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Build a Website Without Going Broke

When Karla Pankow decided to kick off her farm business a few years ago, the seeds, equipment and transportation costs quickly whittled down her startup budget. But she still hadn't built a website.

"Having a professional-looking site for customers felt important, and it would give me a central location for all the information I wanted to share," she says. "At the same time, I didn't want to skimp on other, more necessary expenses just to put a website in place."

Using free and low-cost tools, she was able to stretch her marketing dollars and give her farm, Bossy Acres, a digital presence. "When it came to building a site for our business, planning and simplicity made a big difference, especially for spending our money wisely," Pankow says.

To follow her lead and get bossy (and budget-friendly) with your own website efforts, consider these tips:

1. Set Goals First

Before jumping into creating a site with affordable tools, it's best to take a step back and think about what you want to achieve, advises Jon Bauer, integrated marketing manager at custom software design and development firm The Nerdery. "Determine your business goals," he says. "This is necessary whether you're a one-person company or a gigantic corporation. It's essential to understand your ultimate goal and limit the scope of your project to that."

2. Keep It Simple

With so many apps, functions and features you can add, it may be tempting to put as much on your site as possible. You can include calculators, social media feeds, mobile plug-ins and video players. Resist the temptation. "This is a very easy way to blow the budget and scope of your website, while also making it difficult for your visitors to accomplish what you want them to do," says Bauer.

"Generally speaking," Bauer adds, "the more complex your site is, the more that can go wrong, and the more it will probably cost to maintain."

3. Consider Outsourcing the Task

While building the site on your own may help your short-term budget, it may be worth some upfront investment to prevent long-term frustration.

For example, Pankow says that when she wanted to add payment services to the Bossy Acres site, it took several days of research and setup, even though the payment firms she used promised "fast and easy" web placement and bank account links. "In the end, I wish I'd just hired someone, because then I would have felt like it was done correctly from the start," she says.

Outsourcing can also be affordable, adds Jonathan Perez, founder of Sure Fire Web Services. Some hosting firms offer packages to new businesses that keep costs under control. Also, having a conversation upfront about expectations and outcome can make both developer and client happy with the final product — and the final bill. "Any good design and development firm will work with you based on what you need and what your budget constraints might be," says Perez.

Whether you're building a business website on your own, or planning to ship off some of the online construction to a professional, the basics remain the same: know your mission, use well-known tools and stick with design and content that will be easy to maintain.

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