Updated October 21, 2017. This post originally appeared on karveldigital.com
One of the most tragic mistakes I see small business owners make is giving away control of their digital assets when they setup their business.
By the end of this article, hopefully you’ll understand why it’s vital that you set up and own the digital assets that make up your online business, and how to get started.
As a new business owner, you have a million things to do. Setting up your accounting, researching your market, getting your first customers, creating your product or delivering your services.
And then there’s your website.
It’s 2017, so of course you need some kind of online presence. But the options can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t very technical yourself. It might seem easier to just hire someone to take care of all the tech stuff so you can get on with running your business.
But think about it this way: When you buy a house, it’s a complex transaction, so a real estate agent will guide you through the process and help you find the perfect house. But when the time comes to sign the papers to finalize that transaction, it’s YOUR signature that needs to be on those papers. Otherwise, your agent would own your house!
The same is true for your domain, your hosting and any other digital asset. As a business owner, you will run into many things that are outside your expertise. You can hire experts to help you, but in the end, it’s you who needs to own your accounts. Otherwise, you are literally giving away your online business.
Here are the things you’ll need to get a basic website up and running.
Your domain name is your address on the internet. For instance, the domain name of this site is workingwebsites.co. You buy a domain name from a Domain Registrar.
The cost is generally around $10–25 per year. Sometimes it’s cheaper if you buy 2–3 years at a time. If you’re using your domain for a business, you should probably set it to renew automatically, to prevent heartbreak and sadness from losing your domain.
Once your website setup, you point your new domain name to your website and the domain registrar makes sure that yourdomain.com gets pointed to your server, which is really something like 188.8.131.52.
The next thing you need is a server to house the files that actually make up your website. You get this from a hosting company. The hosting company rents you space on a shared server (like an apartment).
If you have a larger site, with a lot of traffic, you might need a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which is more like having your own house, or condo. Even if the hardware is shared between more than one person, the level of resources in your server are dedicated to you alone. That means that if Oprah suddenly tweets a link to someone else’s site that’s in your neighborhood, the sudden spike in your neighbor’s traffic won’t take your site down with it.
Good hosting will run anywhere from $5–30 / month for a shared hosting plans and more for a VPS.
If you’re serious about looking professional online, then you’ll want to have an email address that matches your domain name. G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Business) is the easiest way to do this, especially if you are already a Gmail user. Visit https://gsuite.google.com to setup your account.
You’ll pay $5.00 per month for each address. If your budget is tight, you can start with a single all-purpose address like email@example.com.
Best of all, you’ll be able to use all the familiar Google services like Calendar and Drive with your professional email address.
Some people avoid Google products for privacy reasons. If you need an alternative solution for business email, Zoho is a good choice.
Getting Help From a Professional
Now that you own your accounts, you may want to give access to a tech professional or other people on your team.
Rather than give them YOUR username and password, for most services, you should be able to create a separate login for the people on your team to access the following:
- A login to access your web host. Depending on the host, you may be able to limit access so that they don’t see your billing information.
- FTP (File Transfer Protocol) username and password, or better yet, SSH (Secure Shell) access to the website files. If you don’t know what that is or where to find it, call your hosting company’s tech support and they should be able to help. Flywheel makes it super simple to give collaborators everything they need just by adding their email address in your dashboard.
- Access to your database. If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, your developer will also need access to your database. They should be able to get this information on their own, once they have access to the server, but it’s a nice touch to provide it yourself. Again, your web host should be able to help you find this information.
- A login for editing your site. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, you’ll want to create a separate user login for the back end of your website.
By creating separate access for your support team, you’ll be able to control that access as people come and go in your business.
Do’s and Don’ts
As you begin this process the amount of details that you need to keep track of and keep secure can quickly escalate. Here are few tips to keep the chaos at a minimum and set you up for long-term success.
1. Get Domain Privacy
This will be an option when you register your domain. This keeps people from being able to easily look up personal information like your email and physical address on domain look up sites.
2. Keep Your Domains Separate From your Web Host
Almost every hosting company will offer you a deal to register your domain with them and it may seem nice to manage everything in one place. But what if you decide to change hosting companies? If you sever your relationship entirely with your host, now you have to move your domain as well as your hosting. Transferring domains is a pain, even for people who know what they’re doing, and can take days or weeks. If you decide to switch hosts in an emergency, having to move your domain will seriously slow the process.
3. Beware Cheap Hosting Solutions
Many of the most popular (read: well advertised) hosts lure you into cheap shared hosting plans with prices as low as $5 / month. The adage, ‘you get what you pay for,’ applies here as in everything else. Your hosting is literally the foundation for your online presence, so it’s not a good time to skimp.
If you’re using WordPress, it will need to be kept up to date and you will probably be too busy to do it regularly, if at all. For this reason, you should only consider managed hosting solutions, like Flywheel or WP Engine. They’ll keep your core software up-to-date and secure.
The extra few dollars a month will be well worth it in the time you’ll save NOT dealing with a slow or hacked website, and the speedy and helpful customer support when you do need it.
4. Use a Password Manager
Your website and other digital assets are always at risk. Hackers rarely target individuals. Instead they create programs that crawl the web looking for vulnerabilities. If you’re using the same password for everything, or using your pet’s name, you make yourself an easy target.
A password manager like 1Password, will allow you to create super strong, unique passwords for every account that you don’t have to remember or type in later. Trust me, it will change your life.
5. Don’t Share Passwords Via Email
1Password for Teams is a great way to securely share login information. If you’re not quite there yet, there are better ways to share than email:
- Create a password protected Word document with login details, then give the document password over the phone.
- Use a site like One Time Secret
- If you must use email, at least take a screenshot of the password so it’s not easily decrypted in transit.
Key Take Aways
- Your digital assets are part of your business just like your store front or your products. Make sure you own them.
- To setup a basic website, you need a domain name, web hosting, and a professional email address at your domain
- Even though you may be on a budget when starting out, skimping on your web services can come back to bite you later. Seek out good services that will scale with your business.
- Use a password manager like 1Password to create, store and share passwords and other secure information.
By now, hopefully you’re feeling a little more prepared to tackle setting up your online assets. If you’re ready to buy your domain, check out this post with a detailed video walkthrough of the process.