If you have, or have had, a website on one of the free hosting services you are aware of the limitations. Your choices of layout are limited to the templates provided and you are allowed only so much space. Your URL is not distinctively yours and, very likely, there are ads put there by your provider. So now you are thinking of starting a website under your own domain name so that you can personalize it to suit yourself. If you are planning to do business on the web it is crucial to have your own domain name and unique look.
Stop. If you are going to do it yourself, rather than hire someone to do it for you and you have little or no experience, there are a few things you need to know and some planning you need to do first. Sure, you could just charge ahead learning as you go (and there will still be some of that) but things will go a lot more smoothly if you take an honest inventory of your knowledge and skills as they apply to the planned content and format of Your site.
Basic Computer Skills
Anyone who uses a computer is familiar with the way folders and files are organized. Casual or recreational users usually do not take advantage of this structure to keep their own files organized but you should definitely do this with your pages. As you develop your site (and especially when you are ready to upload to your host) a well organized structure will reduce the amount of effort required to find, link to and upload pages.
A strategy many find useful is to build the entire site on their local file system so that it can be thoroughly tested prior to launch. This is a simple matter of creating a folder to serve as the root or top level of your site and subfolders as necessary to organize the content. For example, you might make a folder called mysite to serve as the root and a subdirectory called images to hold all the graphics you will use on your pages. One big advantage of this strategy is the ability to use your computer's file manager to determine the storage space required for your site. This will help you in choosing a hosting plan that has enough but not way too much allocated file space.
It is advisable to use relative path names for all internal links of your site as in./images/picture1.jpg or ../adobefiles / helpfile.pdf so that they will not need changing when you upload to your host. The single dot is shorthand for the current directory (the one where the page that contains the link is located). The double dot representations directory one level up.
As you build your pages and links you can test them by double clicking on the index.html (the default first page of a site) in your file manager which will start your browser and display your page. You can name this first page anything you like provided you use the.html or.htm extension and specify this name in the ultimate URL of your site but that will require visitors to type something like www.mydomain.com/firstpagename.html to get To your site or you will have to do a redirect to it from your top level. If you leave the default name they can just type in the domain address and it will automatically load. At launch time the entire site can be uploaded via an FTP client (file transfer protocol) and be 'live' in minutes.
You will need to be comfortable with and know how to find your way around the web. Also, you definitely need to know how to download and install software as well as how to use an FTP client to upload and download files and directories. FTP client software is not something that most of us use in routine computer use so you may need to just learn this when the time comes to attempt your first upload. One good (and free) FTP client is FileZilla. You will also need to know a little HTML as that is what makes the web work.
Most people these days use some form of WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get) for most of their page development. Many, if not most, hosting services provide a simple one similar to what you may be accredited to on the free services. To break free of the lookalikes, though, you should acquire and learn to use one of the more general purpose editors. A very good one is SeaMonkey from Mozilla and it is free for the downloading. It also works directly in HTML so that you do not have to convert from the editor's native format to HTML before uploading. SeaMonkey is actually a 'Browser Suite' and includes a browser, a WYSIWYG editor and a viewer / editor for the HTML text file. However, some basic knowledge of HTML and a text editor like the one in SeaMonkey or even Windows Notepad will allow you to tweak things if necessary.
How much HTML should you know? Well, you should certainly know how to define a link so that you can link your pages and how to insert images. You should also know some of the text formatting tags for bolding etc. And how to specify text and background colors in hexadecimal (there are pages on the web with charts of colors and their hex equivalents). Metatags are another thing you should be familiar with. There are many books and online tutorials where you can learn about HTML.
In order for your site to be visible on the web, you will need a domain name (your URL) and a host. Your host will be providing the space to store the necessary files and web access to those files so that browsers can find and display them. Most hosting services provide a convenient interface for you to access your pages for maintenance, etc. And most will also register and host your domain name.
You will want to consider two main things when picking your plan; Storage space and file transfer limits. All the other stuff is nice and some of it is important but these two are critical. Your storage requirements are pretty easy to estimate as stated above. Your file transfer requirement is not so easy because it depends on how many visitors come to your site and how much they look at. One "rule of thumb" says to buy a minimum of five gigabytes or ten times your actual storage usage whichever is larger.
Designing and building your own website from scratch can actually be enjoyable. So brush up on your skills and get to work. Share your hobby with the world or put your business on the web. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing it yourself. Most of all have fun with it.