I know you spent the entire last week feverishly choosing your domain name. The next step is hosting: in the most basic terms, hosting determines how each page of your website is physically delivered to your visitors and customers. I promise that this is the last week of boring technical stuff - next week we will be working with farm web design!
Hosting is a transparent, but very important aspect of running a successful website. The decision you make during this step effects all the rest of the process and can limit you in the future if you are not careful. If I may make a farming analogy, it is akin to choosing a tractor: the type and power of tractor you choose dictates the implements you can utilize later.
There are free web hosting options, though like anything else in life you have to ask, where is the money coming from? Most, if not all, of the free web hosting options will include advertisements on the pages you serve out to your visitors. You will also likely not get your own domain name -- your URL might be: http://mymarketfarm.free-hosting-service.com. You can do a search on your favorite search engine for "free web hosting" to begin to see the options. I advise you to steer away from these services because paid, reliable hosting service is so affordable. I think any serious business that relies on free hosting is starting their web marketing on shaky ground and setting themselves up for failure.
Inexpensive, reliable hosts abound that will serve your website to visitors for $5-15/month:
Some services provide rudimentary design tools that you can use to easily create a basic website:
HostGator's Site Studio software
For any of these packages, you may want to inquire with them about supporting any advanced features that you want to use: forums, blogs, email mailing lists, and more. Many of these hosts will offer fairly easy integration, but if you are not very tech-savvy it is good to ask how to move forward.
Visiting the world of budget web hosts is like going to the boardwalk in Atlantic City or the Strip in Vegas: there are lots of bright and flashing colors, hundreds of vendors selling the same thing, unverifiable promises, and finding someone to trust with your hard-earned money is difficult. I have had my share of difficulties with web hosts in the dedicated server market which is on the higher end. Just in case you are thinking about hosting with The Planet, don't. I wasted about a week of time and a few hundred dollars trying to get server set up with them to utterly fail with unresponsive and rude technical support. In my experience, I recommend choosing a company you trust and don't be afraid to spend a few extra dollars each month if you can get help when you are having problems.
There are many other sub-options in hosting that I haven't had time to cover in this post. If you just want a simple blog, there are companies that offer free hosting for blogs. Maybe you just want a listing of your farm; you can use LocalHarvest or the New Farm Farm Locator. None of these services will provide a full website or domain name for your farm, but they could be a good option for you.
Of course, I must mention the Small Farm Central web development software as an option. It naturally includes hosting, a domain name, email addresses and a software package that makes it easy for you to develop and update your farm website. The service starts at $20/month and has a lot of special features customized for farm websites that streamline the process of development and updates. We also provide pretty fantastic customer support, if I may say so myself!
Next week: Planting the seed: farm web design basics. If you liked this article, consider subscribing to email updates using the form in the left hand column of the site.