While I looooooove working with clients one-on-one to create amazing online spaces.. I DO think there’s a ton of good reason for branding and building your website yourself – DIY style! That’s why I created this DIY website guide – to walk you through my process of creating your very own website.
First off.. why would you DIY your own website?
1. I think the biggest reason to do it yourself is most often financial. It can be expensive to hire someone to create a website for you – from the graphics to the development side of things. When you’re first starting out, handing over a large chunk of cash and wading into unknown waters can be scary – or just straight up out of the budget.
2. When you build your website yourself, you have a TON more control for down the road. You might not want to go back and pay your designer every.time. you want something updated or changed on your website. When you create it yourself from the get-go, you can more easily change things around as your business changes and evolves.
3. Some people just WANT to do this part of their business – it can be really fun and creative, so why not dig in and do it yourself? That’s how I got started on my career as a web designer – from building my OWN website for the first time almost 12 years ago!
There are other reasons, of course, but these are the ones I hear about the most.
For whatever reason you decide to do it yourself, building your own website can be overwhelming, confusing, frustrating and extremely time consuming. But, this might be your only option.. you HAVE to get your business online (like yesterday) and so you’re ready to dive in and get it done.
Below you’ll find my DIY website guide, that walks you through the main steps I take when creating a new webspace for a client.
These are also the steps I’ve taught in a brand + website building class that I used to teach.
Of course, every project is different, with distinct needs and objectives – so skip over anything you don’t need and add in anything that you do.
THE DIY WEBSITE GUIDE
1. Have clarity about your WHY
ALWAYS start here. Before picking a theme, designing a logo, or writing up copy. You must have a deep understanding about WHY you created this business.
What inspires you about it? What do you solve for people? What makes your business unique? What results to do you provide for your customers? Take the time to dive in and fully articulate this for yourself.
2. Know your DREAM audience
Your audience is who’s going to pay the bills, right? They are also part of the WHY. Because of them is why you’re pushing yourself to get this off the ground – so you can make a difference and do something that matters, right?
So invest the time to define your audience – but not just any audience, the one that you MOST want to work with. Really get to know who they are. What matters to them? What kind of life do they live and what is the life they dream about? Kids, no kids? Married, purposefully single? Where do they live? How old are they? What are their struggles and concerns?
What do they need (that YOU are going to give them)?
These are important questions to ask if you’re going to create a web platform that RESONATES and connects with the people you most want to work with.
Need help with this? Check out my course, The Brand Clarity Workshop, which will guide you through the process of creating your own BOLD, inspiring brand.
3. Make a moodboard
Next, I like to put together a moodboard for the business. Moodboards are a great tool to help you translate the conceptual idea of your brand into a visual story that will communicate the spirit and heart and of your business – TO those ideal customers you got to know in step #2.
These are some of the moodboards I created for my brand quiz, which if you haven’t taken will give you some great insight into your brand.
4. Choose your branding elements
Once you have some clarity about the heart and soul of your brand and the overall MOOD, you can then start creating the branding elements that will help you tell the VISUAL STORY of your brand.
Your basic brand elements will be your color and font choices, any patterns and symbols you plan to use, and the images that evoke the spirit of your brand.
You’ll also need a logo, but I don’t usually create this yet for clients. What I’m working on in this step is coming up with a visual palette as a starting point for the overall design process. (We’ll get to the logo later.)
5. Create a brand guide for your business
This doesn’t have to be super fancy, so don’t fret over it! But, once you’ve selected your basic branding elements, the next step is to put them together – all in one place – so you have them at the ready.
Include on your brand guide the hex codes for your colors (you’re going to need them!), the names of the fonts you’ve chosen, notes about the type of graphics you’re after – maybe some examples, and the type of images you plan to use.
Here are some examples of brand guides to give you an idea:
6. Know the PURPOSE of your website
Now that you have the foundation of your brand, you can start to move into website building. The first step to creating a GREAT website is to know and fully understand the PURPOSE behind it.
Is your purpose to book more clients? Build up your list? Establish your expertise? Create a community? Sell more of what you make?
It’s likely not just ONE thing, but there’s a reason for YOUR unique business to need a website. You’re going to want to get that firmly established first so you make sure you build a website that fulfills the needs of your business.
7. Collect ideas and inspiration
Next, you’re going to research other businesses that have websites that fulfill the above purpose. How do they put their content together? How is their website organized? What TYPE of content do they have? What’s special and unique about their website that is helping them accomplish their goals?
You’re also going to look for DESIGN inspiration. This is different than the above, because the CONTENT doesn’t matter as much – you can research and get inspired from any industry – what you’re looking for are VISUAL elements that match what you’re wanting to create.
For both of these – the content and structural research and the visual research – take some notes about what you like, what’s working AND what you don’t like about each website so you can make YOUR space way better (and “borrow” from what others are doing that really works).
Pinterest is a good place to look for ideas and there are TONS of websites devoted to showing off great design – so grab your friend google and make a research date.
A pitfall – don’t get lost in the rabbit hole of bright and shiny new ideas. It’s super easy to do and there are many quality websites out there. Find 3-5 that you love and move on to creating YOUR awesome website.
8. Overall Planning
This is when you’re going to write down and list out ALL of the content that you’re going to need for your website.
For sure you’ll want the basics – your home, an about page, contact and a services/offers page. Then, you might also want a blog.
Next – dig in a little deeper – do you need more than one page for your services? And how will you organize those? Do you need a “thank you page” after someone buys or registers for something?
This step requires your to …s.l.o.w. t.h.i.n.g.s. d.o.w.n…. quite a bit. You need to think through your whole process of booking clients or making sales – your whole sales flow and what content you’re going to have to create – every.step.of.the.way.
Get a pen and paper and write it all out and then figure out the best way to organize all of this inside of your website’s navigation. Phew! This one takes some brain power!
9. Plan out your home page
Before you even think about design – you have to think about structure. What does your business need – right on the homepage?
You can use the info you gathered from your research in step #7 and the planning from step #8 to come up with an ARCHITECTURE game plan for your home page.
Do you need a slider? Feature boxes? An opt-in for your people to sign up to your newsletter? Do you want a small About section?
Map out your homepage STRUCTURE first. I would actually draw it out on a piece of paper – it doesn’t have to be pretty.. just so you have something to work with when you begin to actually BUILD.
This is what I mean.. I drew out the framework of my homepage – not worried yet about how it’s all going to look – just wanting to know what content is going to go where.
10. Choose your platform + hosting
My suggestion is that you wait to choose your platform until you’ve done all of the above. Why? Because you want to have an idea about what all your website is going to need BEFORE spending money or wasting time on a platform that won’t accomplish your website needs.
I’ve only dabbled with Squarespace a little, but their designs are gorgeous, it’s easy to use, and it’s affordable. One of the pitfalls is that they only offer basic integrations – so to do things like run a webinar, have a membership site, etc – you’ll most likely need a 3rd party provider, or you’ll need to feel confident enough to hack the system.
3rd party providers can get expensive and don’t always play nice with each other – giving you a bigger headache than you might be ready for.
But Squarespace is a great choice if you just need the basics to run your business online OR you don’t mind paying extra for stuff down the road.
I use wordpress for all of my clients websites, and wordpress is what I teach inside of The Bold Brand Intensive. The thing I like about wordpress is that it’s VERY affordable and it’s crazy customizable – really the sky’s the limit about what you can have your website do.
The drawback is that wordpress is more of learning curve, you have to stay on top of your maintenance and you can’t be afraid of a little tech stuff to get your site exactly how you want it.
The reason I say to wait until now to decide is that if you’ve done the previous steps – you should have a pretty good idea of what your business needs. You can peek over at Squarespace and see if they have the features you’re after, and if not… I would definitely recommend going with WordPress.
If you go with WordPress, you’ll also have to secure hosting. I recommend either Flywheel or Hostgator. Both have really great customer support and very little downtime. Flywheel is a bit more expensive, but they provide a top notch service with some better features than Hostgator. But I’ve hosted my own website with Hostgator for YEARS without any issues.
11. Purchase your domain name if you don’t already have one
Most hosting providers will include this when you sign up, or can do it for you for a small extra fee directly through them. It can be a bit cheaper to purchase your domain through something like Namecheap. But then you’ll have to take an extra step to point your nameservers to your host. It’s easy, but a little intimidating at first. This link should get you started.
12. Choose your theme
Once you have your platform and hosting set up – you can go to work choosing your theme. The theme is what gives you your basic design framework.
Whichever platform you’re working with – the thing you’re looking for with your THEME is something that is going to allow you to have the site you REALLY want with the least amount of work possible.
So, on Squarespace, look at the layout and the structure of each theme. You can easily change the fonts and colors and images to match YOUR brand, but it might be a little more of a challenge to change the layout and the different features of specific themes.
You CAN go in and fully customize with a developer account in Squarespace, but if you don’t want to learn that stuff.. then go with EASY.
Same advice here with wordpress. You can choose from literally THOUSANDS of themes for free in the wordress backend, or you can buy a premium theme.
I absolutely recommend you buy a premium theme! It’s just going to be BETTER. Less buggy issues, more functionality, better customization options, more support available, etc.
Some premium themes are better than others.. so do your homework. Ask what other people are using, read reviews, snoop out the support they provide, etc.
The Divi Theme just had a snazzy new upgrade that makes editing your pages much easier than before. It’s very popular with other entrepreneurs and has a nice support forum.
Total is the theme I use to build 98% of my client sites – I love that it’s SUPER customizable without having to code AND it’s a one time, very affordable purchase. It has an excellent front end editor so you can see the changes you’re making WHILE you’re working on them. Total is also the theme I recommend and teach how to use in The Bold Brand Intensive.
13. Design (or hire someone) to create your logo
I advise you to wait until now to get this done because your theme may require you to use specific dimensions, or a certain type of layout may work better – like a stacked, centered logo at the top of the page, or a longer, shorter logo at the top left.
So, wait to create your logo until you’ve gotten this far. You can create something yourself in a program like Canva, or search around for something you like in Creative Market, or hire someone to do this part of your design for you.
Counter to what many designers will say, I DON’T think your logo is the most important part of your brand. A very simple, text based logo can EASILY get the job done, especially on a website.
On your website, the overall branding, your message, the clarity, how you direct people toward hiring you… all of that will perform MUCH stronger for you than a logo.
So, don’t spend a fortune on this step unless you’re READY for this next level of branding. When you’re just starting out – totally not needed. And simple is going to look much more polished than trying to create something outside of your design skills.
14. Gather your images
Way before you actually get here, you might want to plan a photo shoot with a photographer who’s work you love – so that it will happen at this point in your process. Professional photos can SERIOUSLY make your website come together in a gigantic way.
Doing all of the above planning work will help you create a super useful set of images. You’ll get the shots you need and they will all FEEL more on brand and can help you tell your brand story.
You may also need stock images for your site. There are tons free and paid resources out there – having cruddy photos should NEVER be happening on your website! I’ve gathered a list of photo sources I like to use in my free resource guide. There’s also a bunch of other stuff you might find useful for your website in that guide!
15. Write all of your content
At a bare minimum, write out all of the content for your homepage. You want it all ready before you start building, so you know what you’re working with. Go back to your homepage plan in step #9 and write the content for all of the sections you’re wanting/needing on your homepage.
You can hold off writing your other content until you get there, or you might find it freeing to just get it all READY to go. Once you put the content live on the page, you can edit and fine tune as you go.
16. Time to Start building your home page!
Finally! Time to dive in. The first thing you’ll want to create are the main elements that will be on every page of your website – your header, the navigation and your footer.
Once you have those three things done, then you’ll design the content section of your homepage – based on the planning you did in step #9.
Stay on brand. Stay on brand. Stay on brand. I can’t say it enough. Keep things tight, purposeful and stick with the plan you created in your brand guide (step #5).
I’m currently working on some templates that will part of the bonus items in the next Bold Brand Intensive. I set up the structure of the website and then VERY purposefully only use the branding elements from one of my brand quiz personalities. The result? A cohesive, awesome website that feels like a real BRAND.
You can see 2 examples here:
Utilize the support forum and how to videos for your theme to save yourself time figuring stuff out. And, when in doubt.. google will quickly become your new BFF. 🙂
17. Build your other pages
Now that you have your home page created – many design decisions will have been made. The overall tone, mood, and visual story will be in place. This will make creating the rest of your pages MUCH easier.
Get to work buiding your about page, services page(s), any sales pages that you’ll need, your portfolio, contact page, etc.
I HIGHLY recommend that you do that same deep thinking and planning work you did with your homepage (step #9) for all of your other pages – especially your sales pages AND the process you’ll set up to move people through the process of deciding to buy from or hire you.
At a minimum you’ll need a sales/offer page that tells people about your services. But then what? What do you want them to do to hire or buy from you? There are steps you’ll take them through and you want to sit down and map this out thoroughly so you create all of the pages you’ll need in your sales process. Hopefully, you’ll have already done this is step #8 above, but revisit it now to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Again, here’s a worksheet you can download that will help you think this through a little more efficiently.
18. Set up your blog
There are MANY ways that you can set up your blog. This step is when you’ll figure all of that out.
Sidebar? No sidebar? Full blog posts on the main blog page or only excerpts? What type of images or graphics will you use for each blog post?
You could do some research here to see what other people – in similar industries and who have a similar final goal for their website – are doing on their blog. Also, really think about HOW you’ll be using your blog to market and promote your business and how it will be a tool to CONNECT you with your people.
Do the work to get clear about the PURPOSE and INTENTION of your blog. Are you trying to build up your expertise, establish trust, create a body of work?
I would do some planning about the type of posts you plan to write, how frequently and what method (video, written, etc.) you’ll be delivering your content. Plan out a small editorial calendar to get yourself started down the blogging path.
Also, be sure to write at least 3 blog posts to launch with – so that your new website doesn’t feel “naked” – you want to give those first visitors a taste of what’s to come.
19. Get your opt-in freebie ready to go
You don’t have to have a fancy opt-in created when you first launch, but if you can – DO IT! Your first opt-in doesn’t have to be massive. In fact, people will more likely read and use a short, easy gift than something deep and time consuming. A simple PDF, or a couple of short videos, a nicely designed checklist – all of that will work great.
Just make sure it’s something that will actually HELP your audience and give them a sense of the work that you do. Don’t have it be fluff – have it be super useful.
Canva is a great place to create a nice looking PDF, which will probably be the quickest thing for you to create.
Give your visitors a reason to sign up for your mailing list!
20. Set up your mailing list
There are many providers out there. You’ll have to do some thinking about the needs of your business and how you’ll use your newsletter to market and connect with your audience.
Mailchimp is a great “starter” email provider – though lots of savvy marketers use it way beyond the start up stage. It’s fairly easy to use, has great templates and if you don’t need special functions (like auto responders) you can get started with a free plan that you won’t need to upgrade until your list grows quite a bit.
Convert Kit is a fairly new kid on the block, but it’s super popular – and for good reason. If you know that you’ll be doing more complicated list building activities that require many different moving parts – like webinar sign ups and sequences, email courses, list sorting for people with different interests, etc. Convert Kit is for sure the way to go!
When your list is less than 1000 people, Convert Kit is not crazy expensive and the time it will save will be 100% worth it! It’s a little tricky setting up all of your workflows if you’ve never done something like this before, but they have good tutorials, regular webinars and the facebook group is helpful.
This step is about getting the WHOLE sign up process in place – not just signing up for a provider. When someone joins your list – they are taken through a series of steps and you want to make sure that each step is on brand – visually and with the verbal story you’re creating.
Once you set up your sequence, including getting your opt-in freebie from step #19 fully integrated into the process – be sure to TEST the whole thing from start to finish. Make any changes that you’d like to make and then test again, until it’s all being delivered exactly how you want it to be.
21. Integrate your mailing list with your website.
Get your opt-in form set up on your site, pretty and ready to go. A really great plugin that works very will with Mailchimp to create nice looking opt-in boxes is Magic Action Box – the free version will get the job done.
For Convert Kit, I find that their sign up forms look nice enough to use as it. (so far.. I’m sure there will come new occasions that will have me want to get in there and customize their forms, but for now – they are just fine as is).
22. Once you’re DONE – time to test EVERYTHING.
Once your website it all finished, your newsletter is integrated, you have your first blog posts – it’s time to test every.thing. Click on every link – make sure it’s going where you want it to go. Read over all of your copy – I am the typo QUEEN and always find new mistakes. Test your contact form to make sure it’s working.
Test, test, test. Fix anything not working and then test again.
Repeat until your website is ready to go.
23. Spread your wings and FLY!
Now you’re ready to launch! Proudly and boldly share your website with the world. Be proud of your hard work AND the awesome that is you!
Need help with any of this?? Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me questions. I’d love to help you get started.
* some of the above are affiliate links to programs and services that I recommend – that means I get a small % of your purchase price if you do decide to buy after clicking the link.