Thoughts on starting a business

I never really thought I’d ever be in a position to start my own business. I never really liked to think about money–growing up, we never had any to worry about, and in college my money management skills were about equal to Wall Street’s current crisis.

But because I didn’t grow up learning those skills, that was the very reason I had to learn them the hard way during my undergraduate years. My first job out of college was at a trade magazine (Electrical Apparatus, the magazine of the electromechanical aftermarket), and that was the best business learning experience I’d had up to that point. I had never really thought about publishing as a business–even when I worked for a newspaper and a phone book publishing company to work my way through college, I thought of the ad sales as simply a necessary evil. But as publisher’s assistant at Barks, I worked in every single department–advertising (display and classifieds), circulation, marketing editorial, writing, photography, and anything else anyone in the very small company (under
10 employees) needed help with.

It was a family business, too, and I saw how the publishers, longtime veterans of the newspaper and magazine industry, worked so hard to serve their readers. I saw how circulation (which was free to those who worked in the industry) affected advertising (advertisers based the value of the ad on how many readers they were reaching), and how advertising and PR pieces affected readership. I saw, of course, how advertising dollars affected how many pages the magazine printed at, and just in general how interconnected the business was.

So fast forward to today. I’m working to promote my critique business a little more by reaching out to various chapters of SCBWI, letting them know about my current discount, and putting together an ad that might work for their newsletters. I have recently realized how important my business card is, and how a unified design among business card, stationary, ads, and website helps to reinforce the message. I’m learning how important it is to make my freelancing a business, and not just work that I do at home, if that makes sense. If I think about it as a business, it gives me specific responsibilities as not only editor but as marketing, PR, and advertising departments. Not to mention the accounting.

I’m lucky to have a sister who used to design ads for a living (she’s now a stay-at-home-mom who is an artist in her free time), who is helping me with the design phase, at least for the print ads.

Now today I’m trying to figure out the website side of things. I’d like to make (which currenty redirects here) into a much more informative, easily navigable place, but aside from hiring a web designer (which I have no budget for at the moment), I’m not sure how to proceed. I have a picture in my head how I’d like it to look, but I don’t have the web design skills to make it come to fruition. The last time I made a website, it was the late 90s and I was working in really clunky HTML. 

For example, I’d like it to have navigation tabs at the top that led to information about my photography (which I’ll be integrating into rather than at a site currently hosted by a friend, which is no longer active due to a server move), my blog, a page about my critique services, and a page about my submission guidelines as a freelancer–two separate things right now. I’m looking into namelos as a partial guide, and wondering how I might integrate those services so as not to feel as if they’re slightly conflicting.

Suggestions on simple templates might work, though I worry that it might also limit me. I have a friend who’s good at this sort of thing, but he’s pretty busy doing similar things for his brother and other friends, and I’d like to get this going soon on my own if I can figure it out. After all, I’ve got the time right now, if I can figure it out.

So, if you’ve successfully designed your own site with a limited knowledge of advanced web design, perhaps you might be able to point me to links or ideas? Where to start? I’m hosted through 1&1, and I haven’t been able to figure out their included packages at all, but so far they look to be very bare-bones and hard to navigate.