I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this, that you’re an entertainer and your principle purpose for a website is to book more gigs. If you intend to sell a lot of merchandise, we should probably have a different discussion. Email me.
I’m also going to assume you’ve decided to go with my recommendation to use WordPress as your CMS. Not because you have to, of course, but rather simply because it’s what I know best. My recommendations for a web host necessarily reflect my recommendation for a good CMS.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s proceed.
Our Shopping List
A Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis is a model for assessing how much a solution is going to cost you over the long haul. The FREE part is all well and good, but we also have to look at what comes next. What are some of the hidden costs associated with your website?
- Domain registration
- Premium theme
- Developer fees
- Security services
- Storage and backups
- Your time
Hosting won’t necessarily be your biggest expense, but many of the other costs will depend either a little or a lot on what choice you make on Expense Number One. So, what are your hosting options?
You can potentially host a website on wordpress.com without spending a single dime. However, if you want to use your own domain name (and trust me, you do) it’ll cost you a few bucks a year. Want to change the colors or fonts on your site? That’s another $30 a year. A premium theme will run about $80, and that from a limited supply. Get rid of the advertisements? That’s another $30 a year.
It all adds up quickly and, frankly, when it’s all said and done, you still have a lot of limitations on what you can and can’t do with your website. This can, perhaps, be a very cheap option for someone who just wants to run a blog, but for a real business it’s not really an option at all.
This is the route most businesses will choose. You can put your website on a shared server for as little as $5 a month, or opt for a dedicated server for upwards of $1,000 a month, with a whole lot of choices between those extremes.
A self-hosted website will generally mean that you have to take care of all the other expenses we listed, everything from number 2 through number 6. So, let’s talk about those for a minute.
Domain registration: Your domain name should run less than $15 a year (and may well be the best investment you ever make). This is also an expense you’ll have to pay NO MATTER WHAT ELSE YOU DO. Some hosting companies will promise you a free domain name, but we all know it ain’t really free. Just figure this fifteen bucks, about the price of a good breakfast, as a cost of doing business and forget about it.
Premium theme: A premium theme will run you about $40 to $55 at places like ThemeForest. There are, of course, free themes available as well, though they’ll rarely include all the features you’ll need for a professional website.
Developer fees: This will be a really big wild card, running anywhere from about $50 an hour up to a few hundred dollars an hour. This will almost certainly be your biggest expense, but it’s also one you don’t want to skimp on. These guys estimate they can build you a basic website for about $2,000. You’ll need more than “basic,” however, and that’ll run you $3,000 to $8,500.
And it will likely be worth every penny, too.
Security services: Because WordPress is so popular it has also become very attractive to hackers who would like to take over your website for their own nefarious purposes. The good news is if you follow a few best-practices, like using complex passwords, you can easily defeat 98 percent of the hackers. The bad news is … you still have to worry about that other 2 percent.
There are services out there, like SiteLock, who will do the worrying for you for about $29 a month. That’s actually pretty cheap if it lets you sleep a little better at night. Other solutions can cost a bit more.
Storage and backups: Backing up your files is a must, as it only takes one random hard drive crash and you could lose all your irreplaceable files and documents. VaultPress will do it for you for $55 a year. BlogVault is a little higher at $89 a year. As with security, automated backups will let you sleep a bit easier and, one day, may be worth their weight in gold.
Managed WP Host
The next step up from self-hosting is Managed WordPress Hosting. This is still self-hosting, but the price goes up a bit so you can have the help and guidance of people who should be able to help you with those areas you know nothing about.
That’s not a bad deal, either, because it lets you concentrate on running your business. Remember that #7 hidden cost, Your Time? You’ll be able to save a whole lot of that time by letting a Managed Hosting company handle all the technical stuff for you.
Rates vary a lot, but you should be able to find a Managed Provide like WPEngine with monthly plans ranging from $29 (limited to 25,000 visits a month) up to $249. WPEngine is a premier option, with an emphasis on security and speed, so you can probably find less expensive alternatives. Each, I think you’ll find, will provide very different perspectives. There won’t be any one-size-fits-all, so if you go this route you’ll have to do a bit of research to find a good fit.
Premium Managed Host
To be honest, I had to invent this final hosting category because as far as I know we’re pretty much it.
A Warning About ALL Hosting Companies
Somewhere along the way a few hosting companies started lying to their customers and, over time, all the other companies followed suit. Perhaps they felt they had to lie, too, to compete with the other liars? It’s a pity, but the fact is the whole industry does it now.
If a hosting company could truly provide you with unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth I’m pretty sure that Google and Yahoo, who each spend six-figure sums every month on computers and bandwidth, would move their whole companies over to that host in a heartbeat. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as unlimited anything.
The industry-wide lie works because they DO provide most websites with more than enough of both disk space and bandwidth. Most. But not necessarily all.
When my poetry sites first started becoming really popular back in 1999 I went through a very quick succession of hosting companies. Each said I would be fine, but as soon as my traffic started ramping up they would either ask me to leave or throttle my site so everything loaded as slow as molasses. I soon enough discovered the only way to get unlimited bandwidth was to pay for it. And pay for it, and pay for it, and pay for it. I moved my sites to a dedicated web server, where I was the only one on the machine. They gave me a base bandwidth and, when my sites exceeded that base, they charged me for every additional byte going across their wires. Some months my bandwidth cost me more than my mortgage, my car, and all my other bills combined.
It’s important to understand, however, that we’re not talking about hundred of visitors, or even thousands of them. Every year the site saw over 10 million visitors and some years it was more than double that. “Poems” and “poetry” were in the top 100 most searched for terms back in those days. While I would love to see that happen for “magicians,” I don’t think it’s something we should be concerned about any time soon.
In other words, even though you will never get the unlimited space and bandwidth you’ll be promised, you will almost certainly get more than you’ll ever need. If you get a few dozen visitors a day to your website, you’ll be doing good.
And if you convert half of those to paying gigs, you’ll be doing great.
Web Host Your website has to sit on a computer somewhere. It can’t be your office computer for a variety of reasons, so standard procedure is to rent that space from someone else. That someone else is your Web Host. They are in the business of providing the storage, connectivity, and services necessary to serve files for a website.
Domain Name A domain name is a unique label used to identify a website, e.g. “google.com”. It provides a human readable address that can be used to locate any website anywhere in the world.
Before a domain name can be used the website owner must pay to register it with an authorised domain registrar. Domain names are allocated by year and have to be renewed periodically. If you want to keep the name you have to pay a renewal fee.
Domain Registrar The domain registrar, such as GoDaddy, is responsible for maintaining a searchable database linking each domain name with details about its location. These location details, or name servers, are provided by website hosting companies.