Web Strategy 101 for Creatives (Part 1) – First Steps

As a creative, whether a hobbyist or a professional, artist, photographer or designer, a key thing is presenting our work. The Internet is one of the ways of doing this. But it is important to get it right. This series of articles covers the issues.

The Internet is, today, a core part of doing business. It is also a core part of doing our hobby or avocation. Yet, as in all things creative’s do, there are so many options and possibilities. In this article I try to cover all the key essentials to either get you off to a good start or to help you fine-tune the approach you already take.

The first and very real question is what will a website do for you? The glib answer is ‘whatever you want it to’. It may be glib but it is also true, though with a major caveat. So here are some ideas of what a website may do for you.

A website acts as an open 24/7 shop branding you and your work. Yes, branding YOU. As a creative what you have to see is actually you. This is especially true if you are a designer, as it is your talent that you directly market. This of course also clearly applies to commercial artists or photographers. But also with artists and fine art photographers the same is true, you are the brand and ultimately the product, even when what you sell is a piece of art.

For those with a lot of actual product to sell, your website can be a full shop. It has the benefit of being open 24/7 and located in all parts of the world, because when it comes to the web, the entire world is as close as next door. You can go as far as accepting and processing credit card payments online, though this is only something to do if you expect a lot of sales. Alternative payment systems, like PayPal, are an option or the place an order, send a check and then we ship system is a straightforward and low cost alternative.

Having an online portfolio can be a key to getting work or commissions, and even in getting a physical exhibition.  There are many opportunities that come up when you do not have a physical portfolio with you. But if you have an online portfolio it is just a case of telling them your domain name or giving them a business card (so long as you have it on your card).

Those who have had physical exhibitions know the value of an exhibition goes far beyond the exposure and possible sales. The process of preparing an exhibition gets you focused on your work, forces you to go through your work carefully, choosing a cohesive body of work and even writing a suitable artist statement. It gives you an opportunity to look at your work in a new light, polish it for exhibition and to see your work as collections rather than just as individual pieces. You can gain all this with a website if you treat the process in the same way as for a physical exhibition. This is the key point: you don’t just throw your latest work up but rather you carefully work on it, creating a unifying theme and concept, polish the individual pieces to look great in your chosen exhibition form, online and write it up. That is what most people do not do, online.

Being online can also be key to gaining other types of exposure. For example it is much easier to get a magazine to profile you if you have a ready way for them to look at your work. Likewise even publicity to support some other thing, such as a physical exhibition or an interesting project, is more likely to get into print if the journalist can go look at more of your work online. Similarly other websites, such as DIMi, and bloggers will profile artists and photographers but only if it is easy for them to do. Plus of course you get far more exposure from any of the above if they mention your own website, as people will go and look.

The major caveat I mentioned earlier is that, by itself, a website does nothing. It is just a tool. If you do not use it fully or exploit its full potential then it will achieve nothing. People will not find your website by itself. On any likely topic there are so many websites that, if people Google, your site may not be listed before the 10th page, and few people bother to go that far. So you must build relationships with other sites, have your site address on your business cards, all brochures and stationary, send out PR material (press releases) and maybe even display it on your car (what better mobile billboard, and you have already paid for it).

What follows is a step-by-step sequence to success.

Register a Domain Name
A domain name, such as www.dimagemaker.com or cosshall.com (the www part is not really part of the domain name and is optional in all modern browsers) is your site’s address on the Internet.

At one level it really does not matter what the domain name is. It doesn’t have to be meaningful. However it does provide an opportunity to start the marketing and branding right up front. So a meaningful and descriptive one is useful, if you can get it. Something like www.joeblowphotography.com or www.sallysorensonart.net instantly says something about your business. On the other hand it can instantly label your car for robbery if displayed on the back, as it probably should be, so you need to think it through.

Domain names should be easy to say to someone over the phone. You will do a lot of that and you want it to be something that is easy for people to get right. This also helps with people remembering the domain name if they see it somewhere but don’t write it down.

Don’t always be tempted to take a free domain name as part of your hosting account (see below). Many do offer a free domain with a new hosting account and many of these will do the right thing by you. But I have also see and experienced problems. The classic problem is having difficulty getting them to release the domain name when you want to move to a new host. It can always usually be done but it can greatly slow this process down and cause huge headaches. Also weird things happen. A friend of mine made use of an offer his hosting company had of a free three month hosting extension when you refer someone else. They extending his hosting but forgot to renew his domain at the required time. It got snapped up by a Chinese co-artist who then wanted serious money to give it back.

The best and safest way is to go to a major domain registrar and do it yourself. That way you will be given the registry key directly (essential for moving the domain, etc) and have a login account with the registrar to use when you change hosting companies or whatever. Plus they will directly contact you when your domain needs renewal, which is usually yearly except for some national ones, such as Australian .com.au and .net.au where you pay for two years at a time. Note: some hosting companies will do this for you and provide you will all the details properly.

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