For many if not all of us, time is a precious commodity. This is especially true for anyone who is balancing two jobs, or a family, or two jobs AND a family, or any other bottomless list of responsibilities. I currently work a full time job at one of the most amazing places, and I am thankful EVERY single day for the people I work with, the experiences I have when I go into work, and also for the fact that I do get to incorporate my photography into my regular job every now and again.
That being said, time is SO incredibly precious to me because I literally have zero of it now as I navigate through the waters of balancing two jobs. One of my initial projects when I began my business was getting a website started. It was actually at the encouragement of a friend of mine, who pretty much told me that having only a Facebook page to promote my business was going to be detrimental – she was right. And so began the journey of creating my own little slice of the internet. I have learned a tremendous amount through my experiences so far including: exploring what it would be like to have a developer work with me, creating my own site from scratch and working with template based web builders.
For those who are ballin on a budget like me, but who still want to have creative control over building their very first website or would like to spruce up the one they already have, here are a few tips that might help you:
1. Okay so, where do I even start?!
- If you haven’t created your own website yet, the first thing I recommend that you do is purchase a domain name. As you begin the process you will probably be overwhelmed by the amount of new terms and phrases that will start to come your way. A domain is like a street address for your website. It points everyone to a specific location on the web where they can find your little internet home. Many times on website builder sites (two are listed below), you have the option of purchasing a free account. When I built my first website it was on SmugMug.com, and my website link was katelynncarlsonphotography.smugmug.com, because my account was free. SmugMug was allowing me to host my site on their servers for free, so in turn, they attached their business name to my domain. This worked for me for about .5 seconds, because I was not thrilled with how long the link was, and I didn’t feel that having “SmugMug” attached to my name portrayed the level of professionalism I was seeking. As a result, I started googling “how to have a custom website link” and discovered the meaning of the term domain name. There are countless domain name services, but I specifically chose to work through GoDaddy because many of their prices were the most reasonable to me. You can read more about domain and website hosting on their website.
2. Template based website builders are THE BOMB.
- ”Template? But I want my website to look unique to me!” Absolutely you do, and you should feel that way at all times. However, I will be the first to tell you that these template based sites are pretty amazing and actually allow you to customize your sites in creative and unique ways that can be tailored to your brand and style. They are a great place for you to start if you are not yet at the point where you can drop $3,000 – $6,000 (yes those numbers are real, designers have to make a living too!) on a full blown re-brand and website development process with a designer. Everyone’s timing is different, but for those of us who are still figuring out our brand and getting comfortable in our entrepreneurial skin, we just don’t have that kind of money to spend yet. Here is a photo of my very first website that I built on SmugMug. I was graciously gifted a membership (which I still use for prints) and was SO thrilled when I got it. This humble website served me well for awhile and gave me a few of the basics I needed to feel comfortable sharing a website with someone who asked:
After a few months with this platform, I realized there were some other things I wanted to be able to do with my website that SmugMug wouldn’t allow. After all, SmugMug was primarily designed to be a place where photographers could house galleries and sell prints. It wasn’t necessarily designed for intricate web development. That realization and a desire for more room to grow brought me to my next stage:
- If you haven’t heard of these sites, you absolutely need to check them out. They allow you to essentially drag and drop components of your website into a design that is appealing for you. I personally chose Weebly to design my blog, and Showit for my website, but all function in many of the same ways. You can visually see your layout transform at your fingertips, and you have control over colors and placement. There is also HTML capability, so if you do know some HTML coding you can add even more creative elements to your webpage. There are a few different purchasing options, but you can also build a website for FREE! I have opted for Weebly’s “Pro” level package ($6.62 a month) because it had more of the features I was looking for. I have also purchased a monthly subscription to Showit, because again, the features were worth it.
4. Don’t get ahead of yourself and immediately think you need a web developer
- There are SO many insanely talented designers floating around, and with the internet right at your fingertips, you can find about 50 of them in a matter of minutes. I’m an all or nothing kind of person, and many times I just dive right into things and deal with the consequences later. Soon after discovering Weebly, and building my site on there, I began a rapid exploration of other photographers online and started to find my mentors in the community. I noticed that they all had BEAUTIFUL websites and many of them were creating quite the hype with the debut of their brand new gorgeous webpages. How could you NOT be sucked in to the excitement? Naturally, after browsing through a collection of these, I had myself convinced that I needed a brand-spanking-new website and I absolutely had to have a designer help me. After searching for a few weeks, and receiving numbers that just did not fit with my budget, I finally found someone who I could afford. They were a wonderful team, and so incredibly helpful, but as the weeks went on, and I kept giving them endless guidance and tiny changes, I realized that my web design should probably, at this time, stay in my own hands. I lost a quite a bit of money during this experience but felt it was necessary because they had put in their time and effort as discussed, the problem was I just wasn’t ready to give up the creative freedom to someone else and I needed to understand my vision on my own before I could convey it to someone else.
5. Before you take the financial leap with a designer, take time to understand your brand, and grow within yourself.
- For some, investing in a new website is one of the first things they want to do. And honestly if that is your path, then you go forth and conquer! I just know for me, spending thousands of dollars on a rebrand that I don’t even fully understand yet, just does not make sense for my business at this time, and can result in a loss of investment. I strongly caution you to be patient with this process. If you are like me, and are having website envy as you start exploring the internet, please don’t jump the gun. Many successful entrepreneurs didn’t have a full rebrand until many years into their business, and as we hear time and time again, these things don’t happen over night. Template based sites can provide you with beautiful and easy to use website, and give you the time back that you would otherwise spend trying to figure out complex coding on WordPress. It will also give you the time to continue to grow within yourself and your brand, and better understand the trajectory for your business. Don’t spend the money now, before you’re ready. Invest that money into education and development. Trust me – you will NOT regret it.
Below is a screenshot of the landing page of my current website, which I built all on my own. It took a few weeks, but knowing I have created this all my self is SO satisfying. One day I will probably look back on it and smile with nostalgia, as I gaze upon a current website that has $6,000 behind it, haha. BUT, for now, I am proud 🙂 And you should be proud of yours too! You don’t know what you are capable of until you try it for yourself. Don’t let the frustration get the best of you. I didn’t just magically know what to do, right off the bat. There were so many choices surrounding me and I didn’t know which way to turn, but I eventually landed at a place that was satisfying.
I could write a top 50 list if I really wanted to, on this topic, but I think this post is long enough. If you are struggling with your website, please feel free to reach out to me! I will be happy to help, because as I always say, I’ve been there! Everyone deserves a beautiful site that represents them and their business.