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Should Professional Firms Use WordPress?

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Why WordPress for professional firms?

There won’t be many professional firms who choose to build their own website, and though the exercise is certainly educational, it can be frustrating if you have little or no experience. Not to say that it cannot be done, nor that it is not a worthwhile exercise. You will really learn a lot, but be prepared to invest time and effort. My preferred website platform is WordPress.

As the WordPress designers describe it:

“WordPress started as just a blogging system, but has evolved to be used as full content management system and so much more through the thousands of plugins and widgets and themes, WordPress is limited only by your imagination.”

There is a version of WordPress that is hosted free by the creators, WordPress.com, but it is not recommended for any professional. WordPress.org allows you to download a basic website structure which you then host yourself and “own” as a proprietary piece of internet real estate. This is the only option for a professional firm.

There are others blogging platforms, including:

  • Blogger (owned by Google) – it has a very quick setup, drag and drop editing, and is easy to use. Many professionals do so.
  • Tumblr – this is an interesting fusion between a blog and a Twitter-like feed. Now owned by Yahoo.

WordPress advertizes a ‘five minute installation”. That’s true as far as the basic installation is concerned, and it’s a potent marketing line, but the installation is only the very beginning of the WordPress journey. Be warned – people will tell you that WordPress is simple to use, and yes, there are hundreds of books and online tutorials to help you use WordPress (including at WordPress). As well there are thousands of online forums devoted to WordPress, where adherents exchange information (and sometimes insults). But despite the proliferation of helpful advice, the best way to understand WordPress is to use it and allow yourself the time to understand “the way it thinks”.

Get web hosting

If you use WordPress.org,  as I recommend, you will need a domain name and web hosting. Again, there are hundreds of companies that offer this service, but make sure will be happy with the decision for the long-term. Obviously if you have chosen to hire a consultant to build your website, then you can take their advice on these matters, and likely they will handle it for you.

For what it’s worth I use VentraIP for both domain name registration and hosting. I have no business affiliation with them, but my experience over four years has been consistently excellent, and they respond to queries quickly and efficiently. I like the fact their severs are domestically based, though many well known bloggers swear by providers that are in another country. Do some research, make up your own mind.

Get a theme

WordPress gives you a basic structure for your website (or stand alone blog) – a “Theme” builds on that basic structure, like accessorising a piece of clothing to create a different look. In other words, a Theme is a skin for your blog. However, the basic structure of a WordPress site is the same for everyone. Happily for us, WordPress is kind enough to make the code for that structure freely available (called “open source”), so programmers can create “skins” to overlay it. This is achieved by incorporating style “templates” into the WordPress structure. Some of these Themes are free, some are not, and there are plenty of good examples in both camps. Every designer, free or not, offers a gallery to preview the themes. I believe it is always worth the investment in a paid theme, usually around $50 or more.

Should professional firms use WordPress?

This is a complicated issue – you can certainly have a WordPress website built by a consultant/contractor. However, WordPress updates its themes all the time, so it is not a “set and forget” website platform. I love it because I have learned how to make most changes myself, I enjoy the challenge, and I produce content on a regular basis and it would be prohibitive (and unnecessary) to hire a consultant to handle this. However, any website built on your behalf should allow you to edit and add new content on your own.

If you have your website built on a WordPress platform, or do it yourself, these are words of warning from a website reviewer:

“Hiring a WordPress contractor is a very common practice for most non-technical WordPress gurus and the cost can add up over the years – we’ve had our fair share of contractors.  The hiring process could be stressful and you really don’t know what you’re going to get until you pay them to do the work.  Further, when WordPress updates its platform, you may need to hire the contractor again to ensure all the custom work is compatible.”

I love WordPress, in fact in my travels through the web landscape, it’s the most impressive creation out there. It also has a huge “community” and (literally) tens of thousands of “plugins” and “widgets” (tools created by developers, often free) to assist in its evolution. Nevertheless, there can be a steep learning curve because it is not really an intuitive platform. My best advice is to find a local website builder who can give you an honest assessment based on your needs. But if you have the time, and you want control of your website, WordPress is really quite brilliant.

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How Professionals Can Get Started With A WordPress Blog

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Of course professionals need a blog

This is not the post (or place) to delve into whether you need a website or a blog. Or whether you need a content strategy. In this post we assume you have decided to get a blog, get a domain name (e.g. www.firmname.com.au) and hosting.

Well and good, but how do you do you start? How does an untrained professional – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – know where to begin? Mao wrote that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Hopefully our journey will be a lot shorter and get off to a more substantial start.

You first have to decide which blogging platform you will use. My very strong preference is to use WordPress as your blogging platform. Of course there are other choices, including:

  • Blogger (owned by Google) – very quick setup, drag and drop editing, easy to use.
  • Tumblr – interesting fusion between a blog a Twitter-like feed. Now owned by Yahoo.

WordPress is a popular open source blogging platform (it’s actually much more, a full content management system). That means its code is freely available and anyone can build add-ons to it. You can set up a WordPress blog on their own server (there is no charge for this) at WordPress.com. This is a big mistake and there will likely come a time when you will want to upgrade – so don’t do this if you have any intentions to create serious ongoing content. Instead use the WordPress.org platform, which you can download and install  for free. Many services will combine the domain registration, hosting and WordPress installation.

For hosting I use VentraIP. I have no business affiliation with them, but my experience over four years has been consistently excellent, and they respond to queries efficiently. I like the fact that their servers are domestically based, though many well known Australian bloggers swear by overseas providers. Do some research, make up your own mind.

Themes

WordPress gives you a basic structure for your blog – a “Theme” builds on that basic structure, like accessorising a piece of clothing to create a different look. In other words, a Theme is a skin for your blog. However, the basic structure of a WordPress blog is the same for everyone. Happily for us, WordPress is kind enough to make the code for that structure freely available, so programmers can create “skins” to overlay it. This is achieved by incorporating “templates” into the WordPress structure. Some of these Themes are free, some are not, and there are plenty of good examples in both camps. Every designer, free or not, offers a gallery to preview the themes.

DIY or consultant?

There is no doubt that it is easier to pay someone to build a website, and they will handle all of the above. If you merely want to start a blog – a place for you to build an archive of articles for clients and prospective clients to search – including some basic contact information, then you can DIY, but you should do some research first to get a feel for what lies ahead. There are many books that cover the basics of WordPress

If you want a website – Home and About Us pages, some resources, information sheets and a blog – then unless you have the time to research the issue thoroughly, it is better to consult a web designer. Which one? I have been through this exercise, and also built a website largely on my own, and in truth I found the process with the web designer fairly exhausting. If I had a preference, I would build a website myself just as a learning exercise and then shop around for a designer. Why? Because I would know  lot better what to expect and what to ask for. Obviously this is unwieldy and will only work for a few professionals, probably the ones that have an interest in online tools (by the way, it’s quite an interesting challenge and for me a lot of fun because I did it with my son). For myself, I enjoyed the challenge and I needed the skills as part of a joint venture that required a very steep learning curve.

Where do I begin to DIY?

I would read, and then read some more. There are hundreds of good books that cover WordPress – I would recommend an eBook so you can read on your computer while you follow the steps and set it up. WordPress For Dummies will do the job, in fact it will explain a lot more than you need to know.

The worst that can happen is that you don’t like the results and call in a designer to handle the job. Again, it will only be a minority of professionals that have the time or inclination to tackle this. From my experience, it helps to have a tech savvy child!

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