1. I CAN’T AFFORD IT
Websites used to be an expensive proposition but the costs have dropped considerably over the last few years. Excluding any initial design costs, the annual fees for a self-hosted website should be about £60-£80. If you really can’t afford that, there are other options for setting up a simple online portfolio.
a) A free Blogger or WordPress blog and a Flickr account can be set up in a couple of hours and are a surprisingly effective combination.
b) If you don’t want a blog, Flickr can be used on its own as a basic art portfolio.
c) Many art sites will host portfolios for you and some of them are quite sophisticated. There are too many to link to but type the words ‘free artist portfolio’ into Google and you can research the many options available. Do check that their artists rate highly in Google and choose a site that gives you a short URL so you can easily add it to your email signature and put it on business cards.
d) A Facebook fan page is a fourth option. Most artists use Facebook fan pages as a subsidiary to their main site but at a pinch you could use it as your sole online portfolio. However, this is not something I’d recommend as a longterm option because they’re overly fond of suddenly changing things around and there’s some debate over how much control they have over any images you post there.
Any free site will have limitations but if it’s a choice between whacking up something free now or waiting until you can afford something better, go with the free option. You can always move to your own site later if you want to. But get something. Hell, use MySpace if you have to! And I say that as someone who hates MySpace and thinks it should be your last port of call unless you’re a musician.
2. I DON’T HAVE TIME
I won’t lie to you, setting up a full website like mine is not an instant process. My site took about 6 months from start to finish and was a lot of work for both myself and my web designer. Even if you work with a designer, there’s still blurb to write, design decisions to be made and photos to edit. In addition, all websites need low levels of ongoing maintenance. Blogging is an even bigger commitment and ideally needs to be done at least once a week to be effective.
However, setting up a simple portfolio site in the ways detailed above is relatively quick. If you’ve already got edited photographs of your work and a reasonable artists’ statement, you could do it this weekend.
If you’re serious about your art career then you must make time to get some sort of website up and running. Take a good hard look at what you’re currently doing and what your priorities are. Can you let go of any commitments? Are you using your time wisely? As Gary Vaynerchuk says, quit watching Lost!
If you definitely don’t have time to commit to a large website project right now, free up a weekend and put up a quick free version for now.
If you decide you do want something a bit more swanky, you can gradually start working towards your permanent website by doing preliminary things like researching designs and deciding what you want. Start a digital scrapbook of other artists’ sites that you like – a site like Evernote is good for saving this sort of research. If you look right at the bottom of the page it will usually say which templates or designers they used. Equally importantly take note of what you don’t like. Now look at your work and think about what sort of presentation would suit it. Do you want quirky or classic? Colourful or monochrome?
Laying the foundations like this will shorten the time taken by the final design process and if you do decide to pay a designer, you’ll save money if you’re clear on your design brief from the beginning. Although I changed my mind about plenty of things during the design process, I was very consistent about the basic parameters of the brief. I knew I wanted something elegant, simple and easy to navigate in neutral colours that would subtly compliment my often monochrome or pale work.
3. I CAN’T CODE OR DESIGN
Then pay someone who can!
Artists are absolute buggers for believing they have to do absolutely everything themselves. I understand the reasoning: money is often tight and even when it’s not, that starving artist mentality is tenacious. I tried to put together my own site 4 or 5 times over the space of a decade. I taught myself HTML at least twice! Finally I had to admit that while I was perfectly capable of learning to code, I was monumentally shitty at the design side.
If you’ve got a good grasp of design but no coding skills, there are masses of customisable templates out there. If you’re willing to pay for a premium WordPress template, I hear very good things about both Thesis and Headway. There are also lots of cheaper and free templates available: type ‘free WordPress themes’ into Google.
4. MY GALLERY PUT UP A PAGE FOR ME, SO I DON’T NEED A SITE OF MY OWN
Oh really? And how much say do you have over how that page looks? Do you plan to be with that gallery forever? What happens if they drop you or go bust?
Please don’t give your power away like this: ceding control of your career is never smart. There’s nothing wrong with having a page on your gallery’s website but it shouldn’t be your only online presence.
5. MY FRIEND SAID THEY’D MAKE ME ONE
This is one I hear surprisingly often.
Unless your friend is a professional web designer, you may be waiting a long time for what turns out to be a sub-standard site. Are you willing to put such an important part of your promotion in the hands of a untrained mate who probably has better things to do with their time? Even if your friend does know what they’re doing, the process can be fraught with problems. What if you don’t like their work? Are you going to fire your friend? What if working together sours your friendship?
I’m being slightly hypocritical here since my site was designed by a friend. However, he is a professional web designer and we were both very clear that I was employing him but we wouldn’t let it get in the way of our friendship. We worked hard to keep the boundaries firm and managed to come through mostly unscathed. I’m quite certain that I was far more annoying during the process than he was but thankfully he still talks to me!
6. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT
Yep, that’s going to make life difficult!
Start mindmapping what you do want. Follow the steps mentioned in Excuse 2 and Excuse 7. Again, if you recognise that this is going to be a long process for you, slap up something quick and cheap like a simple Flickr portfolio now (are you sensing a theme yet?)
And remember that the website you have now doesn’t have to be the website that you have forever. Websites are not static things. If you make a mistake or your needs change, you can always redesign the site. Even though the basic design template for this site has stayed the same since we launched three and half years ago, I’ve changed multiple things since then. Things change. You can change too. Website nirvana does not exist and perfectionism is just another excuse.
7. I JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START
I’m always sympathetic to cases of overwhelm because it’s something I’m extremely prone to. But you don’t have to conquer the internet instantly. Break it down into small manageable chunks.
If a full website is too overwhelming for you to consider right now, there’s absolutely no shame in going with any of the other options I’ve discussed. It’s OK to just set up a Flickr account, whack some photos on there and a bit of blurb about your practice and then stop. It won’t be the absolute ‘best’ website option but it’s far better than being so frozen by indecision and fear that you wind up doing nothing at all.
If you do decide that you want a ‘proper’ website, your first step should be deciding what you want that website to achieve. Do you plan to sell from your site? Is it a virtual portfolio/business card? Are you planning to drive traffic to your site with a blog? Do you want to deepen your relationship with existing collectors?
Your second step is to decide on your professional name. If you’ve got an unusual name you’ve got an instant advantage. Artists with more common names may need to be more inventive.
Your third step is to buy that domain name. It’ll cost you less than £10 for a year.
There you go, you’ve made a good start towards having a website and you’ve only spent a couple of quid!
8. I DON’T BELIEVE I NEED TO BE ONLINE
Don’t be daft! As I hope I’ve demonstrated, you don’t need a fancy website hosted on your own domain but you need something. If you don’t want to deal with any of this stuff yourself, hire someone who’s willing to take over the whole process for you.
I personally believe that a well designed website hosted on your own domain name is the ideal option but you can still have an effective and beautiful online presence by using one of the simpler methods detailed above. What won’t work is sticking your head in the sand and hoping all this crazy internet stuff will go away. It won’t.
Get more help
If you’d like more information about building your online presence, check out the free resources section.
I am also available for online consulting if you need one-on-one help.
Well, I hope that was helpful. What website solutions do you use? Please join the conversation by commenting below or tweeting the article.