Develop Websites FAST: How to Shave HOURS Off Each Project with the Starter Site Method

How to Shave HOURS Off Each Project with The Starter Site Method

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….

Take your pick: watch the walkthrough video below, or read about it after the vid.

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:

  1. Create a staging/test site subdomain in cPanel.
  2. Install a fresh copy of WordPress.
  3. Install the theme from scratch. If a premium theme, login to the theme provider first to download the files.
  4. Set up all the theme settings and styles – one-by-one.
  5. Install preferred plugins from scratch. If premium plugins, login to the plugin provider first to download the files.
  6. Set up all the plugin settings – one-by-one.
  7. Import any often-used Elementor layout templates.
  8. 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.

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:

  1. Create a new WordPress installation. This will be your ‘Starter Site’.
  2. Install the theme, page builder and plugins you use on every project.
  3. 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.

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…

  1. Install a fresh copy of WordPress (1 click in most hosts), wherever you’re developing the new site.
  2. Go to your Starter Site. Export it (as a single file).
  3. Go back to your new WP install. Import your exported file into your fresh WP install.

That’s it.

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. 😉

Step-by-Step Instructions

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 then you could create subdomains of it (totally separate websites), like and 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‘.

SiteGround cPanel subdomain setting

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‘.

SiteGround cPanel subdomain setting

Now this is totally fine… and if you’re not a little OCD like me, you can leave this at the default.

[box color=”blue”]If you like things organised though: I prefer to put all my subdomains together in one folder, rather than litter my main website’s root folder with lots of different subdomain folders.

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.[/box]

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.

SiteGround cPanel Softaculous setting

2. Hover over the WordPress logo and click ‘Install‘.

SiteGround cPanel Softaculous WordPress 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 http://.

(If it does have SSL set up on it, choose https://)

[box]You’d only choose either of the ‘www’ options if you were installing WordPress on a site that you wanted the website address to start with ‘www’.[/box]

4. Choose the domain you want to install WordPress on. For example, if my subdomain was, then I’d choose from the list.

Do NOT choose your MAIN domain (e.g. 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:

  1. Created the ‘starter’ subdomain –
  2. 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:

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‘.

Install All In One WP Migration

4. The little old guy who works at WordPress will run and find the plugin for you in the warehouse…

Old man laughing
The guy who finds your plugins and sends them to you… He’s happy in his work. 🙂

(Well, ok… not really. You just have to wait a few moment for it to do its thing.)

5. Click ‘Activate‘.

That’s it.

[box color=”blue”]You now have a WordPress website, set up exactly as you like it, that will form the super-quick-start base of every new project you start from now on.[/box]

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.

[box]Make a note of the username and password you choose. You will need it when you login to the new site—but for the first time only.[/box]

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.

All In One 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.

All In One Migration export download

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.

[box color=”blue”]Remember: now that you’ve imported your Starter Site, you’ll use your Starter Site login details. The login you created earlier for this site no longer exists. It’s left the building. Nuked. Gone.[/box]

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.

Any questions?

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.

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31 thoughts on “Develop Websites FAST: How to Shave HOURS Off Each Project with the Starter Site Method”

  1. This is great. I was just setting up a site last night, banging my head on the wall wondering why I had to go through this every time and this idea never dawned on me! I’m going to be doing this! Thanks for the tip!

    I was trying to look at your “custom tweaks and settings” link you had, but it just takes me back to this blog post. I’d love to see it!

    • Excellent! Really glad it’s helpful Kyle. 🙂

      The custom tweaks link should open a pop-up to fill in a form to give your email address for me to send it to. Is that not working for you?

      I’ve just emailed you the link anyway. 🙂

  2. Just watched the video, really great work Dave. Thank you!

    I’ve added this and two other resources made by you on our shared public Board called: “Elementor & Compatible Theme Resources”.

    If you ever want to contribute / have edit rights on this Board, please let me know and send me your preferred email address. We would love to have you there!

    • Wow! Fantastic Verdi. Very honoured to be included on that board, lots of brilliant resources on there! Thank you so much.

      I’ll share the board with my email list when I do my weekly round-up next week. Will drop you an email re. contributing: I’d love to.

      Pleased you found the video useful.

    • Yes definitely. I do this all the time. The same method. You just wouldn’t have the advantage of cPanel and Softaculous to create a new WP install. You’d have to install a fresh copy of WP yourself. If you need any pointers Belinda, give me a shout.

  3. Hey Dave, just watched the replays last night, great stuff! Really enjoyed them and look forward to learning more 🙂

    When you were talking about your starter site, you mentioned you have a page with loads of different elements that you use to test fonts etc. Any chance of a copy?


    • Glad you liked it Craig! I’m not back at my main machine for a few days as I’m away. But the testing page I mentioned is just a standard WP page with a couple of images, a few paragraphs broken up with a few subheadings, as well as a bulleted list and a few bits of text made into links. Really simple. 🙂

  4. Hi Dave. I am really enjoying your content, and your recent webinar, via the replay.

    Considering security, is there any benefit doing a self install of WordPress rather than the Softaculous install. There are many articles referring to changing database and user names etc to make it more secure.

    • Hi Graham – thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying my stuff. 🙂

      Security – actually, I’m not sure. I don’t think so really. With Softaculous you can set a custom database prefix and your own login details. Plus plugins like All In One WP Security let you change those details afterwards anyway. A security expert might say different…. but I think it’s ok.

      • In fact, Softaculous adds a custom prefix for wp-tables by default, making the install just a notch more secure than your typical next-next-finish manual WordPress install.

        One more thing Softaculous does: allows you to opt in for automatic updates of the WordPress version. For this reason alone, for clients I’m pretty sure will never bother to keep their site up do date (and thus risk being hacked in the long run), I first do a Softaculous WordPress install and then use that as a starting point and count on Softaculous to keep it up to date for them.

        Softaculous is a great tool. Shaves a few minutes off dev time every time you use it:)

  5. Hi Dave,

    Great post. I’ve implemented this for my business.

    I have a quick question which I’m hoping you can answer/explain.

    When I enter the login url: //

    the url changes to this:


    Have I done something wrong?
    (I had to remove characters from my url or my comment would’ve been spammed)

    Really appreciate your response.


  6. Thanks!
    This seemed to work well. Only thing I found unaddressed was when doing a simple download/upload (as described), it didn’t want to transfer any saved Elementor templates in my Personal Templates folder. No big deal, just thought I’d note it for other users.

  7. Nice work Dave. However the only downside I found with your method is that all websites based on the starter site will have the same login username and password as All-in-one WP Migration also restores all tables in the database from the backup including login details. This is not a safe practice and adds an extra step of creating a fresh admin user account on each restored site with different login credentials.

    • Thank you Atei. And yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s the one problem with this method. People basically have to create a new user account, then login as that, then delete their ‘starter’ user account.

      I don’t cover that in this video (I don’t think so anyway) but I wish I did. Great comment – thank you.

  8. I have done this. a lot. the issue is when you deal with huge post like 1k-2k posts, it often fail when using GUI uploader.
    better to use WP CLI when doing this setup.
    nice tutorial Dave.


  9. Hi Dave,

    Great info, very useful.

    Just wondering how you stop google from indexing your sub-domain and how you prevent hackers from hacking the sub-domain if your security plugin is deactivated?

    Also, do you update the wordpress keys in wp-config after each installation of a starter site?


  10. Hi Dave, Thank you, thank you, thank you… I found what I was looking for. Man, I so appreciate you taking the time to put this together. So forget my panicky email from yesterday. 🙂
    All the best to you! Monika

  11. love this dave
    one question though
    could i not create the starter site and export to hard drive then import from hard drive every time so i dont need to keep a starter site updated and “live”
    i understand that it would be out of date pretty quickly but surely import then update wordpress version and theme and plugins once new site created ?
    is there anything wrong with this way of working ?

    • Well it kinda defeats the object, really. You’re supposed to update the starter site with new plugins, settings etc whenever you discover new/better ways of working, as you’re working on regular projects. That way, the SS is up-to-date with your latest methods and preferences NEXT time you have a new project.


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