How To Create A Website Using Brains Instead of Money

A while back, in By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09,  web guru, Guy Kawasaki, details how he built a website on the cheap.  That is, for Guy Kawasaki $12,107.09 is cheap.  And it is cheap for a top ranking, major website.

But if you’re not in Guy Kawasaki’s league yet (and most of us aren’t) you can build an attractive website that captures eyeballs, brings in revenue and turns a profit for $100 to $250.00 plus plenty of “sweat equity”.  I know. I’ve done it. Many times.

Let’s look at how, working off Kawasaki’s list ( in italics).  Actually Kawasaki only had four expense items, and you can pare those down dramatically.

As Kawasaki says, Here’s a quick overview by the numbers:

  1. I wrote 0 business plans for it. The plan is simple: Get a site launched in a few months, see if people like it, and sell ads and sponsorships (or not).
  2. I pitched 0 venture capitalists to fund it. Life is simple when you can launch a company with a credit-card level debt.

Times have changed since people on the web spent weeks or months laboring over business plans. The web is fast, fast, fast and you have a built in, real world focus group.

Start from where you are with what you have. Put it out and see if people like it.  Or, as they say in advertising, see if the dogs will eat the dog food. If they do, then keep leveraging up. You can and should leverage up for the life of the site to keep it fresh, interesting, constantly evolving and compelling.

As for money, I agree with Mark Cuban who said: Rule #1: Sweat Equity is the best start up capital. There are only two reasonable sources of capital for startup entrepreneurs, your own pocket and your customer’s pockets. You shouldn’t have to take money from anyone. Businesses don’t have to start big. The best ones start small enough to suit the circumstances of their founders.

As much as you want to think that all things would change if you only had more cash available, they probably won’t. The reality is that for most businesses, they don’t need more cash, they need more brains.

Kawasaki has plenty of brains and, if you follow his moves, you will be using and improving yours.  On to Kawasaki’s next point :

7.5 weeks went by from the time I registered the domain truemors.com to the site going live. Life is also good because of open source and Word Press.

I couldn’t agree more. WordPress has revolutionized ordinary people’s ability to rapidly deploy an attractive, sophisticated website which can then be updated in plain text. According to Wikipedia, WordPress is a free, open source Content Management System (CMS), often used as a blog publishing application, powered by PHP and MySQL. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is the most popular CMS in use today. Being open source, it has thousands of man hours of coding and is constantly being refreshed and updated.

It is powerful and elegant, plus it offers many plug ins and widgets, automated pieces of software which work in the background doing essential tasks it used to take programmers many hours to do. These tasks include search engine optimization, providing Google with a sitemap and a constant stream of updates and a thousand more functions, all of which work together to make your site a success.

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As for design, WordPress has a huge array of free themes you can select.  There are also some premium themes for which you pay a small price. A lot of professionals prefer the Thesis theme, at $87,  because it is simple, elegant and endlessly customizable without having to code. Thesis is, right off the bat, an expertly-coded HTML + CSS + PHP framework.

Thesis is known for the quality of its design and search engine optimization, SEO, which is critical because it is SEO traffic which drives the success of a website. There are also many free or inexpensive”skins” or looks available that overlay the Thesis framework.

But to keep it simple, and for your own look, go to Istockphoto.com, put in your keywords to search for suitable photos then pay a buck or so each for a half dozen photos to go in your rotator or media box and you’re ready to go.  Add your Twitter.com widget on the sidebar to drive more traffic.

At BlueHost.com, you can get great web hosting, features and service, 24/7 for $5.95 a month and, sometimes, as a start up special, for as little as $4.95 a month, payable a year in advance and only slightly more by the month. Among the many features they offer, to make life really simple for a webmaster, is the ability to install a WordPress platform to your site with one click.

  • $4,500. The total software development cost was $4,500. The guys at Electric Pulp did the work. Honestly, I wasn’t a believer in remote teams trying to work together on version 1 of a product, but Electric Pulp changed my mind.

These guys at at Electric Pulp are top notch talent who’ve developed a well deserved reputation and  consequently are well known.  You pay top dollar for well known.  I am a believer in remote teams and, trust me, a lot of remote techs aren’t well known and their prices are correspondingly much lower.

A while back, I had a major issue with a website and, through eLance.com, I located a Canadian demon coder who worked through the night and all the next day to fix it.  I paid him $150 including a $60 bonus.  I also brought on a certified IT Security Expert from Ireland who handled all the IT security for a global firm.  He did a review of my site security for $125.  You don’t have to be expensive to be good.  You just have to know what you’re doing.

  • $4,824.14. The total cost of the legal fees was $4,824.14. I could have used my uncle the divorce lawyer and saved a few bucks, but that would have been short sighted if Truemors ever becomes worth something. Here’s a breakdown of what I got for this amount of money.

I agree with some of Kawasaki’s thoughts on this. With lawyers you can pay now or pay later.  And, if you get very successful and are negotiating an investment or liquidity event, you definitely want top notch lawyers  not only for her expertise but to show opposing counsel that you’re not clueless. Agreed.

But, if you’re bootstrapping, you can defer this expense until you are bringing in those bucks.  Yes, your lawyers may cost more then, but you will be making more, so, in my judgment, it evens out.  If money is an issue, which it usually is, I’d go with later.

  •  $399. I paid LogoWorks $399 to design the logo. Of course, this was before HP bought the company. Not sure what it would charge now.

It still charges $399.  In fact, you can get a package for $299.  But there’s a larger array of choices all the way up to $2999.  I paid $299 for one of my logos from LogoWorks. But there are other choices.

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When I started out on the Web in 1996, I used a royalty free Matisse painting of people joining hands around the world as my logo.  As I got established and began to see revenue, I paid $2, 000 for a custom logo.

But now, I’ve learned, you can find a logo designer on eLance.com for $75 – $125 for a static logo and $150 for an animated logo.  I recently worked with a designer specializing in logos on eLance.com who produced an outstanding logo for a client for less than $100. Either LogoWorks, another logo specialty shop which you can Google, or one you find on eLance.com is suitable.

However, what I particularly like and I think you will like about LogoWorks is that you go down a decision funnel selecting the look and feel you want and have a lot of control over the process and the look and feel of the final product.

  •  $1,115.05. I spent $1,115.05 registering domains. I could have used GoDaddy and done it a lot cheaper, but I was too stupid and lazy. I registered 55 domains (for example, truemors.net, .de, .biz, truemours, etc, etc). I had no idea that one had to buy so many domains to truly surround the one you use.

A domain name should cost about $10.  I don’t want to quibble but I like to wait until a site is a proven success and bringing in revenue before spending a thousand dollars surrounding it.

Kawasaki goes on to say:

$0. I spent $0 on marketing to launch Truemors.

  • 24. However, I did spend 24 years of schmoozing and paying it forward to get to the point where I could spend $0 to launch a company. Many bloggers got bent out of shape: The only reason Truemors is getting so much coverage is that it’s Guy’s site. To which my response is, You have a firm grasp of the obvious.

I do understand he’s Guy Kawasaki.  And, as he points out, it takes a lot of experience to get to the point where you could spend $0 to launch a company.  But it will never be sooner than today, so you might as well start.

If you’re known a bit around the web or in your specific field and you put up a good site, you will find your niche and get traffic also.

In concluding, Guy says, in part:

  1. I learned four lessons launching Truemors:
  2. There’s really no such thing as bad PR.
  3. $12,000 goes a very long way these days.
  4. You can work with a team that is thousands of miles away.
  5. Life is good for entrepreneurs these days.

I agree.  You can do it for much, much less, a couple of hundred bucks perhaps.  And definitely, Life is good for entrepreneurs these days.

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