I always thought designing my own website would be far too complicated to tackle myself, and would require a team of developers and a large budget to get something that looked professional and worked properly. I even worked for a web design company briefly so had a bit of an idea of the work and technical details and money involved.
So when I came to needing an online platform for my blog and business, I'll admit it started to panic me a little. I hoped I'd be able to muddle along with something free and basic for a while until I started to make my fortune and was able to hire a designer to build all the bells and whistles for me.
I used WordPress for a while, which although not free was pretty cheap in terms of buying and hosting a custom domain name, but I never really got a proper handle on the back-end stuff. The interface always felt pretty clunky and far too complex for me to be able to put together the kind of thing I hoped for. I know many people and big businesses very happily use WordPress and create incredible sites with it - but I rather suspect that's because they understand a lot more of the technical capabilities than I do.
So I started to look around at websites I liked the look of, and a name kept appearing in the footers - Squarespace. Their own website is super glossy and impressive, and the sales pitch sounded fantastic - but surely I couldn't manage to build a site this way?
Then it turned out that an online friend met through a Facebook business support group was launching a course that would teach everything you needed to know to build a Squarespace website, right from the basics of setting up an account, in a wonderfully easy to use format of video lessons, the chance to work through everything at your own pace, and you'd have lifetime access to the content for when you needed a reminder of how to do something, plus her support via Facebook and email.
Sounds too good to be true, huh?
Nope, this Squarespace Genie (her own title!) is Kerstin Martin, a website designer based in the Pacific Northwest who specialises in working with Squarespace as a platform, and now offers a raft of courses and services to help you create your own beautiful online home. (She also shares the most stunning photos of the area where she lives on her Instagram account)
I signed up for Kerstin's Squarespace 101 course last year, and can honestly say that this website of mine would not exist without the amazing lessons shared in the course, the tips and tricks Kerstin offers, as well as updated information whenever Squarespace launches a new feature.
The lessons are so comprehensive and easy to follow, you could literally start from absolute zero and have the bones of a website up and running in a few hours. Kerstin shares how-tos in written and video format, plus downloadable checksheets, but it really is the videos that are most helpful.
Kerstin shares a view of her screen as she walks you through step by step for each stage of building your site, so you can literally watch what she does, and then click the exact same buttons on your own screen to recreate what you've learned.
The lessons are broken down into bitesize chunks, so even if you've only got half an hour to spend working on your site, you'll still be able to make constructive progress. Plus, Kerstin shares examples from a number of sites she's worked on to give you an idea of the different effects that can be achieved by choosing different styling options.
I ended up enjoying the process of designing my site much more than I thought I would, and it was a great deal less stressful than I feared. The Squarespace design tools are actually pretty intuitive, and the main page design blocks work on a drag-and-drop basis, so it's really easy to move things around. I found the menus made good sense for the order to do things, and even things like setting up a linked email account and mailing list links were straightforward. Now I know that I can pop in and quickly and easily change an image, move something around, or add a blog post.
Squarespace's own help pages are incredibly useful, and regularly updated, and although I haven't had to contact them for anything yet, I understand that their customer service team is very helpful and responds quickly to requests for assistance. They also regularly update and introduce new features based on customer feedback, such as now being able to sell gift cards through commerce sites, so if there's something you've been trying to do, or had to use an external service to do, it's worth letting Squarespace know what you're after.
With Kerstin's lessons and updates, her blog posts, and tips shared in the course Facebook group, I've been happy to dip in and out of the content when I need a reminder or want to find out something that I hadn't tried yet. It's helped me feel much better about playing by myself without fear of completely ruining things with a wrong click of a button.
Now that my site has been up and running for a few months, and I've been able to dig deeper into some of the more advanced functions behind the scenes, I feel much more confident about being able to tweak things going forward, add new pages or features, and make design decisions that reflect me and my business. And, it's made me realise that website design can be a fun creative process rather than a scary technical one!
That's not something I ever thought I'd say, but it just goes to show that if you stay open and curious and give things a go, learning a new skill can be creatively inspiring and lead to a playful kind of freedom, even with something that didn't at first seem like it could be creative.
Kerstin's course has been wonderful, and I'm now looking into more of her offerings, such as her free SEO Plus course to help me optimise my site for online visibility, as well as thinking about design updates and upgrades that I might make myself - watch this space!
I'd thoroughly recommend Squarespace 101 if you're thinking about building your own website, or even if you already have one that you feel you could be using better - and because she's extra lovely, Kerstin is offering my readers a whopping 50% off if you sign up before the end of December 2017. Just use the code JENNIFER50 over on her site here to claim the discount.
All views expressed in this post are my own.