Setting up your own website on Joomla has never been easier than it is now. Having set-up about ten sites on my own, I can have a site up and running in 3-4 hours of work. Depending on your computer proficiency and familiarity with Joomla, you might not achieve this level of speed on your first site. There are a few tips, however, which can make the job much easier.
Begin by selecting a website host who is familiar with Joomla. That way if you do have any questions, you may get some tech support. You should also look for a host that has a program in your website administrative control panel with a program called Fantastico.
Fantastico is a great program that allows one-click installation of commonly used programs (such as Joomla) on your website. It's a whole lot easier to install a website using Fantastico than it is by the do-it-yourself method. If you opt for the do-it-yourself method, you will have to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to upload the files. You may also have to install the database manually, change file permissions and run a set-up program. It doesn't make sense to go through all this when you can install Joomla with one simple click.
Assuming you already have a domain name and have it pointed to your Joomla installation, the next step I always take is to install a handy Joomla component called JoomlaXplorer. You'll need to obtain the file for JoomlaXplorer first, which can easily be located at and downloaded from extensions.joomla.com.
I love JoomlaXplorer because it makes it so easy to navigate around the files in the Joomla installation. It is like the My Documents section on your server, and it makes it really easy to upload graphics files and edit other files on the server. I personally wouldn't operate a Joomla site without it.
Once your Joomla installation is complete and you have JoomlaXplorer installed, you'll need to decide on a template for your website. There are a number of free Joomla template sites, as well as some paid ones out there. You'll need to sleuth around and find a template that you like, download the file to your computer, then install it using the Joomla template installer (all the Joomla installers are on one handy menu in the administrative panel).
There are many things you can do to customize your template after it is installed. You can navigate to the directory where your template files are stored in JoomlaXplorer, and view every graphic file in the template. If you want a custom header, simply replace the header in the template with a header you create. If you are somewhat proficient in PHP or html, you can also navigate around and change the template colors simply by putting in new color codes.
Once your template is installed, it's time to start setting up menus and creating some content. There will be a bit of a learning curve here, but you can learn a lot by looking at the menus that are set-up in the beginning installation. Basically, you can have different menus and sub-menus, and you can assign them to different areas of your template. You can have menus that only show up on certain pages, and you can even assign different template designs to different pages in your site.
The menus can be linked to different types of items, such as static content pages and modules (which are little widget-like programs that perform certain functions on the website).
There is much more that can be said about Joomla, but the bottom line is that it is much easier to set-up a professional-looking, powerful website in Joomla than it would be with custom hand-coding. Joomla is open source, which means that the software, modules and components are free. And there is also a great forum community where you can find answers to any questions you might have.
If you are a computer newbie (e.g. you can turn on the computer and that's about it), you may need some helping setting up your first Joomla site. But if you have medium computer proficiency, you can get a good-looking website up and going with relative ease. I have not been as happy with Joomla for e-commerce applications, although there are modules that will work with Paypal so it is fine for that. But it is excellent for content and or informational sites, and the maintenance is so much easier than on an html site. I've set-up Mambo sites, and taken a look at Drupal and other CMS programs, but Joomla is still my favorite by far, and with new modules constantly under development, it seems to get better all the time.