Want to create a website and blog? Try these free resources.

I’m lucky. I’ve worked with many creative, imaginative people – and have had them as friends for most of my life. I’m thinking of systems ‘geeks’ (the only ones in my life to really indulge my love of Dr Who) just as much as artists, marketeers, musicians and writers. I suppose it would be strange if I hadn’t picked the odd thing up.

I’ve specified business websites and written content for them. Yet, when I began to think about making my own personal website and blog, without the friendly technical and design faces I’ve had, just footsteps away in the past, that gave me a whole new perspective.

If I felt the need to learn some new skills, how daunting it must be for people who have little or no experience online. I wanted to help.

These resources will give you all the help you need to publish online, even if you have little or no budget. They’re also ideal if, like me, you’ve started your site, but want to brush up on some technical, design or writing skills to gradually make it better.

I should point out that these are simply the sites I’ve found most helpful as I start to develop my own website and blog. I have no affiliations to any of them, and of course you’ll find many alternatives. As yes, I know I’ve still a lot to learn – isn’t that just part of the fun?

Here’s my list of tools and services you already have, or can access for free. Together, they’ll provide everything you’ll need to create your website and blog:

A smartphone or a camera

Take some pictures and keep practising if you can see light at the end of the tunnel. Truthfully, you’re not likely to reach a professional standard without a lot of dedication, but if you find you enjoy photography as a hobby, you’ll soon take some pictures you can share online without blushing.

Unsplash

Free high quality images to use as you want can’t be bad. A quick search will bring up other free and paid image sources too. I decided to bulk my own photos out using just recent Unsplash images as I am setting up my site, just to show you it’s possible, though I’ll probably end up changing things around in a bit just to freshen it up. Thanks Unsplash and all its contributors!

WordPress

If your name isn’t reserved and you’re happy with the free themes, you can publish your website and blog free on wordpress.com. Everything is taken care of for you. That’s truly wonderful – thanks, WordPress!

Confession: my name was taken, so I spent £12 to register one I wanted through WordPress. I’ve mapped susanrushton.net to the rather weird domain name I was automatically allocated instead. If I had been happy to stick with susanrushtondotnet.wordpress.com, I could have done it for free! Of course, I can see I’m going to be tempted to go for one of the paid packages before too long, so I can customise my site and stop it doing little things I don’t want, but that’s optional.

Lynda.com

Take advantage of lynda.com’s free trial and learn something new. I took the WordPress Essential Training course by Morten Rand-Hendricksen. You do have to provide credit card details but can cancel any time within your trial. If you want to that is – I found loads of courses I still want to take on there, so I kept the subscription running.

Canva

A fairly new creative tool, rapidly being adopted, still in Beta. Use Canva to create headers and graphics to illustrate your site. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for all design work, but it’s free, it has short, useful tutorials and it hits the spot. I use an iMac and Canva seems to run better for me on Firefox (as does Lynda.com).

Creative Cloud

Take advantage of Creative Cloud’s free trial subscription and get access to all their professional design apps and services. If you were to pay for just one month, this would currently cost £70, so it’s a good saving. You may find it a bit of a bind to download the apps, if my experience is anything to go by, but the help forums are really superb and Adobe provides free individual online support by liveperson if you’re desperate. Have a good look at InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator and see what you think. I’ve really enjoy using these programs so far.

After your free trial? Well, it’s up to you. I’m fortunate to already have an old copy of Photoshop elements, which I use to resize images. The subscription model used to sell Creative Cloud these days has ruffled a few feathers and I can see why. If you are on a budget and you’re not going to use the apps fairly intensively, or for something really critical, it’s probably not worth it.

I didn’t use Muse for my site, though I tried it. However I loved the quick, simple planning view for brainstorming ideas for page hierarchy and menus, most of which I have still to act upon!

One small tip: quit the Creative Cloud app when you’re not using it to speed up your computer.

Affinity Designer

I haven’t looked at this pretender to the crown of Adobe Illustrator yet, as I only recently heard about Affinity Designer through a promoted tweet, but I’ll let you know what I think of this new tool for OS X when I do. It’s still in Beta, so you can trial it for free until their planned launch later in Oct 2014.

Forums

Ask for help on the relevant forums. There’s no shame in asking – even if you think your question is stupid – we all have to learn some time! Follow the etiquette, explain the problems as clearly as you can and search around thoroughly first to try get the answer you need from the archives. A kind person will help you before too long.

Words and ideas

In doing a mental round up to see if that was all the resources needed to set up a site, I realise that I’ve taken the ability to write (and to decide what you want to write about) for granted, which is foolish.

An insider marketing tip? Take a look at Hubspot’s inbound marketing blog to keep abreast of what these influential marketeers are saying. If you love and honour marketing as much as I do, you’ll find it’s some of the wisest, liveliest and most practical advice out there for making sure that marketing is helpful and transparent, not irritating or intrusive. Subscribe to their daily feed for more free advice, inspiration and encouragement than you can probably handle, unless you have a lot of free time on your hands. You’ll find tips on creative writing and blogging too, including Paula Furiga’s 28 Day Training Plan for Becoming a Better Writer

Character

You have bags of character – we all do. It’s your best, most unique resource. Now go ahead and express it! Good luck!

I’d love you to drop back in now and again as I try to put these things into practice on my new website and blog.

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