By Corina Koch MacLeod
What’s the first step you need to take when you’re setting up a digital publishing company? Writing a business plan? Maybe not. I’d like to suggest building a website should be your first step.
Start With a Website
I have nothing against writing business plans, but the act of building a website is, to me, a more authentic exercise to help you consider what you want your publishing company to be about. You’ll need to know what you’re about in order to communicate it to your potential customers. Why not begin with that end in mind?
Self-publishing author Joanna Penn has said, “I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it down.” I believe that’s been true for us. Writing content for our website has forced us to narrow our focus and make lots of important decisions.
We’ve published several literacy print resources in the past 12 years, but we’ve decided to focus on our bestseller for now while shifting from printed books to digital resources (with printable PDFs for those who still like print). We will roll out our other resources as time allows.
We realize the Don’t Panic Books website is a work in progress. We are going to make some mistakes, and we will need to make changes. It is, right now, our best attempt to communicate to our audience what we’re about and how we can help them.
As we begin to interact with our audience—something that wasn’t easily done when our publisher was at the helm—we can adjust our message as they make their needs more clear to us. Now, I don’t know of a customer who’d read your business plan, do you?
Steps for Building a Website
Are you setting up a publishing company, too? Are you considering selling books directly to your customers? Creating a website involves a few steps that can be a little confusing at first. Here are the basics:
1. Choose a domain name.
Your domain is the web address people will use to find your publishing company. Put a great deal of thought into what you’ll name your site, and make sure it’s easy to remember. There are many do’s and don’ts for naming a web site; you may want to consider all of them.
We didn’t choose the name of our publishing site: our audience did. The first book we published in 2002 was titled: Don’t Panic: A Guide to Passing the Literacy Test in Ontario. At the time there was a great deal of anxiety surrounding the test (hence the Don’t Panic in our title). Teachers were asked to prepare students for the test without resources to support this process. Teachers began to refer to our resources as “the Don’t Panic books,” so we stuck with the name. Listen to your audience: they may tell you something important.
When you decide on the name of your website, you’ll need to see if that domain name is already taken. You’ll then need to purchase your domain name from a site that offers domain names for sale. Go Daddy is a popular domain registrar, but it isn’t the only choice. We were able to purchase our domain name through our web host (see below).
2. Choose a web host.
A web host is a company that hosts your website. Think of hosting as space you rent on the Internet. Again, there are many web hosts to choose from, so do your research. We chose Bluehost because it
- offers 24/7 support for the first year,
- has some great website building tools,
- offers a free domain name for one year,
- will allow us to build more than one website with the same account, and
- offers five free email addresses.
3. Choose a website building tool.
Website building tools are designed to make setting up a website easier. Gone are the days when you’d have to hand code your website in HTML.
WordPress is a popular open-source website building tool with lots of features, but if this is your first website and you’re looking for something easy to use, the Weebly website building tool is by far the easiest way to begin. Building a site with Blogger is an option, too, if you’re interested in blogging or setting up an author website, and not selling anything from your website.
We built our first two websites with Weebly, and housed our blogs on Blogger, but recently switched over to WordPress so we can make use of some of WordPress’ time-saving plug-ins. Both WordPress and Weebly have options for setting up an online store, or using plug-ins that enable you to sell books from your website.
4. Follow a tutorial.
Weebly is pretty intuitive, and I found I could just experiment with Weebly’s drag-and-drop features to set up a website with little frustration. WordPress was another story. It’s packed with features, and it can take some getting used to. I followed this tutorial by Simon Whistler to set up the Don’t Panic Books WordPress site.
5. Use a website checklist. Once you have your website set up, you’ll want to consider what features you’ll need. A website checklist can help you to make decisions and keep you on track.
6. Build anticipation. Your website doesn’t have to go live right away. It can go live when you’re ready. See if your website building tool has a “coming soon” page template or plug-in that you can mount while you work on your website in the background.
Setting up a publishing company is a bit of an undertaking, but beginning with a website will help you to set a direction and to clarify what you want to be about.
For more information on the ins and outs of setting up a website, see Jane Friedman’s post, Self-Hosting Your Author Website: Why and How to Do It.
Image by Shmuel