I've been seeing this question, or a level of self-applied pressure to get a cool website pop up lately in some of the forums I belong to. It’s understandable that newer photographers get the idea that in order for them to get more, better, higher paying clients that they need to have an incredibly designed website. But, attached to those websites is often a price tag they’re not ready to pick up. Not to mention, spending that much money for a budding photographer is very premature.
Another thing I see in forums is photographers getting frustrated with their designers, developers, etc. Since I’m both photographer and a web developer, I think I have a good handle on where the communication breakdown happens.
With those two problems in mind, I've put together a 3 part series that will cover the following:
* When and why you should get a custom website
* What to look for in a web developer or designer
* How to effectively work with your developer, and what to do after the website launch
The Purpose Of Your Website
So let’s start by defining the actual purpose of your website. The purpose of your website is to clearly provide enough information for potential clients to hire you.
Are there other things your site does? Absolutely. But you don't want to veer too far from that main purpose of your website. As the famous Architect Louis Sullivan once said “Form Follows Function.” The purpose of your site should take priority over the visual quality of your site.
Note that I didn’t say your site needs to be ugly.
If deliberate thought doesn't go into how you're getting found online as well as how people will use your site, how people will hire you, then you'll end up with a pretty website that doesn't bring you clients. We’ll look at those things in a bit, but first let’s look at the benefits you get from having a custom site over a template. Then, we’ll answer the question: When should you consider a custom website?
What Benefits Do You Get From Having A Custom Site?
First and foremost, a custom site will be something completely unique from what everyone else has. It will be exactly what you want, and nothing that you don’t want.
The process of having a custom site built for you includes having a professional walking you through what works and what doesn’t when it comes to websites. A good professional developer will also bring something to the table that you won’t have access to by purchasing a $200 theme.
A custom site is often a much more pleasurable experience for your potential clients to use and find what they’re looking for. That ease of use should result in more people hiring you. Your developer will have thoughts on how people use websites, and how the process of getting potential clients through the sales funnel should work on your site.
You’ll also have someone handling all the technical aspects of the site for you. This will free you up to work on your business, and your photography. Even if you buy a $200 theme, you still have to set it up and learn how to use the theme. You could spend a week or two just getting it the way you like it. Hiring someone to do a custom site for you puts you back in the driver’s seat of your business.
So, When Should You Get A Custom Site?
How long have you been in business? How good is your work? Have you been photographing for a short time, or are you a seasoned vet? Are you still learning your equipment? These are all the first questions you should be asking yourself first.
I find that photographers that decide to jump into business without having essential photography skills such as being able to shoot in manual mode, use light meters, use off-camera flash, et cetera, need to focus on those things before they get distracted with things like custom websites, SEO, marketing, and other business aspects like these. If the product you are delivering isn't of a professional quality yet, people shouldn't be paying for that product just quite yet. So if you’re just starting out, or unsure where you stand, getting a theme for $200 is a good place to start. And if you’re cringing at $200, you shouldn’t be thinking of custom anything for your site – at least, not just yet.
As a point of reference, most of Flaunt Your Site's clients have been in business full-time for at least 2 years, and have been photographing for at least a year or two longer than that. If your work is good, and you're booking consistently, you can use that as an indication that you might be ready for a custom site.
Do you have an idea of what you want your business identity to be? Have you formed the values of your business? Are you clear what products you will and won't sell to your clients and how they fit in your offerings? Do you have any packaging in mind yet? There is a lot more to a brand than your logo and colors, but they can be a big part of it. Logo and colors can be a big part of the overall experience when people are introduced to your company. The look and feel can communicate the values of your business, and it usually sets the stage for the type of customers that will contact you as well. You may not have any of this done yet, which is fine. You can work with your web developer to come up with a visual identity, or perhaps your developer has a graphic designer that can work with you to create that.
Have you been in business long enough to know what types of clients you really enjoy working with? Early on, most photographers are struggling to just get warm bodies to walk through the studio door. As you shoot more and more, you either begin to attract certain types of clients by your style, or you find that you just enjoy certain clients over others and start targeting your efforts towards those people. There are many demographic targets for which you can aim:
* Geographic (certain neighborhoods or suburban areas).
* Ethnic (perhaps you're Vietnamese and you are prominent in the Vietnamese community).
* Religious affiliations (You could specialize in Catholic weddings).
* Occupations (Maybe you came from a specialized business sector and you really connect with people in that industry).
* Organizations (If you belong to clubs or organizations devoted to hobbies or passions, you can find others that share your interests).
These are just a few ideas of where people find their niche. You can imagine how important it is to understand your target market. If the clients you tend to attract are Catholic moms in their 50's, but your site looks like Rock&Roll Bride, those potential clients will run screaming away from you. Your clientele will be a big factor in determining specific design ideas.
Are you attracting people that need larger type that’s easier to read? Are your clients moms on the go that need the information super quick? Are your clients tech-heads that want to know every piece of gear you shoot with? Do your clients feel more at ease making decisions with someone on the phone, where having a big phone number on each page will make a difference?
These questions are by no means exhaustive, but knowing the answers to these questions and having a thorough understanding of your clients will make all the difference when it comes to having an amazing and easy to use website.
If you have questions for William Bay, please post them below in the comments section. He is happy to help you through this process.