Is a Free Website Enough to Build a Business?
There are dozens of different website builders available to aspiring entrepreneurs, and many of them are free. To the casual observer, this is an incredible opportunity; millions of people have been able to make a living, or even become wealthy, through the online businesses they’ve built. But is a free website, like the ones you can create through simplified web builders, really enough to create a profitable business?
The Business Plan
Websites aren’t money-making machines; they’re simply tools you can use to make your business more visible and more accessible to the masses. You’ll still need a strong business idea, business startup costs, if you want to succeed. Fortunately, there are many ways to make money online, including reselling others’ products, relying on affiliate linking to earn revenue, selling your own services, or making money through advertising once you have enough traffic.
Other Expenses to Consider
That being said, for some models (such as advertising), a website is truly the only major infrastructure you’ll need. But for the most part, you’ll need to consider the other expenses of running a business:
- Your personal finances. If you plan on quitting your day job or securing a loan, you’ll need your personal finances to be in order. If you have standing debts, this is a good time to consolidate them, and you’ll need to do a budgetary analysis to see if you can get by with limited income for the first few months of your operation.
- Administrative costs. Depending on where you’re operating, it will cost you a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to file the paperwork necessary to start your business. There may be fees for filing your business name, buying a domain name, and creating any necessary legal paperwork.
- Office space. For simple websites and business models, you can probably get away without buying or renting office space—you can just use your home. However, you’ll still need to invest in a good computer and a reliable internet connection, both of which will cost money.
- Products and supplies. In addition to the equipment you’ll need to manage the site (and any orders you process), you’ll need to buy products and supplies. If you’re selling products directly on your site, you’ll need to buy the raw materials or products in advance in most cases, which can require thousands of dollars (or more) in upfront capital.
- Small operations won’t require you to hire employees, but they are a cost worth considering if you want to expand your business in the future, or if you need expertise to get started.
What a Website Needs
Let’s ignore the peripheral costs for a moment and focus on the functionality of a “free” website. Are there enough features to enable you to make money?
This is what a website needs to become profitable, no matter what your business model is:
- A unique, user-friendly design. Users aren’t going to trust or visit a site that’s poorly designed. They also aren’t going to remember a site that looks like every site they’ve ever visited. Most website builders offer fantastic templates that look and perform suitably, but their templated nature means you’ll have some trouble differentiating yourself from the competition.
- A strong domain. Free sites usually come with the caveat of having the domain name of the provider tacked onto your URL, such as “wordpress.yourdomain.com.” It’s better to have a unique domain for your business, and it probably won’t cost you much money to get it.
- Your site also needs to be optimized for mobile devices and search engines. The good news is, most modern website templates are already optimized for mobile devices, and come equipped with everything you need to optimize for search engines as well—you just might have to search for the right plugin and do some research to make it happen.
- The content plays a massive role in how successful your site is—and that’s completely on you, regardless of whether you go with a free, template-based website or try to custom build one of your own.
- A path to conversion and/or revenue. Finally, you’ll need some path to revenue, such as an online storefront, integration with advertising networks, or even just a contact form to generate leads. For many business models, this integration already exists (for example, contact forms are a given), but for others, you may need to pay extra (such as developing a dedicated storefront), depending on which builder you choose.
The Bottom Line
It is possible to use a free website builder to get a business started, but there are many variables to consider if you eventually want to turn a profit. Some people, through a combination of timing, ingenuity, and luck, are able to make a successful living with a simple model, but you can’t bank on that possibility without a strong business plan in place. In short, free websites are enough to build a business on—but only if you know what you’re doing.