A few of my friends recently launched their own small business websites, and I wished they knew how to start a website using WordPress.
One of my friends paid thousands of dollars to have a local web design company create a one page website… that she doesn’t really know how to maintain or tweak.
Another friend went with one of those website builders that you see advertised on YouTube. Great… but, you’re sort of locked into their proprietary setup… and you may not be able to customize it the way you want or need.
So, this is the guide I wish they had on How to Start a Website (using WordPress).
I only use WordPress.
WordPress itself is free, but I pay for a company like BlueHost or WPEngine to host my websites. That way, I have control over what apps (plugins) are installed and what my website can do.
Yes, you could start a small business website for free. No, you really don’t want to.
If you want a Small Business Website using WordPress…
You really have three choices:
- Learn how to create a website yourself.
- Get a friend to make your website for free.
- Pay someone to design your WordPress website.
The Do-It-Yourself route is great if you have the time. It’s the cheapest option (unless you have a techie friend who will do it for free.)
This guide is for you: the Do-It-Yourself crowd.
If you’re frugal like me and you like dancing with computers, then it’s time to jump in. Everyone has to start somewhere, and setting up your own small business WordPress website is easy.
How to Start a Website (using WordPress) Table of Contents
Warning: This is a long post (intentionally.)
Sure, you could read the entire thing as written. But, why not save time and just use the links below to jump to what you’re lookin’ for:
- Who are you?
- What is WordPress?
- I thought WordPress was for blogging. I want a business website, not a blog!
- Why do I want to use WordPress instead of other website builders
- What’s the difference between WordPress.com and running WordPress yourself (self-hosted)
- How much is WordPress?
- How much does running a WordPress website really cost?
- How do you make money online using WordPress?
Who are you?
My name is Elmer J Fudd, Millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht.
Darn it! That’s not it.
My name is Mike Fuchigami.
I taught in the classroom for 14 years in Ottawa, Canada. And then life threw me a curve ball, and I quit my job.
Now I need to turn these lemons into lemonade, turn my side gig into my main gig, and figure out how to make a living off the internet.
What do you know about WordPress?
I started my first WordPress website 13 years ago and it’s been an exciting learning curve:
- I’ve run classroom blogs and online communities for my middle school classes
- I’ve run school websites
- I’ve run educational websites
- I’ve run product review websites
- I’ve run charity fundraiser websites
- I’ve run small business websites
All using WordPress.
There have been ups and downs and steep learning curves. WordPress has changed a lot over the years and it’s becoming easier for people to create nice looking websites.
When my friends ask about setting up a website online, I recommend WordPress because it’s easy to use, but powerful enough to customize as you get better with the interweb.
Are you a WordPress expert? Are you the best website designer in Ottawa?
Oh my goodness, no!
This guy, Matt – he’s a WordPress expert. He’s a founding developer of WordPress. Dude was 19 when he started. 15 years of WordPress later, he’s CEO of Automattic – the company behind WordPress.com (among other things.)
And Brian? He’s a WordPress expert. He’s the founder of StudioPress which produces the Genesis theme that I use when I design sites for my small business clients.
Oh, and Andrea? She’s a WordPress expert, too! Her name popped up a lot when I was trying to figure out WordPress multisite back in the day!
There are lots of peeps who are loads better than me with their WordPress magic. (Chances are, they’re better than you, too!)
But, here’s the thing about WordPress. It is free and open-source. That means that the source code for the software is openly shared and people contribute and make it better.
Bottom line is there are lots of really great tutorials by smarter people about how to customize WordPress to make it do what you want. So I use WordPress because I can change and tweak things (that you can’t necessarily tweak with a custom-made website from a web design company… or from a website builder site.)
What is WordPress?
WordPress is software (technically, a “content management system”) that powers 33% of the websites on the internet
Trusted by the Best: 33% of the web uses WordPress, from hobby blogs to the biggest news sites online.SOURCE: WordPress
So, yeah. One out of three sites that you visit on the internet is built using WordPress.
I thought WordPress was for blogging. I want a small business website, not a blog!
When WordPress first started, it was just blogs. But those days are long gone. You can make a perfectly legitimate website using WordPress… that doesn’t look like a blog.
Here are some examples of websites that use WordPress as the website building tool:
- AngryBirds… powered by WordPress
- The Walt Disney Company… powered by WordPress
- Snoop Dogg… powered by WordPress
- Global News… powered by WordPress.com
- Sony Music… powered by WordPress
Today, WordPress is a powerful engine that you can design to do different things on the internet. It doesn’t have to be about blogs. (But, it can be, if you want!)
A WordPress website is like a phone…
Chances are, you have a smartphone in your pocket.
Think of WordPress as the operating system for your website (kind of like how Samsung phones use Android as the operating system, and Apple phones have iOS.)
1. You choose what your phone looks like on the outside by getting a case.
Likewise, you choose what your website looks like by finding a theme that you like.
2. You choose what your phone can do by installing apps.
Similarly, you can give your website different capabilities by installing different WordPress plugins.
3. You choose how fast your phone is based on the model of phone you get.
If you spend more on a newer phone, you can get faster processors and more memory. But sometimes, spending more doesn’t always get you a better phone. Different companies offer different packages and specials…
In an equivalent manner, you can pay for a better web host or web hosting package for your website. This might mean faster processors, more memory, more bandwidth, etc…
(Your website needs a computer somewhere in the world that is running your WordPress website. Web hosts are companies that basically sell web hosting packages to rent out this computer space for you.)
4. You can get a phone number for your phone so people can get in touch with you.
In terms of websites, you buy a website address (domain name) and point it at your website so people can contact you by typing in the website URL.
You know how there are a few big telecom companies and you have different price packages to get a phone number? But, all phone numbers do the same thing… connect you with someone else’s phone…
It’s the same thing with website URL addresses.
We buy domain names from domain name registrars and just like with phone companies, different registrars offer different prices for pretty much the same service…
WordPress is free…
Going back to our phone analogy, WordPress is free in the same sense that you don’t pay for iOS on your iPhone or Android on your Samsung phone.
But, with a phone…
- You have to pay for the phone (hardware).
- And you have to pay for your phone number / data plan.
Coming back to our WordPress website…
You can download the free WordPress software here, but, you’ll still end up paying money to run your beautiful blog or small business website.
- You’ll need to pay for someone to host your website. (i.e. run the computer that is running your WordPress software.)
- You’ll need to pay for a domain name.
- You might eventually decide to buy a WordPress theme or plugin, but that’s no different than paying for an app on your phone (or getting a free app, and then deciding to buy the premium version to unlock more features.)
If you want a WordPress site, you’ve basically got three options:
Option #1: Find a company that is running WordPress software and create a FREE WordPress account with them.
Automattic is the company that runs lots of computers to power the WordPress websites at WordPress.com – they also support lots of paid and open-source features around WordPress.
It’s easy enough to go to WordPress.com and create a free basic website. If you’re just starting, this is a great place to start. It’s free, and you get to check out WordPress.
Eventually, though, you’ll want to pay for premium features (option #2) or run your own self-hosted WordPress website (option #3).
How do I know this?
Because I did the same thing. I started with the free Option #1 too!
As you cruise around the internet and start to recognize WordPress sites, you’ll realize that other people can do lots of cool stuff with their WordPress website that you can’t do with your free WordPress blog / website.
And then, you’ll want more.
You can’t unleash the full power of WordPress on a free website with WordPress.com because you can’t install plugins (and there are over 55,000 free plugins at WordPress.org/plugins) or themes.
But WordPress.com has its’ own benefits. (Like being rock solid and able to handle lots of traffic.)
Plus, later on, if you decide you want to run WordPress on your own (option #3 below), you can export your site to move your stuff to another WordPress web host.
Option #2: Go to WordPress.com and pay for premium WordPress features.
Once you’ve got your free WordPress.com website, you’ll quickly realize that the free blog you got is free… because WordPress runs their own ads on your content.
(Why yes, they make money off of your free site, and yes, you have to pay money to turn off those ads…)
Here’s a screenshot from WordPress.com showing their pricing model. You need to pay at least $48 (CDN) per year (for the “Blogger” plan) to turn off the WordPress.com ads.
- It says $4 per month, but when you pay, you’re billed for the entire year
Note: This is $48 per year per website you have with WordPress.com – if you want to run multiple WordPress websites, you’re better off with Option #3. (Here’s why)
You’ll also realize you want your own domain name for your website.
Your free WordPress.com site might have a website address like:
And you probably want to have:
So, that’s when you’ll realize you need a paid WordPress.com plan in order to use your own domain name on WordPress. (And, this won’t include the cost of buying the domain name.)
PROTIP: Don’t automatically buy your website address (domain name) from WordPress.com or your web host. I guarantee you there are cheaper options. And when they say that you get a “FREE DOMAIN” when you sign up for a webhosting plan, just know that domain name is for 1 year, doesn’t include domain name privacy, and renews at the regular price.
It’s probably around this point that you’ll realize you want to install your own WordPress plugins or themes on WordPress.com.
(Back in 2013 when I first wrote the precursor to this post, installing your own plugins on WordPress.com wasn’t even possible.)
Or maybe, you’ll want to run the free Google Analytics on your WordPress.com website to get a deeper understanding of where your visitors come from. Maybe you want to figure out your return on investment and you want to know…
- how many visitors from Facebook actually fill out your contact form?
- how many people who come from paid Google Ads actually convert?
This is when you’ll realize you need a business plan with WordPress.com to install plugins or to use Google Analytics.
A business plan with WordPress.com will cost you $396 (CDN) per year.
- It’s $33 per month, but you have to pay for the whole year at once, and you can only get a refund within the first 30 days. (This is typical of most places.)
- Don’t forget, this annual $396 fee for a business plan upgrade is per website.
Option #3: Use a WordPress web hosting company to run your own self-hosted WordPress website(s) on your corner of the internet.
This is what I do for…
- my own websites that I use to make money online using affiliate marketing.
- my clients’ small business websites
Option #3 might sound hard, but it’s not. (It’s just as easy as the other two options.)
Basically, all of the web hosting companies recognize that WordPress is cool stuff, so they offer WordPress plans and offer 1-click WordPress installation. You pay for WordPress hosting and they do the installation set up for you.
WordPress software is still free, but you have to pay the web hosting company a fee to use their shared computer space. (Or, you can pay a bigger fee to have more features like a dedicated server, but that’s a different article.)
This is called a “self-hosted” WordPress site – you get all of the bells and whistles of WordPress.
- There are over 55,000 free plugins at the WordPress.org plugin repository.
- There are lots of free and commercial themes at the WordPress.org theme directory.
Bottom line is you can have your own fully unlocked WordPress environment up and running in 3 minutes, 42 seconds – all with a few clicks.
Why did I choose Option #3 and decide to run my own “self-hosted” WordPress website?
When I first started designing websites, I started with Option #1 because it was free.
Then I discovered things that other people were doing with their WordPress site, and realized I needed more power.
I completely skipped Option #2 because I wanted to have the option of having multiple websites, and if you go with premium paid plans on WordPress.com, you have to pay fees for each individual site you have. And, of course, if I ran 2 or 3 different websites, I didn’t want to pay fees for each site.
So, I went with Option #3 because you can run a network of multiple websites when you have a self-hosted WordPress setup.
After 12 years of using WordPress websites to make money through affiliate links, I still choose to run my own self-hosted WordPress sites. Here’s why:
1. You can do anything with a self-hosted WordPress website to make it more powerful
WordPress is open-source software which means a community of people smarter than me pitch in to update and evolve the website content management system
I can install plugins for free:
- I can install an SEO plugin to be able to fully control my site to try to get to the top of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages). Things like Yoast and All in One SEO Pack.
- I can add a contact form ,
- I can use google analytics to figure out where my visitors come from, and to add tracking codes to my marketing campaigns to see which campaigns are doing well.
- I can turn my WordPress site into an e-commerce site without having to pay $708 CDN to get that e-commerce feature on WordPress.com.
- I can add custom fields and custom post types which then opens up more options. (Like a real-estate website might have address as a custom field.)
I can install themes for free.
- I’ve used lots of the free themes in the WordPress theme directory.
- I’ve paid for themes from Envato
- Right now, I use the Genesis Theme framework for most of my sites and my client’s small business websites. (Actually, the Genesis framework comes free when you go with WP Engine, which is what I did.)
I can add custom code.
- There are no limitations. If I find a tutorial on how to add a cool feature to my WordPress website, I can add the custom code.
- When you go with WordPress.com (option 1 and option 2 ), there are some limits to the custom code you can add, unless you have a business plan which costs way too much money… and you have to pay for each website that you have.)
2. You can run as many WordPress websites as you want on a single account. (You don’t pay per site.)
When you pay for premium features on WordPress.com (Option #2), you have to pay for each website, separately.
In other words, if I want each of my websites to have their own domain name:
- MyFirstBusiness.com would require a paid plan. ($50 CDN per year…)
- MyOtherBusinessSite would require another paid plan. (Another $50 CDN per year…)
- MyThirdBusinessVenture would require a third paid plan. (And yet another $50 CDN per year…)
I don’t want to pay to unlock premium features for every single WordPress website that I have.
Granted, you might only need one website for your small business, but, if you have multiple businesses or you’re trying to make money online with multiple niche websites, you definitely want to go with the self-hosted WordPress website (option #3)
3. There are no ads on your small business website… (unless they’re your ads)
A free WordPress.com account (option #1) will have other people’s ads showing. (Unless you pay around $50 CDN per year, per site, to turn them off…)
And your small business website will not look classy running ads.
Choose your own adventure…
If you’re just want to test the waters and play around…
- Get a free basic WordPress site. Choose option 1 and set up a free account with WordPress.com. You don’t need a web host right now.
If you’re running a small business website (or you’re trying to make money online from niche content websites)…
- You probably want Option 3 and run your own self-hosted WordPress account so you unleash the full power of WordPress.
Which WordPress Web Hosting company should I go with?
Great question. Over the past decade, I’ve moved my websites through five different web hosting companies over the years. During that time, you start to realize the fine print and get a sense of how web hosting companies differ.
Right now, I personally use two different webhosts:
- I use Bluehost because they offer a ridiculously cheap plan that my daughter and I could use to set up our first small business website!
- I use WP Engine for everything else – all of my websites and my client’s websites.
Why did I get a Bluehost shared web hosting plan?
Originally, I was with a “Canadian” web hosting company, but I found it expensive.
Then, I found Bluehost and I signed up for 1 year of hosting at the start of 2008.
Before the end of the year, I renewed my contract for another 36 months.
Three years later, I renewed my contract again and this time I added a dedicated IP address (I need this because of the way I tweak my website code.)
And then I cancelled my contract and went through a few different webhosting companies…
And then I came back to Bluehost…
Bluehost has some great features
I was sold by some of their features:
- Unlimited Space – This means you can upload as much stuff as you (reasonablely) want for your website. But, there are restrictions. For example, you can’t use it as a backup or archive service. *Check out their Terms of Service to see what “unlimited” means.
- Unlimited Transfer – Bluehost doesn’t set limits on how much visitor traffic you can receive. However, there are limits. See below.
- Unlimited Domains – You can associate as many of website addresses as you want to your account. If you buy 100 domain names, you can use them all with your Bluehost account. (A different company that I once used had a limit on how many different domain names I was allowed to use.)
- Free Set-up – You can set up a WordPress site for free with the clicks of a couple of buttons. Here’s a video tutorial.
- Free Domain – actually, the free domain is not technically “free” – Bluehost simply credits your account for the cost of the domain on qualified plans. See this help page for more info.
- Anytime money back guarantee – you’re not locked into a contract. So I bought the 36 month plan to get the cheapest monthly rate and when I canceled, they gave me a prorated refund (except for the $14.99 charge for the “free” domain name. Read their cancellation policy.)
*DISCLOSURE: I’ve canceled my contract right now because I am using a more expensive web host for my class websites, but if you’re just running a simple website, the BlueHost shared web hosting plan will probably meet your needs.
Things to know before you sign up for a Shared Hosting Plan (with Bluehost or any other company for that matter.)
1. I don’t buy my domain names from Bluehost any more.
I used to (when I didn’t know any better.) Now I don’t because I can get it cheaper elsewhere.
- If you check out Bluehost’s price list under Shared Web Hosting add-ons, you can see that additional domain names cost $14.99 per domain name per year and if you want domain name privacy (and you do want this or your personal information gets listed on a public WHOIS registry), it’ll cost you an additional $10.99 per domain name per year. In other words, you’re paying $26 per domain name.
- I use 10dollar.ca – They charge $10.45 (CAD) per year for a .ca domain and $13.06 per year for the others (.com, .net, .org) but you get free domain name privacy which means, you’re paying basically $13 per domain name. Half the amount charged by Bluehost. So, you buy the domains at 10dollar.ca and then point them to your web hosting account at Bluehost.
2. A shared web hosting plan may not be powerful enough for your needs. (Why I’ve stopped using Bluehost right now)
If this is your first web hosting plan, chances are you’re looking at a shared web hosting plan (because it’s the cheapest.)
Shared web hosting is where one computer (web server) connects to the internet and the web hosting company packs a whole bunch of websites onto that single server. (You’re “sharing” the web hosting. Get it?)
You know how your computer slows down when you have a million programs open and running at the same time? You kinda get the same problem with shared web hosting.
Shared web hosting is cheap for a reason. You might get “unlimited” space, transfer, and domain names with your shared web hosting plan, but you get a limited amount of resources (i.e. CPU, memory…) If your website gets too busy, then Bluehost will throttle your website and slow things down. This means your visitors will complain that your website lags.
This is why I’ve stopped using a shared web hosting plan for my classroom blogging network. When I had my entire class of 25 students in the computer lab logged into my wordpress website and leaving comments on blog posts, Bluehost would throttle my website so that all of the students would complain about how slow the website was. It would take ages for pages to load up. Running something more computer intensive like the BuddyPress plugin would make my website crawl.
Don’t get me wrong. The shared web hosting plan at Bluehost is great for a regular website where visitors don’t have to log in. I didn’t have a problem with students in my class “reading” my class website at the same time in the lab. Remember, I made over $9,000 with a single website on a Bluehost account. (Visitors didn’t have to log into that website.)
But, the moment, I needed to have 25-30 students log in and write posts / comments at the same time, my Bluehost shared account couldn’t handle the demands and there are graphs that you can look at showing Bluehost limiting resources to throttle the account.
If you read the Terms of Service, under “Unlimited” usage policies and definitions, it states that “Bluehost reserves the right to limit processor time, bandwidth, processes, or memory in cases where it is necessary to prevent negatively impacting other Subscribers.”
What do I use if I need something more powerful than the Bluehost shared web hosting plan?
I’ve only ever used the Bluehost Shared Web Hosting plan. ($6.99 per month)
Bluehost does offer more powerful options, but I found them too expensive:
- They have a more powerful Shared Web Hosting Pro plan ($24.99 per month) which is the same as the shared web hosting plan but it has 80% fewer accounts on the server. (This means you get more CPU usage and other resources)
- The next step up is a Bluehost VPS ($24.99 – $119.99 per month) which offer even more dedicated resources.
- Or, you could get a dedicated server from Bluehost ($124.99 – $209.99 per month)
Bottom Line: What should I get?
So you want to use WordPress, but you’re not sure what to get. Which of the following questions meets your need?
|WordPress.com||Edublogs.org||Kidblog.org||Shared Webhost plan||Something more powerful|
|1. I want a completely free (basic) website. I am okay if they put ads on my site||✔|
|2. I do not want other people’s ads on my website.||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|3. I want something targeted towards education||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|4. I want a very simple user experience||✔|
|5. I want to be able to change the theme / appearance of my site||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|6. I want someone else to install the WordPress software. I just want to write stuff on my website||✔||✔||✔|
|7. I am comfortable installing and updating the WordPress software with a few clicks||✔||✔|
|8. I want to make money from my website by running my own Google ads or getting commissions from my links||✔||✔|
|9. I want to add free or premium plugins, themes, or customized features (such as Google Analytics, slideshows, etc.)||✔||✔|
|10. I want a website where visitors can read my stuff and leave comments (without having to log in)||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|11. I want a website which can handle 25-30 people students logging in at the same time and writing posts or leaving comments.||✔||✔||✔|
|12. I want to be able to create and manage student accounts||$40 per year||✔||✔||✔|
|13. I want to create a student blogging network and batch create blogs and users||$500 per year||?||✔|
More about the disclosure: This is a paid endorsement.
Some of the links on this page (and website) are affiliate links.
This means if you buy something from one of the merchants discussed on this page (i.e. WordPress, Bluehost, WP Engine, 10dollar.ca) after clicking on one of my links, I will receive a commission, if and only if you buy something. This does not change the amount that you would pay. This is a finder’s fee from the company (and kinda proves my point that you can make money from a WordPress blog.)
The views expressed on this page are purely my own.
Although reasonable efforts have been made to provide the information on this website, there are no promises as to the completeness, currency, or accuracy of the information. Things change (like how BlueHost used to offer a money-back pro-rated refund. Ah, the good old days…)
Any product claim, statistic, quote, or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.
Ultimately, when you buy something, it is from the merchant, and not me. I’m just the guy in the middle talking about my experiences with the stuff I personally use.