Those are the major decisions you need to resolve at this point in time.

If you’d like a hand implementing your decisions, let me know and I’ll help you get from wherever you are to wherever you want your site to be.

Go to Table of Contents

Continue on to find out what bonuses you’ve got in store.

Part three: Guide bonuses

I have created some bonuses to take this guide beyond what you’re reading right now.

In addition to a PDF copy of “The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Website Yourself” to take away and read offline, you can download the following:

  • A PDF “Decision Checklist” to keep track of your choices as you go.
  • A PDF “Delegation of Access” recipe book. Not sure where to look to find out how to delegate access to certain services recommended in this guide? I’ve got you covered.
  • A PDF one sheet breakdown of “How to ask a great question” when working with a freelancer.
  • A PDF of the “Fix your domain name” email course.

Gain access to the PDF and these bonuses.

Go to Table of Contents

Part four: Working with your freelancer

This section won’t be applicable to people who aren’t working with someone else on their website. Half the recommended options in this guide have been for services that allow delegation of permissions.

I’m going to elaborate a bit about that here.

Delegation is a skill that, as an entrepreneur, you will come to rely on. You had the vision that led to the creation of your company.

You aren’t going to be able to do everything yourself that needs to be done to make your company a success.

In this area, we’ll cover the actions you need to take to actually delegate the work, along with the things you need to provide to make the experience as smooth as possible.

I’ll also put a bit about how to formulate queries to ask of freelancers that will both minimise the time they spend carrying out the activity (thus saving you money and time) and increase the likelihood of them actually being able to complete the task to your satisfaction.

Most people who work with freelancers and contractors will have had an answer similar to “How long is a piece of string?” when they’ve asked a question about how long a task or project would take or how expensive they could expect the work to be.

If you’ve had this happen to you, then welcome to the club. I’ve received it in response, and I’m a developer myself.

Basically, you’ve asked a question, or requested a piece of work that is too open ended, too loosely defined.

If I asked you how long you’d take to write an article on the Sistine Chapel, you’d probably splutter for a bit and then pluck a number out of thin air. “How long is a piece of a string?”The Sistine Chapel ceiling
However, if I asked you how long you’d take to write a 3,000 piece article on the Sistine Chapel, you’d be on firmer ground.

Your thinking process would be more like: “Okay, so I normally write 700 words an hour on a relatively new topic to me. So 4 and a half hours writing time… Add in 2 hours of research, 2 hours to edit and tidy up. That’s 8 and a half hours. Let’s call it ten to be safe. Okay, I don’t like to work for more than 3 hours a day on a project piece. Soooooo….”

“That’ll be about 4 days”, you’d reply with more confidence.

It’s the same with development work. If you provide as much relevant detail as you can, and the information the freelancer needs, the person you’re working with will have much more to work with when estimating.

You’ve probably got a couple of questions now.

What are the relevant details?

This question can be tricky to answer. I’ll do my best to give a few examples and hopefully you’ll be able to extrapolate to fit your specific situation. If you’re really stumped, get in touch and, who knows? You may just have something that’ll appear in a later update to this guide.

If you’re interested in productivity at all, you’ve probably heard the acronym SMART. There are a few different words that get used, but in my case I consider it to stand for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Is what you’re asking for specific?

“I’d like the headings h1, h2, h3, h4 to look different…” is specific.

“I don’t like the headings on my site” is not specific. Your freelancer will have to spend time drilling down into your requirements, and that is time you’ll need to pay for.

“I have this Google doc with examples of what I want them to look like…” is measurable. Someone will know when they’ve hit the right target by comparing them to the example.

“I’d like them kinda bigger, but not too big. I’d like the font to be different too…” is not measurable.

Because you’ve provided an example in a different format to HTML and CSS, the freelancer will be able to understand when they’ve achieved the request you made.

Without this example, how will the freelancer know they’ve achieved the objective? They won’t. They’ll have to guess and then go back to the work when you say it’s not what you’re after. Just to be clear here, this isn’t a situation where you’re saying “Hmm, it’s not quite right. Could we increase the spacing before the headings a bit and see what that looks like?”

This is a situation where the freelancer, having had to guess, is going to come up with heading styles that have the wrong font, the wrong size, and the wrong colour. In short, you’ve paid someone to take a shot in the dark, and you’ll pay them to take another blind shot unless you can give a bit more guidance.

“…and I’d like the work done by tomorrow afternoon please.” is realistic. You don’t know what sort of workload your chosen freelancer has. They may have a pretty full caseload.

“…and I need it before 4pm…” is rapidly going to get you ignored by your chosen freelancer. Ten minutes may well be enough, but leave it up to your freelancer to wow you if they have a quiet caseload.

“Can you provide me with an update before end of business today as to whether you are happy you have all the information you need? I would also appreciate a work in progress example that I can provide feedback on by 1pm tomorrow, and I’d like the work complete by close of business, which is 5:30pm for me.” is the right sort of time binding.

You’re giving the freelancer a chance to go away and consider the work, and asking them to confirm they’re happy with what’s requested. You’ve asked them to let you know how it’s looking by 1pm so you can provide feedback. Finally, you’ve let them know what the deadline is for the piece of work.

“Ten minutes is enough isn’t it?” is not the right sort of time binding.

Let’s put the questions together in full, to see how they compare.

First, the bad question:

“I don’t like the headings on my site. I’d like them kinda bigger, but not too big. I’d like the font to be different too and I need it before 4pm. Ten minutes is enough isn’t it?”

Versus

“I’d like the headings h1, h2, h3, h4 to look different. I have this Google doc with examples of what I want them to look like and I’d like the work done by tomorrow afternoon please.

Can you provide me with an update before end of business today as to whether you are happy you have all the information you need? I would also appreciate a work in progress example that I can provide feedback on by 1pm tomorrow, and I’d like the work complete by close of business, which is 5:30pm for me.”

Yes, it takes longer to come up with a great SMART question. surely you can do this 1

You save that time on the project though, when your contractor delivers what you wanted sooner than if you had asked for the work in a not-so-SMART style.

What does the freelancer need from me?

This answer is going to be necessarily general. What is needed to carry out a piece of work changes depending on the work required.

At minimum, your freelancer will require access to all the services involved. If you’ve been reading along with the guide, you’ll notice that the freelancer friendly options I give have the ability to delegate access.

This is important because it allows you to grant and remove access to a freelancer at will. Unless you have some sort of retainer relationship with your freelancer, or you trust them implicitly (they may be a friend first and foremost), you should remove their access to your services after each piece of work that gets carried out.

As part of the bonuses for this guide, which you can get by opting in, I’ve created a recipe book for delegating access to the services I’ve recommended as freelance-friendly options.

The recipe book will have a step-by-step guide to setting up the relevant access, as well as a link to the official source for granting delegate access (just in case the process changes before I get a chance to update the information).steak recipe 1

So, your first step is to grant the freelancer relevant access.

You’ll also want to create a WordPress user for them on your site. Again, you should limit the access of this user once the work is complete.

They’ll need a SMART question from you relating to the work you want them to do. A vague question will result in disappointment for both sides, as you’ll be upset with the work you get delivered, and the freelancer will have had a difficult time trying to meet your requirements.

Finally, they’ll need access to you. At minimum, you should respond to emails from your freelancer within a reasonable timeframe relative the deadline for the work.

There’s no sense in checking your emails once a fortnight, on Monday, while rushing from your yoga session to your scuba diving lesson if you want the freelancer to get their work done in a matter of days.

What I personally do is use email to arrange the work and, once work has been committed to on both sides, then set up a Slack channel for real-time communication that doesn’t require people to be ever present.

This allows for centralised communication and file sharing, and Slack is available on most devices.

Being profoundly deaf, I don’t use the telephone and, even when I am able to communicate face-to-face, I will want the communication, along with any agreements, to be present in written format somewhere.

It just removes all ambiguity from the conversation, and that’s a great thing.

So, to sum up, the freelancer needs the following from you:

  1. Access to the services that the work involves
  2. Access to your WordPress installation
  3. A SMART question requesting the work you want done
  4. Access to you for the duration of the work

If all that is present, then you should have a happy working relationship with your freelancer.

Go to Table of Contents

What if I’m not happy with the work the freelancer delivers?

No matter what you do, even in the best of situations, there can be the time where your freelancer delivers something and you go to look at their work, and just think, “Oh…”

It wasn’t what you expected.

To paraphrase Brennan Dunn, you were thinking Lamborghini and your freelancer was thinking Hyundai. Both are cars that will get you from A to B, but the end experience is vastly different.

The four steps outlined in the previous subsection should minimise the possibility that you are negatively surprised by the outcome.

I’ll go further and say that if you are negatively surprised by the outcome, then there was something fundamentally wrong with the process you and your freelancer used.

You should know what your freelancer is doing during the process, not just at the end.

The access to you, step 4 above, is not solely so the freelancer can get information from you. It’s so they can relay updates to you. It’s so they can get your feedback on the work-in-progress.

There are some freelancers that don’t work that way. I would avoid them if I were you.

The freelancer isn’t writing a novel, where they batten down the hatches, then emerge much later with a fully-formed second draft.

A website should be, at minimum, a collaboration between the owner and the freelancer. It cannot be done in isolation.

So, if you are disappointed with the work, ask yourself if the process was similar to the previous subsection?

If it was, then ask yourself if the work delivered accurately meets the SMART question you asked when requesting the work.

If it does, then you probably need to reformulate your question and try again. Be honest with the freelancer, as they may be able to help you out.

If the work delivered DOESN’T meet the requirements of your SMART question, then raise this with the freelancer, as they haven’t delivered what you asked for. The first time it happens, give them the benefit of the doubt, as it may have been a genuine error.

An example of a message you can send is, or a script to use:

“Hi [Freelancer name],

I hope all is good with you.

Thank you for sending through your deliverables [replace this with whatever makes sense, graphics, copy, code etc].

I see that you met the following requirements: X, Y, and Z.

However, I can’t seem to find a deliverable that matches A. Did this get missed out? If so, no problem, when can I expect to see that?

Thanks again for X, Y, Z, and I hope to see the output for A soon.

Cheers,

Jonathan”

Don’t over elaborate the message, and do not ever get emotional.

Keep the focus on the deliverables. “This work is not up to the standard I expect” is far less confrontational than “You are not a good developer if this is what you produce”. Most people will get defensive if they feel you are attacking them personally.

Ultimately, depending on the money involved, and the importance, you may decide you want to take the matter to a small claims court or some other arbitration.

If your contractor has reams of emails where you’re calling them everything under the sun, that arbitration is unlikely to go in your favour.

Maybe they misunderstood what you asked for? If so, they should have clarified things with you.

Maybe they did try to clarify, but you weren’t accessible?

This would be a situation where the cause of the problem is apportioned to both sides, as the freelancer shouldn’t have just gone ahead if they needed clarification on something.

No matter what happened, you should begin with speaking to the freelancer. 99% of the time, your freelancer is interested in ensuring you have a great experience.

Finally, if the experience with the contractor was really bad, vow to never work with them again. Cutting your losses is sometimes the best thing to do.

Go to Table of Contents

Part five: Common pitfalls, and how to avoid them

Now that you’ve made the big decisions, and you’ve got your website up and running, there’s a slew of little things to ensure you’ve set up that will make your site as helpful to your business as possible.

These aren’t decisions, but things you should do to offer your audience the best experience possible, and also make your life easier.

In no particular order.

Forgetting to fill out the WordPress settings

Go through the WordPress settings, starting with the General settings.

Make sure your site title, and tagline are as you expect them to be. Also check the location, language, time, and date settings. All good?

Are the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) both correct? Are they set to https instead of http? If you’ve followed through the guide, you’ll have setup a redirect. If this bit isn’t done then you will likely be stuck in a redirect loop.wp settings

Which means, if the HTTPS setting is being set now, then it’s likely via direct database manipulation.

Is the Email Address set to the one you want to receive notifications to?

Onto the Writing settings.

Do you have a category you post in almost all of the time? Set it as your Default Post Category. Are you going to post via email? If so, you’ll want to put your server settings into the Post via email section.

Are you planning to show Portfolio or Testimonial sections on your website? If so, enable them here.

In the Reading settings, you can choose which pages are set as your Front page and Posts page, along with how many posts to show on the Posts page.

If you don’t want Search Engines to index your site, tick the box to discourage search engines from indexing your site.

The other section in here I would recommend looking at is the Permalinks section.

If you’re a small business owner, you’re likely going to be selling via your website (if not today, at some point).

Choose a permalink structure that allows your content to appear as if it is evergreen by choosing the “Post name” format.

This will ensure your permalinks don’t have dates in them, so you can set up evergreen web funnels.

Go to Table of Contents

Assuming that what is true for you is true for everyone. Test, test, test…

Test your site.

Open Chrome’s Incognito mode (or whatever the private browsing mode is in the browser you use) and test your site in there.

This ensures that you have nothing locked down to admin only, or anything that breaks unexpectedly.

View your site as your audience would.

Once you’ve tested your site on your desktop, test it on mobile devices.

Many, many people browse the Internet on mobile phones and tablets (some of them exclusively).

Don’t create a site that they can’t use easily, or they’ll go and find somewhere that supports their choice of browsing device.

Once you’re happy with how it functions on your computer and your phone, it’s time to ask friends to test. works on my machine 1

Find your most techy friend and ask them to test your site. There will be something, somewhere on your site that falls foul of the “works on my machine” syndrome. See the image to the right, courtesy of Coding Horror?

Chances are, that thing that works on your machine? It won’t work on every other machine in existence, so test.

Then go and find your least techy friend and ask them to test your site.

What matters to one won’t matter to the other, and vice versa. They’ll both find problems.

Fix them.

As the stakes go up, and your audience increases, testing becomes more and more important. There are services out there that simplifies the process of testing on every configuration under the sun.

One example is BrowserStack. You’ll know when the time is right to start using something like that.

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Collecting underpants

Technology moves at a fast pace.

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Computers get faster AND smaller as a result of this.

What works on the Internet today may not necessarily be what works on the Internet next month or next year. Every now and then, there is a sea change. Web 1.0, Web 2.0, flat graphics, 3D graphics, on and on it goes.

You will never have the perfect website. Accept it now, and you’ll feel much more at ease with your site.

Your website will never be “done”.

Aim to get your website to the point where it is “good enough for now.”

Good enough for now should be your mantra.

Just what that means will change regularly. The first thing you want your website to do when starting out is engage your audience and give them a way to sign up to your email list.

After a while, once you’re regularly doing that and have a sizable list, you’ll want your website to sell to lots of people, and allow them to sign up to your service or buy your product.

What works for the first scenario isn’t necessarily the best for the second scenario.

When you have only one product or service, put it up front and centre. You won’t need a products page as you have only one product. You won’t even need a product page: Your homepage will BE your product page.

At that point in your company’s life, your primary aim will be selling your product.

Likewise, at the beginning, when you’re building your list, your homepage will BE your primary opt in page.

Your website should, at any point in its evolution, serving the ONE thing that matters to your business, whether that’s getting more leads, making more sales, showing your complementary range of products, offering your service packages, whatever it is.

Go to Microsoft’s website.

What do you notice?

At the time I was writing this guide, the homepage was dedicated to selling Surface laptops. I’ve taken a screenshot of the site at the time, so you can see what I mean.microsoft site surface

If it’s good enough for Microsoft, it’s good enough for you.

New services come out all the time. Some will look shinier than the ones you use. You will be tempted to switch to them.

Sometimes, that will be the correct decision.

Most of the time, it will not be.

Do not switch services because you’re bored.

Go for a workout if you’re bored, work on a product, or write a new article. Don’t change your website because you’re bored.

Website changes should be meaningful.

You’re releasing a new product, and can’t deliver it without integrating xyz service? Yes, good reason.

You’re releasing a new Ultimate Guide and want the homepage to be devoted to this? Yes, great reason too!

You think azure may look better than the shade of blue you have had for the last two days?

No. Not a good reason. underpants 1

In South Park, the kids discovered the Underpants Gnomes, who were roaming the town stealing underpants.

By the time of their discovery, they had amassed quite a pile of underpants.

See, they had a plan, but it wasn’t fully fleshed out. The important part, the middle of the journey from A to Z was undefined. They didn’t know what their Phase 2 was, so they kept on collecting underpants rather than make the tough decisions about their business and figure out what phase 2 actually is.

When you’re making minor changes for the sake of making changes, you’re collecting underpants without a plan for what you’re going to do with them. 

Basically, you’re spinning your wheels because you haven’t figure out what the next step is (or you’re afraid to take that next step).

Tinkering with your website isn’t an excuse to spin your wheels because you don’t want to actually approach people and say “Look, I did a thing, please look at it and share!”

However, there ARE times when you should look to change up your platform. Here are a few:

  • When you find it hard to actually modify pages and create your content, maybe you should look at a theme that will allow you to rapidly create new pages and edit existing pages. This is why I recommend X or Pro, as they really do make rapid content creation (even complicated content) easier than it has been.
    However, if you have a theme that you are happy with, and it is not holding you back at all, stick with it until you do run into problems with it.
  • When a theme or plugin is no longer supported by its author. One of the downsides of working with third party software, platforms, and tools is that people may cease working on them.
    It could be a failed business venture, or they may have been bought out for the explicit purpose of shutting them down (anti-competition buyout), or they may want to exit their chosen career.
    When that happens, you have no choice but to find an alternative. The danger here is that you feel uncertain. You picked something that closed, what happens if that occurs again?
    It will.
    Don’t let it hold you back. Pick something, implement, and then move on.
  • Your business grows beyond the capabilities of your current platform, service, or tool.
    Congratulations, this is a FANTASTIC problem to have. Don’t be despondent, as it means your business is thriving. That’s what you wanted, right?
    A common example of this is your mailing list. You may have so many subscribers that it no longer feels cost effective to stick with your current provider. Or you may need more flexibility in your funnels and email automation, so you have no choice but to move on.        

So pick something, and move on.

Hopefully you’re seeing a theme here. Change is sometimes necessary, but spend only as much time as you need to spend deciding on the change, and then get it in place as soon as possible.

You’re a small business. That agility is a massive strength if you allow it to be.

The key thing to bear in mind is that your audience ultimately comes for your content, not your shiny website.

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Updates: WordPress and plugins

The decision you made about your platform, decision #2, will strongly influence how much work you actually need to do here.

If you went with managed hosting (and I hope you did, it’s much less work) then your host should be updating WordPress for you. If you went with my recommendation of WPEngine, they will update you via email about when the next upgrade will be, and then tell you when it’s happened.

WPEngine (and any good managed WordPress host) will also carry out daily snapshot backups of your WordPress installation. These allow you to roll back to a certain version of your site if something unwanted happens (ranging from deleting the wrong plugin or content to something more malicious).

That leaves plugin updates and ad-hoc backups. Those are closely related as you should really perform an ad-hoc backup prior to any plugin change (either updating to a new version, or installing a new one).

This is the safest option, and will ensure that, if something goes wrong, you can rapidly get your site back to a stable state.

Every now and then you will want to download your WordPress backup and store it somewhere other than your WordPress host, twice.

Yes, twice.

The Backup Rule of Three is a real thing, and Scott Hanselman has a great post about it.

Apply it to any computer data that is important to you (and I trust that your business is one of them, right?) and maintain it.backups 1

Backups are the ONLY thing that matters when you need them.

Don’t neglect them.

With WPEngine this is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

Once you’re on https://my.wpengine.com/, and have clicked through to the relevant installation:

  1. Select “Backup points” on the left hand menu
  2. Select the backup you want to save off site (I’d generally recommend the latest one)
  3. Click “Download ZIP”, accept the defaults and click “Start Production Backup ZIP” on the popup dialog box

You will then get an email when it is ready. The larger your site, the longer it will take.

Try to do this once a week at least.

Once you have the ZIP downloaded, store it in two other locations. A separate cloud service plus your local machine will work. If you already have physical media you rotate backups onto, then add it into the mix there.

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What to do when the shit hits the fan

Sometimes things go wrong.

It’s a fact of life with computers. Things will go wrong at some point. It may be self-inflicted, or it may be a random occurrence.

It doesn’t matter how it happened. Your website is not responding as it should and you, or your contractor, need to get it back up and running.

The first thing you need to do is breathe. It will seem like it’s the end of the world. That’s fine, that’s a natural reaction. However, it is unlikely that anything permanent will occur as a result of your site being down.

You will be able to resolve any problems much more quickly if you are calm and relaxed about the situation.

Here are a few situations that can occur. Everything in this section can be considered advanced. Equally, everything in this section boils down to following a recipe of sorts. Only do these things if you have no other choice, and be sure you understand what you’re doing before actually doing it.

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Redirect loop of doom

This is a fairly commonplace issue to run into, especially if you’re shifting your site from HTTP to HTTPS, and perform the steps in the wrong order.

Not all of the situations I have grouped together under this banner are actually closed loops, but they are close enough to be grouped as such.

They all have one thing in common: Your website appears to be broken.

First, a bit of explanation.

What’s happened is your site has become muddled.

Let’s say you have set www.firstdomain.com as your primary domain in WPEngine, and first.wpengine.com is set to redirect to www.firstdomain.com.

However WordPress is set to first.wpengine.com as it wasn’t changed before the redirect was put in place.

When you go to www.firstdomain.com, WordPress interrupts and says “I think you meant to go to first.wpengine.com, I’ll helpfully send you that way.”

So you get bounced to first.wpengine.com, at which point WPEngine goes, “Ahh, hang on there my friend, you’re in the wrong place. You should be at www.firstdomain.com, that’s what it says here!”

So you get bounced back to www.firstdomain.com, only for WordPress to repeat its bit. Then WPEngine repeats its bit, and in the end Chrome gives up and displays an error.

The easiest way to fix it is as follows:

  1. Go through your domains in WPEngine and click Edit redirect on all the domains you redirected to your primary domain, and pick — No redirect –, then Save changes
  2. Click Utilities on the left hand side menu, and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click Clear cache
  3. Go to your primary domain in Chrome, you should see a redirect to whatever your WordPress settings were set to
  4. Log into WordPress
  5. Go to Settings, General
  6. Put your primary domain into both WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) fields and Save Changes
  7. Log back in to WordPress, and you should see the URL change to your primary domain
  8. Now, we can go back to WPEngine, and re-add the redirects to our primary domain on all of our secondary domains

If at this point you are still stuck in a Redirect Spiral of Doom, shoot me an email, and I’ll help you recover the situation.

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Editing the database

WARNING: You can cause your WordPress site to become unresponsive doing this. It is a last resort, and should only be considered if your WordPress site has failed and nothing else you have tried has worked.

This section will cover how to edit the database using WPEngine.

PHPMyAdmin, however, is generally available via many hosts, and sometimes it’ll be in your cPanel admin area.

Okay, to get access to your database on WPEngine follow the steps:

  1. Navigate to https://my.wpengine.com/
  2. Click on your site install
  3. Click on phpMyAdmin, second from bottom of the left hand menu.phpmyadmin
  4. Expand the leaf that says wp_yourinstallname

phpmyadmin2

You’ll see a slew of tables starting with wp_. Every one of these is a different table in your WordPress installation and they all have a reason for existence.

The most common reason for needing to edit the database, is to edit wp_options, so that you can alter your WordPress options without being able to log in.

I’m not going to get into this any further here because one of two scenarios will be true:

  • You’ll know what you’re looking for as you’re following a recipe somewhere
  • You’ll have hand over the work to your consultant and they’ll know what they’re doing

If one of those two scenarios is not true, you really shouldn’t be messing around with the database. There is too much that can go wrong.

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Worst case scenario: restoring from backup. HTF do I do that then?

This subsection will necessarily focus on WPEngine only.

There are too many variables involved to write a generic guide to restoring from backup, however, the general recipe is:

  • Figure out when the site broke/was hacked/got deleted
  • Restore a backup earlier than that date
  • Test site

This assumes that you have active backups in the first place.

If you’re using a managed host, such as WPEngine, you will have backups in place. If your host is backing up for you, they should also have a means to restore said backups.

Now, the process for WPEngine is as follows.

  1. Navigate to https://my.wpengine.com/
  2. Click on your site install
  3. Click on Backup points
  4. Select the radio button next to the backup you want to restore
  5. Click Restore and accept defaults
  6. Wait for the email
  7. Verify your site is back up and running

restore backupCouldn’t be simpler, eh?

Ease of backup and restore is one of the best reasons to go with managed hosting.

Unfortunately, as it’s something that you usually only realise you need, when you need it, most people don’t see it as a benefit.

Let’s change that, one site at a time?

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Clearing browser caches, including HSTS (whuh?)

One of the problems you’ll run into when making sure your site looks and behaves just how you want it to behave is caching.

Normally, caching is wonderful. It speeds up our sites, and reduces the demand on resources. Caching is definitely a good thing to have.

Except when you’re working on fiddly little aspects of your site and how it interacts with other sites.

If you’re modifying domains, and had all of your URLs correctly redirecting to a canonical URL in the past, then you WILL fall foul of caching.

One of the best tools out there for figuring out what’s wrong with your domains is Ayima’s Redirect Path extension for Chrome.

Whenever you go to a URL, this extension will tell you exactly how you got there.

For example, look at this picture that details the journey I took from typing microsoft.com into Chrome to actually landing on Microsoft’s homepage.

ayima microsoft 1

You can see from the first Orange arrow (signifying a temporary redirect) description, that I typed in microsoft.com and Chrome acted on an internal HSTS redirect that has previously taken place. This is when Microsoft has set up the web server to ONLY respond to HTTPS domains.

So we are redirected by Chrome to https://microsoft.com and then Microsoft’s web server responds and says “No, you actually want to go to https://www.microsoft.com/”.

So I am redirected there (this is the blue arrow, which signifies a permanent redirect).

Microsoft’s website has global front pages. From my IP address, Microsoft’s site determines that I should be visiting /en-gb, rather than the default (which is presumably /en-us).

This is the second orange arrow redirect, a temporary one this time as MS may change policy down the line.

So I am now loading https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb and this page says “Yep, you’re in the right place!” and responds with a 200 status code, all ok.

That’s how it should work.

With incorrect settings, you will have redirect after redirect as two domains bounce you between them until Chrome interferes and aborts the connection.

This is what a Redirect Spiral of Doom looks like in Ayima.

ayima bad 1

When this happens, you’ll want to turn off all redirects that you have set up, clear the cache, and then try again.

If you get a Redirect Spiral of Doom, and the first entry in the Ayima list is a 307 redirect, you’ll also need to clear your HSTS cache.

In Chrome:

  1. Navigate to chrome://net-internals/#hsts
  2. Type in the problematic domain name in the box underneath Delete domain, then click Delete next to it
  3. Type the problematic domain name in the box underneath Query domain, then click Query next to you
  4. If you receive “Not found” as a response, you’re done.

For Safari:

  1. Close the app
  2. Delete the file at “~/Library/Cookies/HSTS.plist”
  3. Restart the app

Once the redirects are fixed, you should be able to reach your site again.

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Identifying plugin conflicts

If you use WPEngine, you’ll be familiar with the prompt that asks if you’ve backed up before you perform any major plugin upgrades.

It’s annoying until it saves your sanity with a bad set of upgrades.

Sometimes, you’ll get caught out.

The plugin changes (new ones or upgrades) will have seemed to work, so you’ll carry on with using your site, and the problem only becomes apparent at a later date.

At this point, you’ll have lost track of what you changed.

You’ll need to track down the offending plugin through a process of trial and error. If you can remember some changes you made, try disabling those plugins and test for the issue.

If it disappears, you’ve found either the problem, or one of the plugins that conflict with each other.

Note down the culprit, and re-enable it. If the problem returns, that plugin is definitely a part of the issue.

Disable others one-by-one, testing for the issue after each change. If it disappears again, you’ve found the other half of the conflict.

At this point you can decide which one you can live without, enable the other, and try and find an alternative for the disabled one.

What if disabling everything one-by-one never removes the issue?

At this point, disable all plugins, and change your theme to the latest default WordPress theme. Is the issue occurring?

If it is, you’ve probably corrupted the data in the database somehow, and your best bet is to restore an earlier backup and test that.

If it isn’t, enable the plugins one-by-one testing for the issue after each one. When the problem re-occurs, you’ll know the plugin you just enabled is the culprit.

Continue to test all of them, adding them into the mix one-by-one as you may have more problems.

If all plugins are enabled and everything is fine, it’s likely to be your theme.

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Part six: Question and Answer

For the last two weeks of July 2017, my homepage solicited questions related to setting up your Business Website.

There was just one question at the point of publication that wasn’t covered in the rest of the guide, but it was a good one so I wanted to include it anyway.

What’s the best way to test an audience/build a quick site to see if it’s a niche worth exploring, without committing to weekly blog posts for a year and never knowing if it’ll go anywhere? How do we validate?

This is actually a very interesting question and is something I went through when writing my first Ultimate Guide.

It wasn’t this one. I went through validation by posting ideas on my Facebook wall, and letting my audience decide.

The most popular idea was an idea related to advancing your career through the use of side projects.

I liked the idea, sure. I must have done as I came up with it as one of the options.

I didn’t love the idea. That was fine at the time as I didn’t have anything else that was tugging at me. There was no real competition for that idea, so I set about writing that guide.

I was about 5,000 words into it, so a fairly hefty chunk of writing.

While I was writing about it, I was offering help to people with their websites. Just little tech support scenarios here and there. I was getting paid for doing so as well.

These little nudges you get from the universe are validation of sorts.

Ramit Sethi calls these similar occurrences the Seagull Theory and I was getting enough of them to make me sit up and listen to what I was being told.

I had validated the career guide idea with my Facebook wall, and was working on it, but the universe kept sending people my way asking for website assistance. Was there something there?

When I started getting referred by friends of friends, then I explored guide options in that space.

I spoke to people via Facebook, via Slack, and via email and ultimately decided that yes, there was something I needed to pursue there.

It was also exciting me as websites are what I do. I am far more comfortable assisting with websites than I am with careers, because I’ve had a lot more practice over the years.

So I would say that the best way to validate an idea is not to create a website at all. That shouldn’t be your first step.

Your first step should be real-time conversations with people. Face-to-face, Skype, email, instant messaging, whatever it is.

Listen to the answers you get when you bring up your idea.

Or better yet, listen and see what people come to you for help with.

That’s a good indication of what people perceive you to be good at. In what areas are you viewed as an expert by people you interact with?

You should never get as far as creating a website for something until you KNOW it will find a solid niche.

That goes for anything.

Always validate by doing things that don’t scale (something else I learned from Ramit).

Personal communication is a huge thing that doesn’t scale, and one of the most rewarding in the early days.

Now, I wanted to call out this section of the question: “test an audience/build a quick site” as it is an interesting point. You’ve equated testing an audience with building a quick site.

I would say that the testing an audience in the early stages would involve talking to them one on one.

Until you are SURE that what you are going to do has a market of some sort out there, you don’t want to be creating a site at all.

If you need a landing page for some reason, create a quick one with Lead Pages and point at that.

Start simple, and scale up when simple no longer works.

That goes for anything.

At some point in your entrepreneurial career, you may need a fully bespoke, custom-built website rather than WordPress.

Tackle that bridge when it arrives.

Thanks for the question. If more surface at a later date, I’ll update this section to answer them.

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Part seven: Your future, and how to go beyond this guide

What’s next?

 the future 1

As I get repeated requests for help, I will turn some of these into DIY email courses. These will be found at https://www.jonathanballinger.com/courses and the first one is up there already, which assists you with changing your WPEngine-hosted WordPress site’s domain to something else that better fits your business.

When done correctly, this process can be very straightforward, and the mini-course on “Changing your domain name” (which is also available in PDF format as an opt in bonus for this guide) illustrates my favoured way to do this.

If you know what you want and don’t want to do it yourself, you can engage my services to help fulfil your vision for your site.

If you opted in for the guide bonuses, or have taken my Domain change mini-course, you’re already on that list), here are some actions you can take to grow your business.

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Create remarkable content for your site

I might be biased here. I strongly believe that creating remarkable content is the best way to accelerate your own business, and I put my money where my mouth was for this guide.

I have been through Primoz Bozic’s Ultimate Guide System course, and, well, you’re reading the evidence that the course works. Primoz has been a friend for a while, and when he revealed his new course, I was in like a shot. The course delivered and more, and it was a fantastic investment.

You can find more about creating remarkable content at Primoz’s site. He offers a Ultimate Guide checklist that will get you started on the process.

I can’t recommend this enough.

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Immerse yourself in your audience’s problems

Once you’re getting a steady stream of people seeking you out, it’s time to speak to them. Find out what they want you to help them with. Then dig a little deeper and figure out what their biggest fears and hopes and dreams are.

Let your audience tell you what they want you to work on next.

There are plenty of resources out there that talk about immersion and how you can find an actual product that will work. I’m partial to the content you can find on Growth Lab, that one is just an example.

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Deliver your products to your audience

After immersing yourself in your audience, and really speaking to (and understanding) them, you’ll be in a position to know what they are clamouring for you to create.

Let your audience guide your business. I’ve said that, in various ways, a few times in this section because it is ultimately THE thing you want to do.

At some point, if you are doing the right thing in listening to and helping your audience, enough individuals will tell you that they want something. You’ll see a pattern. You’ll see a product that you can wrap up and offer to your highly-engaged audience.

It will generally take form as one of the following items:

  • email course – Don’t neglect the strength of an email course for the low-cost options you are asked to deliver. It’s still a product and it still offers great value.
  • eBook – You may see an area that you can write at length about and create an eBook from. This Ultimate Guide is an eBook, and so are the books released on Amazon.
  • Learning management systems – These are used to offer in-depth courses to your students. There are a number of options out there from the DIY aspect of Wishlist Member and WordPress, through to the more streamlined variety such as ZippyCourses and Kajabi.
  • Zoom-delivered real-time video course – This would normally be married with a community of sorts, such as Facebook or Slack. You would meet with your students on a regular basis in a Zoom room, and go through a guided schedule.

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Create a community for your high-end products

Once you start delivering high end products to your audience, it may be time to add a paid community to your offering.

Diana Tower, a friend of mine, has created a great Ultimate Guide to Building a Profitable Online Community from Scratch.

If you’re considering offering a community (or if you have one already) you owe it to yourself to read, digest, and execute Diana’s guide.

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The End of the Guide

Well, here we are, at the end of the beast.

I hope you’ve found it useful. If it’s deepened your understanding of WordPress, and the other services that are involved in setting up a business website, then it did its job.

If you haven’t already downloaded your PDF copy of this guide, plus some bonus freebies, now’s a great time to do that.

I will keep this guide alive, and add to it as the situation demands. If you have questions related to your site that haven’t been answered here, please ask the question.

I can answer it, and add the answer here if it’s relevant to a wider audience.

Whatever your feelings on the guide you’ve just read, I’d love it if you would let me know your thoughts (sending feedback won’t automatically add you to my email list if you aren’t subscribed already).

I will use all feedback to improve the guide.

And if you’d like to work with me personally, get in touch and see if we’re a good fit.

Cheers,

Jonathan

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Website Yourself