As part of the prize I won through the Start Up Richmond competition, I was awarded a year’s free website hosting with ePages. This was the part of the prize that I was most excited about, as I’d had such a phaff trying to get the website for The Fabric Forge exactly as I wanted it. I’m sure it cost me too much money and still didn’t really do what I wanted it to.
Before entering the competition I had a quick look at the ePages website and was fairly sure I’d only win their basic package, ePages Base worth $9.99 a month. Sure enough that’s what I got, but I was more than happy with that.
Despite winning the competition back on February 1st, it’s taken until yesterday to get the final codes through so that I could actually start to design the website. This has been down to many different reasons, from both Royal Mail and ePages. It has to be said, though, that the team at Royal Mail Simple Ways to Grow were truly amazing at getting my prize package sorted out. They’d changed their payment systems just before the competition and hadn’t realised that coupon codes wouldn’t work on the new system with a annual subscription. The poor chaps had to go directly to each company to get everything set up individually for me. Bless – I’m sure they must have been regretting donating the package, the amount of trouble it caused them. But equally, at least they didn’t have all the hassle with an actual paying customer who would expect their package pretty swiftly. I’m glad that they had the problems with me, and I could be their guinea pig! (Hopefully when I’ve had some product photography done, I can start to use the marketing packages, but that’s another blog post!)
The main bulk of the problems has come from ePages. Once they’d finally sent the access links and codes (thanks again, Simple Ways, for giving them another nudge!) they informed me that they need they AuthCode to be able to use my already purchased .co.uk domain name. Unfortunately .co.uk domain addresses don’t have AuthCodes, which I told them, and received the reply that they wouldn’t be able to supply the website as they can’t do it without the right code. This went on for a few days, and more than a few annoyed emails from me, but finally this morning I sat down to start designing!
Five hours later, and I’ve not made any progress. Even now I can’t get my head around their systems. I think the problem lies with the fact the websites are so much more creative than they were two or three years ago, and what I visualise for my website is not possible with ePages. All their formats are very ‘professional’ and strict, there is no flexibility. See what I mean here – very few websites rely on strict column and header structure nowadays. This website uses ePages flex http://www.zauberdergewuerze.de/
Do you see what I mean? It’s very strict and not at all creative. Perfect if you’re an accountant, but not if you’re an architect perhaps. Anyone like me who will rely mainly on images to get my product across, will know that website layouts that rely heavily on text are just no good. Throw into that an interface that takes many ‘clicks’ to get from one page to another and you get a very irate customer. Customers need to be able to see what they are buying straight up, and access it easily.
Equally astounding is the fact that I couldn’t add products to the ePages base package. Thankfully didn’t get as far as having to add products before realising I couldn’t. Upgrade to a package that used products would have been $190 more per month. No thanks. This is where I gave up:
Whilst building the website for The Fabric Forge I tried MrSite (terrible customer support, terrible interface), and BigCartel (at that time only had currency in $, but may now have changed), and eventually settled with Indiemade, which I liked, but they only had a choice of four themes. However, they’re customer support was exceptional, and I would highly recommend them if you only have a small number of products to sell, or want a very minimalist website. Editing text and adding images is a little clunking though so I don’t think Indimade is right for PostTea. Again, I need a more intuitive interface.
So I find myself on Shopify. There example websites are gorgeous, and I can’t wait to start playing around properly with it.
I signed up this morning with a free trial and immediately subscribed for their basic package, although I think I will need to upgrade sooner rather than later. The subscriptions run month by month so you upgrade as and when you need. This will be so useful, and means I’m not spending too much money straight away. Equally, their basic themes are great, but they do have premium paid themes if you want. There are a couple of these that I love, and I may end up buying one, but until I have all my products ready to go I don’t know how it’ll look. Here’s what we look like so far – I know it’s bland at the minute, but it’s still better than the previous one!
Websites are certainly tricking – but as a startup on a small budget I can’t afford to outsource the design to any one yet. I’m glad I made my mistakes with The Fabric Forge, and now I know what I’m looking for and what works for me. Most of these websites offer a free 14 day or month trial so it’s definitely worth having a play around before you commit. And don’t just take my word for it about what’s good and what’s not – you might be looking for something entirely different from a website.
**All thoughts are my own and not influenced by any of the above companies!