Before you leave your current job to become independent, consider the following:
1. Don’t leave before you have a website
2. Don’t leave before you have an “official” email address
3. Don’t leave before you have a business card
4. Don’t leave before you have your first client (hopefully)
Don’t leave before you have a business card
And a business card needs to have your website on it, and a real email address (not GMail).
There are numerous sites on the web that can help print business card, so don’t even think about printing the thing on your home printer. It never comes out as well as you’d like, and the paper quality is minimal. You want something that says professionalism, not “home made”.
How do I get a domain?
I used godaddy.com to get a domain name for less than $10 a year. Don’t bother paying more for the advanced email services there though - we’ll talk about options for managing your emails in a bit.
Should I get a “.com” domain or one for my own country?
I live in Israel but I didn’t get a “co.il” address. The main reason being that “.com” is much easier to remember and is more intuitive, and the second being that in most browsers, writing a word such as “cnn” and then clicking “Ctrl-Enter” you get automatic completion to “.com”. It’s easier to get to your site if it’s “.com”. if you used “.net” for example, people would constantly be confused and try to go to [yoursitename].com first and only then to “.net”. Hasn’t this ever happened to you?
How do I manage my domain(s)?
When you register a domain at a registrar such as GoDaddy.com they let you manage the domains you have with them, including setting the nameservers, email forwarding and everything else you’d need. That can lead to several potential problems though:
- If you have domains with more than one registrar you have to manage all that from multiple sites, each with its own interface, passwords and more
- The sites usually contain a heavyset UI that includes many things you don’t need and many “offers” that come up when all you want to do is manage your email account settings.
The best thing I did right after I got my first domain was to register a free account with ZoneEdit.Com. It’s a site dedicated to managing your DNS’s, domains forwarding, email forwarding, IP addresses, email server and MX records, and anything that has to do with how you want to wire up your various domains and sub domain names. The idea is this:
- You Add your new domain to you zoneedit.com account (you’ll get a notice that your domain’s nameservers are not pointed correctly and given the names and IPs of the nameservers to point to)
- Once you register a new domain (in any registrar), you immediately set your new nameservers for that domain in the registrar settings to point to those of ZoneEdit.com.
- Start managing *everything* to do with your websites, emails, MX records, subdomains from ZoneEdit.
ZoneEdit.com not only gives you 5 free domain managements free, but it’s also dedicated for this purpose. So it’s faster, easier and very slim to use - the UI is simply functional, not beautiful. And it has good guidance on what to do when. There are some other sites like it, but I like it a lot.
I use webHost4Life as my service provider(click here for going there without using my referrer ID). The support seems decent and the payment isn’t too high. For my money I get ASP.NET hosting, 2 SQL server 2005 databases and 2GB of space. The best thing about it is that the control panel allows creating your own site on it using DotNetNuke or other platforms. We’ll talk about that later.
Once you setup your website there, all you need to do is add the hosting IP to ZoneEdit.Com and you’re good to go. They also allow you to manage your domains and emails there (just like godaddy.com does, but I manage it all from ZoneEdit.com.
(note: when you have multiple domains that you want to host on the same hosting service at webhost4life, you need to pay an extra $15 a year for each domain name that points to the “root” of the site so, it won’t cost you anything to have “X.mydomain.com” and “y.mydomain.com” pointed to a virtual folder on your site there, but if you want both of them to point to the root, it will cost you extra)
I want to use Exchange for my emails
That’s what I wanted to. It’s pretty easy to do - I opened an account with LanLogic for hosted Exchange. The nice thing about it is that it provides access to mobile clients just as easily as part of the package, so I can read emails on the go from my mobile phone, and I don’t have any sync problems reading email from anywhere.
Plus, I get to use outlook on my home and laptop, without needing to host Exchange server or administer it, which is a pin (I tried).
Support is not amazing, but it works. I needed it to configure certificates for SLL through my mobile phone, and got the info I needed.
I don’t want to use Exchange, and I don’t want to pay for a “real” email.
Actually, that’s also possible. The ingredients:
- A Gmail Account
- A domain
- ZoneEdit.Com (optional, but recommended)
Our basic plan is this: Manage all our email from Gmail, but “appear” to be sending mail from “mydomain.com”. Here’s what you do.
- If you’re using “ZoneEdit” you can add a new email forwarding so that all mail sent to email@example.com will be automatically forwarded to “firstname.lastname@example.org” . That’s simple enough.
- Now go to your gmail account, click “settings”, then click “accounts”, and next to the “send mail as” section click “edit info”. Put your “official” email in the “reply to ” field.
Now, every email you get will be though gmail, and every reply you send will be from “email@example.com.
I want to have a “catch all” email address
“Catch all” is a term that basically says “if someone sends an email to “*@mydomain.com” - forward it to some email address. That way you can create “virtual email address that you can filter on. For example, you go to a site “mySpamSite.com” and need to register. You can give them the email address firstname.lastname@example.org even if that email does not really exist.
If they decide to send you spam in the future, it will be sent to that email address and you’ll know who sent or “shared” your email address.
It’s easy to do with ZoneEdit : just add email forwarding to “*@mydomain.com” . with GoDaddy.com you can add a new email forward that is marked as “catch all” (I’m not sure if that’s still possible with them, but I think it is.
Unfortunately, WebHost4life does not allow catch-all addresses.
I want to build a website
- Webhost4life offers a free dotnetnuke installation as part of your account. DotNetNuke (DNN for short) is an open source portal built with VB.NET which is very powerful and has lots of community around the world. You can download and install it by yourself, but having an automated installer is a godsend. This is an advanced tool that can help you build an enterprise style portal with thousands of users, a store and much more.
- Another nice tool to build websites with is FogCreek’s CityDesk, which has a free version that allows building a website with up to 5 files in it. After that you have to pay to play. This tool is “desktop” based, in that you manage the whole site on your desktop, and then “generate” it and upload it to your hosting FTP. It generates static content, and does not use a database, and has far fewer options to it (no user management)
There are some other options out there, but these are the two I think are the most user-friendly.