Community groups are rich in enthusiasm but poor in money and time. Unfortunately for all of us, most web designers don’t accept payment in enthusiasm. But, that doesn’t mean you should abandon your goal of getting your community group website live. You can get it done in six simple steps and for less than $100.
Now, I know from experience that setting up a website with no experience and no knowledge of how the internet works can be a head spinner. And I’ve found the best way to understand complicated things is through a good analogy.
So, I want you to imagine that, instead of building a website, you’re building a house. To do it, you need an address for that house, land for it to sit on, tradespeople to build it, a design or layout for them to work to and materials to bring it to life.
To build a website, you need to buy a domain, choose a web host, choose a website builder, choose a Theme, link those together and then fill your site with content. Here’s how these steps correspond to our analogy:
- Domain name > street address
- Web host > land
- Website builder > tradespeople
- Theme > design or layout
- Content > materials
Bear with me and I’ll break down each step.
- Buy your domain
Payment type: one-off annual payment
Average cost: $9.99
Total cost so far: $9.99
Regardless of industry, site type, design or anything else, all websites need a domain name.
Your domain name is a string of characters that acts as the address of your website – think of it as a virtual street address. It starts with the name of your group – e.g. Morningside Community Garden – and ends with what is called a ‘top-level domain’, which might be ‘.com’, ‘.org’, ‘.net’ or something else.
All domain names are owned by whoever registered them. Strictly speaking, you don’t ‘buy’ your domain name but rent it from the registrar. Which is why domain name plans are sold on an annual fee basis – we recommend buying a 1-3 year domain name plan to start out.
Simply search for your desired domain name (e.g. communitygroup.com) on a domain name provider’s website. Popular domain name providers include:
- 1&1 IONOS
Many web hosting providers also sell domain names and buying both from the same company will make step 4 of this tutorial much simpler.
Now, I know what you’re thinking “what on earth is a web hosting provider?”… which brings us too…
- Choose a web host
Payment type: either a monthly plan or a one-off annual payment
Average cost: $39 for the first year
Total cost so far: $48.99
If your domain name is your street address, your web host in the land it points to. Think of it like the real estate in which your domain exists. Let me explain!
Websites are made up of data like words, images, videos, code, etc. All of that data has to be stored somewhere. Web hosting providers run servers (like large hard drives) that store that data and serve it (get it?) to a user when they click through to your site (when they access any page on your website).
If you’re anything like me, you’ll Google ‘best web hosting provider’ and head to the click one you expect to see one or two simple choices of plan. But what you’ll get is a heap of confusing jargon and more options than you can shake your keyboard at. So, how do you choose?
Start by reading some reviews of popular WordPress web hosting providers. Once you’ve chosen a provider, head over to their website and buy their shared hosting plan.
Shared hosting is more than good enough for community group websites – don’t let clever marketing convince you to upgrade your plan and don’t sign up for one that’s free .
WordPress.com does offer web hosting and, since we’re building a WordPress website, you might think it makes sense to buy your hosting and domain name from them – but it doesn’t.
WordPress.com is a paid service, whereas WordPress.org is free. When compared to other web hosting providers, WordPress.com is expensive and isn’t as good for customer service as a host like 1&1 IONOS.
So, while it may be simpler to do everything in one place, you will end up paying more for the privilege than if you purchase your domain name and web hosting elsewhere.
Web hosting plans are offered on an annual basis. You’ll be asked to renew your plan at the end of each year.
- Choose a website builder
Payment type: monthly plan or one-off annual payment
Average cost: $0
Total cost so far: $48.99
You can’t build a house without tradespeople and you can’t build a website without a website builder. Well, you can, but only if you know a hella-load of code. If you don’t, read on…
All websites are made up of code. But you don’t need to write code to build a website because website builders translate that code into tools we’re more familiar with like elements or themes.
- Elements: these website builders break websites down into individual elements like a section of a page, a contact form or a ‘buy now’ button. You drag and drop these elements into a frame to build a website. While simpler than coding a website from scratch (obviously), this still requires a fair bit of knowledge about how websites need to be organised. So it’s not the best option for beginners.
- Themes: Themes are essentially pre-built websites that you customise to suit your needs. They’re already organised into pages full of text, buttons, images and more. All you have to do is edit it.
WordPress.org is a free website builder. It isn’t the easiest one to work with but, unless your community group can commit to spending $5-15 per month to use a paid alternative, it’s the best option you’ve got.
Create an account with WordPress.org to start setting up your website. Download it from the website or through your web hosting provider.
Most web hosts offer a simple WordPress set up system. Follow the instructions on your web host’s site to get started.
- Choose a Theme for your website
Payment type: one-off payment for lifetime access
Average cost: $39
Total cost so far: $87.99
So far, you have an address that points to an empty plot of land. Exciting… but not very useful. Now you need a design for the house that will sit on it. This design is the Theme of your website.
A website Theme is a template that provides the structure and style of your website. Most Themes are customisable so you can change, say, the background colour, text and images, to make it your own.
WordPress.org offers a range of free and paid Themes. Use WordPress’s Theme library to find one that suits your needs. Some, like IXION and Astra are specifically made for non-profits and are very cheap or free.
You can purchase WordPress themes from third-party providers but it can be tricky to upload them to WordPress.org. So we recommend purchasing from WordPress.org directly to keep things simple.
Follow the prompts in WordPress.org to activate your Theme.
- Link your Theme to your domain and web host
Payment type: none
Average cost: none
Total cost so far: $87.99
Unless you buy your domain name, web hosting plan and Theme from WordPress (in which case you’d be using WordPress.com), you’ll need to do a bit of fiddling to connect your domain name and hosting to your Theme on WordPress.org.
This step is a minefield of jargon. But don’t let that put you off. You don’t need understand all of the terms to get it done, you just need to do two things:
- Attach your domain to your WordPress.org site
- Update your domain name’s name servers to point to WordPress.org
When I set up my first business website, I did this the hard way – by reading instructions online. Do yourself a favour and call your web hosting provider’s helpline. When I did this with 1&1 IONOS, they walked me through the process and entered most of the details for me.
It didn’t matter that I was a complete novice and had no idea what I was talking about because the person I was talking to did. Now, I can’t understand why I ever tried to do it any other way.
- Add content to your Theme and customise
Payment type: one-off purchases of one or more widgets or plugins
Average cost: $5 each
Total cost so far: $97.99
It can take up to 48 hours for your web host to point your domain name to WordPress.org. Once complete, you’ll be ready to add content to your website Theme.
Think of your content like the materials of your house. A plan is not enough. You need materials to bring it to life. Do this by editing the words, images, colours and more in your Theme’s editor.
Each Theme works in a slightly different way. To learn how to use your chosen Theme, read through or watch the instructions your Theme provides.
This will take some time. If you find the process overwhelming and you have an extra $150- $250 to spend, use a pencil and paper to draw how you want each web page to look, gather the images and videos you want to include on your website and find a freelancer to complete the job.
Many skilled web designers work through platforms like PeoplePerHour and will be able to use your sketches to edit the template for you.
You can find free stock images for your website at Unsplash, Pixabay and StockSnap.
That’s a wrap
Building a website for your community group doesn’t have to be expensive or a chore. In this post, we’ve outlined exactly how you can get a website live in six simple steps and for just $97.99.
All it takes is a little bit of know-how and a few days of your time.