Free websites are worth exactly what you pay for them.
Yes, a free platform can start you moving forward, and it has some value as a tool for refining your ideas. Who can argue with a free creative playground to test new ideas?
Free websites can have some value for you, but free websites are absolutely worthless to your business.
Occasionally, stories circulate about YouTube stars who make millions through social media platforms. Strictly speaking, these people are not using free websites. They are building a business around a social media channel.
Free social media services are not the same as free website services, and they do have some value. Still, if you are serious about building a business, free third-party services need to keep their proper place.
While you really should use free social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to bring prospective customers to your website, your website shouldn’t be free.
“Why?” you ask with eyebrow raised.
Reason 1: Your free website is not really yours.
The best free website services allow you to keep ownership of your content. If they didn’t do that, it would always be easy to say, “No!” to them.
Even though you do keep your copyright, there is another way in which your free website isn’t “yours.”
You know that content you work so hard to produce? It is building someone else’s brand!
With a free website your URL is not MyBusiness.com. Instead it is MyBusiness.FreeWebsite.com. In this case, most of your brand recognition goes to FreeWebsite.com.
Here’s a thought for you. Instead of building someone else’s business, why not pay a small monthly fee to rent space on a Web server? Self-host your website and use your own well-chosen domain name instead of being an unpaid evangelist for another brand.
Reason 2: Nothing screams “amateur” like a free website.
You tell the world you are not serious about business when you use a domain name like MyBusiness.FreeWebsite.com. Printing an email address like [email protected] on your business card advertises this fact. It’s like shouting at the top of your lungs, “I won’t invest in my own business!”
Online property is the cheapest property on earth. (Or is it on earth? Where exactly is cyberspace?)
With a self-hosted website, you can look as professional as any Fortune 500 for less than $10 a month.
Why on earth wouldn’t you invest that much money in a your treasured business idea?
Reason 3: You really do get what you pay for.
Free websites have limited features.
Most provide limited design choices. They let you choose a stock template and customize your colors, then you can add your content and a logo.
Sometimes this is enough for a new business. But it leads to frustration when you want to create a unique look.
It is not easy to keep your website when you leave a free web host.
They own your website template, so good luck taking that with you. Free hosts often don’t give you an easy way to export your content and images. It’s just not in their interest.
Instead, they lock you in. They make it infinitely easier to upgrade for the features you want than to go elsewhere.
And, while you’re on their free service they enjoy your help building their brand!
Reason 4: Your content makes money for someone else.
You work hard to create unique, helpful content. Free website services monetize your content with their own advertising!
If you’re a hobbyist this might make sense, but no real business should stand for it. That’s my point. Behave like a real business if you want prospective customers to take you seriously.
Why not build a self-hosted website and make your own choices about what products and services you will advertise?
The advertising choices a free web host makes can associate your business with brands whose values do not align with yours. Imagine an ad for divorce services appearing on a family counseling service website. Don’t introduce cognitive dissonance into your customer’s stressed and overworked mind.
Instead, pay a reputable Web host and self-host your website to keep all your advertising options open. If you choose, you can integrate with advertising networks you trust. You can make money by featuring affiliate products you love and getting a commission.
Better yet, sell your own products with an affordable e-commerce tool like Shopify.
You can make money however you choose when you self-host your website—without confusing your customers.
Reason 5: You haven’t paid for it.
Perhaps you don’t need to spend money to make money. But it helps.
When you spend money to build a business, your subconscious mind works to confirm that decision. It wants evidence that your made a good decision. If you invest in tools, you will work harder to make money through your business.
Besides that, if you really believe your business will make money, you should be happy to pay for a web host. Spending a few dollars a month for a quality website is an obvious choice.
Why expect others spend money on your business if you don’t believe in it enough to invest your own hard-earned money?
Perhaps free isn’t totally worthless.
Have I succeeded? Do you believe free websites are worthless—at least for your business?
Even if I overstated the case about free websites being worthless, I believe I have demonstrated they aren’t the right choice for any serious businesses.
Free is only a place to start.
That said, Wix and WordPress.com both offer paid versions that are immune from some of my critiques above. If you have no money, their free starter products can help you get to a limping start. Remember, you don’t truly own your website with either of these services.
Note: Please don’t drive potential customers to a free site any longer than necessary. Your chances of selling anything of value will be low.
And if you start with free, don’t let the idea that your website is free keep you from taking serious, determined action to build your business.
Affordable paid website services don’t replace your website.
Don’t swallow the marketing messages of sleek software-as-a-service companies who offer platforms that make a website unnecessary. Use those services exclusively for the unique value they offer. Not as a website replacement.
If you want to sell products online, Shopify is a powerful, affordable and user-friendly tool. They are one of the best resources for e-commerce business owners who are just getting started.
Unless you are a tech geek, Shopify is always better than using free open source software like Magento or Zen Cart. Free, open source e-commerce software must be installed and configured on your Web server—a significant barrier to non-technical folks. If you are an average business owner, you will need to hire an IT consultant to help you with an open source e-commerce tool.
Self-hosting is almost always better.
Keep your website on a server you control. Use it as a hub to integrate with valuable third-party software. Then, as your business grows, you will be able to migrate to more powerful third-party software solutions.
The best way to build a marketing website or blog for your business, is to self-host a hosting provider like BlueHost. They let you install and configure your WordPress, email, and more.
You can get up and running with very little technical knowledge.
Self-hosting is a long-term investment.
When you choose to self-host, any improvements you make to your website are a long-term investment. You can customize your software and keep making it better.
When you choose to move to another web hosting provider, you can download your files and data and be on your way. Nothing will need to change except the servers making your website available to your customers.
Build an amazing website. Do it cheaply.
But don’t try to do it for free. If you do, you’ll be disappointed.