Which platform should you build your website on?

When you first set up your Virtual Assistant business it can feel like you have a million decisions to make – and one of these will be where to set up and build your shiny new website so you can get found online. Because there are so many options to choose from, I’ve outlined the pros and cons of each one to prevent your brain from exploding.

Although I’ve made it sound like you have loads of choices, you actually start with just two: whether to build your website on one of the many ‘all-in-one’ hosted publishing platforms or whether to ‘self-host’ it.

Let me explain the difference.

Hosted platforms

Hosted platforms are where you get everything all in one place. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and WordPress.com are the main players but there are others in the marketplace including companies that sell domain names and hosting such as GoDaddy and 123-reg.

(WordPress.org is a self-hosted platform which I discuss later in the post).

Pros of using a hosted platform

They’re relatively easy to set up and maintain

Because hosted platforms generally have a drag and drop interface, you can just add and move elements around to create a design that suits you. The platform will also take care of any software updates.

You get a free domain name and can connect a custom domain

Every hosted platform will give you a website URL but in the free versions, it will be something like www.nameofyourbusiness.wixsite.com. These types of URLs look really unprofessional so you definitely need to upgrade to get a custom one. This just means that your site URL will be www.nameofyourbusiness.com (or co.uk, org, net etc) instead.

The reason it’s important to have a custom URL is that clients will be reluctant to invest in anyone who hasn’t even invested in themselves. People are less likely to hand over money to someone who doesn’t have a professional website as they might not be a ‘proper’ business.

With hosted platforms, you also have the ability to connect a custom domain name that you may have already bought from another site such as GoDaddy or 123-reg etc.

They come with lots of extra add-ons

Depending on the platform, these extras can include SEO, analytics, favicon, video backgrounds, stock images, newsletters and the ability to customise fonts.

Everything is in one place

The selling point of these done-for-you platforms is that they’re a one-stop shop. You only have one platform to learn, one place to log into and one company to pay.

Cons of using a hosted platform

Hidden costs

Because of everything I’ve just mentioned above, you will pay over the odds for the “ease” of having everything done for you in one place.

Most of the extra built-in features such as SEO, hosting, domain names, analytics, stock images and newsletter options are actually totally free (or at least much cheaper) if you get them separately from somewhere else.

Also, often the site will say you get a free domain name (for example), but it’s actually just a voucher for one year and then you have to pay for it annually. This means they can charge you whatever they like because they know you’re unlikely to move your website once you’ve set it up on their platform.

Adverts on basic plans

For the same reasons you need a professional URL, you simply cannot have “powered by platformname” or any adverts on your professional business website which means you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan in order to remove the platform’s branding.

This is your online shop and if a potential client suspects your business is a “side hustle” (a term I absolutely detest) and that you don’t take it seriously, they’ll assume you won’t take their business seriously either.

You can’t always change the template

You can switch templates with Weebly and Squarespace but once you’ve chosen a template on Wix, you can’t change it. You can edit and customize it but you can’t choose a completely new design. So you’re basically stuck with a design that you can’t change if you later decide to rebrand or one that could look horribly dated within a few years.

You have to accept the boundaries of their features

I’m not sure about the other platforms but if Wix suddenly discontinues a feature then you have no choice but to move to the new version – which you might not like if it’s missing some of the features of the old one.

They don’t always look good on a mobile

I’ve read a few complaints from users who say they can’t get their site to look good with the Weebly mobile-responsive templates. Although Wix and Squarespace don’t seem to have this issue, with so many people using their phone to browse the web, it’s essential to check that your site is actually mobile-friendly.

Limited storage

Although you do get some storage, it’s not that much. This means that if your needs change and you want to later upgrade aspects of your site then you will have to pay more.

Making you upgrade for various reasons is how hosted sites make their money.

Poor support

You need to have reliable support which is why I always recommend paying for premium subscriptions for tools that are essential to your business. If something happens to your website and you can’t quickly hop on an online chat with customer service then you could end up tearing your hair out for two days while you wait for someone to reply to your support ticket.

Everything is in one place

These platforms make it difficult for you to move your domain name and hosting away from them. So if you have your domain name with one company and your hosting with another then you’ll run less risk of damaging your business should something happen to either one.

You don’t own your own website

Because hosted platforms own all of your content (including newsletter signup email addresses) as well as your domain name and hosting, they can shut down your website at any time. This one is the deal-breaker for me. I hate the idea that a company could go bankrupt or have technical issues and my entire business could disappear in an instant.

Self-hosted platforms

A self-hosted site is where you build a website using the software of your own choosing and then pay a separate hosting company to store it. This means you have access to all of your site files as well as the servers where they are kept.

The best-known self-hosting platform is WordPress.org.

Pros of using a WordPress website

Flexibility

You get to choose everything from the theme and layout to the font and colours. There literally isn’t a single thing you can’t customise or choose yourself.

Virtual Assistants are usually total control freaks so this may be important to you!

It also uses drag and drop

To reflect the drag and drop functionality of all in one hosted platforms, WordPress rolled out their drag and drop “Gutenberg” editor in 2019.

You own it

If you become unhappy with your hosting company because their prices keep going up or their service keeps going down, you can simply move your hosting elsewhere.

Greater functionality and choice

You have access to a huge number of themes and plugins so you can have all the features that a hosted platform offers. Although you can often pay to upgrade to premium versions, the free plugins are fine and will have been tested for their compatibility with the current version of WordPress.

There is also a wide range of plugins that do similar things so you can select the best one for your individual needs.

Mobile-friendly themes

When you pick your WordPress theme you can clearly see if it’s responsive (mobile-friendly) and you can also search through literally hundreds of mobile themes to pick the one you like best.

You can change your theme at the click of a mouse and you can even see a preview of what your site will look like with the new theme before you commit to it.

You can hand-code them

You need to know how to code to do this obviously, but there are loads of free online courses if this is something that appeals to you. I actually know many VAs who learned some basic coding and ended up enjoying it so much that they took advanced courses and now offer web development as a service.

It doesn’t really matter whether you can code or not, the point is that someone who knows how to code can tailor every aspect of your site!

They’re cheaper

To set up a WordPress website you just need to buy a domain name and sort out hosting. You pay for both of these things annually and unless you pay for any premium plugins, these costs will roughly remain the same year on year. You’re also not going to be held hostage because you could move both of these things to other companies if you want to.

Cons of using a WordPress website

Perceived steeper learning curve

I think because WordPress has a reputation for being the most professional website building platform, people think it must be harder to learn. I’m not sure that it is though.

You’re going to have to learn how to use one of these platforms so I personally think it makes more sense to learn the one that will deliver the most flexibility and choice for the lifespan of your website.

It’s all down to you

It will be your responsibility to update and fix the site which you may not be comfortable doing. Some VAs love the challenge but others don’t want to do this at all. You will also need to ensure your site is updated, secure, backed up regularly, GDPR-compliant and that all the plugins are up to date.

I pay a freelance web developer to help me with my own sites. I know quite a bit about WordPress but if I have any problems, I’m busy or there’s something that I don’t know how to do, then I get my developer to sort it for me. My VA also knows a lot about WordPress so she helps me as well.

Should you get someone else to build your website?

You may decide that you can’t be bothered with any of this and get a website developer to create your site for you. Although a developer can advise you on self-hosted vs hosted, you now have some facts at your disposal so you aren’t relying on their personal opinion or requesting a site without knowing what you’re asking for.

There is absolutely no shame in getting a developer or a website-savvy VA to build your site for you. It’s a very common practice; you have enough on your plate as it as it is and if you’re not interested in websites and have the money, then just outsource the job instead.

Conclusion

Because you control every aspect, own the content and aren’t reliant on some else’s business model, I personally think that self-hosted websites are the way to go. All of my websites have been built on WordPress.org and I like the flexibility, being in control of every decision and knowing what my costs are.

But the decision of where to build your site really is down to you and there is no right or wrong choice. My job is to give you all the facts so you can make an informed decision based on your own individual needs and budget.

So whether you pick WordPress, go for an all-in-one hosted option or decide to get someone else to sort it all out for you, my advice is to do your research so you know what you are (and aren’t) getting and then make a decision based on your long-term aims rather than what’s easiest to do right now.

Resources

  • If you want to build your own website then I have a beginners WordPress course that shows you how – the first section is even free.
  • If you want to go with an all-in-one hosted site then head to the most popular platform which is Wix, sign up for a Premium Plan, pick a theme and start building. They have lots of tutorials here on their YouTube channel.
  • You’ll need to provide your own website policies on a self-hosted platform. I have a 3-doc legal bundle containing cookie, terms of use, and privacy policies if you need them. Should the laws around any of these policies change, then you will be emailed updated versions free of charge.
  • Make sure you tell Google you have a website by adding it to Google Webmasters and install Google Analytics so you know how people are finding and using your site.
  • Register your website with Uptime Robot. It’s free and they send you an email if your site goes down.
  • If you’re struggling with any aspects of your current website such as hosting, structure, what to write and whether you should display your prices, here’s everything I’ve ever written on websites to date.

* I am an affiliate for Wix which means I get a small commission if you decide to sign up for a pro plan.

 

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