Creating a website for your doula business can seem like a daunting task. We’ve broken it down into 5 steps that will help you to get from concept to completion with your doula website.
We should think of a website as a showroom for your services as a doula. Just as if you were selling cars or cabinetry, you need to build a space for potential clients to come to that is both informative and inviting. Your website should help people that want to learn more about doulas and specifically about you and your services as a doula.
Step One: Select a location. If you were a car salesman, there would be a lot more going into this step (location, location, location). Fortunately for us, choosing a location online is a bit more forgiving. To have a location online, you must setup two(2) services: a domain name and web hosting.
The domain name is like a mailing address for your showroom. The domain name can also play an important part in how you present or market your services (for example, ours is: trainingdoulas.com). It can help with how your website is searched online. But at the end of the day, the domain name is the address for your website and how people will find your website.
Web hosting is a computing service that you pay for to store your website’s information. This allows anyone that wants to see your website the ability to do so. The hosting service is like a gutted out office space, no drywall, no fixtures, no carpet, nothing. Just the office space and access to utilities. This is all that you are paying for when you sign up for web hosting.
Cheap or free web hosting may be a good choice for someone just starting up, but if you want your website to be available at any time, anywhere, it is worth the few extra dollars a month in exchange for the quality of service that you will receive.
Web hosting and domain names are something that you will always have to pay rent on. Hosting can be available at both monthly and annual fees. Domain names are typically available at an annual fee.
Step two: Begin construction of your location. Continuing with the showroom analogy, once you have your location selected, you’ve got to get a framework in place for you to build work with. Many web hosting services now come with software called content management systems (CMS) to rough-in or even get your website looking fairly close to a fully furnished showroom. WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Weebly, and Google Sites are all examples of CMS’s that your website may use to get your website roughed-in. Some of these services will include web hosting and domain name services together with this step. The service that you select will depend on quality of the website you get.
Step Three: Paint the walls and move in the furniture. Maybe there is some drywall work that needs to be done, and an additional wall or two that you need to include. This is the step in which you define the look and functionality of your website. How much freedom you have to control that look and functionality will depend largely upon what CMS you chose in the last step. WordPress is at the top with virtually unlimited possibilities and functionality. In deciding what your website will look and act like, the selection of a suitable themes and plugins will help to speed up your development process. This is where your website will begin to take shape. However, this is not a final step, but rather the framing of what will be presented on your website.
There are essentially two directions that you can go with this step: 1) custom design and development of your website, which is a price tag running in the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars or 2) you can find the appropriate themes and plugins to add to your preselected CMS, and pay at most maybe $100 USD. However, there are also many themes and plugins available at no charge.
(Case in point, the New Beginnings Doula Training website is built off the WordPress platform, grouped with a free theme and several free plugins that has been customized to suit our needs. We have literally saved 100’s of hours in development and design time by going this route.)
Oftentimes, when shopping for a theme, the demo sites will show the website with lots of photos and texts already in place. These are given to help you have a finalized vision of what your website could look like. However, keep in mind that you will need to provide the images and texts on your own. Texts and photographs are never included with a theme.
Plugins are like the furniture for your showroom. They can sweeten your website’s performance and save you a lot of time. Plugins for your website can protect your site from spam, add contact forms, improve search results on your website, and much more.
My personal recommendation with step three is to save your money, and keep purchases to a minimum. If anything, pay to have an experienced web developer install and setup the right (free) plugins, and then spend the rest on steps 4 and 5.
Step Four: Set up your display and post your signs. This is where your website finally begins to look like a finished showroom. Again, like with other parts of the website you can either do it yourself (many people are fully capable of completing this step on their own) or you can pay to have someone else to use their images and written words.
It so happens that many doulas are also photographers and you may already have stock pile of photos to work with. Or you may have access to photos from friends or elsewhere. When deciding to use photos that you own or that belong to a friend or associate, make sure that you have permission to post whoever is featured in those photos online.
If you don’t have access to images of your own, you can always buy images from stock photo websites or other vendors. Be sure to use only web standard resolution, royalty-free photos. You’ll otherwise be paying much more for a quality of image that you will never see online.
Copy write is another important aspect of your website presentation. What is written is both important to how your website turns up in search results and also how your services are communicated to your clients. If you don’t feel confident with writing up a couple of paragraphs about who you are and what services you provide as a doula, you might solicit the help of a friend or family member. You can also pay a third-party copywriter to create this for you.
Step Five: Put on the finishing touches. This is where you begin to test drive your website by inviting a few trusted friends to look at your site and give you some critical feedback. Swallow your pride and seriously consider their suggestions and first impressions. If something really doesn’t work or look right, go back and fix it.
Another important part of this is the clean up. Sometimes it happens that as we’re hanging up pictures or moving furniture around, we accidentally scratch the paint or mess up some other part of the showroom. We can either leave the stains and the scratches, try and fix it ourselves (time = money), or pay someone else to come and clean it up quickly. Often, just a little bit of a professional developer’s time can produce serious results in presentation and otherwise. My experience is that what takes a developer only minutes to fix, can take an untrained person hours, if not days, to figure out. What is your time worth?
Getting your website(showroom) ready to for visitors to come in and consider your services is a rewarding process in and of itself. With many available service now to simplify the design and development process, you can have your website online in a matter of days. Typically, however, it can take you several weeks to get that website completed, but don’t be discouraged by the process.
Once your website is live and online, you will periodically want to evaluate your website’s effectiveness. Adding fresh content to your website on a regular basis also tells visitors that you are current and active as a doula. Just as you keep a showroom up-to-date and clean, website maintenance is an important part of your website’s success. It doesn’t have to be costly, just routine. Many services provide built-in blogs to help with this task.
Finally, a website is only just a website. It can be used as a part of your marketing plan but it is not an end in and of itself. Many of your website’s visitors may come from outside your geographical area. Give your website the time and the attention that it deserves and then move on to other practical activities that will help you to increase your exposure as a doula.