How an interactive Web site has increased my bottom line
By John Russo
[Editor's note: Because our April cover photographer, John Russo, came to our attention through his elegantly designed yet simple Web site, we asked him to write about liveBooks, the company that offers the editable Web site marketing and presentation software that he uses.]
Since the early days of the Internet I have been deeply inspired by its promise of being the ideal marketing tool for photographers. The idea of having one portfolio Web site that I could market simultaneously to photo buyers in New York, Miami, and LA just sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately, as most of you have experienced, it was too good to be true. Countless hours and dollars later, the Web has never lived up to my dream of a simple, cost effective way to market my portfolio. That is, until now!
Recently I discovered liveBooks, quite possibly the most effective tool I have seen for marketing your portfolio on the Internet. liveBooks was developed by photographers and artists who had the same frustrations I did and created a simple solution to an age-old problem—marketing your images and yourself on the Internet.
My liveBooks site incorporates editSuite software, which gives me complete creative control over all the content on my Web site in real time. In the lightBox screen, which displays the image sequence of the portfolios currently on my website, I can add new images or re-sequence a portfolio through a simple drag-and-drop process. I can even swap pairs of images on a single page. Click “save” and my changes go live on the Internet. It’s that easy. Effective image presentation on the Web site, combined with complete creative control over the content in the editSuite, has turned my Web site and the Internet into the marketing tool I have always dreamed it could be.
Let me share with you specifically what an effective website is doing for my business.
Confidence and Peace of Mind
Anyone can be looking at your Web site at any time, which is great if your site is up-to-date and looks amazing—a potential disaster if it’s not.
Before the Internet I always knew who was looking at my portfolio because I would either send it to them or hand it to them. Today, new clients will not call in my print book until they have seen my Web site first! I can have the best print book ever, but if my site is not up to date and does not give a first-rate impression, nobody is going to call it in. What’s more, I never know who might be looking at my work or for what reason. I used to wonder about how many jobs I may have lost because of its appearance and presentation, but not anymore. It’s a tremendous relief to go to bed each night knowing that my Web site is faithfully representing my work, feeling fully confident that it will make the impression I want made on anyone who looks at it. The Internet never sleeps and neither does my liveBooks Website.
Since my liveBooks site has gone live, I have noticed three positive changes. One, more potential clients, from more markets, are seeing my work because they’re “enjoying the experience” of looking at images on my Web site. Two, because clients are pre-qualifying me through my Web site, when they request my print portfolio, it lands me the job more often than it used to. This means that I have cut back on the expense and hassle of sending out books that don’t result in work. Three, It is happening more and more often that I am able to book a job directly from my Web site without having to call in my book. Now my Web site is not only generating interest and income, it’s saving me money and precious time!
Custom portfolios for target marketing
In my liveBooks editSuite I can respond to a client’s request for a custom portfolio of work by quickly creating a new portfolio, assigning it a password, and populating it with images that speak only to that specific job. I can then e-mail the link and password to the client. Another option, I can choose to download a branded PDF presentation of the custom portfolio, (or any portfolio on my site for that matter), and e-mail it directly to the client. I can do all of this in less than 10 minutes. This ability to quickly respond to a client’s specific needs has given me a competitive edge that has resulted in more work.
Build it and they will come
No they won’t! You have to get them there through targeted mailings. The good news is that, for a little money (relative to a print promotion), you can rent a list of art buyers, creative directors and the like from services like ADBASE or Workbook and e-mail them directly with a link to your site. Getting them to open the e-mail and click on the link is relatively easy. After all, their job is to review photographer portfolios and you’ve just made their job a lot easier. I can’t stress this enough: Make sure you have a very compelling home page that downloads in less than 4 seconds. Your home page needs to open quickly and be compelling or you will lose them—quickly!
Flexibility: You don’t want a dead-end Web site
My liveBook’s site is totally modular, which means I can add new features to my site when I need them. For example, I can add a shopping cart that allows me to sell prints from my site if I choose. I can also set up a link from my Web site to any other service I might use, such as a print fulfillment service or stock archive.
Keep it simple
I spoke with a number of art buyers, art directors and photo editors I frequently work with and asked them what they look for when reviewing Web-based portfolios. They all said the same thing. They want big, beautiful images that download really fast. They want a navigation structure that is logical and intuitive.
And, last but certainly not least, they want a design that brands the photographer but does not upstage their images. Seen from this perspective, I saw just how the liveBooks Web site design makes it extremely easy for them to navigate through the Web site, which is critical to any photographer who wants to have buyers look at their images. Make their job easier, and they will come back again and again.
I guess you can say the proof is truly in the pudding and I can honestly say that my new Web site has been directly responsible for some of the assignments I have won recently, including the Harve Bernard clothing account, all billboard ads for KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, and a new line of bedding sheets from Priscilla Presley. Not a bad return on my investment.
In summary, it has been a long hard road for us early adopters and I believe that with liveBooks, Web technology has finally matured enough to meet the Web marketing needs of creative professionals. For the first time since the inception of the Web, I feel empowered.
liveBooks offeres three packages: Folio ($950), Lite ($1,900), and Pro ($3,900). The fees are a one-time price with 12-month payment plans available. Full descriptions of the package features and downloadable PDF brochures are available at www.livebooks.com.