Have you ever wanted to build a website and were not sure what skills you needed to get started? Most people know that in the process, a computer has to be involved, therefore a good knowledge of computers would be important. This is not entirely true, it is akin to saying that in order to learn to drive you need roads therefor you need a good knowledge of roads... No you don't need to know how roads are built to drive a car, and you sure don't need to know how computers are built to build a website.
I like to compare websites to pamphlets. Remember those? They were made of paper and folded on themselves a few times to create the impression of pages. Asking how to build a pamphlet sounds ridiculous right? Just print something on paper, glossy paper if want to go fancy, and fold the paper on itself a few times and you hand them off to your cousin to distribute them to your schools. You wouldn't want to be seen distributing pamphlets now, do you?
The process is simple, but the bulk of the work comes from creating the content you will put on the paper. An empty paper by itself will not be a very good way to share your thoughts. In fact, if you have a great idea and then you take a blank piece of paper, fold it a few times then hand it to someone, they will probably try to get you some help.
But if you have an idea, research it, write it, rewrite it, and polish it, then print it on nice glossy paper, fold it a few times, stand by the bus stop, and hand it to every person mounting the bus, they might spare a few seconds to read what you have to say.
In other words, what you have to say or want to communicate is much more important than the shape of the piece of paper you print it on.
Now back to websites. Yes, a website is a piece of paper everyone has access to, and just like paper a website has pages, we call them URLs. You can even make it glossy if you want.
There are different tools to help you create a website, but what matters most is the ideas you want to share with the world. If you want you can open a new tab right now and create a website using Wordpress, Joomla, Wix, Squarespace, and ... that's all I know, but there must be more. It only takes a few minutes to do so I can wait... Go on now.
No? Well yes, just having the tools is not enough. You can create a website, but then what are you going to put on it?
Skill #1: Be the expert
The first skill you need to create a website, is a good mastery of the idea you want to share. A few people ask me to build them a website a few times a month, and they are almost always disappointed by my questions. Here is one common example. Many just want a place where they can upload their pictures to share with the world.
Me:$ So, how many pictures do you have?
Them:$ Oh no I haven't started yet.
Wanting to take pictures and having taken pictures are two very different things. It's nice to have ideas and all, but they are useless in your head. The need to have a website should not come from an idea of building a website, instead it should come as the solution to a problem you are having. For example:
- You reached a few people through your writing, and you can't get any more exposure. You need a website.
- You made a little game on the computer and your nephew says it is the best game he ever played. But you don't know how to get others to play your game. You need a website.
- You make the sweetest banana pudding in the world, and you want everyone to know your secret. You print the recipe and give it to all your friends but it's not enough. You need a website.
- More seriously, you need more customers for your brick and mortar store. You need a website.
Skill #2: Don't be afraid to trying
Remember those tools I listed earlier where you can go and build a website? Did you build your website? No? Did you try? Well this seems like the number one reason people don't have a website. No one tries them. Those tools are very easy to use. All you have to do is press a few buttons, drag a picture here and there, and then you are set. But the problem people stop and wonder, what if I drag the wrong picture? What if I put on a website and my friends see it and make fun of me (more on that later), what if I build the website wrong.
OK, maybe those don't apply to you. But the majority of people stop at buying the domain name. Developers work very hard to make those tools look as friendly as possible, but the minute a user sees a difficulty, he runs away, or report it to the next day. Then the next. Then the next. Ah, Inspcratination.
Skill #3: Grow a thick skin.
Those who don't understand what you are doing will make fun of you. Those who do, will remind you that there is someone else already doing what you are trying to do and is doing a better than you will ever do. Maybe a thousand people are ahead of you already.
When I wrote my very first blog post on this website, I posted it on reddit. A user told me that what I wrote was useless information.
Me $: Wouldn't you agree that if most tutorial on the web were using the new functions it will solve the problem?
Him$: No, I wouldn't.[...] I don't trust people to do that.
And when I added commenting, someone said something about my mother... The internet has a weird way of welcoming new comers. When you have your own website, some people will make it their mission to make you feel bad about yourself. You just have to go through it. It does not get better, You get better at handling it.
Skill #4: Technical skills?
This is the last thing I think is needed to have a website. It certainly helps, but it is not the most important skill. It helps because it allows you to customize things to your liking in a way not possible before. Let's say you used Wordpress to build your website. If you don't know PHP you have to rely on third party plugins to do the work for you. You have to hope that the developer stays up to date and constantly upgrade the tool.
If you know PHP, well you can do whatever you want with the website. You probably won't even need Wordpress for that matter, you can build your own Paper, or Pamphlet. Or Website, it's all the same.
The technical part allows you to build new features, optimize old code, and make the website faster. But it does not make the content better. You can certainly rely on prebuilt solutions to handle every aspect of it, and you can always pay someone a onetime fee to build things for you.
In other words...
Building a website is hard because it requires some unconventional skills. Knowing how to code is important, but it's not as challenging as coming up with a way to present your ideas. A trick I do is try to create what I want on paper first. If it makes sense on paper, then it might make sense as a website.
Not everyone is building a VR ready website, or the next Facetwit. So you can always find someone who can help you take care of your technical part, cheaply. Tweet me after you have done the first 3 steps. Think of a website as a pamphlet and you will see that building it is child's play.