Choosing the right website builder for your business can be overwhelming. How do you know which one will work best for you, and which one will be easiest to use? The good news is that website builders have more functionality than ever and generally offer a user-friendly experience. You don’t need to “know code” to build a beautiful, robust website that will serve you and your customers well.
Assess your needs
Before exploring your options, it’s important to do some soul-searching about what you need on your website. You might try sketching out a map of your ideal site, jotting down the features you want each part or page to have.
Ask yourself these questions to help determine which platform is best for you:
- Are you building an exclusively online store, or will your website be connected to a brick-and-mortar store? Do you sell in-person (at craft fairs, for example)?
- Do you prefer more or less control over your website? Do you want to know the nuts and bolts of how every part of it works, or do you prefer a set-it-and-forget-it approach?
- Do you sell services or products, or both? Are your products digital or physical, or both?
- Do you sell subscriptions? Does part of your website require membership (sometimes called a paywall) to access?
- Do you want to have forums on your site?
If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, or plan to open one: Shopify is the best platform for you. Created specifically for ecommerce, Shopify allows you to sync sales and inventory across multiple locations, from warehouses to retail locations to pop-up shows. Its easy-to-use interface includes a free point-of-sale (POS) integration, meaning you can sell in-person right away. Shopify offers other integrations, called apps, that allow you to sell print-on-demand or dropshipped products, and do a host of other things, including selling memberships or subscriptions. Their customer service is easy to access via 24/7 chat and the help forums are useful.
Costs range from $9-79/month for small businesses; most small crafty businesses can expect to pay $29/month for a “Basic Shopify” plan, which includes an SSL certificate (the standard for website security), hosting, a shipping discount, and up to 4 inventory locations. Some apps may add an additional fee.
If you want complete control: A self-hosted WordPress* site is your best bet. WordPress is a time-tested platform that can do literally anything you want it to, including selling physical, digital, and subscription-based products; hosting forums and chats on your site; and including a paywall to make part of your site members-only. However, every feature on a WordPress site (aside from blogging and basic inventory management) requires a “plugin,” a piece of code that does a specific thing (similar to Shopify apps). Plugins do not always integrate seamlessly with one another, and are created by third-party companies, which may or may not offer support. Consider WordPress if you have a complex website in mind, or one that you want to be able to change significantly as you grow your business.
Customer service will be limited to your hosting company, so ask around before you choose. Although there is no number to call, millions of websites run on WordPress, so you can search even very specific problems you come up against and easily find answers online.
WordPress itself is free, but you will need to pay for hosting, which generally costs $100/year and up. Plugins are a mix of paid and free. A typical website will run about $300-$400 per year, including hosting, domain name registration, an SSL certificate, and plugin fees.
*Wordpress.org, not to be confused with the limited blogging/hosting solution of WordPress.com
If you are OK with less control but still want a beautiful site: Squarespace will work well for you. Squarespace is an all-in-one service, meaning you will not need to deal with third-party apps or plugins—although it does offer integrations, all are Squarespace-created and supported. Squarespace has a reputation for lovely design, and its templates are sleek, functional, and easy to use. All templates now offer all functions, so you can pick one based on what you like, rather than what you need.
Customer support is available via live chat and email, and their help center is robust, with videos and webinars to help you navigate the site.
Plans begin at $12/month for a basic blog, but small craft businesses will need to pay $18/month to sell online, and $26-40 to sell in-person using the Square POS. You can offer subscriptions and member areas (behind a paywall) at the $40 level. Squarespace Scheduling is an additional fee, ranging from $14-45/month.
Other options: There are dozens of other good options to build your website. Here are a few that offer unique perks:
GoDaddy: Originally a hosting company, GoDaddy now offers an ecommerce website builder for $24.99/month. Their real strength lies in customer service; unlike any of the options above, GoDaddy has a banner on their homepage that says “We love to help” and includes a phone number you can call.
Wix: A robust all-inclusive website builder, Wix is another popular site with ecommerce plans starting at $23/month. It offers a service best described as a website wizard—Wix ADI makes a website for you using images from your current site or blog and answers to a few questions.
Mailchimp: The popular e-newsletter platform recently launched a website builder that is free for basic features, charging a fee only when you make a sale. Plans range from $10-29 for more features.
Whatever you choose, keep in mind that every platform has its own learning curve and will take some getting used to. At the same time, the differences between what each of these services can actually do is minimal. In other words—it’s hard to pick the perfect platform, but that means it’s also hard to pick a bad one! Set aside time to explore the features of your website builder and keep an experimental mindset as you create your site, and you’ll soon be putting your best foot forward online.
Alicia de los Reyes
Alicia de los Reyes is a writer who loves to make things. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Billfold, The Archipelago, and Sojourners Magazine, and she is author of the popular guide DIY Writing Retreat. Alicia has her MFA from the University of New Hampshire in Creative Nonfiction. She lives in Maine with her family.
“Best” is a very subjective term. To say Shopify is the Best for brick and mortar and e-commerce is not doing the reader good service, in my opinion. The selection of a POS system is unique to each business. While we use Shopify and love it as our e-commerce platform, the POS functionality is not robust enough for our needs so it syncs to our existing POS system. While this is a nice, short, very simplified overview of the e-commerce and web space, I’d suggest that the topic is far more involved and complex than a short article can convey.
Hi Oz! Thanks so much for sharing your insight. It is complex and I agree–this isn’t the end-all guide to choosing a platform, but a starting point. Glad that Shopify works for your e-commerce needs, and would love to hear more about your POS and how you chose it.