The faster you can build websites, the more money you’ll make: fact.
What if you could shave hours (a full day, even?) off your development time?
What if for each new website project you started building in just a few minutes?
Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid the brain-sapping, time-consuming monotony of setting everything up first?
You can, and it’s easy. It’s called the Starter Site Method.
It makes total business sense. It’ll save you time. It’ll make you more money. And it’ll save your sanity.
Sound good? Let’s take a closer look….
NOTE: At the 11:00 mark, I tell you to find/replace the old URL with the new URL. This is NOT necessary anymore. Just ignore that bit and skip to 12:27.
The typical start of a new project
As a non-coder graphic designer, you want to make profitable websites, quickly and easily. The mistake I see designers making over and over again is reinventing the wheel with each and every new project.
Here’s the typical process I see non-coder designers follow:
- Create a staging/test site subdomain in cPanel.
- Install a fresh copy of WordPress.
- Install the theme from scratch. If a premium theme, login to the theme provider first to download the files.
- Set up all the theme settings and styles – one-by-one.
- Install preferred plugins from scratch. If premium plugins, login to the plugin provider first to download the files.
- Set up all the plugin settings – one-by-one.
- Import any often-used Elementor layout templates.
- Add in any custom CSS or code snippets typically used.
(And that’s not mentioning how many people I see spending hours hunting for a totally different theme and set of plugins—AND learning how to use them—on EVERY project! Crazy…)
This kind of workflow makes me a very sad panda.
It not only takes a lot of time. It also is ripe for making mistakes and missing crucial things. And that’s not to mention the mental overhead it causes too. It’s a massive headache.
The Answer: The Starter Site Method
Using a Starter Site to kick-start new projects is really easy, even for non-coder graphic designers with no desire to learn how to code. It’s not just for fancy-pants developers!
Don’t worry about the precise details just yet. I’ll go through those step-by-step, in detail.
But first, let me quickly run you through a basic overview, just so you can get your head around it.
The process is in 2 parts:
Part 1: One-time first set-up
You only ever do this bit once:
- Create a new WordPress installation. This will be your ‘Starter Site’.
- Install the theme, page builder and plugins you use on every project.
- Set up all the theme styling, plugin settings, Elementor settings and often-used layout templates. Plus, any custom CSS or code snippets you like to have in place (check out the custom tweaks and settings I use on ALL my projects).
This is the ‘base’ Starter Site. A snapshot of your ideal setup, ready and raring to be pressed into action.
Part 2: Then at the start of each new project…
- Install a fresh copy of WordPress (1 click in most hosts), wherever you’re developing the new site.
- Go to your Starter Site. Export it (as a single file).
- Go back to your new WP install. Import your exported file into your fresh WP install.
You now have an exact copy of your Starter Site to get cracking immediately.
Think of it a little like ‘Save As….’ in Illustrator or Photoshop: you’re starting with a pre-built template; saving it out as a copy; and then working from there on the copy.
The whole process takes a few minutes – literally. It shaves hours off your development time, and removes a ton of potential headaches at the same time.
TIP: Every time you visit your Starter Site, before starting a new project, just take a few moments to update any plugins or your theme, if they have updates waiting.
Now that you have the basic overview, let me take you through the exact steps.
Pay attention at the back. 😉
Part 1: One-time first set-up
First we’ll create the Starter Site itself.
It needs a permanent home—somewhere you’ll install the Starter Site and keep it maintained and updated.
I suggest you create a ‘subdomain’ of a domain you already own. A subdomain is just a way of creating new websites under your main website domain.
For example: If your main domain was mydomain.com then you could create subdomains of it (totally separate websites), like test.mydomain.com and clientname.mydomain.com. Handy!
As cPanel is a very common hosting control panel, I’ll give you instructions for that. It’s also the control panel on my absolute favourite WordPress hosting company.
If your host has a different control panel, I’m sure the process is easy. Just ask them.
1.1 Create a subdomain for your Starter Site:
1. Login to your cPanel.
2. Click ‘Subdomains‘.
3. Give your subdomain a name.I chose to call mine ‘starter‘ (see screenshot below).
By default, the Document Root will be filled in automatically for you like this:
This will create a folder in the ‘root’ of your server called ‘starter‘.
Now this is totally fine… and if you’re not a little OCD like me, you can leave this at the default.
For example: if in future I create a new subdomain each time I set up a new staging/test development site for a client, I want them all to be contained in a ‘top-level’ folder in my server called ‘sites‘. That way, the main folder for my main site isn’t cluttered with a load of random folders.
If this makes no sense to you at all: don’t worry. Just leave it at the default and move along to step 4 below…
If it does make sense to you, however: just amend the Document Root field to this:
That way, your main website server will have a folder in it called ‘sites‘, and then inside that a folder called ‘starter‘. Neat and tidy.
And in future, if you create more subdomains, you’d just set the Document Root field to be, for example:
And for those without the need to be neat and tidy…. we’re back in the room. 🙂
4. Click ‘Create‘. Hopefully you’ll see a ‘Success‘ message.
Now go back to your cPanel home page.
1.2 Install WordPress on your new ‘starter’ subdomain:
This is a doddle.
1. In your cPanel homepage, click Softaculous.
2. Hover over the WordPress logo and click ‘Install‘.
3. Choose the protocol. I’m going to assume here that you’re installing on a subdomain that does NOT have SSL set up on it. So choose
(If it does have SSL set up on it, choose
4. Choose the domain you want to install WordPress on. For example, if my subdomain was starter.mydomain.com, then I’d choose starter.mydomain.com from the list.
Do NOT choose your MAIN domain (e.g. mydomain.com). This would try to install a fresh copy of WordPress on your main website – you don’t want to do that.
5. Leave ‘In Directory‘ blank. Your subdomain is already in a directory (geek-speak for ‘folder’).
Do NOT put the name of the folder that you used when setting up your subdomain.
6. Site Name and Site Description – give these something suitable like ‘Starter Site‘ and ‘My default starter site‘.
7. Ignore ‘Enable Multisite (WPMU)‘.
8. Choose an Admin Username and Admin Password. You’ll use these to login to your starter site.
9. Admin Email = your own email address.
10. Ignore any suggested plugins or themes. Also ignore the Advanced Options.
11. Click ‘Install‘.
With a bit of luck—and the wind blowing in the right direction—you should have success! 🙂
OK, quick recap. So far we’ve:
- Created the ‘starter’ subdomain – starter.mydomain.com
- Installed a fresh copy of WordPress on that subdomain.
Now here’s where the fun begins….!
(Ok, not really. No-one anywhere thinks this stuff is fun… But just think of the hours and frustration this will save you in future…!)
1.3 Set WordPress exactly as you like it
Now’s the time to:
- Install your preferred theme (I strongly recommend GeneratePress for non-coder graphic designers);
- Your preferred page builder (Elementor all the way!), including all your usual often-used templates.
- Any plugins you use on every project (see my up-to-date recommended tools and plugins).
Make all the custom styling, settings and tweaks necessary: in the theme’s Customizer; in Elementor’s settings; in each plugin. Everywhere you need to.
A word about backup plugins: I once installed and scheduled automated backups on my Starter Site. And then every time I created a new site with my Starter Site, that site too also had the same scheduled and automated backups, to the same location (in my case, I had them backing up automatically to my Dropbox).
If you want that behaviour, then leave your backup plugin activated on your starter site.
However, if you don’t want that… maybe you want to be able to choose how backups are handled separately for each of your client’s websites… then keep your backup plugin deactivated on your starter site.
A word about security and caching plugins: I have various security and caching plugins installed by default on every project. But I have these deactivated on my starter site.
You don’t want to be starting a new project with top security and heavy caching in place. It’ll drive you crazy – trust me. Just activate and set these plugins up once you make the client’s project live.
1.4 Install All In One WP Migration plugin
In the WordPress admin panel of your new starter site:
1. Plugins > Add New.
2. Search for ‘All In One WP Migration‘.
3. Find it in the list of results and click ‘Install Now‘.
4. The little old guy who works at WordPress will run and find the plugin for you in the warehouse…
(Well, ok… not really. You just have to wait a few moment for it to do its thing.)
5. Click ‘Activate‘.
Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of self-satisfaction. Feels good doesn’t it?
Part 2: Then at the start of a new project…
I’ll whizz through some of these instructions, as we’ve already basically covered them in Part 1 above.
2.1 When you’re about to start a new WordPress project:
1. In cPanel, create a new site.
If this is a totally new domain, it might already be set up for you. But you might want to create a new subdomain, as a staging/test area for the new site-in-development. Same idea as the instructions above.
2. Install a fresh version of WordPress, using Softaculous. Takes no time at all.
3. Login to your new WP site. I usually immediately delete the default plugins installed by the hosting company. Not essential – just the neat and tidy thing again… 😉
4. Plugins > Add New.
5. Search for ‘All In One WP Migration‘. Install and activate.
Your NEW site is now ready to become your Starter Site!
2.2 Export your Starter Site
1. Go to your Starter Site’s WordPress control panel.
2. In the left-hand menu: All-In-One WP Migration > Export.
3. I used to tell you here to use the ‘Find <text> Replace with <another-text> in the database‘ to replace your old URL with your new URL. This is actually NOT necessary. The plugin developers have confirmed this.
4. Click ‘Export To > File‘. Wait for it to do its thing.
5. Click the green ‘Download [URL]‘ button. This will download a file to your computer. It’ll be named after your Starter URL, and have a .wpress file extension.
2.3 Import your Starter Site into your NEW site
1. Go to your NEW site’s WordPress control panel.
2. In the left-hand menu: All-In-One WP Migration > Import.
3. Click ‘Import From > File‘.
4. Locate the export file on your computer.
5. Follow the import instructions. You’ll be warned that by importing this site, you’ll be wiping anything valuable on the site you’re importing into. That’s all cool – it was just a fresh WordPress install anyway.
6. Once done, hop over to ‘Settings > Permalinks‘. Don’t change anything, just hit ‘Save Changes‘. Sometimes WordPress can get a bit confused if you don’t. Bless.
You’ll now likely have to login to WordPress again.
You can change it in Users settings if you like. I personally prefer to have a different login for each site I work on (1Password is your friend here). It’s better security having a different login for every site.
And finally: don’t forget to go to Settings > General and amend the Site Title, Site Description, Email Address, Timezone and Language to those of the new site.
Now get started on your new project—in record time.
Now you’re ready to kick-start new projects in a flash, saving you time and making you more money.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried it, or if you have any questions. I’d be more than happy to help if you run into problems.