Spend Money To Make Money

It’s a classic cliche that you see time and time again. In the world of online business, if you aren’t spending any money, you are going to have a tough time getting any income streams flowing in the first place.

Let’s look at building websites; the most basic form of web development that you’ll find yourself working on.

You could, of course, start with site builders like Wix or Foursquare that allow you to make the same cookie-cutter designed sites. Hey, they can look pretty good, what’s the problem with them?

Here are a few:

  • want to migrate to a better host? You can’t! You’re most likely going to have to pay for a full website overhaul if your business expands.
  • Wix is very cheap right off the bat, but what happens when you want to add things? Google Analytics for instance – which is mandatory for a business site – is only able to be installed on premium subscription plans. These can range up to $24 per month ($288 per year!)
  • it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to customize some parts of your site – such as the meta description of pages – to help your Google rankings
  • customers will know the price range for sites built with these website builders, so you will not be able to charge premium rates.

Okay, well site builders are out of the question. Maybe you should think about learning code and building sites from the ground up?

In the long run, I’d argue this is the best thing you could do financially. Getting involved in the world of programming will pay dividends for you in the long run, but – as much as those advertisements try to convince you that you can learn to program in less than two months – you will not be able to create quality websites in a short timeframe.

If you’re like me, you need to find a middle ground for site building. Something more profitable and more customizable than drag-and-drop site builders, yet something less complex than having to learn five complicated programming languages and how they can interact with each other.

There are, of course, a variety of solutions, but I settled on one that hit all the right marks in terms of personal preference: WordPress. Somewhere between 25%-30% of all web pages now run on the WordPress content management system, so you know there’s going to be support for your sites for the foreseeable future.

WordPress is completely free, and there are thousands of free themes and plugins to create with. I’ll go more in-depth on WordPress and it’s inner-workings in another article (Link <- if this link becomes active, that article is up!), but a general summary of each:

Themes – control the layout of your pages. Customized through the accompanying style.css sheet, the header and footer area of the page are created by your theme, as well as your font and image settings, margins between sections, etc.

Plugins – by installing plugins, you save yourself the effort of writing long pages of PHP code. They add features to your websites like galleries, online stores, social media feeds, or drag-and-drop builders that simplify your development experience.

By using WordPress with a theme and some plugins, you can absolutely create a website for nothing more than the cost of purchasing a domain name (~$10/year) and hosting (starting at $40/year which can be split between multiple sites with shared hosting).

If you can build a site for (almost) free, why is the title ‘Spend Money to Make Money’? 

Let’s look at that site that you created with the free themes and plugins. All of the code in that free theme you’re using is integrated with a version of WordPress, let’s say v3.0.

What happens when WordPress updates to v4.0? Some of that code integration may break, as some of the code in the WordPress CMS has been replaced. To fix it, the developers of your theme need to go back through the code to fix any bugs to create a new update that’s up to v4.0’s standards.

If you’re not paying for the theme, what incentive do the developers have to update it? The same goes for free plugins. Often times, those free themes and plugins have been created as practice for novice developers, and they then shelve them once complete so as to work on projects that actually make them money. No updates for you.

And being created by novice developers, free themes and plugins tend to be bloated with unnecessary code that bogs the site down, creating slower page-loading speed which is detrimental to both the user’s experience and Google rankings.

If you’re just building one website for your business and you don’t have much development experience, the common advice is to create it in WordPress and spend some time researching a quality premium theme that suits your needs.

However, if you’re going to be fashioning yourself as a WordPress site developer, you might want to think about purchasing some heavy-duty software that will streamline your workflow.

What I invested in to create better websites

The first thing I did was research into simplifying the building process, which led me to choose Beaver Builder (BB), a drag-and-drop plugin (if you’re interested in other WordPress builders, here’s a list of the top 5 with comparisons). I found that a great many people recommended Genesis, a $60 premium theme because it worked well with BB.

This was my first mistake.

After activating both, I was warned that I couldn’t just use the Genesis theme, now I needed a child theme. “What in the hell is a child theme?”, I thought.

A child theme is another $30-$60 investment. Woops.

Well, I’d already sunk the initial $60 into Genesis – which is apparently only a framework – so I purchased two child themes to go along with it. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, do some research before you buy anything. 

By stating that I’d made my first mistake earlier on, it implies that I must have made more. What else did I do wrong?

Editing the header and the footer. My God, what a pain in the ass that was. By purchasing the premium themes, I’d somehow made it harder to customize both. There was the advertisement text, “This theme was developed on the Genesis Framework” which I wanted to get rid of, and I ended up spending days exploring the backend of the site by accessing it with FTP (don’t even start with me, the place is an absolute mess) before just deleting the entire footer off my sites and redesigning them.

Making the page full-width? Had to get a plug-in for that. Same went for hiding the boring-as-hell navigation menu.

Finally, Black Friday 2017, I called it quits. I cut my losses and upgraded my Beaver Builder plan to include their native theme – and child theme! No hidden expenses! – plus their new Themer plugin which makes designing layouts a million times easier. Was it expensive? You bet it was.

Quickly built a site with the new software; a piece of cake. The site you’re reading this on has entirely been built with Beaver Builder, and a few other plugins to keep it ticking.

To be honest, I’m sure there are some simple things that I was missing with the Genesis theme. People use it in conjunction with Beaver Builder every day and they’ve created some amazing sites. I’m just not one of those people.

I spent two hours swearing at my computer screen, trying to get my post layouts to appear similar to the rest of my site before I just gave up with Genesis.

Upon purchasing the remaining BB products, I spent 10 minutes watching an introductory video on Vimeo (thanks, Justin Busa) and my blog page layouts turned out exactly how I wanted them to look within half an hour. The header was styled the way I wanted, I didn’t have to delve into the abyss of code through FTP to delete the footer, and I wasn’t tearing my hair out trying to restyle the sidebar.

Overall, I spent $300+ solely on the BB lineup, but it’s allowed me to create sites that are worth multiples of that figure. 

Could I develop the same, or even better, sites through purely coding, or WordPress with some custom code? Sure. But that’s a lot of time and a skillset that I just don’t have right now.

I’ve built WordPress sites without spending a dime on themes or plugins. Then I rebuilt those same sites with a premium theme and plugins that I didn’t research thoroughly enough.

And finally, I rebuilt this site and my others with Beaver Builder’s drag-and-drop builder, theme, and the Themer plugin. Believe me when I say that this site is considerably faster and prettier than prior versions.

Yes, I spent a considerable amount of money on the tools, but I’m now confident that I can build awesome websites for people that need them.

If you’re interested in purchasing Beaver Builder, just press this pretty link right here. It’s an affiliate link, meaning I make a percentage of the profit if you purchase anything after clicking it. I wouldn’t be directing you there if I didn’t think it would make your website development process a million times easier. I use it, I love it, and they have the world’s best Facebook group if you ever need support.

What other investments have I made? 

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop 

For a fee of ~$12/month, I am able to retouch both my own photos and stock photos off of the web to suit my needs. This includes cropping images for my sites to optimize them for faster loading.

Optimus

At $20/year, Optimus takes all of my uploaded images and optimizes them for speed. Image files are unnecessarily large with things like metadata still include, and Optimus cleans them up without damaging how they look when presented on my pages. It costs $99/year to use it on customer sites, and I’m sure I’ll be making that investment in the near future when clients start paying.

SEM Rush

This one is a doozy. Costs $100+/month depending on where you’re located. It’s invaluable in doing keyword research and analyzing your competitors’ sites. You need some strong analysis and research tools if you want to begin ranking in Google’s search pages. (I’m actually not paying for this right now, search for “SEM Rush” discounts and you should be able to find a coupon for a free month).

AHrefs

A site that competes with SEM Rush, I actually preferred their services. I spent $7 for a one-week trial, had no idea what I was doing, but it’s considered to be the best keyword research tool on the market. If this site starts making any money, I will be investing right back into obtaining an AHrefs subscription – which is somewhere above the $100/month mark as well.

Affinity Designer

Being too cheap to ball out on subscribing for Adobe Illustrator, I went the much more reasonable route of purchasing Affinity Designer. It serves much the same purpose, and it’s a one-time fee of ~$70 rather than Adobe’s subscription fee of ~$40 per month. Do I look like I’m made of money?

I haven’t quite learned how to use it, but then again there’s no rush as I own it, rather than having to pay for it on a monthly basis.

ManageWP Orion

For $1/month, this site gets backed up on a daily basis. I wasn’t aware of the importance of having backups until reading some nightmare stories of big businesses losing tens of thousands of dollars thanks to their sites breaking and not having proper backups. $12 per year to avoid anything like that is okay with me.

Don’t be afraid to spend money. Having said that, do your research. 

I was young and dumb. I wasted quite a bit of money that could have gone towards more beneficial software that I’m now going to have to wait to purchase. The research I did was surface level; I should have been watching ‘how-to’ videos and looking for trustworthy reviewers to give me the lowdown on some of the things I bought.

But I’m here now, and I can make some pretty great websites. My path led me astray at times, but I’ve almost arrived at my destination.

It’s about time I started selling some websites!

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Robert

Robert works part of the year as an international tour guide in Asia with Life Before Work Travel . When he's not getting paid to travel the world he's out in the field taking photos, on his laptop creating new sites, or sitting in the gutter petting stray dogs.