Modern Startup: Building a website for your business

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In our previous edition of Modern Startup, we explored business banking options for Canadians. Today we're examining another critical business need - building and maintaining a website.

Every business needs a website.

Whether you're a one-woman freelance operation or a business employing hundreds of people, one of the first ways people will interact with you is through your presence on the internet. That's why it's important to put your best foot forward, and have a professional website that's beautiful, functional, and easy to use on any device - phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

Of course, your options for creating a website are as vast as the internet itself, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the choices available. That's why we've narrowed it down to two (more or less) paths that will both get you where you need to be, albeit with very different approaches.

If you're thinking of coding a website by hand, you might as well be chiseling HTML onto a stone tablet - it's possible, but not recommended. These days, you'll want to use what's known as a CMS - a Content Management System - to build and design your website, and the two most popular options are Squarespace and WordPress.

SQUARESPACE - A BEAUTIFUL WALLED GARDEN

If you're the type of person who wants an all-in-one solution with an absolute minimum amount of fuss, you want Squarespace. Squarespace combines an incredibly user-friendly CMS with rock-solid web hosting for as low as $8 a month (USD). They have templates geared to specific types of businesses (like restaurants and musicians), or specific use cases (like portfolios for freelancers), and the templates are easily customizable with drag-and-drop tools that let you put your own individual stamp on your website. All their templates are built with responsive design in mind, meaning your website will be optimized for any size screen, from a smartphone all the way up to a giant desktop monitor.

Squarespace has tons of great video tutorials and articles to help you get started, and if you run into trouble, they also offer 24/7 online support. Because they control the CMS and the hosting, you never have to worry about plugins or software updates or compatibility issues - they handle all that stuff for you.

Squarespace's strengths are also its weaknesses. Because it's an all-in-one platform, you're not free to shop around for a cheaper hosting solution - it's one price for CMS and hosting together. Also, you're limited to only the features and templates that Squarespace offers, with no option to add 3rd party plugins for additional functionality and customization. They do offer a developer platform for advanced users, but once you're on it, you cut yourself off from updates and most support options: basically, it's a "use at your own risk" option. Otherwise, trying to take even a single step outside their walled garden involves an arcane series of code injections that may or may not actually work, and is strongly discouraged. That said, the overwhelming majority of people will be more than happy with what Squarespace offers and won't have any desire to push the boundaries.

WORDPRESS - A POWERFUL OPEN PLATFORM

If you're willing to get your hands dirty and you want the ability to tinker and customize to your heart's content, WordPress is the web building solution for you. WordPress is arguably the most popular CMS in the world, and it has two major points in its favour: it's an open platform - which means anyone can build WordPress-compatible tools, templates, and plugins - and it's completely free to use. Your WordPress site can be as simple or as complex as you want, and with thousands of customizations to choose from, you can endlessly tweak your site until it's exactly the way you want it.

Because WordPress is so popular, there's a wealth of information on the internet to help you get up and running, with plenty of YouTube tutorials and "how-to" guides from actual WordPress users. When most people talk about WordPress, they're referring to self-hosted WordPress, which means that unlike Squarespace (which combines CMS and hosting), you'll have to shop around for your own web host. On the upside, this is almost universally cheaper than Squarespace. On the downside, there's a lot of variability between hosts when it comes to speed, reliability, uptime, etc.

That's where we start getting into the "problems with WordPress" section, which sees its strengths become its weaknesses just like with Squarespace. The other side of the "infinite options" coin is infinite variation in consistency and reliability, from "rock-solid" to "absolutely unusable." When you're an open platform, anyone can develop a tool or plugin, of any level of quality. Some 3rd party customizations may not be compatible with other ones, and if you try to load them together, they could slow down or seriously break your site. You’ll also need to be on top of any updates and patches to any plugins you use as well as the WordPress CMS itself. There's also a much steeper learning curve that comes with having so many options.

 

After taking everything into consideration, both of these great options will get you what you need - a functioning website - but whether you choose the safe, beautiful confines of Squarespace or the powerful yet oft-confusing open world of WordPress is ultimately up to you.