Growing up, I was raised with the premise a mistake is only a mistake if you do not learn something from it. Oh boy, did I learn a lesson when it came to starting my WordPress website for my business. <<Poof>> $300 gone because I didn’t realize the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org (more on that in a bit).
Whether you are starting a business or building your first portfolio there are many options out there where it comes to website and hosting services. You can choose a plug and play website builder such as Wix, Weebly, or take your pick of the countless options. When I was in my Master’s program at Full Sail University, I created an Adobe Portfolio as part of my program because it is included in the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Still, I choose not to use this in the long run. It really is about personal preference and your goals.
Here are some reasons I recommend WordPress over a website builder, but this in no way saying using a website builder is wrong. It was not the best choice for my personal and professional goals.
Pre-built website builders are limiting in the sense you only have the tools they choose to build or provide. There are all sorts of free and pay plugins you can use to customize your WordPress site to fit your needs. With Wix you are limited to their options. Currently, I am building a learning management system (LMS) using LearnDash integrated into my WordPress site. I am planning for the future now. I expect the website to outgrow what a pre-built website builder could provide. If you are considering becoming a freelancer this will be important for your business. This will be covered in the new IDOL Courses Freelance Bootcamp.
You are unable to transfer or upscale your pre-built site, and you will need to start from scratch. You own your website when you develop it with WordPress. I don’t know about you, I put a lot of work into my projects and have spent hours making items to look just right. If you outgrow your site, you will need to start over.
The WordPress community is amazing. I have purchased several plugins and themes for my LMS and other sites. All the products have been very responsive when I have sent in questions, and they have provided fantastic support.
I would be remised if I didn’t talk about the negative to a WordPress site. There is a learning curve. You will need to watch tutorials, and sometimes you may feel like throwing in the towel. I almost never started with my LMS, but my mentor Robin pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I am glad she did. My passion project is moving slowly but surely. If you are not looking to own your site, really customize it, or scalability, I would use a website builder. It is much easier, but there is a satisfaction you get when you conquer the WordPress challenge.
Here are some sample instructional design portfolios built on different platforms from IDOL Academy members who are now working as instructional designers or making the IDOL switch.
Wix: Erika Rellstab
Google Sites: Lusha Sha
Lusha recently accepted her first learning experience designer position with the largest scuba education company in the world.
WordPress: Mallori Steele
WordPress: Molly Parsons
Molly recently accepted a full-time contract position on an enterprise learning team working on a national campaign.
WordPress: Luis Barbosa
Luis is a teacher in the progress of making a career pivot to instructional design.
So, back to my WordPress mistake.
WordPress is an open-source content management system that requires self-hosting. If you are new to websites, this means anyone can use WordPress or build plugins for it because no one owns it.
Self-hosting means you pay the web hosting company to host your website. If you are starting a portfolio website, you can start with a lower-level plan. I use Site Ground to host my sites, and it costs me less than $50 a year for one site. I am on a lower plan at this point because I am in the build phase. When I launch, I will upgrade depending on the traffic my website gets and what is needed to power the LMS and the assets.
Here’s that word again scalability. You want a web host that can meet your needs. If you find yourself needing more power, you want to be able to upgrade, but since you own your site, you can just migrate your site to a new server if you find one you prefer. There are several choices other than Site Ground, such as Bluehost, Liquid web, or HostGator. Do your research on which one will serve your needs.
So, here was my mistake…. I used WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a hosting site, but here is the thing you need to have a business account to be able to use themes and additional plugins. This costs $300 a year. If you want to be able to handle e-commerce as part of your site, you will be paying $540 a year. When you use a web hosting company, WordPress is supplied by WordPress.org, which is free because it is open-source. I know I am not the only one who has made this mistake. Luckily, it was a one-time deal, and now I am paying it forward to educate others on the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Save your money and self-host with a web host company that does not require you to pay more to use the functionality of a product that is free and open-source.
By: Tabatha Dragonberry
Tabatha is an EdTech entrepreneur, instructional designer, content writer, and educator dedicated to developing interactive and engaging learning ecosystems. She has a passion for gamification, learning experience design, and the integration of social learning to improve learner engagement and knowledge retention. Also, she is a respiratory therapist who hosts The Vent Room podcast providing a little inspiration to respiratory therapists.