Thinking of building your first business website?
Or maybe even your second or third?
Then today’s post is a perfect place to start.
You’ll discover the main elements that every business website needs to get up and running, from web hosting and design, to accepting sales and building an audience.
We’ll share the top 3 options for each, as well as our advice on how to avoid getting lost among the technobabble and distractions. And at the end, you’ll find even more free resources to help you build and launch your business website in just a weekend!
Let’s get started...
A Website Platform
Before you jump into building your website, you’ll need to choose the technology you want to use.
Your choice of website platform makes a HUGE difference in the tools, support and complexity of almost everything that follows.
If you’ve been a Thrive Themes reader for any length of time, you’ll know we’re all about building your website using our favourite platform, WordPress, so the rest of this post will be heavily weighted to this choice. That’s not because the other choices are ‘wrong’, but we help people to build a successful online business using WordPress, so that’s where our expertise lies.
Here are the big 3 options for your website platform:
Option 1: Fully Hosted Platform
Services like Squarespace, WordPress.com (not to be confused with the self-hosted version, WordPress.org!), Wix and Weebly let you quickly create a website within their hosted ecosystems.
Just sign up for an account, choose a pre-designed template, and get started.
These options can be suitable for very small and simple websites, but they break one of our most important rules of building an online business – never build your business on someone else’s platform... if you don’t own it, it can be taken away from you without any warning.
These fully hosted platforms are also limited in what features you can add. For example, they don’t support any of the great tools within Thrive Suite, so your options for collecting email addresses, launching online courses, or customizing your landing pages will be severely limited.
Option 2: WordPress
WordPress has been around since 2003, and is used by 41% of websites across the web.
It’s a powerful, well-documented, and free platform that we consider the best way for anyone to get started building a business website.
Seriously, unless you have a need for super complex functionality, then there’s no reason to use anything other than WordPress in 2023.
Option 3: Anything Else Not WordPress
Once upon a time, Joomla and Drupal were considered alternatives for WordPress. Unfortunately, they fell far behind in terms of support and features, so my advice is to simply avoid them entirely at this point.
So you know which platform to use, now you need somewhere to host your website.
Don’t skimp on web hosting: it impacts security, uptime, website speed, and support when things go wrong!
Here’s your main options...
Option 1: Fully Hosted Service
Didn’t we just cover this?
We sure did.
Squarespace, Wix and the rest let you host your website with them, providing you’re happy with their (limited) tools, support and design options.
Free hosting might sound appealing at first, but it’s a false economy. Most of these services use a freemium model that switches to a paid subscription if your website needs anything more than the most basic features.
And if your web hosting is completely free, you’ll probably find your web host can feature advertising on your website whenever they want. Irrelevant ads tank your conversion rate, annoy your customers, and look straight up unprofessional.
Option 2: Generic Shared Hosting
This is where you share your hosting with lots of other websites. It’s cheap, cheerful, and works just fine for the most part.
Until it doesn’t.
The main drawback of generic shared web hosting is not the shared aspect. It's that it’s entirely your responsibility to get your website working.
If it gets hacked, it’s up to you to fix it.
If it loads too slowly, it’s up to you to diagnose the problem.
Option 3: Customized WordPress Hosting
It won’t be any surprise to learn that this is the option we recommend for your online business website.
Customized WordPress hosting is specifically configured to get the best performance for websites running WordPress.
You’ll also find helpful tools such as:
- Backup functionality
- Web caching, so visitors don’t have to load everything on each visit
- Fast WordPress installations
- Secure SSL options
We tried and tested many choices, and these are the two we currently recommend:
If you purchase these services, we may make a small commission at no additional charge to you.
A Website Design
Finally, it’s time to build and design your website... this is the fun part!
But website design means so much more than just making it look good (although that’s also important).
It also means making sure your business looks professional on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices.
It means making sure it loads blazingly fast so it’s not punished by Google’s algorithms.
It means giving you the control to make changes and customizations quickly in the future.
Option 1: Pre-designed Professional Theme
WordPress is probably most well known for its themes – skins that completely change the visual design of a website while keeping the actual content unchanged.
There are thousands of themes available to choose from:
- Free or premium themes
- Purely design themes or those with advanced features and functionality
- Themes ideal for magazines, personal branding, online courses, local business
- Well supported... or abandoned themes full of security risks!
Right now, there are 4,008 themes available on WordPress.org, and that doesn’t include thousands more premium themes only available on 3rd party sites.
Now pre-designed WordPress themes have their place for sure, but only if you’re aware of their limitations. Where they really fall down is customization... if you want complete control over your website’s design and functionality, then you’ll quickly hit a wall with most WordPress themes.
Option 2: DIY Frameworks
Some ‘themes’ are actually bare bones frameworks that provide a completely blank canvas with which to build your own WordPress design.
Examples include Genesis, iThemes Builder and Thematic.
But let’s put this one to bed right now... if you want to build your first business website fast, and get to selling your product quickly, then these frameworks are not for you.
WordPress theme frameworks are better suited to design agencies who create many websites, not for online entrepreneurs.
Option 3: Customizable WordPress Theme Builders
Of course, we’re going to recommend this option. We truly believe that WordPress theme builders are the future of WordPress design.
Anyone can make their website look exactly like they want, without hiring a designer or developer.
Some of the leading WordPress theme builders include our own Thrive Theme Builder, Divi, Beaver Builder and Elementor.
Whichever you choose – and we all know which one you should! – just be sure it comes with professionally designed templates for all aspects of your website, so you can quickly launch your online business knowing it will look gorgeous out of the box.
It’s tempting to get too wrapped up in creating a logo, after all, it’s the visual representation of your business, your brand, and to some degree, your personality as the business owner.
But a logo won’t build your website, grow your audience or sell your products.
And here are the 3 main options available:
Option 1: Design It Yourself
If you’re handy with image editing software like Photoshop (or a free Photoshop alternative), you might consider designing your own logo.
Normally, I’d recommend against trying to DIY most business assets, as your time as an entrepreneur is often better invested in creating content and growing your audience. However, designing your own business website logo can be a viable option, providing you don’t obsess over it. As long as you’re working with rapid implementation in mind, then it can actually save you time to design your own logo.
To get started, all you really need is a nice font, some complementary colors, and perhaps an icon.
But if you’re the kind of creative personality who gets sucked deep into the design and branding process, then I strongly recommend the next option...
Option 2: Logo ‘Marketplaces’
Successful brands change their logos all the time, so don’t let finding the perfect logo hold you back from launching your business website.
Instead, find a simple, acceptable logo that fits your brand, and run with it.
Logo marketplace services offer well-designed logos for a fraction of the price and time of a dedicated professional designer.
Popular sites include Canva and Envato Elements.
The rub is that it’ll cost you some dollars, and your logo won’t be unique, so you’ll need to make a few tweaks to really put your brand spin on it.
If you want a logo that’s exclusive to you, and you have a few more of those dollars spare, you can find unique design services at popular sites like 99designs.
Option 3: Professional Designer
Probably the polar opposite of rapid implementation – the most expensive and complex logo option is to hire a professional designer.
We don’t recommend this for new business websites, simply because that’s money that could go into other areas that will have a greater impact on generating sales... like the Thrive Suite toolset for example.
There are designers who will swear by the importance of an expensive and thoroughly thought-out logo... But to us, this is just the color we paint the bike shed.
- Our own, Bradley Stevens
Without a sellable product or service, your business website is really just... well, a website.
For a new website, launching your first product is more than just a way to generate revenue – although that’s great too – it’s also a way to confirm there’s an active audience in your chosen niche with a compelling need for your services.
Don’t get too attached to the first product you decide to sell. It will almost certainly evolve into something very different soon.
Here’s the big options you have available:
Option 1: Sell a Service
One of the quickest ways to generate income and test a market, is to exchange your time and knowledge for money.
This can either be a “traditional” service, like cleaning carpets or installing solar panels, or it can be an “expertise” service, like freelance consulting or coaching.
Services are a great first product to add to your business website, because they’re a direct way of gauging the needs of your audience. You get immediate feedback on the needs and desires of your audience, and you can quickly improve your business to meet these needs better.
This is important because if you can’t even get a few people to pay for a specific outcome, then you most certainly shouldn’t invest time into creating a more complex solution like an online course or membership.
Option 2: Sell a Physical Product
Selling and shipping physical products is no longer exclusively available to professional retail and eCommerce websites.
WordPress and Thrive Theme Builder now work together seamlessly with WooCommerce to allow anyone to list physical products and accept payment online.
This is a great option if you sell from a limited range of products, like custom art or project commissions. Seriously, I once knew a woodworker who built a successful business website based on a single custom lamp design.
Option 3: Sell an Online ‘Info’ Product
Selling non-physical info products is an option that’s immediately accessible to everyone.
All you need is an audience with a problem, a solution to that problem, and a way to package up the solution in a helpful way.
- Online courses
- Membership sites
- Video workshops
- Downloadable tools and resources
Providing you’re confident that people are willing to pay for your solution, then these are a great way to add a product to your business website.
They don’t require stock, you can sell them forever, and they can be delivered immediately via email, membership login, or download.
Why are we not recommending affiliate commission or ad revenue?
These online business models can work great, but they both require something most new websites don’t have...
We recommend leaving these revenue options for later, when you have a larger audience that can convert into higher volumes of referrals.
A Way to Collect Sales
Following on from having a product to sell, your business website also needs a way to collect payment and deliver your product.
Again, if you have no way to actually close the sale, are you really running a business website?
There are a few options available, but here are the big ones:
Option 1: Offline Sales
As cumbersome as it sounds, there’s still a place for issuing invoices, or collecting checks and bank transfers, especially for services like consulting, and freelancing.
If you run a local business website, either at a physical location or as a local tradesperson, there’s even a valid case for accepting cash payments.
Embrace whatever sales methods work for your audience and industry. Again, remember that rapid implementation means not getting too distracted trying to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of keeping everything digital or contained on your website.
Option 2: An Online Payment Gateway Integration
Don’t be put off by that heading... it really just means accepting card payments directly on your website using a service like Stripe or PayPal.
Both of these services allow you to create simple payment buttons, but where they really shine is how they integrate behind the scenes with customizable checkout services like ThriveCart or SendOwl. These services handle both accepting payment AND delivering the product, giving you complete control over your customers’ sales experience.
If you’re building your first business website, this is the option we generally recommend for making your products available to buy.
Option 3: Through a 3rd Party Service
Some people choose to sell their products using another website or platform.
Examples include Teachable, Udemy, Envato Marketplace, and even Etsy.
These websites usually take a hefty cut of your revenue, and access to your customers’ data is severely limited.
Again, rapid implementation can justify using 3rd party platforms to initially sell your product, but we always recommend owning your entire sales funnel whenever possible.
So if you’re selling an online course, consider Thrive Apprentice with ThriveCart integration.
If you’re selling access to an online membership area, consider using a direct integration of your membership plugin with a payment gateway, like Stripe or PayPal.
If you’re selling a simple eBook or download, consider embedding a PayPal button directly into your website.
There’s usually a better solution than giving up control of your income and audience data to a 3rd party platform.
A Way to Connect with Your Audience
What separates a successful business website from a lifeless online brochure is the ability to connect with your audience about the topics that matter to them.
Connecting with your audience is a vital part of running a business website, whether that’s sharing content or engaging in real conversations with them.
So what are your main tools to achieve this?
Option 1: An Email List
Your business needs a way to grow a list of email subscribers, so you can continue speaking with your audience even after they’ve left your website.
That means adding compelling opt-in forms to your pages, and integrating with an email service provider.
Think about it this way: if you’re not engaging with your audience through email, then your competitors most certainly are!
Option 2: A Facebook Page or Group
Depending on your audience, you might find that a Facebook page or group is a great place to start conversations before bringing them over to your website.
While not strictly part of building your business website, we’ve included it here because it’s just too big to ignore.
However, the next one is definitely part of building your website...
Option 3: A Blog
You’ll need a way to add new content to your website, both to connect with your audience, and to encourage more visitors through SEO.
A static, unchanging website will quickly become stale and lose out to your more agile competitors.
Adding a blog is the perfect way to regularly add new content, whether that’s written articles, videos, audio, or some other format that resonates with your audience. Luckily WordPress offers this right out of the box, and there are plenty of resources here on the Thrive Themes website to help you get started.
Want to Launch Your Business Website in Just a Weekend?
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In this course, you'll learn how to build a business website from scratch, from signing up for a web host to setting up an email opt-in form ― and everything in between! We'll cover what tech to use, how to create a quick logo, customizing your website, and more.
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When are you guys going to resume your “new features every three weeks” program? I miss those!
We love them too, but recently we’ve been focusing on a a few bigger updates such as improving page load speed. There’s some really exciting things coming soon which I won’t spoil.
Once these are released, we’ll get back to our feature-packed updates 🙂
Great beginner info on how to get going leading up to running with the Big Dogs, and what’s more fantastic about the article is – this is just where I’m at. Thanks a bunch David.
Glad to hear this! Good luck.
Excellent article David! I agree with everything, other than your and Bradley’s comments about logos. I find that if a business’ logo and colours are crappy, it’s a seed that drags down the look and feel of their entire website (and all other marketing collateral too). I agree that a start-up should not over-spend on visual branding, but they should invest in it to some degree. Case in point… just yesterday a prospective client contacted our agency (we focus solely on digital marketing for accountants, btw) and when I looked at their outdated and poorly designed website, I said to my team before the call… “I bet they used Fiverr or a service like it, to get that logo designed.” It looked amateur, cheap and out of date. Crappy. As an accounting firm wanting to attract good quality clients, it wasn’t helping. And when I asked, “Who designed your current logo?” yep, “Fiverr,” was the response. Most small business owners are not design literate enough to effectively use cheap outsourcing and crowdsourcing design services to get a good result. Some are, of course. But most are not. I recall people saying things like, “It was great. I had 35 designers submit their designs for our logo,” and yet the logo they chose was still amateur and should never have been used. Keep up the great work with your blogs and video content! It’s the. best going ’round in the digital marketing and website space. And Thrive Suite is mind-blowing tech that seems to get better every month.
That’s true, Michael. A really bad logo drags down everything to some degree.
However, many successful brands just use a professional text-based logo. Google’s logo, for example, was never amazing in terms of design.
Thanks for your kind words on the work we do! It’s great to hear.
I firmly believe the time many people spend on logos is ridiculous. A logo is not remotely close to being as important as the function, look, and content of a website.
Some of the most famous logos of all time are very basic logos. They became famous because of the product and/or service they represented – not the other way around.
Look at the Nike logo. It is about as simple as simple gets.
Look at the Amazon logo – very simple.
Look at the Coco Cola logo – just basically text.
The same goes for the Ford logo – just basically text.
I have seen owners literally spend MONTHS, and thousands of dollars, getting a logo designed; only then to see their business fail miserably because the product, and/or service, and the marketing for their business was terrible.
As you might have sensed – the issue with logos is a sensitive and fiery topic for me. I have NEVER once hired or decided NOT TO USE a company, or buy their product, because of their logo.
The logo does NOT make the business. The business makes the logo. If Nike sold junk no one would care about their logo.
And, as mentioned in this article, you can change your logo. Companies do this all of the time. So do not waste a bunch of time, or money, on something very few potential clients or customers care about.
Tons of truth in your comment, James.
I guess it’s human nature to fuss over logos, as people really care about their website and brand. And sure, it’s good to take pride in your brand.
But it becomes a problem when people spend too much time on the logo, instead of focusing on content, products, audience or overall design.
In fairness David, Google’s logo could have been the poop emoji, and their brilliant technology and competitive advantage would have still seen them succeed. Most businesses don’t have such a fundamental and solid competitive advantage.
James, you seem to be saying that if a business has a simple logo, that means they did it quickly and inexpensively?
Simplicity is hard. Really, really hard.
As I often say to my team, “Any idiot can complicate things. Just watch me.” 🙂
Do not think for a moment that a “simple” logo, means it was “simple” (easy) to create. (By the way, though… my point in my previous comment was not at all about simplicity vs complexity in a logo — it was about the perception of quality.)
One of my favourite quotes is “Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple,” by C.W. Ceran. I’d love to conjure Steve Jobs’ input here… 🙂
It’s also a total non sequitur to link these two things: (1) a business spending months and thousands of dollars, getting a logo designed (as per your example), and (2) a business failing miserably; and to deduce that this means “a business that cares too much about its logo will fail.”
I’d suggest to you that a business that is bad at executing on a branding project (takes too long and spends too much on it) is equally as bad as executing on *any* project, including the development of their product and/or service, or their marketing etc.
I’m not saying that “a great logo is a panacea” for a business with a poorly conceived or delivered product or service. Of course it’s not. But cheap reeks.
By the way, when you say, “I have NEVER once hired or decided NOT TO USE a company, or buy their product, because of their logo,” there is not one person on the planet who would say “I bought that because of their logo”.
Design influences part of the brain that doesn’t have a verbal function. People are influenced by design every day. They just don’t realise it. And they certainly cannot articulate it.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a social media post or blog comment by a (it would seem) struggling “internet marketer” or online business or any type of business for that matter, where they seem to think their issue is something to do with their funnel, or marketing automation, or website platform (and yes, all of these things *do* matter), and then when I click through to their website and I see that (within the first second — which is how quickly people make assessments — as per Gladwell’s (shared, not his) findings in ‘Blink’) their visual branding screams, “amateur, cheap, shonky, shitty, clueless, aspiring but not there yet” well, I’d have enough to buy you more than a few rounds of drinks for us to discuss and debate this more.
Design matters. (And I’m not a graphic design agency, by the way. I am not defending ‘my turf’.) Each example you shared of Nike, Amazon, Coca-Cola and Ford are all examples of businesses that understand the a brand’s visual elements—and a brand is much more than the visual element—really, really matter.
No, I am not saying they did it cheap, but the customer doesn’t care if the logo is cheap or super expensive. Most customers/clients do not care a lick about the logo.
I have run numerous polls, for businesses I have, on whether the customer/client hired us, or other companies, because of the logo and I cannot remember one person in any of those polls saying they hired a company because of the logo.
I can almost guarantee you that the logos for the companies I mentioned would NOT be the logos most business owners would choose because they would try to over complicate the process.
Also, I have never EVER met a person that bought a Ford truck or car because of the logo. No matter what logo Ford chose it would be famous because of the product Ford puts out – not because the logo is great.
The same can be said for Amazon. Amazon could have used the fanciest logo you have ever seen and no one would care – if Amazon did not deliver on what they are good at delivering.
I love the Thrive Themes logo – but I bet you 99.9999% of the people that use Thrive Themes, and the products, would use the same products if the logo was terrible.
The logo issue is so overblown with businesses it is ridiculous. Graphic artist love to make people think that logo designs are super important – they are not.
I have dealt with MANY graphic artist over the years that have basically told me the same thing. They are stunned at what people are willing to pay to have a logo designed – even though that logo really doesn’t make one iota of a difference in sales or success.
Finally, a company like Niki could have used just a huge N as their logo and that huge N would be as famous as the swoosh.
The company and the products make the logo, not the other way around.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have literally seen clients, friends, and other people I know spend months and thousands of dollars on a logo – that made absolutely ZERO difference in the success of the business.
They could have branded a totally different way, and cheaper, and their “brand” would have been just as well known.
Do not waste a bunch of time on logos. I literally could give examples of EVERY business on the planet being just as well known, and branded, as they are now – with just plain text logos.
Great article! Thank you for the details and simplicity. I am curious if you know where I could find a freelancer who specializes in Thrive Suit and Active Campaign I could hire out for design/build out
Come join the Facebook group 🙂 There’s a mix of users and freelancers that will be able to help you out! https://www.facebook.com/groups/383136866154053