These Top 7 Invoicing Tools Are Your Answer To Sending Small Business Invoices

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How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

So you’ve got some marketing skills, and you’re wondering how to start a digital marketing agency. 

But there’s just one problem…

How do you start a digital marketing agency with no experience?

There have never been more opportunities to strike off on your own in the digital marketing space than there today. But how do you actually do it? Where do you start, and how do you scale?

The secret to starting a digital marketing agency with no experience is to have an actual strategy, grow organically as you learn, and deliberately build word of mouth with a specific type of client. It’s about taking aim vs. shooting randomly and hoping something lands.

There’s also a major misconception that starting a digital marketing agency has to mean a HUGE process that requires building a massive company and doing “all the things” and taking all the clients.

In reality, a digital marketing agency can be just…you. It’s not about the pricey software or offices or employees. It’s about determining who you help, how you help them, and then actually doing the work.

The business model of an agency is fairly straightforward. Sure, you can tinker around the edges about whether to bill by hour, by week, by task, or by project. But at its core, you are providing specialized knowledge for a fee. An agency of one and an agency of 10,000 work in basically the same way.

With that concept in mind, here’s how to start a digital marketing agency with no experience. 

1. Set Your Business Goals

Before you decide to do anything, you’ve got to do some planning. What do you want the business to actually look like? What’s the end goal? The vision? 

Starting your digital marketing agency without some sort of direction in mind is like trying to get to a new restaurant with no address and no navigation. You end up lost, taking wrong turns, and probably not having much success.

If you’ve observed the industry for any length of time, you’ll notice that agencies with conflicting goals run into trouble often. But the ones that stick to their vision do well.

Some agencies want to maximize prestige. They focus on recognizable clients who are willing to do interesting work. Some agencies want to maximize profits. They focus on boring but high growth, high opportunity clients. Some agencies want to maximize freedom / autonomy. They focus on low maintenance, consistent clients. And some agencies want to maximize business value. They focus on internal operations, cash flow, and strong branding.

There is no correct goal – except to choose a specific goal and stick to it no matter what.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a digital marketing agency. There are big agencies, small agencies, agencies that focus on just one part of digital marketing (like search engine optimization) and full-service agencies who do everything from design and development to paid media, local marketing, and SEO. 

It’s up to you to decide who you want to serve and how you want to serve them. 

What To Consider

  • Do you want to serve local clients, or go outside of your local sphere?
  • Are you focusing on a specific industry? 
  • Do you want to offer a specific digital marketing service, or a variety of services? 
  • Do your clients need to be within a certain budget? 
  • Are there services you don’t want to offer? Niches you don’t want to serve? 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid trying to have something for everyone. You know what they say about a jack of all trades… you’re a master of none. 
  • Avoid direction hoping. Pick a direction and see it through until you have enough data and experience to make a decision on changing directions. 

2. Define Your Target Audience 

The irony of all ironies is that usually, marketers are horrible at marketing themselves, mainly because they don’t go through their own steps. 

If you’ve done any marketing before, then you know one of the first things you do as you develop your marketing strategy is get clear on your target audience. The same applies for starting your digital marketing agency. 

Once you’ve decided on who you want to serve, it’s time to dive a bit deeper. What are they struggling with? How do you help them with that problem? 

Outline the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, habits, and information of someone you think would definitely be an ideal client for your agency. Outline what their marketing needs are, what their goals are, and how you can help achieve those goals through the service(s) you’ve decided to offer. 

Don’t just armchair imagine this. Ask potential customers what they struggle with when it comes to getting the word out about their business. What do they wish they could get some help with? What do they look for in a digital marketing agency? 

Make 2 to 4 very specific personas. Remember that your initial market is not your total market. Even if you start out by targeting a very specific geographic area or a very specific customer doesn’t mean that you can’t expand. It’ll just give you more focus.

What To Consider

  • Get specific. It’s better to start small and scale (i.e. being a digital marketing agency that helps local dentists get more clients through organic search) than try to help everyone and get lost in the noise (i.e. being a general marketer who can do anything for any business). 
  • Remember that your initial market is not your total market. It just gives you focus. 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid businesses that don’t align with your overall business strategy. Sure, it’s great to get work in the beginning, but remember… pick a direction and stick to it. If you don’t offer a service, don’t offer it – even if it means turning down a little bit of money at the beginning. 
  • Personas aren’t just for marketing strategies. Have 2-4 for your own business direction so you know who to say yes to and who to say no to. 

3. Build an Online Presence

Once you have an idea of what type of agency you are, who you serve, and how you serve them, it’s time to think about how you’re going to present this information.

This means building your online presence through your website and social channels.

Setting Up Your Website

You don’t need to have a full-blown website to have a digital marketing agency. But given you’re helping people get seen online, you should have some sort of online presence.

If you are going super-lean, you can use a Facebook page, Yelp profile, or a few focus (aka “landing”) pages (more on that in a minute). But going without a decent looking website will put you behind the curve and place limitations on what you can do with your brand & marketing.

I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account**. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here.

That route will give you a good technical foundation with fast, simple setup and access to other business tools like email and digital storage. It will also allow you to implement a customized off the shelf design – “themes.” Themes allow you to have a website that looks good enough to make a sale without spending months and lots of money on a 100% custom design. Creating a website on something like WordPress also allows you to implement a 100% custom design when that time comes.

**Note – self-hosting WordPress does have a learning curve. For a long-term website with a business that has resources, it’s worthwhile. But – there is absolutely a role for a hosted website builder for many businesses – especially if your business will focus on clients who use a specific platform (like Wix or Squarespace or Shopify). I have a guide to selecting a good website builder here.

Setting Up Focused (aka “Landing”) Pages

As I mentioned above, a few high-quality focused pages on your website can get you a long way. In addition to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you need landing pages to address specific needs.

When I say “landing pages” – don’t think of anything too complex or anything that you would need to A/B test. I’m simply referring to pages that visitors can land on from a search engine or an ad and find exactly what they are looking for. I like to call them Focused Pages rather than Landing pages.

Why? Here’s pro tip that few website owners will admit to: nobody cares about or even sees your homepage.

Your homepage is for people who already know you who are. For businesses in a single specific service, you can use it to “rank” for your main industry term.

Landing pages go beyond your homepage.

Landing pages are for new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all your website pages, you should develop focused landing pages that sell to one or all of these buckets:

Service specific – These pages should promote your services. But, they shouldn’t be generic. You should make them either focused on the problem that your service solves (ie, no website traffic) or focused on the application of your service. For example, it’s one thing to offer “SEO” – it’s another to make websites more crawlable, more relevant, and more visible in search.

Geography / Demography specific – These pages are all about the location service & logistics of obtaining your agency’s services. Even though your work might be global, your clients’ are likely not global. They will pay for someone who understands their local market. Additionally, if you have a keen understanding of a demographic (ie, college students), then you can focus on that as well.

Industry Specific – These pages should promote your expertise within specific industries. Even though marketing principles do not differ much across industries, clients want someone who can understand their perspective. If you know more than someone else about [X] industry, you should promote that. And if you can go deeper within a niche, then do that.

Now – the magic here is combining buckets & going deeper within each bucket. Until you are big & growing, going niche is your friend. Create combinations to make extremely focused pages.

“Digital Marketing for the Travel Industry” will not bring in your first clients.

“Facebook Marketing for AirBNB Hosts in Atlanta, Georgia” absolutely will.

The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the marketing funnel – the customers most likely to convert and most likely to succeed. These pages will both rank organically – and you can use them for paid ads.

What To Consider

  • Detailed content content (like a blog) can take your presence a long way. Think about future functionality you may want to have on your site so you can choose a platform that supports it and don’t have to create something from scratch once you’re ready to implement it.
  • Practice what you preach. If you’re a copywriting agency, make sure your copy is up to par. If you’re a design agency, make sure your site looks like you can actually design something.
  • You don’t have to be everywhere (i.e. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube). Pick your starting channels and expand later if need be.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid perfection. The goal is to have a online presence that shows you’re legit, but being an agency is about billable hours. Don’t spend more time working on your own presence than your clients’.

4. Get Visible (AKA Getting Leads and Clients)

Once you have a place to send people, it’s time to get some leads and clients.

Again, marketers are notoriously bad at marketing themselves. But the days of “build it and they will come” are long gone. You actually have to do something to get clients and start building your portfolio, especially if you’re starting a digital marketing agency with no experience.

Here are a few key steps to follow to get the word out about your digital marketing agency.

Word of Mouth / Referrals

Above all other marketing techniques, agencies thrive on word of mouth and referrals. In fact, many top agencies are past the point of direct response marketing. They grow exclusively on word of mouth. They know how to appeal to certain markets and what kind of performance it takes to get further referrals.

The focus of your landing pages will help word of mouth since you’ll develop a simple, straightforward reputation.

In order to get referrals, you’ve got to get clients to back up your reputation. Which brings me to…

Direct Outreach

Also known as hustlin’. This consists of all the tedious and tough pitching that you know you need to do… but don’t want to do.

Now, it doesn’t mean spamming. It means going directly to your market and doing appropriate outreach.

It means emailing and Facebook messaging people that you know might be interested in your marketing services (or know others who might be). And sending them to your landing pages to learn more about your agency or hopping on a call with them to talk about how you can help them. And again, the focus of your landing pages will help make word of mouth simpler. You’ll stand out when people remember you as “the [X] marketer for [Y] industry in [Z] city.

It means helping within industry forums. I got my first handful of web design clients after helping people on the WordPress.org support forums. I got my first ecommerce client after helping in the Shopify forums. I never pitched anyone directly, but this type of manual, hand-on work counts as direct outreach.

When you’re just starting out with no experience, direct outreach is one of the most effective ways to get clients quickly (which you can then turn into referrals).

Tap into your existing network, look for projects that you can knock out of the park, and continue to get your name out there without having to spend money on ads or wait for your inbound strategy to grow (more on that in a minute).

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail on how to use direct outreach.

Paid Traffic

Yes, it’s true — Google Ads and Facebook can be expensive for a good return on investment, especially for the close to converting keywords that you should try to buy.

But if your serious about building a long-term marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, then your goal is a bit different when using paid traffic.

You are buying data. Lots of data.

You should be doing a few things with your new traffic.

  • Look at what keywords are driving the best leads. Google Ads & Facebook give you this information. Try using modified broad match for your keywords. Many times customers are using a wider variety of keywords than you’d guess.
  • Run your ads very focused on geography, especially if you’re a local agency. If you have a landing page for a neighborhood, set up a campaign for that area.
  • Look at what landing pages are driving sales & calls.
  • Look at what areas are driving sales.
  • Test ad copy and figure out the right messaging. You can use this data to inform any print or display campaigns..
  • On Facebook, you can get *really* specific with your audiences. Do that. Create an audience of 100 who you *know* would be perfect. Make sure they know about you. Use the campaign to warm up any direct pitch.

Organic Search (SEO) Traffic

Organic traffic (SEO) still might not be the best next channel to pursue after paid traffic. There’s a great big wide world of paid and organic traffic sources, and if you’re working on building a portfolio and just get some experience, this is going to take awhile.

And yet, if you’re playing the long game, setting up your SEO strategy now can have huge payoffs in the end.

Google processes more than 3.5 billion queries per day. And for most queries, most of the clicks go to an organic result. And you’ll know from your Ads campaigns that clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic results.

So I won’t hide my enthusiasm for SEO. It’s my specialty and is the giant battleship that will keep on going once it’s headed in the right direction.

When you are setting your marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, you just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

Often you’ll just need a handful of really useful posts to prove your expertise. Don’t go after generic topics. Show off your specialty. Do a tutorial on tools that you know your audience is trying to use. Write about an issue that you know everyone is dealing with.

What To Consider

  • Your first goal when you’re starting an agency is to get clients. Billable hours drive everything (and is what will enable you to invest in other marketing efforts).
  • Some of your best leads can be in your own circle. Don’t discount the network you already have.
  • No one will know about your business if you don’t tell anyone about your business. You don’t need fancy business cards, a beautiful website, or even some elaborate marketing funnel. You DO need to tell people what you do.
  • You do have to walk the walk, but you don’t have to rely on your own area to build your business. If you do SEO and you choose not to use SEO to generate leads, that’s fine — but be prepared to speak to that with potential clients.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid being a generalist. Yes you need clients, yes you need revenue — but remember the business strategy you set upfront.
  • Avoid adding additional work without increasing the scope to “win” a client. If clients want additional services and you offer them, great! Let them know how that changes your fees. Earn respect with results, not with price or perceived responsiveness.

5. Define Your Growth Plan

Building a digital marketing agency doesn’t mean you have to become the next big company doing Super Bowl commercials. As I mentioned before, a digital marketing agency can be an agency of one.

You should however, have an idea of how you’d like to grow. Being a one-person company still doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. ShivarWeb is made up of exactly 1 person, Nate Shivar, but several amazing contractors help shoulder specific responsibilities. Employees are great once you have a solid book of recurring contracts, but contractors can help you bridge any gap.

As you start to grow, think about the teams, systems, and deliverables you want to have in place to help support your clients.

For your team, would bringing on a full-time copywriter help you sign two more clients? Could you outsource design work or administrative tasks that take up your time?

For your systems, do you have a written system for new clients? Even if you are solo, you need to have a written system that clients pass through. It should be something that you can set out in a contract. You can (and should) find examples for Master Service Agreements (MSAs) & Statements of Work (SoW’s) to build of of. Make sure you have an internal project management system – even if it just lives in a Google Sheet.

For your deliverables, do you have a way to show value to your clients? Do you have a way to gather feedback from them. If you are an SEO, then written audits, keyword maps, and written outreach & content strategies will help make the “magic” of SEO real for your clients. It goes the same for every type of marketing. What format will you use? Who can you talk to within the industry to get a base understanding?

To be honest, this section is the biggest reason to do some short stint with an already established agency. I worked for Nebo Agency for a little over 2 years, and learned more than I could have learned on my own in 10. But working for an agency is not required. You just need to do a bit more thinking & planning.

Doing some advanced planning here will help you scale faster and easier than waiting to figure it out when the workload becomes too much.

What To Consider

  • There are certain tasks only you can do. What are those? Keep your focus there.
  • A bigger team doesn’t necessarily mean a better agency. Some of the best marketers I know run with a very lean crew.
  • Think back to your business vision. Do you have services you want to provide but YOU can’t do? Are there people you can hire that can cover a few different areas (i.e. a writer with graphic design experience)

What To Avoid

  • Avoid getting caught in the weeds. You can’t make any money if you’re sitting in your inbox for five hours a day.
  • Avoid thinking of outsourcing as an expense. Crunch your numbers and think value and reinvestment.
  • Avoid going the “cheap” route when hiring help. You get what you pay for.
  • Charge what you are worth. If you are making your clients money, then charge what you are worth…and make them even more money!

Conclusion & Next Steps

Starting a digital marketing agency with no experience doesn’t have to be a daunting process full of questions, unknowns, and hurdles.

It does require that you clearly understand what you want out of your agency, who you’re going to help, and how you’re going to help them.

If you are trying to start a digital marketing agency, follow the process and you’ll be all set!

The post How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Does Your Restaurant Need An Online Ordering System?

The post Does Your Restaurant Need An Online Ordering System? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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7+ Best Author Website Examples to Use for Inspiration

7+ Best Author Websites to Use for Inspiration

So you’re creating an author website, and you’re looking for author website design examples for inspiration and guidance. You’re also wondering which website platform is best to use for your website.

But before we dive into examples of what professional personal websites look like in the wild on a variety of website builders and hosting platforms, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too.

Think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at an author website examples should be done in the same way. Do you want the website to have ecommerce functionality so visitors can buy books? Do you want people to be able to book you for speaking engagements? This functionality needs to be consider before you start choosing a website builder + hosting platform.

We collected the following website examples not just to show you how they look on different platforms, but how they can function, so you can be sure you create a website that fits both the look and functionality you need!

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgement as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Best Author Website Examples

We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, when you’re looking to build an author website, remember that you’re not just thinking about making the site look good. You want to think about what your site actually needs to do, and find a platform that supports all of your needs.

Marie Force

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Continental Broadband

Homepage has everything you need right upfront. The slideshow of images allows you to preorder the new release for popular series, see upcoming events where Marie is speaking, and access her series on Kindle Unlimited. You can also sign up for newsletter updates, read about upcoming releases, or buy her other books all from the homepage.

Marie Force homepage details

We particularly liked how Marie uses the “Reading Order” button at the top of the homepage to direct to her Books page, which shows all of her books and series and allows readers to dive deeper into each one.

Despite having a lot of books and series to display, the layout is organized, which makes it easy for visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for.

If you’re wondering how to display your work and key information for visitors in a way that’s clear and organized, this author website example is a great place to start for inspiration.

Jody Hedlund

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Unified Layer

What stands out about this author website is how clear the navigation is. As soon as you get to Jody Hedlund’s homepage, your next steps are clearly laid out below her header image.

We also liked how Judy included buttons to all of her social media channels directly below her name. It’s a great way to send people to your other profiles without breaking the overall design of the page.

Another thing that stood out to us on this author website is how Judy implemented professional headshots and book cover images on her media page that journalists and bloggers can download without having to request them from her team.

If you’re looking for a good example of clear navigation and how to include additional assets for the press, this is a strong example to use for inspiration!

Mike Palombi

Software: Squarespace

Hosting: Squarespace

This author website example stands out for a few reasons. First, we really liked how Mike included his logo in the top menu bar on the site. It stands out in a way that’s creative, but unobtrusive. It doesn’t detract from the navigation, but it does add that extra “branding flair” to the site to make it look professional.

When you scroll down the homepage, you can read more about the book in detail, or watch videos on the book and interviews Mike has done.

mark palombi videos author example website

This is a great way to incorporate different media types on your website to support and supplement your books and build credibility with your visitors.

Angela Meek

Angela Meek Author website example

Software: Weebly

Hosting: Weebly

Sometimes, people get so focused on a website’s design that they lose sight of the overall goal — and that’s to give your visitors applicable information about whatever your website is focused on.

Angela’s website is a great example of a simple, straightforward author website that doesn’t have a ton of design frills, but still manages to look clean, organized, and give visitors all of the information they need on her, her books, and how to get in touch with her.

If you’re looking for a way to get your content up in a simple layout, this is a great example to use for inspiration.

Lesley M. M. Blume

lesley m.m. blume author website example

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Media Temple

If you’re looking to create a more creative angle with your author website, we love this example from Lesley M. M. Blume.

Notice how Lesley intentionally uses design elements that capture the theme of her book. As soon as you get to the homepage, you get a sense of what Leslie writes about. It’s a great way to bring readers into the world of your work, and adds an element of creativity to your author website.

Tim Tigner

Tim Tigner Author Website

Software: Custom-built website

Hosting: Rackspace

This website for Tim Tigner is another strong author website example that hits all of the marks. The homepage header image captures the theme of his books, and the subtitle under his name is a great example of using strong copy to “hook” your readers in!

We particularly liked the Book Club Info page, which includes Tim’s downloadable discussion questions for book clubs who are reading his books:

Tim Tigner Book Club

If you’re looking for an overall example to use for inspiration for your author website, check this one out!

Scott A. Winkler

Scott A. Winkler author website

Software: Wix

Hosting: Wix

If you’re looking for a more straightforward approach to your author website, this example by Scott A. Winkler is a great place to start.

This author website relies more on text than the other examples we pulled, but it’s an easy way to give readers an overview into who the author is and link out to his works and where you can buy them.

Remember, your website doesn’t have to be a design masterpiece. It just needs to give your readers the information they need and help them connect further with you and your work!

Next Steps

Now that you have some inspiration in terms of the design, colors, and functionality you may want in your author website, where do you go from here?

Well, it really depends on where you are in your author website building journey!

If you’re ready to decide on a website builder, check out my guide to choosing a website builder here.

If you’re looking to go DIY with a specific template to match your design and functionality needs, check out my Build a Personal Website: Templates, Design, and Setup Guide.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how to market your author website, check out my guide to creating a local marketing strategy.

The post 7+ Best Author Website Examples to Use for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Zoho Sites Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Zoho Website Builder

Zoho is a software company that has a suite of products designed to help business owners get their businesses up and running online. Their website builder, Zoho Sites, is an all-inclusive website builder, which means it includes everything you need to create your site (from the builder itself to the hosting).

See Zoho’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Zoho’s website builder a try for a full Zoho Sites Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Zoho Sites?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Zoho Sites lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Zoho is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Zoho, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Zoho Sites competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, Strikingly, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and integration with their plethora of Zoho products. Zoho offers several website templates you can customize with no coding or design experience required, and also gives you the opportunity to integrate with their marketing and optimization tools.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Zoho Sites Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using the Zoho Sites website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Sign Up Process, Onboarding, + Free Trial

One of the biggest pros of using Zoho Sites is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s a few basic steps of entering your information, picking a theme, and then you’re in.

Zoho also makes it incredibly easy once you’re inside the platform. Their onboarding process (AKA the information they give you to get you up and running and actually using the software) is very straightforward.

They walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your website as soon as you choose a theme.

The entire process makes it easy to get your website up and customized in a matter of minutes, even if you have no online experience.

Zoho also offers a 15-day free trial when you sign up, and they don’t require a credit card to use it. Most software providers offer a “test run” of their products, but it comes with caveats. You either have to choose a plan upfront and enter your card info to be automatically charged when the trail is over, or have limitations on your features, or both. 

Zoho allows you to truly test out their platform for 15 days before you make a decision — no strings attached.*

*Note – so technically, you’d have to sign up for some of their product integrations if you want to implement them in the free plan. I still consider it no strings attached, because you get all of the basic functionality / inclusions in the free trial.

Template Design / Functionality

When I’m looking at all inclusive website builders, I want to be sure I look at both the templates’ design and functionality to get an accurate picture of what the builder can do.

Zoho also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). They have a lot of variable designs that you can use as the foundation of your website.

Once you choose a template, you can customize it to your brand. Zoho is what’s known as a “drag and drop” editor, where you can “drag” premade sections and “drop” them on your page. It makes customizing your site simple, straightforward, and fast.

With Zoho, can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), as well as the individual sections, and you can add new elements to a section layout. However, you can’t create a new section from scratch using the drag and drop editor.

You can, however, customize your template using the CSS and HTML editor, which is a big benefit if you have coding experience but want to use a template as a starting point.

All in all, Zoho’s Website Builder has a great balance of convenience and control in terms of template design, which is a big plus for an all-inclusive website builder.

Some Product Integration

Another thing that makes Zoho’s Website Builder unique is their product integrations. Zoho has their own CRM, Marketing, and Analytics products, and these integrations are easily accessible in the site builder.

Zoho-Integration-CRM

One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are all part of paid plans (more on that in a bit).

This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders (particularly if you went the self-hosted WordPress route).

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Zoho Sites as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Zoho is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and business owners, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with some sort of limitation, whether it be pages, storage, or even the number of forms you can have on a site.

zoho pricing and limits

It’s also worth noting that Zoho doesn’t offer a free plan. There’s a free trial, which lasts for 15 days, but if you want to continue on with their service, you have to choose from one of the paid plans.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a “con”, but if you’re looking for a website builder for a short-term project, you can probably find a builder with similar features who offers a standard free plan (ie, Wix or Weebly).

Limited Feature Set – Technical

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.

Now, as I mentioned above, Zoho does include some product integration that’s built-in (like their CRM) or can be added on (like their MarketingHub). But when it comes to outside integrations, Zoho is fairly limited.

For example, let’s take a look at their apps:

There isn’t much to built-in from an integration perspective outside of what Zoho offers in their product suite, and even then, there’s not a ton of clarity around what these features actually are or do.

Now, you could add your own integrations through code snippets. However, if you want something that you can easily “plug in” to your site and have it just work without you messing with code, then Zoho leaves a lot to be desired.

Zoho Review Conclusion

Zoho makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, and they also offer substantial customization options for more experienced website builders through their HTML and CSS editing.

See Zoho’s current pricing plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Zoho’s pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Zoho fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Zoho Sites Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Most Popular Micropolitan Areas (Small Cities) for Startups According to the US Census

Most Popular Micropolitan Areas (Small Cities) for Startups According to the US Census

ShivarWeb has a lot of DIYers and freelancers not living in the biggest, richest cities of the world. In fact, I originally started this business in Athens, Georgia, USA – not in larger Atlanta. As a fun post, I thought I’d dig into some data for my non-metro area readers.

The benefits of big metro areas for new businesses are well-known, but so are the costs in money, time, and health. In the era of remote work, you can get a lot of the benefits of the city anywhere with an Internet connection, except one – being physically around other new business-owners.

With that in mind, I decided to look at the Census Bureau’s data on cities to see if there were any places in America that hit a sweet spot between being small & self-contained and being a popular place to start a new business.

Micropolitan areas are populated areas that have too much population to qualify as a rural area, and too few commuting ties to a larger city to qualify as part of a larger metropolitan area. They are between 10,000 to 50,000 people and quite a distance from a large city.

In other words – micropolitan areas are true small cities.

There are 536 micropolitan areas in America with a core city of between 10,000 and 50,000 people plus the population of the surrounding area.

Here are the Top 20 Most Popular Micropolitan Areas for New Small Businesses in America based on US Census data from 2015-2016 (most recently available). You can view the full list of 536 areas here.

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20. Breckenridge, CO Micro Area

Breckenridge CO
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New Businesses: 239

Breckenridge, Colorado is a hub for every outdoor sport that you can imagine. The Rocky Mountain scenery is incredible. It has world-class skiing, hiking, fishing, and kayaking. The area has a population of 31,007.

According to Crunchbase, you’ll find startups like –

  • Vaway, a vacation rental marketplace
  • Tomorrow Holding, a fiber reactor technology firm
  • Area 101, a professional food service firm

19. Tupelo, MS Micro Area

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New Businesses: 247

Tupelo, Mississippi is the hub of North Mississippi with an area population of 140,552. It’s the smallest city in America with two banks with more than $10 billion in assets.

Unlike many small towns, it has a thriving downtown with a strong balance of businesses and an independent spirit. You’ll also find growing startups such as –

  • Central Services Association, an IT firm focusing on utility management
  • Malco Theaters, a family-owned cinema firm

18. Summit Park, UT Micro Area

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New Businesses: 247

Summit Park has an area population of 41,933 and is known as the “richest small town in America.” Nestled in the Uinta mountain range, many of the homes are vacation homes, but it is also a hub for consultants and wealthy remote workers.

17. Sevierville, TN Micro Area

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New Businesses: 247

The Sevierville, Tennessee area has a population of 97,892 and is a mountain vacation hub on the East Coast. It’s surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains with world-class hiking, fishing, and kayaking.

In addition to tourism-based startups, Sevierville is home to stratups such as –

  • Carp Data Service, a data analysis firm
  • Comfort Flow, an orthopedic dog bed firm

16. Jackson, WY-ID Micro Area

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New Businesses: 251

The Jackson, Wyoming area has a population of 34,721 and has played an outsized role in America’s history. It’s surrounded by two of America’s most iconic National Parks with the Rocky Mountains forming a bowl around the city.

The small city is a mini-hub for a range of startups like –

  • DMOS Collective, a provider of collapsible stealth and alpha shovels
  • Odyssey Sensors, an ag-tech company
  • Video Science, a video chat service for the healthcare industry

15. Brainerd, MN Micro Area

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New Businesses: 251

The Brainerd, Minnesota area has a population of 94,408 and a deep history with railroads, logging, mining – and now, tourism. It has a wealth of lakes and deep forests in addition to a classic downtown.

Brainerd is home to startups such as –

  • Elite Motorcycle Parts, a maker of premium motorcycle parts
  • MaxBotix, a designer & manufacturer of ultrasonic sensors

14. Branson, MO Micro Area

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New Businesses: 263

The Branson, Missouri area has a population of 87,601. It is the home of Mark Twain, and the setting of many of his stories.

The startup community is focused on tourism and food.

13. Augusta-Waterville, ME Micro Area

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New Businesses: 269

The Augusta, Maine area has a population of 122,083, and is also the capital of Maine. The city lies on the Kennebec River, and is also host to the University of Maine.

The startup community includes companies like –

  • Kenway, a manufacturer of custom composite products for mining
  • Southport Boats, a maker of high performance boats

12. Truckee-Grass Valley, CA Micro Area

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New Businesses: 274

The Truckee, California area has a population of 99,696, and is a popular home for small companies moving out of the Bay area into the beautiful Sierra Mountains.

The town lies on both I-80 and the first (and main) transcontinental railroad. The startup community includes companies like –

  • bigtruck Brand, a specialist in the design, marketing, and manufacturing of hats
  • Clear Capital, a valuation company for the mortgage industry
  • 1bios, a health tracking & engagement platform for healthcare companies

11. Twin Falls, ID Micro Area

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New Businesses: 279

Twin Falls, Idaho has an area population of 110,096. The main city has grown so fast, that the Census Bureau reclassified the area as a metropolitan area in 2019.

The startup community includes companies like –

  • Plant Therapy, a direct-to-consumer supplier of essential oils
  • BestNotes, a HIPAA compliant CRM and EHR system
  • KickBack Rewards, a data entry & CRM company

10. Concord, NH Micro Area

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New Businesses: 301

The Concord, New Hampshire area has a population of 151,232, and has strong links to the Boston startup scene. It’s the capital of New Hampshire and lies on the Merrimack River.

The startup community includes companies like –

  • Bradford Networks, a maker of automated security products for enterprise & governments
  • Nanocomp, a commercial producer of carbon nanotube-based lightweight sheets, tapes, and wires
  • CoolSim, an advanced CFD-based tool available for optimizing energy consumption in data centers

9. Hilo, HI Micro Area

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New Businesses: 318

The Hilo area has a population of 200,383, and is the main city of the “big island” of Hawaii. The city lies at the base of Mauna Lea and Mauna Loa – two of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

The city has large scientific, agricultural, and tourist industries – all of which influence the startup community. Companies in Hilo include –

  • Mauna Loa Macadamias, the world’s largest processor of macadamia seeds
  • DroneFlow, a fully automated aerial inspection technology
  • Shaka Tea – a line of refreshing herbal iced teas

8. Edwards, CO Micro Area

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New Businesses: 322

The Edwards, Colorado area has a population of 54,993, and lies in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Central Colorado.

The area is a favorite of skiers and outdoor fans. The startup community is spread out & remote, but includes companies like –

  • HomeTrax, online tools for homeowners, service providers, and organizations
  • TripHero, a solution to the multi-layered problem of traveling with luggage and equipment

7. Glenwood Springs, CO Micro Area

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New Businesses: 342

The Glenwood Springs area has a population of 77,732, and is the “sister” micropolitan area to Edwards, Colorado. The city is nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley on the Colorado River. It has been named “the Most Vibrant Small Town for Arts” and the “5th Best Small Town” in America by different publications.

The startup community is very small and focused on arts & agriculture, but also includes some tech startups like Helpp, a connecting service for providers & consumers.

6. Kalispell, MT Micro Area

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New Businesses: 353

The Kalispell area has a population of 102,106, and lies nestled near both Glacier National Park (the “Crown of the Continent”) and the Canadian border.

The startup community includes companies like –

  • Roomie, a provider of better furniture options for college students
  • Counter Assault, a manufacturer of bear spray and personal protection spray
  • Expesicor, a drug discovery firm for neurological disorders

5. Torrington, CT Micro Area

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New Businesses: 382

The Torrington area has a population of 181,111, and lies within day trip distance of both New York City and Boston.

The business community includes companies like –

  • Trlby Innovative, a maker of custom impulse heat sealing equipment
  • Altek Electronics, an electronic manufacturing company providing chassis and control panels

4. Traverse City, MI Micro Area

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New Businesses: 385

The Traverse City area has a population of 149,914, and lies at the far north of Michigan’s “mitten” along Lake Michigan. The city is a top agricultural producer of cherries and other fruits. It’s regularly named as one of the best small town travel destinations and one of the best small towns to retire to.

The business community includes companies such as –

  • ATLAS Space Operations, a satellite communications service
  • DriveShare, an online marketplace for classic cars

3. Key West, FL Micro Area

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New Businesses: 387

The Key West area has a population of 75,027, and is the sourthernmost city in the continental United States. It is a hub for tourism, festivals, and tropical living.

The business community centers around consultants, travel, and tourism companies.

2. Claremont-Lebanon, NH-VT Micro Area

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New Businesses: 437

The Lebanon area has a population of 217,215, and lies in the Connecticut River Valley. It is home to the Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth Medical Center. It also has strong transport links to the Boston area, which influences its business community.

The Lebanon area is home to businesses such as –

  • Appcast, a job advertising platform
  • Adima, an antibody discovery and optimization platform
  • Avitide, a purification solutions firm for biopharmaceutical companies

1. Bozeman, MT Micro Area

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New Businesses: 536

The Bozeman area has a population of 111,876, and lies at the gateway to Yellowstone National Park along with the largest ski resorts & outdoor opportunities in the United States. The town regularly appears as the “Best Small Town in America” lists. With all the entrepreneurs & economic growth moving to Bozeman – I’m not surprised to see it top this list as well.

Bozeman is home to businesses such as –

  • Schedulicity, an online appointment scheduling platform for discovering and booking local services
  • Quiq, a customer service messaging platform
  • Absaroka Energy Company, a provider of clean renewable energy

Takeaways

I can’t criticize big cities. After all, I ended up moving to Atlanta after starting in Athens, GA. Big cities are great.

But…big cities aren’t the best option for some businesses. And the certainly aren’t the best option for many individuals. I loved this Planet Money episode explaining why.

Remote work and online tools make anywhere a good place to work. But you still need to be able to make “anywhere” work for you – and that includes being around other businesses & startups.

There are plenty of startups & small businesses in nearly every city. And as you can see from the list above, there are some small cities that have more than plenty.

Find your place, find your people, and build your business.

You can view the full list of 536 areas here.

The post Most Popular Micropolitan Areas (Small Cities) for Startups According to the US Census appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The ‘How-To’ For One Page Business Plans

The post The ‘How-To’ For One Page Business Plans appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Strikingly Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Strikingly Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Strikingly is an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping entrepreneurs get up and running online quickly and easily. They’re platform requires zero code or design skills, meaning even those with no website experience can create a good-looking site in minutes.

See Strikingly’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Strikingly a try for a full Strikingly Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Strikingly Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Strikingly lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Strikingly is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Strikingly, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Strikingly competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease of use. Strikingly offers several website templates you can customize with no coding or design experience required (more on that in a bit).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Strikingly Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Strikingly website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of the biggest pros of using Strikingly is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just two steps — enter your information, pick your theme, and you’re in!

Strikingly sign up process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Template Design / Functionality

Strikingly also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). There are a wide variety of options to choose from, and Strikingly has them broken down by niche, so you can find a template that includes the functionality your business may need.

Now, Strikingly isn’t technically drag-and-drop (where you choose from premade sections and “drop” those onto your page), but it is fairy intuitive to use. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options. It makes Strikingly a great option for entrepreneurs/ DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend much time tweaking the design themselves.

Free Trial + Free Plan

Another benefit Strikingly is their 14-day free trial and free plan.

Strikingly allows you to trial any plan (even their highest-tiered option!) for 14 days before committing. This is great for DIYers who want to give a plan a test drive before committing.

They also offer a free plan, which includes a fair amount of features when compared to competitors, such as unlimited sites and limited ecommerce functionality.

There are some cons with the free plan, such as limited storage, limited pages, having to use a subdomain (ex: yourname.strikingly.com), and extremely limited integrations — but if you’re looking for a simple site for a short-term project, this could be a solid option.

Some Product Integration

While limited, Strikingly does offer some product integration, such as ecommerce functionality and apps in their app store (which give you the ability to add maps, forms, and other functionality to your site).

product integrations in Strikingly

You can also add on custom email for an additional $25/year. One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are all part of paid plans. This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders (particularly if you went the self-hosted WordPress route).

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Strikingly as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Strikingly is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and small businesses, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with some sort of limitation, whether it be domains, the number of “pro” sites you can publish, or even storage.

Strikingly pricing plans

You also can’t access the VIP plan on the monthly payment option. Again, this isn’t inherently a con… unless you need the VIP features and want to pay monthly. Then you’re out of luck. The price also changes based on how long you commit to, which is a pro if you’re looking for a long-term solution, and a con if you’re looking for a short-term solution.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Strikingly website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and sections based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder. You can’t add anything within the premade sections, you can’t create your own sections, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Strikingly website builder website. You can embed HTML/CSS/Javascript with a pro plan, but you can’t manipulate the actual template you’re provided with.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Strikingly does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email for an additional payment. They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking (but only on Pro plans).

However, there are a ton of technical features that Strikingly doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Strikingly’s SEO features. I can edit the site title, description, and add a category and social share image. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have. There’s no options for Schema, Open Graph settings, etc. – much less highly advanced options.

Even the additional add-on products / integrations are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics or putting code into the header of your website, which again, is only available for Pro plans.

Ultimately, Strikingly leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Strikingly Review Conclusion

Strikingly makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, which makes it a great choice for DIYers who want a quick and easy way to build a nice website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.

Check out Strikingly’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Strikingly pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Strikingly fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Strikingly Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Homestead Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Homestead Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Homestead is an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping businesses build their websites quickly, so they can have an online presence. Their platform includes “ready-to-use” templates that DIYers can customize to meet their needs, or simply “plug in” their content and hit publish.

See Homestead’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Homestead a try for a full Homestead Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Homestead Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Homestead lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Homestead is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Homestead, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Homestead competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus more on getting businesses up and running not just with an easy-to-create website, but also through traffic driving strategies and consultations.

In fact – Homestead was one of the original website builders with a positively ancient history going back to the early 2000s. They, along with Blogger, helped make websites accessible to everyone regardless of HTML knowledge. Their product has evolved over time, but they are still ticking.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Homestead Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Homestead website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Template Design / Functionality

Homestead offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer), which makes the website builder a solid option for a variety of niches.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with just how many templates Homestead offers and how well designed they are. When I was first doing research, I checked out their sample templates. These looked… outdated… to say the least.

Once you actually get inside the platform, the template selections are great.

Speaking of being inside the platform, let’s talk about functionality. The Homestead Website Builder is incredibly easy to use. When you first log into the platform, they offer a quick tutorial of how to use the features.

The whole set up is incredibly intuitive. You can add new sections (pre-made or blank), drag and drop different elements like photos, buttons, text, etc, and customize the existing template to match your branding.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having accessible design options.

It makes Homestead a great option for entrepreneurs/ DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend hours trying to figure out how to tweak the design themselves.

Free 30-Day Trial

Another benefit Homestead is their 30-day free trial.

Homestead allows you to trial any plan (even their highest-tiered option!) for 30 days before committing. This is great for DIYers who want to give a plan a test drive before committing.

It is important to note, however, that your subscription will automatically renew, which means if you don’t cancel within 30 days, your card will automatically be charged.

Homestead sign up credit card info

This isn’t necessarily a “con”, but it something to be aware of if you’re just testing out the builder.

Some Product Integration

While limited, Homestead does offer some product integration, such as ecommerce functionality and domains / email.

One thing to note — these additional integrations / functionality are either part of paid plans or require additional fees. This isn’t necessarily a con, but it is something to pay attention to… especially because you can find a lot of this functionality for less with other website builders.

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Homestead as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

Perhaps the biggest con with Homestead’s website builder is their pricing and plan structure.

All of their plans come with storage caps, which means you’re limited to the photos, documents, files, etc. you store on your website. Their plans also limit bandwidth across all tiers.

Homestead Pricing

There are also some significant fees for add-ons and advanced features on top of the paid plans. When you compare Homestead to other all-inclusive website builders, they’re definitely on the pricier side for similar features and less storage.

Design & Branding

Trust is a huge factor when choosing a website builder (or any other website product). You want to know that whoever you’re doing business with (and giving your credit card to) is a legitimate company who is going to stand by their offer.

Trust comes in many forms — word of mouth, reviews, years of existence, etc. — but it also comes via design and branding. If a business doesn’t look particularly trustworthy or credible based on their website design, it leaves you wondering… ESPECIALLY when you’re using them to build your website design.

While we didn’t have any issues with Homestead in terms of getting started with their website builder, their website design and branding does leave something to be desired. They haven’t quite kept up with the times, and it actually made me doubt that their template designs would be worth using.

homestead branding

Limited Feature Set – Technical

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.

Now, as I mentioned above, Homestead does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email for an additional payment.

They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking, and even offer some ecommerce functionality.

However, there are a ton of technical features that Homestead doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Homestead’s Advanced settings. I can edit the site meta tags and header tags, and hide the site from search engines. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in. There’s no options for Schema, Open Graph settings, etc. – much less highly advanced options.

Even the additional add-on products / integrations are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and or adding social share functionality. Even their traffic generating / SEO service add-on sounds… less than ideal.

homestead seo add on servie

Ultimately, Homestead leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Homestead Review Conclusion

Homestead has well-designed templates that allow for quite a bit of customization when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They make getting a good-looking website up and running fairly easy.

Check out Homestead’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Homestead’s pricing leaves a lot to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations AND the extra fees for add-ons, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability for less cost, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Homestead fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Homestead Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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9+ Best Professional Personal Website Examples for Inspiration

9+ Best Professional Personal Website Examples for Inspiration

So you’re creating a personal website, and you’re looking for professional personal website design examples for inspiration and guidance. You’re also wondering which website platform is best to use for your website.

But before we dive into examples of what professional personal websites look like in the wild on a variety of website builders and hosting platforms, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too.

Think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at a professional personal website examples should be done in the same way. We collected the following website examples not just to show you how they look on different platforms, but how they can function, so you can be sure you create a website that fits both the look and functionality you need!

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgement as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Best Professional Personal Website Examples

We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, when you’re looking to build a professional personal website, remember that you’re not just thinking about making the site look good. You want to think about what your site actually needs to do, and find a platform that supports all of your needs.

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg

Software: Squarespace

Hosting: Squarespace

This professional personal website stands out for a few reasons. First, check out the homepage. The clear navigation + simple header image (with a strong call to action button!) make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need.

Next, the portfolio page is a great example of using a card layout with images and text to display your work.

Susannah Rigg Portfolio

If you’re wondering how to structure your professional personal website in a way that’s intuitive, clear, and polished, this site is a great place to start for inspiration (especially if you have work or content to display).

Brian Smith

brian smith website example

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Unified Layer

What stands out about this professional personal website is how simple yet effective it is. As soon as your arrive on Brian Smith’s homepage, you know exactly what he’s offering (keynote speaking).

We also liked how the website spells out why you should book him to speak. As you scroll down the page, Brian includes some short copy about what he brings to the table and why the audience would want to hear from him.

Brian smith speaking

This, combined with the logos underneath, is a great way to build in added credibility.

If you’re looking for a way to position your expertise in a way that’s simple and clear, this website is a great place to start for inspiration.

Rational Reminder (Benjamin Felix)

Rational Reminder

Software: Squarespace

Hosting: Squarespace

This professional personal website takes a unique approach. Benjamin Felix uses his website for his podcast and thought leadership content around investing.

His homepage is a collection of episodes from the podcast, and as you dive deeper into the site, you can learn more about him, investing information, and his firm.

This is a great example to use if you have content you want to display, but also want an easy way to tie it back into your company (his Find an Investor page gives information on how to work with his firm — genius!).

Ian Enders

Ian Enders

Software: Minimally-built website

Hosting: Amazon Web Services

A professional personal website doesn’t need to be a multi-page, in-depth site. In fact, this is a great example of how a single-page site can be incredibly effective for someone who wants to just give a brief overview and link out to other information.

We also liked how Ian showcases his personality in the copy, and added an extra piece of customization with the sketch of him (instead of using a photo). Remember that your personal website should show off YOU personally — which means including a bit of your personality throughout.

Dave Horak

Dave Horak

Software: Weebly

Hosting: Weebly

Speaking of showing off your personality… oftentimes, people get so focused on design that they tend to forget that what really matters on a professional personal website is, well, you.

Dave’s site is a great example of how you can build your personal brand and showcase your work without a ton of flair (in fact, great copy will do the trick).

If you’re looking for a simple layout that gives you the opportunity to tell everyone what you’re all about, this one will do the trick.

Meghan Kreidler

Meghan Kreidler website

Software: Wix

Hosting: Wix

When showcasing your personality and creativity on your professional personal website, you don’t want to sacrifice clarity in the name of creativity. Meghan’s website includes the right balance of both.

The navigation changes the main box content, making it easy to read about who she is, what she does, and what she’s done.

If you’re looking for an easy way to put your work and experience out into the world, this layout does the trick.

Heath Fogg Davis

Heath Fogg Davis

Software: WordPress.com

Hosting: WordPress

This professional personal website is another example of a straightforward, intuitive website that’s easy to navigate, clear, and gives visitors all of the information they need to learn about you, your qualifications, and your thought leadership.

We particularly liked how Heath lays out his content:

Heath Fogg Davis thought leadership

Buy using short paragraphs with “Read More” buttons, visitors can easily skim his information and choose to dive deeper into what pertains to them.

Jasmine Star

Jasmine Star

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Amazon

If you’re looking for a more creative approach to your professional personal website, check out this example by Jasmine Star. She takes a different approach than the examples we’ve seen so far. Her site is bright, with large text and plenty of photos. It’s a slightly more creative, yet still polished, look.

We also liked how Jasmine positions herself on her site. When you ARE your brand, there needs to be a lot of, well, you on the site. If you’re wanting to creating a professional personal website for your personal brand, this is a great example to use for inspiration.

Rita Gunther McGrath

Rita Gunther McGrath

Software: Self-Hosted WordPress

Hosting: Peak10

What stood out to us about this professional personal website is how Rita uses a video background header to show her speak. This, combined with a strong headline and call-to-action to learn more, immediately draws visitors in and positions her as an expert.

We also liked how Rita includes a short bio on the homepage:

Rita Gunther McGrath Bio

This is a great way to give visitors an overview of your achievements before inviting them to connect with you further.

Next Steps

Now that you have some inspiration in terms of the design, colors, and functionality you may want in your event website, where do you go from here?

Well, it really depends on where you are in your event website building journey!

If you’re ready to decide on a website builder, check out my guide to choosing a website builder here.

If you’re looking to go DIY with a specific template to match your design and functionality needs, check out my Build a Personal Website: Templates, Design, and Setup Guide.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how to market your personal website, check out my guide to creating a local marketing strategy (yes, personal websites need marketing, too!).

The post 9+ Best Professional Personal Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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