In the last month, I’ve seen a couple people on Facebook and LinkedIn looking for professional firms or developers to set up simple websites for them. For a book launch, for a new newsletter, for a one-person startup.
Hiring someone to build, however, is a big and usually expensive step.
Before going down that road, you should ask: Can I build this myself?
No-code tools are getting better every day. And if what you’re building is relatively simple — and, honestly, even if it’s not that simple — you may well be able to build a pretty good version without hiring expensive experts.
Here’s a rundown of some great tools entrepreneurs (media and otherwise) should learn.
(And, just in case anyone wonders, I don’t do affiliate products in this newsletter. I have no business relationship with any tools mentioned here, other than as a user; I do not receive any compensation if you sign up! There are great alternatives to almost all of these.)
1) For general-purpose sites: Leadpages
Whatever your project, you probably want a landing page to gather leads, at the bare minimum.
Having played with a lot of landing-page builders, I’d say Leadpages is the best in terms of drag-and-drop usability. It integrates with basically anything you’d need in terms of funneling your leads to an email service provider — or even processing payments if you want to sell directly on the page you build.
Leadpages also has a full-site builder, if you need a site with multiple pages.
My favorite Leadpages feature is the ability to A/B test variations on a landing page, so you can see which one converts better. I’ve seen variations as large as 30% in landing-page performance, so it’s nice to be able to test quickly and pick a winner.
It’s also very simple to set up a custom domain or subdomain (e.g. signup.yourdomain.com), so that your project looks professional.
2) For communities: Circle.so
There are a lot of community platforms vying right now to be “Facebook Groups without Facebook.”
I’d say Circle is breaking away from the pack.
It supports Single Sign-On (so that users won’t have to create a separate password just for your community). It allows custom CSS so that your community can look like the rest of your site. And it has great usability, so your members shouldn’t have a huge learning curve getting used to its functionality.
Like all freestanding community platforms, you still have to solve the problem of getting your users to return time and time again. But that’s the price of admission if you want to avoid building on Facebook (which, you absolutely should avoid if you don’t want Mark Zuckerberg to own your business.)
3) For database products: Softr
I love this one.
Are you looking to build a product the core of which is a database? That is… a job-listing site, a real-estate-listing site, a travel-listing site.
Or a site where you sell things like online courses.
Or a marketplace site.
Or an upvote-powered site (think a mini-reddit clone).
Softr plugs into popular cloud database platform Airtable to power what you want to build.
Connect to Stripe and you can process payments.
This is a newer company — that just raised some money — and it’s shipping new features every week.
It’s very cool (and for the next 13 days, they’re doing lifetime discount pricing).
4) For basic small business sites: Squarespace
For a small business site, an author site, or other projects where you’re not publishing a ton of content, it’s hard to beat Squarespace on the combination of low price and ease-of-building. The site builder isn’t quite as easy or fun as Leadpages, but it will get the job done nicely without hiring a web designer.
(Warning: If you need to publish a lot of content or blog posts, Squarespace quickly gets very clunky. You’re better off on WordPress.)
For a light ecommerce site, you can integrate with plenty of services and payment options on the pricier plans.
5) For everything: Zapier
If you’re building anything by yourself in the no-code space, you’re probably going to have to learn to use Zapier. It’s the glue that stitches together (wait, that metaphor can’t be right…) the no-code web (oh my god… this metaphor is off the rails… and this parenthetical is making it worse).
If the email-capture form you’re using doesn’t integrate directly with your email service provider, Zapier’s what bridges the gap. For 3,000+ apps, Zapier is the tool that will help you make Product A play with Product B.
And, seriously, it’s fun to use. It’s like a little logic puzzle that makes your business run.
You’ll also want to look at…
(to hire for the things you don’t want to build yourself), Unsplash
(for all the stock photos you’ll ever need… free), and Canva
(to make graphics look great with no design talent).
Of course, any growing business someday will hit a point where you need to bring in the professionals to make things look… professional.
But you don’t need to spend a bunch of money on Day One. You can test your idea more easily than ever these days with no-code tools like the ones I’ve touched on here. And push that expensive someday back as far as you can.