photo by Chris Link

When Abby and I first started talking about ideas for serving craft industry professionals, we were kicking around the idea of a newsletter, a blog and maybe a conference down the road. We thought, no problem–we can set up WordPress and open a new Mailchimp account, and we’d be set (until we were ready to tackle the conference.) The more we talked to each other as well as friends and colleagues, however, the more complex the whole concept of the website became. We determined we needed:

  • To be able to sign people up as members
  • A blog that is available to everyone
  • A journal that is only available to members
  • Groups that are only available to members
  • Forums that are available to members
  • Forums that are available to non-members
  • A directory of all our members
  • A directory of all our members’ businesses
  • Webinars
  • A newsletter that goes to both members and non-members

To two bloggers who only have learn-as-you-go technical knowledge, it was a bit intimidating. We started looking at some site development companies and even got one estimate to build what we wanted–it was pricey! But that’s not the only thing that scared us away.

I’ve had my website built by professionals three times. Each time there were good things about it and I was, for the most part, happy with the end result. But the thing that has always been the most disappointing is that I am forever dependent on the developers. Little fixes, big fixes, understanding what each plugin does, wanting to make changes or add features, but not knowing how–it’s all frustrating. And understandably, after a developer has finished your site, they are busy with new projects. They don’t have a lot of time to do fixes or updates–it’s just not how they earn their living and I completely get that. As a site owner, however, it can leave you feeling vulnerable and beholden.

We know that the CIA website is going to have to change and grow with our organization–probably a little all the time and maybe a lot over the next couple of years. In order to have a better understanding and more control of the site, we decided to do as much as we could ourselves, and get help where we needed it.

What we did ourselves:

  • Chose plugins/software: The first thing we did was select a membership software. We looked at over a dozen options and chose the one that best met our needs. We also researched and selected options for forums and groups. All of these are WordPress compatible because it is a platform with which we were both familiar.
  • Chose a WordPress theme: We wanted to pick a theme with an overall look that we liked, that was easily customizable, and compatible with all our plugins. We selected the Divi theme by Elegant Themes because it had great reviews and a reputation for good customer service.
  • Mapped out all the menus and pages.
  • Wrote all the content and set up the forums.
  • Set up all the plugins: Connecting the plugins with our Mailchimp list, setting up payment methods, choosing which features we’d need, determining how we wanted things to display, etc.–this is where you really get to know how things work!
  • Took crafty photos: We created a library of a few dozen craft supply images that we can use on the main pages, as well a the journal covers.

What we hired other people to do:

  • Plugin integration: The membership software we chose didn’t automatically work with the groups plugin we wanted to use, so we hired a developer to write yet another plugin to integrate them at the sign-up stage. He also expanded our member profiles to include business information, which is displayed in the Businesses directory.
  • Website design: Lindsie Bergevin worked on the site colors, fonts, and page layout. She also customized some of the functionality of the plugins and the site theme. (Basically if a css or php file needed to be edited, we sent it to Lindsie.)
  • Graphics: Nicole Stevenson produced all our hand-drawn graphics.
  • Terms of Service: Our lawyer, Josh Barrett, wrote our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

All in all, we are very happy with the look and functionality of the site. The biggest downside is that it took ages longer than we anticipated, but I think the payoff of having a deep understanding of the way everything works makes it all worth it.

What about you? Have you built your own site or hired someone to do it? Good or bad experiences or words of warning?



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