NOTE: We’ve moved the content of this post over to our course platform in video format. Click the link below to head over there…
Why 7 Days or Less to Branded Website Success?
Hopefully you’ve noticed by now that almost everything we offer on Horkey HandBook is designed to help you take massive action and achieve measurable results in as little time as possible.
If you’ve worked through one of my premium online courses, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success or 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. And as thousands of students have worked their way through one of the above courses, there have been numerous questions about the process of setting up their own WordPress websites.
Although a website (WordPress or otherwise) isn’t required (but it is recommended) to be successful as a freelancer, for many it’s a vital part of the process of getting their new business off the ground. Yet, it also ends up being a stumbling block for so many people – often causing unnecessary delays. Or worse yet, preventing people from actually getting started.
What should be a quick and simple process often becomes a massive time suck that gets in the way of earning that first dollar as a writer or a VA. And we want you to get paid, yo!
But we have some good news for you – we’re here to put an end to that stumbling block today with this free WordPress tutorial. Get excited! 😉
So if you haven’t yet launched a website and blog (but want to), we’ve chronicled the exact process (using a real life example) to help you launch your own in a week or less!
As for those of you who already have a website, we encourage you to go through it, too. You’re bound to learn a few tricks and tips that you can quickly implement to take your web presence to the next level.
Jump to a Specific Section:
Day 1: Selecting a Domain and Hosting
Day 2: Installing WordPress
Day 3: Configuring WordPress
Day 4: Creating WordPress Pages
Day 5: Understanding Menus and Widgets
Day 6: Selecting a WordPress Theme
Day 7: A Final Review Before Launch
Before You Dive In…
Over time, our hope is to see this guide develop into a leading resource for writers and VAs who are trying to get their own websites up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible.
So, of course, we plan on keeping it up-to-date. In other words, you might notice a few small differences as WordPress and some of the plugins are updated over time.
Wherever possible, we’ll make multiple recommendations for services so that you can pick the solution that’s best for you. And BTW, we’ve tried and tested everything we recommend.
So here’s my official disclosure:
This post may include affiliate links. If you’re not cool with that, then we’re not friends. Kidding of course, but this is my due diligence disclosure notice.
Let’s Set Some Expectations:
You’re here because you either don’t currently have a website or you’ve started one, but aren’t sure it’s up to snuff.
To make shipping (or publicly launching) your site as easy as possible, we’ve broken down the process of setting up a brand new (branded) website into as many small, manageable steps as we could. This way, you can sit down and work on a few steps each day and not get overwhelmed. You’ll know exactly what to do when you do have the time to work on it, and you’ll feel accomplished after every lesson.
There are seven lessons total (all listed on this same page). Some days will be relatively short and others might require a couple of hours of work. You could tackle a day at a time, do a couple of days together, or try and get it all done in one shot. It’s completely up to you (and the info is available for you to take action on when you’re ready).
However you decide to tackle this process, our objective is to help you get your site launched in 7 days or less. And we hope to do this by completely avoiding many of the delays, mistakes and pitfalls that seem to arise for others again and again.
Our Best Tip: Don’t Seek Perfection
Let’s clear up this fallacy right off the bat, shall we?
I’m sure you’ve visited Amazon many times over the years, right? Do you ever notice how there always seem to be little changes happening on their website? Or when every once in awhile, a big redesign comes along, followed by another series of small changes?
Like almost every successful online business, Amazon learned a long time ago that in order to start generating revenue, they needed to have their website live … and producing sales. Your writing or VA business is no different. You need to get your site live as quickly as possible.
Doing this sounds easy, but I can tell you from experience that many people struggle with letting go of the feeling that their website needs to be perfect, before they unveil it to the world. But that’s only going to hinder you.
Trust me, you have to let the expectation of perfection go.
And part of what makes the WordPress platform so amazing, is that you can make small or big changes to your website over time. A little later in this tutorial you’ll see how Horkey HandBook has evolved over time.
So, as we dive into the meat of this tutorial, remember your objective: A live site in 7 days or less.
In order to accomplish this, our tutorial will include as little fluff as possible. We want to focus on helping you take action, not filling your mind with all kinds of information that you might or might not use sometime down the road.
So, if we take a moment to stop and explain something in greater detail, you can assume it’s a really important piece of information. (So listen up, home slice!)
DAY 1: Selecting a Domain and Hosting
We know you’re excited, so let’s get rolling with day one.
Today is about laying a strong foundation – completing all of the required steps so that you can actually get started with building your website.
Step 1: Pick Your Domain Name (Website URL)
I know this is something that has been on your mind for quite some time. In our experience, most people spend way too much time trying to figure out the perfect domain name (website URL).
Instead of driving yourself crazy over the right name, here’s what we recommend you do:
- Keep it as simple as possible.
- If your first and last name is available (i.e. ginahorkey.com), consider starting with that.
- If your name isn’t available (and you have no other good ideas), then follow it up with the words “writer” or “VA.”
Spend no more than 30 minutes on this process.
Why? We’re firm believers that the effort you put into marketing yourself and “getting your name out there” will far outweigh the perfect name. You can brand any name with enough grit and motivation.
Make a list of five potential combinations and pick one. If you’re really stuck on making a decision, create a poll on Facebook (or in our private community if you’re part of a 30DOL group) and ask for feedback.
You can check for domain availability here as part of the hosting signup process.
Step 2: Register Your Domain and Sign Up for Hosting
In the past, we only recommended one preferred hosting provider. After listening to feedback, we now provide two different recommendations, so you can pick the solution that is most appropriate for your needs at this time (both are solid options) .
One thing we know for sure when it comes to hosting is that there is no perfect solution. It’s about finding the balance of features that’s right for you.
(To assist you with the selection process, you’ll find a handy chart a little further down.)
- SiteGround Hosting – SiteGround offers several plans that let you get started on the cheap. Your second year will cost more, but by then you should be generating revenue. SiteGround typically ranks very well in terms of site speed and customer service. The one (small) downside is that that it’s a little more “do it yourself” than our second option.
- Flywheel Hosting – Our second option (and where we host this site) is Flywheel. Initially, it’s a bit more expensive than SiteGround (for the first year anyway), but that small premium comes with some BIG advantages. Flywheel is a fully-managed hosting platform, which means you won’t need to worry about backups or your site being hacked. It’s also a much easier platform to use since Flywheel manages the technical stuff for you.
With Siteground, you’ll be able to register your domain as part of the signup process — something I’d recommend. I inadvertently registered my URL and hosting separately and it made it way more confusing than it needed to be for a website newbie like me. With Flywheel, you’ll need to keep your hosting account separate from your domain by registering your domain (URL) at GoDaddy, NameCheap, etc.
One upside to doing things separately is that your hosting account and your domain are protected by two separate accounts and therefore two separate passwords. While this certainly adds a layer of security, it’s not a critical step.
What is critical, however, is making sure you use a secure and difficult-to-guess password. In fact, if you can remember it in your head, it’s probably too easy.
For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re going to assume that you’re registering your name as part of the sign-up process at SiteGround.
Choosing Your Hosting Plan
SiteGround offers three levels of hosting. If you’re just starting out, feel free to pick the “StartUp” plan.
If you’re hosting more than one website (like we will be with our real life example), you’ll need to pick either “GrowBig” or “GoGeek.” The GrowBig plan also comes with some additional features that you might find useful, such as 30 days of backups, improved caching (which helps to make your website load faster) and even faster support (although SiteGround almost always has very fast customer support).
As soon as you’ve selected your plan, the first step will be to enter your desired domain name or website URL (if you’re purchasing them together).
(Or, if you registered a domain somewhere else, such as GoDaddy, select the option that says “I already have a domain to use.”)
Next, enter your desired domain name, select .com and click “Proceed.” Although a .com isn’t necessary, it is the most recognizable option. If it’s available, snag the .com every time!
You should then see a screen where you’re asked to enter all of your account details, as well as several domain options. Enter your personal details and then scroll down.
The bottom part should look similar to the one below.
You’ll notice an option to select Domain (WHOIS) Privacy. This will hide your personal details from the WHOIS database (keeping your mailing address private, for example).
If you have a business address or P.O. Box that you can use, you’ll be able to save yourself $12.00. (Note: This is one of those options that is really a personal preference. For example, I didn’t choose it and also didn’t have a P.O. Box right away.)
You’ll also see an option for SG Site Scanner. Again, this is a personal choice. And here’s the trick:
Knowing that your website has been hijacked or injected with malicious code is only half the battle. The other half involved is removing and cleaning your website and this is something you’ll be responsible for doing on your own. We’ll cover some plugin options for this a little later.
In contrast, although Flywheel Hosting costs a little bit more, they also provide a hack-free guarantee.
The final step is to click “PAY NOW.”
With that, you have successfully purchased a hosting account and secured your url (if you chose to do them together). Exciting, right?
One very important thing to remember: Use a password that is impossible to guess. Not sure how to pick a hard one? Try Random.Org’s free password generator tool.
Changing Your Nameserver Settings
This can seem like a confusing concept, but don’t worry – it’s actually pretty easy.
One of the things we need to do is make sure your domain is pointed to your server (hosting account). Where you make these changes will depend on where you’ve registered your domain name.
If you registered your domain with Siteground, it’s basically done for you as part of the setup process. However, if you’ve registered your name somewhere like NameCheap or GoDaddy, you’ll need to set your nameservers. The image below will give you an idea of what you looking for (this particular one is Namecheap).
Here are the steps in Namecheap:
- Hover over your login name on the top left of the screen “Domains,” then click “Dashboard.”
- Next, click “Domain List” on the left-hand navigation menu.
- On the next screen, click on the domain name you are trying to change, then click “Manage” on the right-hand side.
- There will be two nameservers listed about 1/2 way down the page.
- Make sure that the nameservers (ns1.siteground***.com and ns2.siteground***.com) are listed in the Primary and Secondary locations as seen in the image above. If they are, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Important: Anytime you change or initially setup nameservers, it will take 24-48 for the changes to take place across the internet. Sometimes this happens much faster, but as a general rule, it’s best to wait a full day after making these changes.
DAY 2: Installing WordPress
With your hosting account set up, your domain name pointed to your server and a good night’s sleep behind you, it’s time to get started installing WordPress.
Why Choose WordPress?
Let’s cut right to the chase – WordPress is the world’s leading content management system (CMS) – and for good reason:
- It’s used by more websites than any other platform.
- It’s 100% free and offers hundreds of free themes to pick from.
- It’s extensible, which means you can add all kinds of functionality if and when you need it.
- It’s easy to use and learn – but it does require some practice.
- There are an amazing number of free and paid resources available.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of great reasons to make WordPress your website platform of choice. We did and think you should, too!
Once you’ve logged into SiteGround you’ll see your account management panel like the one below:
Let’s go ahead and click on the “My Accounts” tab. Then click on the red “Go to cPanel” button like you see below:
This will take you to your cPanel access where you can click on the WordPress auto installer.
Next, you’ll be taken to the initial install screen where you can click the blue “Install” button.
You should be presented with your software setup screen where we’re going to enter the following information (see the screenshot below if you’re confused by any of these steps):
- Choose Protocol: Select http:// (if you’ve selected the GrowBig plan or higher, and are taking advantage of the free SSL, select https://).
- Choose Domain: Make sure your domain is selected.
- In Directory: Leave this blank.
- Site Name: Enter the name of your website.
- Site Description: Enter a description of your website (this can always be changed later).
- Enable Multisite (WPMU): Leave this unchecked.
- Admin Username: Select any username or use the one that is automatically generated.
- Admin Password: Enter your desired password (this should be impossible to guess and VERY difficult to remember, remember?).
- Admin Email: Enter your email address.
- Select Language: Usually English.
- Select Plugins: CHECK “Limit Login Attempts (Loginizer).”
- Choose Theme: Leave this set to “None.”
- Advanced Options: Generally, you don’t need to worry about these.
Double check all of your information, make sure you write down your login details, then click “INSTALL.”
If everything is successful (and it should be), you’ll see a message telling you everything is ready to go.
Before we call it quits for today, let’s just make sure the installation works properly. To do that, we’re going to visit your WordPress Admin Panel by going to the following address:
http:/your-domain-name.com/wp-admin/ (replace “your-domain-name” with your url) 😉
Your login screen should look just like the image below. Enter your username and password, then click login. If you end up on your WordPress Admin Panel, you’ll know you’ve done everything right.
And if you’ve made it this far (this is the hardest part), let’s call today a success and take a little break from website building.
DAY 3: Configuring WordPress
Whoohoo – you’re back for more!
That means that there are two pieces of good news:
- You didn’t get scared away on days one or two, which is where most people get stuck when setting up WordPress.
- The rest of this process is much more interesting – you’ll see immediate results from your efforts as you go.
If you’ve already logged into the admin area of WordPress, you’re in the right place. If not, head to your login screen and enter your username and password. You’ll find your login at this address:
http:/yourdomainname.com/wp-admin/ (i.e. for Horkey HandBook it’s, https:/horkeyhandbook.com/wp-admin/)
The first thing you’ll see is the WordPress admin dashboard. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but don’t worry. We’re only going to tackle each area as we need to, and there will be lots of things that you can just ignore for the time being – they’re just unnecessary for getting your website live and in front of clients. Which is your number one objective, right?
For day three, we’re going to work on accomplishing the following objectives:
- Configuring WordPress
- Installing your base plugins
That’s it! Just two things for today and then you can take another short break.
You’ll notice that whenever possible, we’ll batch tasks together to make the process more efficient. For example, we’ll install all of our basic plugins at the same time and we’ll create all of the initial pages at the same time – doing so saves a lot of back and forth and extra mouse clicks.
(Plus, it’s easier to remember what you’re doing and burn it into your memory if you do it a few times back-to-back!)
Alright, enough preamble – let’s get rolling!
Basic WordPress Settings
First, on the list is configuring some of the basic WordPress settings.
You will only need to complete this task once. You’ll see the Settings menu on the bottom left of your admin screen, just like in the image below.
Here are the three steps you want to complete (for now) in that menu:
First, we’re going to change the permalink structure to “Post name.” To do so, select “Post name” and save your changes.
What this does is change the URL structure of your website to something that is more reader-, user- and search engine-friendly.
Instead of a blog post having a URL that looks like this: http://elizabethneumann.com/?p=123, the URL will look like this instead: http://elizabethneumann.com/your-post-name/
(Much better, right?) 🙂
Next, in the general settings tab, you’ll want to do the following:
- Make sure your site title is correct. We’re using Elizabeth Neumann | Virtual Assistant.
- If you have a tagline, you can enter it here; or you can leave it blank.
- Set the time zone to match your location.
- Save your changes.
Everything else can remain in the default settings unless there is something you want to specifically change (like the date format).
The reading settings are largely optional as well and these will depend upon personal preferences and how you want your site to look. For our purposes, we’re going to change two settings:
- Change “Blog pages to show at most” to five posts.
- Change “For each article in a feed, show” to Summary.
Again, both of these options are more of a personal preference than anything else. Showing only five posts means that at the bottom of the fifth post, your reader will have to click through to the next page. Basically, we’re trying to do your reader a favor by not making them scroll to eternity. Showing a summary accomplishes a similar task – if your posts are long, even five posts can represent a lot of scrolling. It’s easier for your reader to just click “Continue Reading.”
And the easier you make it for your reader, the more likely they’ll be to come back and/or stick around to peruse your site in the first place!
For now, those are the only changes we’re going to make in your settings. Obviously, there are a lot more options, but none of them should get in the way of launching your website (our number one goal, remember?).
Another reminder – once your site is live, you can always go back and tweak some of the settings or experiment. But landing your first client is more important for now.
Installing Your Base Plugins
There are over 42,000 plugins in the WordPress Plugin Directory and thousands more premium plugins available from private vendors.
As you can imagine, it’s easy to get distracted when there are so many options available. What we recommend is installing a few must-have plugins to begin with, and then down the road, if you really need some specific functionality, you can always add more.
Note: You’ll notice some additional menu options and plugins installed on our demo because it’s an existing site. Don’t worry if your screen looks a little different.
For today, here are the four FREE plugins we’re going to install:
- Antispam Bee – This plugin will help to dramatically reduce the number of spam comments – saving you hours of clicking and moving things into the trash folder.
- Limit Login Attempts – This plugin will automatically lock out any person who tries to login to your WordPress website with an incorrect username or password after a predetermined number of failed attempts (installed during the initial WordPress setup).
- Yoast SEO – Install and activate this plugin to improve your site’s SEO, but don’t spend too much time on it right now.
- Ninja Forms – This is an easy-to-use and free form plugin (think contact forms).
That’s it! Seriously.
You can add more plugins later if you really need to, but for now, we’re capping it at these four. The more plugins you have, the more security breach opportunities a hacker has and the slower your site may load (especially if you’re not diligent about keeping things up-to-date).
To get started installing the above four plugins, just select Plugins >> Add New.
The plugins at the top of your screen might not be the same. No worries, you can also search for them. Once you see the plugin you’re looking for, just click “Install Now,” then when prompted, “Activate Plugin.”
This will redirect you to the main plugin screen where you can click “Add New” and repeat the process for the remaining plugins. Both the Yoast and Ninja Forms plugins might redirect you to a new page – no worries, just head back to Plugins >> Add New until you’re done.
Once you’ve installed all four plugins, your plugin screen should show them as activated.
All of your installed plugins should be listed and as long as they are activated, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Configuring Your Plugins
Most of the plugins that you’ve installed can be left with their default settings, but there are a few little things we want to change.
1. Yoast SEO
How these setting work will depend upon which theme you’re using, as well as how you set up your individual pages. The homepage we’re using for this site is static (always displays the same content).
You might choose to use a custom homepage for your site or you might decide to use more of a blog format. Don’t spend too much time worrying about this right now. Just remember that eventually, you’ll want to come back and revisit how this plugin works.
Take a look at the images below to get an overview of how we’ve set up Yoast SEO. Because the Yoast SEO plugin is updated so frequently, here’s what we recommend: Install all of the plugins and configure the basic settings described below. Then, once you got the rest of your site completed and you’ve started pitching clients, head over the Yoast.com and begin learning more about all the different features this plugin offers.
Titles & Metas >> Post Types
Posts Title Template: %%title%% %%sep%% Elizabeth Neumann %%sep%% Virtual Assistant
Pages Title Template:%%title%% %%sep%% Elizabeth Neumann %%sep%% Virtual Assistant
2. Ninja Forms
Ninja Forms is a great plugin for adding forms to your website. The basic version is free, but it’s highly extensible as well in case you want to add features down the road.
Note: Using Ninja Forms could be a tutorial in itself, but fear not! Ninja forms has some excellent tutorials here to help you with the setup. Building an initial contact form shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Although Ninja Forms is an excellent plugin, you might find that your theme comes with a pre-configured plugin option that works just as well.
With day 3 done, you’ve successfully completed some of the most important tasks for this week. Spending a few minutes configuring WordPress properly and installing just a few important plugins is often a step that new business owners overlook. From here on, things get a lot more interesting.
DAY 4: Creating WordPress Pages
Today is a pretty easy day… and it actually involves some writing. Whoop!
We’re going to complete the following two tasks:
- Create your page structure.
- Add and configure your content.
Before you get started with creating pages, it’s a good idea to write out a list. Here’s what we’ll be creating for our demo site.
- An About page (to share a little personal information, such as what region you live in, what your blog is about and who it’s for)
- A Hire Me page (to showcase your samples, explain what you do and who you do it for, and add a link to “get in touch”)
- A Contact page (to list your contact info – your email, Google phone number and a contact form)
- A FAQ or Resources page (You can skip this one initially, but keep it on your radar.)
It’s probably a good idea to start with something similar. Remember, you can always add additional pages after your website is live (and the main goal is to ship your site!).
Adding New Pages
Creating pages in WordPress is pretty easy. Hover over “Pages,” then click “Add New.”
Enter your title and then click “Save Draft.” As soon as you’ve saved your draft, you’ll see an option at the top of your screen to “Add New.” You can click that and repeat the process until all of your pages are added.
Once you’re done creating the required pages, you can click on Pages >> All Pages and you should see something similar to this:
Before we get started adding your content, let’s hover over that sample page you see at the bottom and click “trash” – we won’t be needing it. The “Sample Page” and “Sample Post” are typically found in a new WordPress installation, but aren’t something you’re going to need once you know how to create your own.
With all of your core pages created, it’s time to start adding your content. Yippee!
Adding Content to Your Pages
Adding content to your WordPress pages is also a simple process … for the most part. We’re going to run through one page here. Then all you need to do is duplicate the process for your other pages.
From our “All Pages” screen that you see above, just hover over the page you want to add content to and select “Edit.” That will bring us back to our page editor.
Most people find the WordPress editor pretty simple to use.
If you’re typing content directly into the editor, you can use the “Visual Tab” (see below). However, if you’re pasting text from another program, it’s best to paste into the “Text Tab” and then switch back to “Visual.”
(The “Text Tab” is also where you’d enter any HTML, like photo sourcing from Compfight.)
Once you’ve entered your text and saved your draft, you can go ahead and preview your page by clicking the “Preview” button (it’s next to the “Save Draft” button).
You can see from the image below that our text is entered, but wouldn’t it look prettier if we added an image?
Let’s do that!
WordPress makes adding images easy.
We already have a pre-sized image that is 300px X 533px. If your image is bigger, it’s not a big deal. Just remember that in general, the smaller the file size, the better (for site memory space and loading speed).
To add the image to the page you can just drag it right from your desktop into the post.
- First, place your cursor where the image will be placed.
- Next, drag the image from your desktop onto your page.
- Once you drop your image into the page, you’ll see the “Insert Media” page (see image below).
- Under “Attachment Display Settings” change the alignment to “Right,” “Link to None,” and the “Size” to approx 250px wide.
- Click “Insert into page.”
(An alternate way to do this is to place your cursor where you want the image, click “Insert Media” from the toggle toolbar and then upload from your computer. Then follow steps 4 and 5.)
WordPress will take you back to the editor where you can adjust the size of the image if necessary (just drag the bottom corner).
Then, save the draft and preview the page again. It should look something like the image below. If you’re happy with how things look at this stage, go ahead and publish the page.
You’re going to repeat the following process for each of your four pages:
- Add your content
- Save your draft
By now you should have added your About, Hire Me and Contact pages. If you’ve gotten this far and kept on the “good enough” (rather than “needs to be perfect”) train, then you’ve made significant process and should be proud of yourself!
And you did it on your own – feels good, doesn’t it?
DAY 5: Understanding Menus and Widgets
Welcome to day five. You’re doing great!
Today’s focus is on creating your navigation menus and widgets. Navigation menus are the links that help visitors find what they are looking for on your website.
That’s an important step to remember as we go through this process, and really, this applies to naming your pages as well. Why?
You don’t want visitors or prospective clients wondering where they can find the information they are looking for. Pages such as your contact page, hire me, rates, FAQ, etc., should be called what they are.
Your navigation links should be the same. Simple, easy to find and convenient.
Creating Your First Menu
Ready to take a stab at building your first menu? Great!
Head over to “Appearance” >> “Menus” and let’s get started.
1. Enter a Menu Name. We suggest something like Primary Navigation.
2. Click “Create Menu.”
3. Next, click the “View All” tab under “Pages” and select all of the pages you’d like to be included in the menu.
4. Click “Add to Menu.” This will move the items with check marks into the Menu Structure Column.
5. Select “Primary Navigation” under “Menu Settings.”
6. Click “Save Menu.”
Easy peasy, right?
A Few Important Points about Menus
- A home link is not mandatory. With your primary navigation saved, let’s run through a few things about navigation menus. As you can see, we added a link for “Home.” This is totally optional and most of the time, I don’t include a home link – the logo accomplishes the same thing and most people will click on it instinctively.
- Menus can be reorganized. You’ll notice that right now our menu is in alphabetical order, but it doesn’t need to stay that way. Just drag and drop your menu into whatever order you prefer, then click save.
- Menus can be nested. Although we don’t have a lot of different pages for this website, if you were offering a variety of different services, you could nest them all under one services tab (i.e. have a drop down under “hire me” for writing, VA, coaching, etc.).
Creating Nested Menus
To create a nested menu, follow these steps:
1. Create a services link by going to “Custom Links” and entering “#” in the URL space and “Services” in the “Link Text” field. See the picture below.
2. Click “Add to Menu.”
3. Finally, click and drag your individual service menu items under the services tab. When positioned correctly, they’ll be underneath and slightly to the right. Once you’ve dropped them into the right place, just remember to save.
You Can Have Multiple Menus
As your website grows, you might decide that you need more than one navigation menu. You might have one near the header, another in the sidebar and another in the footer. Each menu can contain the same links, different links or any combination that you desire.
Just repeat the same process as above, starting with “Create a New Menu.” Remember to name each menu something different (and descriptive) and don’t assign multiple menus to the “Primary Navigation” label.
Setting up Widgets
Let’s start by heading to “Appearance” >> “Widgets.”
Your screen will probably look something like this:
Although you might not need to use many widgets when you first launch your website, we’re going to cover the basics anyway. Because, at some point in the future, you will want to add some widgets to either the sidebar or the footer.
The first thing we’ll do is remove the default widgets from the sidebar. Just drag and drop them off to the side. Your left sidebar should now be empty.
We’re not going to add any widgets right now, but while you’re here, it’s a good time to familiarize yourself with how they work. Widgets essentially provide additional information or added functionality.
Widgets can be added to a variety of places including:
- Right Headers
Where you can add widgets is largely dependent on the theme you are using. Not all themes have the same areas available to place content. For example, you might find that your theme has no footer widget areas or no right header area.
A few commonly used widgets include:
- Displaying a list of categories
- Displaying a list of recent posts
- Social icons
- A search box
- A Twitter feed
- Simple text boxes
A note of caution: Adding widgets can be a slippery slope – just because you can add content to your sidebar, does not mean you should. It’s a good idea to think very carefully about what kind of widgets (if any) you place in your sidebar.
Try it out! Spend a few minutes while you’re here dragging widgets into one of your sidebars just to see what they do. Once you’re done, clear them all out – that’s right – every. single. one.
DAY 6: Selecting a WordPress Theme
Day six has arrived. You’re in the homestretch now!
Today’s focus is on installing your theme and setting up your social media profiles. Because there are so many options to pick from when it comes to themes, you’ll need to do a little experimenting on your own here.
We have some solid recommendations for theme options for you newbs. In the final section, we’ll also run through an example of how to approach the website design/redesign process for those of you with existing websites.
As exciting as this may sound, it also comes with a word of caution:
Day six is often where people get caught up. Launching a website goes from being a seven-day project to one that lasts a month or six. And the enemy is something we talked about earlier – perfectionism. Don’t let this happen to you!
Here’s the deal (if you’ve forgotten) – our objective here is a live website in seven days or less.
Again, that means you’ll have to let go of aiming for a perfect website on your first try and realize that done (or good enough) is ALWAYS better than perfect. Because perfect never happens. And even if you think your site is perfect, you’re bound to want to make changes tomorrow, next week or next month.
The beauty of WordPress is that you can launch a minimalist, but an attractive site this week – and continue making small improvements over the next 12 months.
Just imagine how great your website will be if you get it live this week, and then commit to making two small improvements per week for the next 12 months. I have a feeling it’ll be (wait for it) LEGENDARY! 😉
I know we’re HAMMERING this into the ground, but we hear every day how launching a website took WAY more time than anticipated and how investing three or six months building one took away from building a successful blog or online business. So don’t let that be you. You’ve been warned!
How to Decide on a WordPress Theme
The first thing we are going to do today is to pick a theme.
One of the great things about WordPress is that there are literally thousands of themes to pick from. With so many choices, how do you decide which theme will be best suited to your needs? It’s not an easy decision to make (it’s actually my least favorite decision to make!). But to make things a little easier for you, we have three solid recommendations:
1. Sydey from ATHEMES: Is a free business theme that will allow you get your website up and running with relative ease. It doesn’t necessarily have all the features of the paid theme options listed below, but if you’re on a budget, it’s a great place to start.
2. Divi by Elegant Themes: If you have room in your budget for $90/year, Divi from Elegant Themes is another great place to start. This theme will allow you to create virtually unlimited layout options as well as make ongoing changes. Divi is the theme we’re using in the design and layout example that’s included in this tutorial.
3. Genesis from StudioPress: Our third and final recommendation is virtually any theme from StudioPress. Although these themes are a little more time-consuming to set up, Genesis is a great framework to work with and offers plenty of styling options. It’s also not a recurring annual fee like Elegant Themes.
Each theme comes with its own specific installation instructions, but the initial process is generally the same.
To install your WordPress theme follow these steps:
- Download the theme to your desktop (it’ll look like this: themename.zip).
- In your WordPress admin menu, head to “Appearance” >> “Themes.”
- Click “Add New” near the top left corner.
- Click “Upload Theme” near the top left corner.
- When the file selection window pops up, select your theme file and click “OPEN.”
- Click “Install Now.”
- Click “Activate” and you’re ready to go!
That’s all there is to it.
Your new theme is now installed. From here you can work on customizing your theme according to the individual instructions that are included with the theme. This is one area where paid themes can present a real advantage – they often come with great support and tutorials that make setup much faster.
Again, at the end of this tutorial, we’ll run through a real-life example that shows how we used the Divi Theme to redesign the website of one of our community members. For the rest of today, we’re going to spend a few minutes setting up your social media sharing buttons.
Adding Social Sharing
Writing content is only half of the battle. Promoting content is the second half (or maybe even two-thirds). So let’s make it as easy as possible for someone to share your content when they like what they’re reading.
We’ll do this by adding social sharing buttons to your posts.
There are lots of plugins available to accomplish this task, but after experimenting with a wide variety of options we tend to favor a plugin called Social Warfare. It’s a lightweight (fast) plugin that offers plenty of features, as well as both a free and paid version.
Here’s how to install it:
Head over to “Plugins” >> “Add New” where you’ll see a screen like the one below. In the search bar, you can enter “Social Warfare” and this screen should pop up. Click install just like you did with the previous plugins.
Click the activate button and then go to “Social Warfare” in your admin menu.
You’ll see a list social networks under the “Display” section. Just drag and drop the service that you want into the “Active” section.
To finish things off, we’ll scroll to the bottom and adjust the settings as desired.
For our site, we’ve set the social sharing buttons to be displayed on posts only.
Once you’ve saved your settings, head over to any of your current posts and you should find the icons at the bottom of each post. If they aren’t there, try refreshing your browser. If you spend a little time with this plugin, you’ll discover some other easy to adjust settings too, but for now, this is all you’ll need.
Pro Tip: I share my posts manually on social using these buttons after hitting publish on every new blog post. I then try to do so again in the new few days that follow (as well as sharing them via Buffer and via an email blast to my newsletter subscribers).
Today you very quickly took two very important steps: you installed a new theme to your website AND you added social sharing buttons to your posts. That wasn’t too hard, was it?
DAY 7: A Final Review Before Launch
Hooray, you made it to day seven! Today is the day your site goes live and you can begin adding content and attaching their URLs to your pitches.
Before you click publish, let’s run through a couple of things first:
- First, a checklist of everything that should be on your site prior to the launch.
- Second, a list of design considerations – or things you should think about as you’re customizing your site.
The Must-Have Checklist
Remember, you’re launching a minimum viable product here. Your goal is to get it done, not get it perfect.
For example, even this tutorial isn’t quite right. There is a long list of things that should probably be included, but it’s scheduled to go live in under 24 hours. That’s the deadline that must be met.
But that’s okay. Because we’ll ship it and then continue to improve it over time. The early adopters benefit, because it wouldn’t be around at all if we waited until it was perfect. And their latter counterparts benefit, because we took the time to launch it and then tweak it a little bit each week to improve it for everyone.
Let me guess, this is the conversation you’re having with me in your head right about now: “But I’m not quite ready. I just have a few more things that I want to do.” or “I’ll just take one more day to make it just right.” Don’t do it!
Allow me to share a few images with you that I am sure will get my point across. A little trip down memory lane, perhaps?
This is the original Horkey HandBook:
Nice and clean, right? Minimalist – not the best, but not the worst either.
This is Horkey HandBook a few months later:
We’ll call this the teenage years of my blog and website. A little awkward, but I was taking baby steps into branding and at least experimenting with things.
And this was Horkey Handbook in October, 2014:
A much better logo, but still not the right fit for the purposes of my site and audience. But hey, again I’m not afraid to try new things.
When 2016 rolled around I became a little more serious about promoting courses and building a list:
You can see that we added some more colour, improved consistency and made some huge improvements with images thanks to Mickey.
January of 2017 saw a complete website redesign, a shift in branding and more focus on providing great content:
And the longer my site was around, the more I knew what it was supposed to be. It’s also probably not the last time it goes through a little makeover either. Such is life.
Regardless, you get the point, right? Your design does not have to be completed and set in stone on day seven – it’s a process.
Here is a list of items that you should be checking before you start including your URL in pitches:
1. Website Navigation
Make sure your navigation is simple, easy to use and unambiguous.
You should also make sure each navigation link leads to the proper page. If someone clicks on your hire me page and it returns a 404 error, you might just lose a potential client.
Here are some other things to think about:
- If your website involves a lot of scrolling, add navigation to the footer of your website.
- Can you intersperse the occasional “hire me” link into your content?
- When you write a post, link to other posts on your website.
2. Important Pages
Make sure all of your essential pages are published.
At the very least that should include:
- An About page
- A Services page
- A Contact page
Over time, you can expand on these. You might include a resources page, or decide to break your services page into different categorized pages (using that whole nested menus trick we taught you earlier).
For now, get these three published and move on!
Having content on your website is more important than having a site that looks perfect – especially if you’re a writer.
Although we talk about continuing to make small improvements on your website over the long-term, you are probably better off spending some time adding content now.
Our recommendation is to write and publish 10-15 blog posts before you spend a second tweaking your website that is already live. (Note: You only need 2-3 posts up to “launch it to the public.” I.e. emailing your friends and family, posting to social media channels, etc.)
4. Contact Information
Make it easy for people to find your contact details and get in touch with you.
Remember that different people are comfortable with different communication media. People have inquired about hiring me via the contact form on my website, via Facebook, text message, and yes, the old fashioned telephone.
The point here is to make yourself available – the harder someone has to work to get in touch with you, the less likely they are to do so.
Pro Tip: If you’re relying on a contact form, test it. When you first install your form plugin, make sure it’s working properly. Then, every time there is an update, test again.
5. Social Sharing
Make it easy for people to share your content via social networks. You never know when someone will come across something you wrote and decide to get in touch.
One reason why we just added social sharing buttons to your blog posts, is that when someone lands on your site, and they see links to your social networks front and center, what are you telling them?
“Hey, I know you just got here, but leave my site and connect with me on social.”
That’s right, you’re encouraging them to leave your website – to visit the abyss more commonly known as Facebook (or Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). What you should be encouraging them to do is visit your “Hire Me” page.
Important Design Considerations
As you’re getting ready to launch your website, you’re likely very excited (and maybe a tad nervous, but that’s a good thing). You want to find a way to put your personal stamp on things – to show your personality and let people know what you’re all about.
And there’s nothing wrong with that fundamentally.
The problem is, your website isn’t for you. It’s for your visitors and your potential clients.
I’m not a designer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an eye for good design.
And to be 100% honest (cause you know that’s how we are around here), there are a lot of writer’s websites out there that contain some awful design elements. Here are some things to think about as you’re customizing your website:
Colorful and visually appealing is great.
Obnoxious is not.
Use colors to accent things that are important, and to make the experience of visiting your website visually appealing. At Horkey HandBook, we used to use a lot of pink (we’ve since moved on to a grey/teal/pink combo).
You might not like pink, but there is a big difference between the way the website currently looks and something like this:
And you thought there could never be too much pink, right?
Use colors to draw attention to a call-to-action, your navigation elements and your logo. Make it big and bold, but don’t forget the beautiful.
2. Background Images
Background images are currently a popular design trend, but it’s also very easy to get it wrong. For example, just because you love astrology, doesn’t mean your visitors will feel the same. If you must use a background image, try to accomplish two things:
- Make it relevant to your website.
- Make it subtle.
Again, we’re not trying to take you out of your website. We just want to encourage you to think of the end result you’re looking to achieve when you’re choosing your design elements.
If it’s a hobby blog, do it up. There’s no such thing as too much pink if you like it. But if it’s a site geared towards building an audience or encouraging prospects to hire you, you might want to think twice.
Use good quality images that are either relevant to your audience, the post or are neutral. Although stock photos are beautiful, they can add up quickly and get expensive.
You can turn to sites like Unsplash for free, aesthetically-pleasing photos. Just remember that lots of other people do the same. It’s tough to stand out when you’re using the same images as thousands of other websites.
Pro Tip: I combined a family photo shoot with a business one and got lots of great photos to use on my site, while also getting our Christmas card photo out of the way. #Winning
Advertising – It’s a No-No
Subtle and relevant advertising through affiliate links is fine.
However, if you’re trying to sell your writing or VA services on your website and a visitor sees ads like the ones below, ask yourself whether it’s presenting a professional image or not?
For example, if your lawyer’s website had ads like these, would you think twice about putting them on retainer?
If you’ve made it this far, and checked off the items included here on day seven, it’s time to do a little happy dance and launch the heck out of your website.
But first, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. We’ve covered a lot of material over the past seven days, even if it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The best part? You now have a website and content that you can share with potential clients!
Your last homework assignment: Right after you hit publish, craft an email that you can send to 10 people that know and love you. Let them know that you’ve just created your first website (on your own), that you’re in the market for clients. Then ask them if they know anyone that they could pass your url along to.
That’s officially launching, baby!
Lastly, we want to hear from you!
Don’t let that beauty of a new website get dusty. Instead, post the link in the comments – we’d love to check it out!
Have feedback on something you think should be elaborated on or added? Please share in the comments below.
Still struggling with something? Post a comment and we’ll try to help you out!
Check back here shortly to see how we worked through the process of a complete site redesign. This is a great example of how you can start building your business with a less-that-perfect site and then make improvements when you have both the time and budget to do so.