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Want to Start a Local Site? It’s Easy. And Cheap. (Don’t Let Anybody Tell You Otherwise)

January 9, 2010

The conversation usually begins like this:  “I want to start a local news site/niche site/community blog.”

We get this a lot. Helping local sites is our business, after all. But the conversation often goes as predictably as a bad summer action flick, right down to the multiple-choice bits of dialogue:

Well, we say, you should just go ahead and start that local-news startup/niche site/personal blog.

“No, you don’t understand,” comes the response. “I know nothing about the technology. Where do I find a designer/tech coder/webmaster? And I don’t have much money! How can I afford all this?!” Or they say, “I’ve budgeted $5,000/$15,000/$25,000 to build the site; there’s a hot-shot local programmer/Web designer who is going to build it for me with all sorts of bells and whistles.”

Hold on. It’s really not that hard to start. And it certainly doesn’t have to be that expensive. In fact, you can start a perfectly good, fully featured site for nothing, with no programming skills, in just a few hours.

The secret is do to it using free (or nearly free) tools. You don’t need to hire anyone. You don’t need to buy any software. You certainly don’t need to spend a lot of money. You don’t even need a technical person—though if you want some technical help, there are some excellent online forums with people who will answer your questions for nothing.

This is the magic of templated and open-source content management and blog platforms, which have transformed publishing on the Web in the past few years. Free, or nearly free, these systems today outperform the content-management systems that companies routinely spent $1 million a year on a few years back.

Which systems? Check out blog platforms such as WordPress or Movable Type (aka TypePad), or more slightly sophisticated publishing software such as Drupal or Joomla. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but any of them will probably fill your needs—and one of them definitely can.

Once you pick one of these platforms, look through the free and low-cost designs—called “themes”—that are readily available for each. There are thousands of them, and most can be easily adapted and modified to look unique. Snazzy add-ons like calendars, maps, video players and many more are all available.

This means you can launch a solid-looking site for free, or just a few bucks a month. If you want to tweak it to look even better, you can either do it yourself (with the help of those online forum friends we mentioned)—or hire someone for just a few hundred bucks. In other words, you do not need to spend tens of thousands on something that is custom-built.

Want specifics? Plenty of free advice and tutorials for launching a site are available online. Try starting at J-Lab’s J-Learning “Newspaper in a Box” site. Or click one of the tools links above and take a test drive. (Warning: Sales pitch coming.) We don’t do content-management systems at GrowthSpur, but we do offer guidance and step-by-step instructions for creating successful sites in our “cookbook,” the  site operations and training manual that we’re making available only to our partners. We’ll also providing a pile of other tools, training and services to make a simple local site into a business. Drop us a note at to find out more. (End pitch.)

Want to get going as a local publisher? Just dive in. It’s really not that hard to get started.

  1. January 11, 2010 6:42 am

    You can also check out

    We’re a free full-package service to get your hyperlocal news site up and running quickly without spending a dime. Our service includes a content editor, integrated account and social tools, geolocation, mobile content creation tools, forums, classifieds and a built-in self-serve advertising system. If you use the self-serve service to process credit card purchased ads, we take a 20% cut. Our business is based on revenue sharing so your success is our success. Everything else is free.

    If you want to learn more, drop me a line


  1. The $5,000 hyperlocal design? | Tom Davidson
  2. Tips For Picking a Content Management System For Your Site « GrowthSpur Blog
  3. How easy is this stuff? | Tom Davidson
  4. Starting a Local Site: Creating a Budget « GrowthSpur Blog
  5. Sustainability and Success for News Startups « GrowthSpur Blog

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