By Jen Basford and Nancy Nardi
For many photographers, getting started with a new website—or updating a current website—can be overwhelming. But when looking at where to start, you have to consider much more than choosing a design. Being clear on your requirements and planning for ongoing management are key to the success of your site.
Creating (or updating) a website should be something you put a lot of thought and planning into. If done correctly, this can be a very smooth process and can give you exactly what you are looking for in a timely and cost-effective manner. So before you start flipping through website themes, let's look at four key things to have ready before you begin.
1. A Clearly Defined Brand
Too often photographers begin the process of creating or updating their website by searching for a template or site that has a design that they like. How a site looks is important, but if it doesn't fit with your studio brand then it's not going to work no matter how nice it looks. So before browsing through website templates you need to be sure you have a clearly defined brand.
A brand is more than just a logo and some pretty colors. Put some time and effort into defining your studio's brand—it is the foundation of your business reputation. Developers and template services cannot create your brand or content for you, and asking them to do so is like asking your home builder to decorate the interior of your home. They are great at constructing and building based on the architectural specifications, but they do not know your taste in decorating and how you want your home to feel.
Without a brand your site and studio have no personality or identity. So before you begin looking for a site, or for a service that will setup a site for you, be sure that you have a logo, brand colors, font selections and graphics ready to go. Ideally you will have a brand style guide with these items already, and this will ensure a consistent brand identity.
2. Know What You Are Looking For
Have you ever gone shopping for something and you don't really know what you are looking for? You end up wandering around the store (or the mall, or the city) for hours looking and looking until something jumps out at you (if it does at all). But once you get it home, you find it wasn't quite what you wanted and you aren't as happy as you could have been if you'd taken the time to figure out what you wanted before you went.
Deciding on the look of your website is the same type of process. If you take the time and effort beforehand to research and define what your wants and needs are, then the time involved in getting what you want is greatly reduced. Take a look at different sites around the Web (especially outside of the photography industry) and make notes about things you like and don't like. It can also be very helpful to create a sketch, or a mockup, of what you want your site to look like. It will save a lot of time and money to have a design ready that includes your page layouts (what pages and links you want on your site), features, and other things that you want to include on your site.
3. Have Your Content Ready To Go
I know what you're thinking. You need a website now. Can't you just get one up and add things to it later? This isn't a good idea for many reasons. This can hurt both your brand and your credibility to start with. There is no sense in spending time on a website if you aren't ready to fill it with content. You are merely adding more time and pressure to yourself (if you are doing your website on your own) or to your developer (if you are using a service), both of which mean delays and increased costs to you.
Content is one of the most important keys to a successful website, and yet it is one of the most often overlooked parts. Content includes things such as copy, images, videos, graphics, page titles, names for your navigation bar, email signup information, contact info, and more. Spend the extra effort needed up front to have all of this information ready to go and you will save both time and money on the back end.
Whether you are using a template and setting up your website yourself, or hiring a professional to do this for you, you will need to know what your budget is and be able to realistically work within it. There are costs associated with your website other than the fee for the service or template itself that need to be factored in. Branding, SEO research, hosting, domain registration, maintenance and updates need to be accounted for and factored into your Web budget. And don't forget to set aside finances for ongoing maintenance and updates once your site is live.
OK, I Have Everything Ready So Now What?
By having everything ready before you start looking for a website (be it a template or a service) you will save both time and money. If you are looking to purchase a template and do it on your own, you will have a clear vision for what it is you are looking for. This will allow you to find a site that lets you customize the areas you need to fit the look and feel of what you want. If you are hiring someone to do your site for you, handing them your well-defined brand, a mockup of what you want your site to look like, and your content will cut down tremendously on the time involved to set up your site and will allow them to give you a more cost-effective quote for getting you up and running.
Saying to a website developer or service “How much does a website cost?” or “Call me, I need a new website” is similar to saying to a home builder “I need a house, how much?” Until they know exactly what you want and have the content and branding needed for your site, they do not have enough information to provide you with an estimate. This causes enormous delays while going back and forth trying to get the information, which can add to your time and costs. Do yourself a favor and have this ready beforehand. You will save yourself time, money and a lot of unnecessary frustration.
A Few Final Things To Consider
Remember the saying that you get what you pay for? Well this holds true for Web services as well. You can setup a site for less than $100, or spend upwards of $5,000, but what you are getting is vastly different between the two, specifically in the areas of support and customization. Don't expect to purchase a $79 website and get personal attention or on-call service and support. What you save in price you will pay for in time and by having to handle a lot of the work and issues that arise on your own. Some companies offer support via forums or support tickets, but don't expect an immediate response or a phone call. The typical turnaround is 12 to 48 hours for these companies to be able to keep costs affordable to many clients. Keep in mind that “cheap” and “inexpensive” often come with hidden costs in the form of both time and money.
And finally, be sure to set realistic expectations by allowing enough time to plan and work on your site. A little planning and preparation will go a long way, and will also cut down on costs dramatically. As small business owners, most photographers do not need to go through the time and expense of a custom Web project. Would they benefit? Of course. But I think you will find that a unique and customized theme will give you everything you are looking for if you simply put the time and effort needed into the planning process up front.
Jen Basford owns 3 girls photography in Edmond, Okla. She is a PPA Studio Management Services mentor.
Nancy Nardi, a former studio owner, is the founder of Hi-Fi Social Web, providing website design services to photographers and other creative professionals.