Succeed online

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For the last few years, I've been taking photographs of house numbers and I've just released these photos under a Creative Commons license. So if you have a need for some images of beautiful numbers, please check them out.

No 7 - 3-D
Kirsty Hall, No. 7, Jan 2011

Giesela Birgit over on my Facebook group asked me how Creative Commons works. I realised that other people might be confused about it, so here's a quick explanation.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a way of licensing your creative work in a more adaptable way than traditional copyright. It replaces 'all rights reserved' with a more flexible 'some rights reserved' model that recognises that the basis of a free, open internet is sharing.

Creative Commons offers six different licenses, which allow you to control the way your work is used. All Creative Commons licenses require that you, the creator, are credited so people can't take your work and pass it off as their own.

If I use it on one thing, will all my work be Creative Commons?

No 20 - flowery close-up
Kirsty Hall, No. 20, Jan 2011

No, licenses are specific to that particular work, not your entire body of work.

I don't use Creative Commons for all my work. I retain full traditional copyright on all images of my art, any photographs I might want to sell in the future and all my writing. If you scroll down this blog you'll notice that I have a copyright notice that explains how people can use my work and when they need to ask for permission. As far as I'm aware, most people respect it. I also further protect my work by only releasing my images at 72dpi, which is not high enough for good print quality.

Is Creative Commons legal?

Yes. All Creative Commons licenses are an extension of traditional copyright and they have a 'Legal Code layer' written in lawyer language. Of course, that doesn't mean that it won't be challenged in court and there have been a couple of court cases about Creative Commons but there are even more court cases based on traditional copyright.

Won't people steal my stuff?

They might but that's a risk you take whenever you release any kind of creative work in public. Personally I only release stuff under Creative Commons that I'm not particularly bothered about and I don't worry about what happens to it.

If it bothers you, traditional copyright might be a better choice but be aware that dishonest people aren't bothered about any kind of copyright and all you're doing is stopping the honest people from disseminating and sharing your work.

Can I take public domain work and make it Creative Commons?

No, definitely not. You should only license works that you have created. The Creative Commons website states:

Creative Commons licenses should not be applied to works in the public domain. Our licenses are intended for works protected by copyright only.

Why I use Creative Commons

I currently have 410 images available for other people to use.

I take a lot of documentary-style photographs and I'm not very emotionally attached to them. Last year I decided to make these photographs available under a Creative Commons license because I'm a big fan of internet sharing, the concept of 'free' and enabling other people's creativity. I've benefited from using other people's images on my blog and I wanted to return the favour. It's a gift. It's also a strategic way to get more people to visit my Flickr account, which could lead to more people seeing my art.

No 85 - black paint
Kirsty Hall, No. 85, Jan 2011

I use the least restrictive license for my Creative Commons collection:

"This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation."

So someone could take one of my images and use it as the basis of an artwork or add it to a video, a blog post or a Powerpoint lecture. They could change the colour, flip it around, add it to a collage, even use it as the basis of a commercial work (although all my images are only 72dpi, so it wouldn't be great for printing). The only thing they have to do is credit me.

I chose the least restrictive license because I wanted my images to appear in awesome WordPress plugins like Photo Dropper.

Further resources

If you have other questions, read the Creative Commons FAQ or check out the Creative Commons entry on Wikipedia (which incidentally, also uses a Creative Commons license).

Disclaimer:
I am not an expert in this stuff. If you have serious copyright questions about protecting your creative work, please consult a lawyer.

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.


6 Comments

Ooh, categories vs tags, it's like The Sharks vs The Jets. Except not.

Other ways I could describe them. Categories are like tags on steroids. Categories are like your troop carriers and tags are the specialist troops that live inside them. Tags are little goblins but categories are orcs.

Look, I've been up all night, I stopped making sense quite some time ago...

Watch this 7 minute video that I made to launch my fantabulous Artist's Eyeball service and you'll see that both categories and tags have their place.



Huge thanks to my second brave volunteer, Julie Shackson for being a guinea pig: you'll be receiving your free Artist's Eyeball soon, Julie.


What's so great about Artist’s Eyeballs?

Remember Carol Nunan, who featured in our first video? Well, Carol got her free Artist’s Eyeball on Wednesday and promptly impressed the hell out of me by staying up to midnight to revamp her sidebar. If you visit her site, you’ll see she’s also got rid of the problematic ‘Monotypes’ button that I objected to.

Here's what she wrote on her blog:

Well I won myself a free 'Artist's Eyeball' from Kirsty Hall and I received her much anticipated report today. Veeery useful. Nothing like getting an objective view point from someone who obviously knows what they are talking about and who is prepared to be brutally honest. I like that.

So... hard on the heels of her report I've been doing some serious tidying up for my blog. I've done the easy stuff first. I hope you approve Kirsty. It's still a work in progress but I have some direction now.

Damn right, I approve - way to go, Carol!

These are the kind of results that people get from The Artist’s Eyeballs. They can really light a fire under you. In a good inspirational way, not in a 'call the Fire Brigade' way. Because that would be bad.


What do I get?

A highly detailed, written report that will in no way cause your house to burn down but that will tell you what you need to fix on your website to stop people wandering around uselessly like drunken chickens.

You get a lot of eye and brain for your money: Full Eyeballs tend to be between 5 and 10 pages long, sometimes even longer. It's a big old to-do list with a fairly large amount of to-don't's thrown in. I don't just say 'do this', I also tell you why you should do stuff.

And if I can't find anything to say about your site or you don't find the report useful, I'll give you a full refund.


What if my site isn't ready yet?

There is no expiry date: you can buy an Artist's Eyeball now and use it later. Just make sure that you tell me on the order that you want to wait. It would also be helpful if you can give me a rough idea when you're likely to need it, so that I can make a note to follow up with you.

You could even treat someone to one for Christmas & I promise to wear tinsel when I write it. Although it might be a bit like giving someone a diet book for Christmas; 'Hi honey, your website sucks, Happy Holidays!'


Last chance for cheap Eyeballs

And let's face it, who doesn't want cheap eyeballs?


Blog Eyeball (including up to 3 static pages) - £50, now only £35
The Blog Eyeball is down to £35, which is £15 off - a truly delightful bargain, I'm sure you'll agree.

Add to Cart


Full Artist's Eyeball - £100, now only £50
A Full Artist's Eyeball normally retails at £100 but during this sale I'm offering it at £50, which is a rather splendid half price.

Add to Cart


Full Eyeball with consulting - £160, now only £100
The Full Artist's Eyeball with an extra brains consulting session is currently going for £100 instead of £160. That's a full written website analysis plus 45 minutes of follow-up on Skype where you can delve deeper into what I've recommended. It's the dinner and a date version.

Add to Cart


Deadline

This offer closes at 5pm GMT on Friday 3rd December 2010. That's today, people! If you're going to buy one, you should do it now.

If you know you need an Artist's Eyeball but find yourself temporarily low on funds, please email me and we'll organise a payment plan that suits you. I am more than happy to do this - I've been where you are and I know what it's like (it sucks!) - all you have to do is ask.

P.S. I am going to bed now: do not panic if you email me & I don't get back to you instantly. As long as I get your email before 5pm today, we're good.

Please note:
If there's a high demand during this sale, it will take me longer than the usual 7 days to do your Eyeball.


Honeys, please do me a huge favour and pass this on by clicking on one of the share buttons below...


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Welcome to the Artist's Eyeball launch party! Woo, streamers, balloons, cakes and small children peeing themselves with excitement (what, it could happen).

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and have a slice of cake...

Gâteau mousse de Framboise
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rubyran

The Artist's Eyeballs were quite insistent that they had never had a proper launch and that not enough people knew about them. When they heard that I was meant to be launching something at the end of November for Customer Love, they started tugging on my sleeve. Since I felt kind of bad that I'd launched them accidentally and then buggered off to Holland for a week, I gave in.

Besides, it meant I didn't have to create something new - ssssh, don't tell them!

Btw, this is what I'm doing instead of a Birthday sale because My Inner Businesswoman decided that 10 days before Christmas was a mind-bogglingly stupid time to try to sell anything that wasn't Christmas related. Although if you do want to buy someone an Eyeball or a session of consulting as a Christmas present, rest assured that I will find a way of putting ribbon on it, even if I have to wear the ribbon myself.

A present for you

First of all, a fabulous freebie, wherein I demonstrate 'stuff that I know' and you get to think, 'shit, I'm doing that wrong' and rush off to your site to fix it. Even if you're not in the market for an Artist's Eyeball, I hope you'll watch this 5 minute demonstration video and share it with your friends.



Huge thanks to Carol Nunan for bravely volunteering to be a guinea pig in exchange for a free Artist's Eyeball.

Btw, this is why you should sign up for my newsletter. Last week I put a call-out to my newsletter peeps for volunteers and got a fantastic response - thanks so much to everyone who responded, I was hugely impressed at your willingness to volunteer. I've also picked a second victim, Julie Shackson: her site will feature in another demo video later in the week.


Why you should buy An Artist's Eyeball

Well, because they're awesome!

Of course I would say that, I'm their mama. However, I can report that the majority of people who've received one of these have been instantly fired up and usually started making changes to their websites straight away.

Kirsty cut right to the chase - what worked, what didn't, what would make my sales page better. I felt encouraged & excited to have some concrete steps to make improvements. I was a bit afraid the critique might hurt, but Kirsty knows how to make you feel good about what you have, while helping you make it even better.

Melissa Dinwiddie from A Creative Life

The Artist's Eyeball was an eye opener. Kirsty gently but firmly told me my sales page isn't about ME but my CUSTOMERS.

LaVonne Ellis from The Complete Flake


What you get

You get a highly detailed written report that points out everything that I think you're doing wrong on your website or blog. Lest this sounds too depressing for words, rest assured that I also enthuse about the stuff you're doing well. You get a lot of eye and brain for your money: Full Eyeballs tend to be between 5 and 10 pages long, sometimes even more and even a Mini-Eyeball will usually contain several pages of suggestions.

Now I know this might not seem like the most exciting thing in the world to buy but holy cow, these are seriously useful. You get a nice big list of things to tackle and often a bit of longterm strategy thrown in for free. Instead of aimlessly going around in circles for months or years wondering why this internet lark isn't working out for you, you get pointed in the right direction at last. You can also work through things at your own pace, confident that you're making positive changes.

And if I can't find anything to say about your site or you don't find the report useful, I'll give you a full refund.


Super-duper Special Offer

I highly recommend snagging one of the larger packages because they're an amazingly sweet deal. In fact, I won't be offering these prices ever again, this is an introductory offer only.

....Drumroll please....

Mini Eyeball - £20
The mini-Eyeballs are staying at £20 because that's already ridiculously cheap and my Inner Businesswoman wasn't having anything to do with a deal on these.

Add to Cart


Blog Eyeball (including up to 3 static pages) - £50, now only £35
The Blog Eyeball is down to £35, which is £15 off. That's some kind of complicated percentage that I can't work out because my maths guru, Colin Beveridge has gone on holiday to America. How inconsiderate!

Add to Cart


Full Artist's Eyeball - £100, now only £50
A Full Artist's Eyeball normally retails at £100 but for 3 days only I'm offering it at half price. £50 for an entire site analysis is crazy: I had to lock my Inner Businesswoman in the basement to get away with this.

Add to Cart


Full Eyeball with consulting - £160, now only £100
The Full Artist's Eyeball with an extra brains consulting session is currently going for £100 instead of £160. That's a full written website analysis plus 45 minutes of follow-up on Skype where you can delve deeper into what I've recommended. Total bargain.

Add to Cart


What if my site isn't ready yet?

There is no expiry date: you can buy an Artist's Eyeball now and use it later (thanks to Skaja for asking this question). Just make sure that you tell me on the order that you want to wait. It would also be helpful if you can give me a rough idea when you're likely to need it, so that I can make a note to follow up with you.


Deadline

You've only got three days to take advantage of this: the offer will close at 5pm GMT on Friday 3rd December 2010.

If you're absolutely desperate for one but you can't afford it with Christmas coming up, email me and we'll sort something out. Please don't be shy or embarrassed. I know what it's like to need something when you're skint and while I can't lower the price any further, I'm happy to work out a payment plan with you. But you've got to brave enough to step up and ask.

Please note:
If there's a high demand during this sale, it will take me longer than the usual 7 days to do your Eyeball.


Honeys, please do me a huge favour and pass this on by clicking on one of the share buttons below...


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Face facts, my little cupcakes, you are not good at everything.

I know, I know, your mother told you that you could do anything you wanted in life. She did not, however, tell you that you could do everything. And if she did, she was wrong.

Pressure...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Casey Serin

Creative people have a bizarre tendency - probably born from the Starving Artist Mindset - to believe that they can do everything. Sadly, it just ain’t so.

Can you have a stab at it? Yes, probably. Will it be any good? Debatable. In truth, other people can often do things better than you and in far less time.

For example, whenever possible I outsource my graphics. I can kind of do graphics but I suck at them: it takes forever and makes me all stabby. Nasty, tricksy graphics, we hates them, Precious.

So I will budget like crazy to hire my wonderful graphics person, Lisa Valuyskaya. Lisa does in a couple of hours what it would take me days of hysterical sobbing to achieve. Ha, who am I kidding? Even with the sobbing, my efforts are pitiful compared to hers. Know why? Because she’s a professional graphic designer and I am not.

Help, help, I have no money

It’s sucky - you’d love to hire someone but your kids/pets/landlord need to eat. It’s just not an option.

In that situation, there are several choices:
Barter
Go without
Find a creative work-around
Outsource those tasks to parts of yourself

The first three are pretty self-explanatory but what about that last one? Outsourcing to yourself? What the hell?

OK, here’s what it means. When I have a task that I dislike and I can’t afford to hire someone, I try to find an aspect of myself that can deal and then I delegate to that sub-personality.

For example, my Inner Businesswoman is now responsible for financial decisions. I find asking for money difficult, so she does that bit. She overrides my Volunteer Junkie who likes to say things like, ‘oh hey, we could just barter instead’. My Inner Businesswoman is in charge of the bottom line and she reminds my Volunteer Junkie that there are bills to pay and the Inland Revenue does not accept vegetables and eggs, no matter how happy the chickens are.

Right now my Inner Businesswoman is very cross about the state of my book-keeping and is threatening to hire an Inner Accountant.

Another example. I have been struggling with newsletters but I was brushing my teeth the other day when to my surprise, an inner Girl Reporter suddenly turned up. She’s keen as mustard and doesn’t need to be paid because apparently she’s an intern. I hope she likes typing.

Hmm, this could be getting a leetle bit out of hand…

It does work though. Marketing making you cringe? Create your own PR person. Having trouble standing up for yourself? Oh honey, your Inner Diva has that one covered. Need help with the filing? Just access your Inner Secretary


Stock photo of Joan from Mad Men

And no, it doesn’t matter if you’re male, you can still imagine yourself as Joan from Mad Men. You’ve probably got better legs for stockings anyway.

Just don’t blame me if tidying up the studio requires an Inner Archaeologist.

A Caveat

This only works if you can access a part of yourself that is vaguely competent.

My Inner Graphic Designer is clearly an eight year old child who’s prone to temper tantrums and doesn’t understand what’s wrong with Comics Sans. If your Inner Accountant seems like the kind of guy who’s going to run off to Bermuda with your money, you should definitely hire a real one or find a more competent friend you can barter skills with.

Get a hat. Get lots of hats

‘Wearing several different hats’ is a critically important skill for any self-employed person.

I have taken this to its logical conclusion and frequently wear my sequin tiara when I’m working on business stuff. Apparently my Inner Businesswoman is a bit of a princess. But because I do it often, putting on the tiara now sends my brain the message, ‘hey, we’re doing business stuff now’. I’m thinking of expanding this: I’d like a writing hat and an art hat to add to my business tiara.

Dammit, I heard that. No, my art hat will NOT be a beret!

Given the choice between sticking their toe in a blender and having to market themselves, many creative people would have to sit down and think about it.

I understand. It’s cringe-worthy, embarrassing and gruelling putting your delicate, precious, creative endeavours out there.

In my experience, anything that helps you stand slightly apart from your creative work helps immensely. It could be silly hats, a public persona, a pseudonym or parts of yourself temporarily taking charge. Start thinking of yourself as a one-person publishing company instead of just a writer. Hell, delegate to your cuddly toys or draw paper doll alter-egos if it helps. You could even ask the cat to take charge. Actually, no, don’t do that, most cats have no work ethic and they’ll screw things up just to mess with you.

Now excuse me, I have to go, my Inner Businesswoman is tapping her foot, apparently time is money or some such shit…


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Orange Cones and Their Strange Whereabouts
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Last Monday the lovely Rachelle from Magpie Girl posted an interview with me about my Internet Hand-holding consulting service. It’s a good interview, you can read it here. As part of the interview, I offered a half price deal on a session of my consulting. Instead of the usual price of £70, Rachelle's readers could get it for its original £35. I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook. I thought it was great deal & I was hoping for a few new clients.

And…silence.

No one bought my thing. Tumbleweeds blew past. I felt needy, desperate, sad and pathetic. No one had bought my thing even though it was half-price - clearly no one loved me and everyone thought I was crap. Obviously I was a total failure. Oh woe, woe and thrice woe.

A revelation occurs

This evening I was messing around on my site when I realised that the sales page for Internet Hand-holding had moved in the last couple of days due to a bit of site tweaking.

‘Oh’, thought I, ‘I hope that Rachelle’s people aren’t getting an error page now. I should check on that.’

So I did. And it was even worse.

Rachelle and I had done the email interview some time ago and in the meantime, I had written a lovely new sales page. Unfortunately Rachelle did not know this because I had not told her. I hadn’t realised that the only link she had was for the original blog post announcing Internet Hand-holding and it didn't occurred to me to check the link when the interview was posted.

Unfortunately the original blog post did not link to the nice new sales page. In fact, it only had an old, dead Bixbe link on it. So, for an entire week, anyone clicking on the link from Rachelle’s site hoping to get a lovely special deal was directed to a page where there was absolutely no way they could buy my thing. No way at all.

Peeps, I’ve done some pretty daft things in my time but I have rarely felt quite so stupid as I did at that moment.

How I fixed it

Firstly, I contacted Rachelle, apologised and gave her the correct link. Because she is a sweetheart, she corrected it within the hour.

Then I muttered darkly about my stupidity on Twitter and several people agreed that they had also on occasion had done monumentally stupid things that took their breath away. This made me feel better.

I then edited the blog post that her post linked to. I put a message at the top of the post explaining to her readers what had happened, apologising and directing them to the correct page. I also removed the old dead Bixbe link. While it was unlikely that anyone was going to read the interview a week after it was posted, I wanted to instantly fix the problem because I had no idea how long it would take Rachelle to redirect people. Plus it was entirely my mistake and therefore my responsibility.

Then I told people on Twitter and gave them the direct link and the code.

At this point, I took a small tea break and wandered around the house laughing at myself because hey, at that point what else can you do?

Finally, I wrote this blog post.

What you can learn from this

1) Always check the technical side
‘Check the links’ is clearly the internet version of ‘measure twice, cut once’. If you’ve been featured on someone else's blog, check the links (ideally on the day it goes live, not a week later!) If you’ve moved things around on your blog, update all your links. The other thing I spotted during this debacle was that the link in my sidebar was also incorrect. Because the sales page had been moved, WordPress had magically redirected that link to the old blog post so for several days, no one could have bought my product at all.

2) Don't assume the worst
Because I was feeling sick last week, I instantly jumped to the worst possible conclusion - that everyone hated me and I should go and eat worms. Now it's entirely possible that no one does want half-price consulting but it was daft to assume that was the reason. Plus I spotted and corrected the mistake before Rachelle mentioned the offer to her entire mailing list, so it could have been much worse.

3) Apologise, fix things, move on
You can recover from what seems like disaster if you act quickly and openly. Everyone makes mistakes. Accept yours, tell people what happened, fix the problem, move on. I'm not going to beat myself up for ages about this. I did about half an hour of 'oh wow, I can't believe I was that stupid', then I dropped it. The important thing is that I've learnt from it.

4. Nothing is wasted
I got a blog post out of this, which is great as I'd been blocked on writing.

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.


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Picture of toy knight
Blue and gold knight by Debbi Long

I’m a big advocate of being a gentle online champion. Not slaying dragons and wielding swords but following a code of chivalrous behaviour.

 

Why should I champion others?

There are two major reasons.

Firstly, it’s the generous and right thing to do.

You can find incredible content on the web. And I mean incredible.

Stuff that makes the mainstream media look shabby, clichéd and badly done. These days I often read articles in newspapers and think, “hmmm, so-and-so’s blog did this topic so much better.”

And people are out there giving away this great content for free.

If you read, listen to or watch something that resonates with you, the very least you can do is thank the person who made it. And then retweet it for them. Pay them with eyeballs. OK, not actual eyeballs because that would be weird. And probably illegal.

Secondly, being a champion is the smart, strategic thing to do.

If you’ve spent time showing up at someone’s site, commenting, engaging and being an advocate for them, they are far more likely to give you a bit of hawt internet loving in return.

I read somewhere that only one in ten reader leave a blog comment and my own numbers back that up. So if you comment on someone’s stuff, you’ve just made yourself stand out. If you consistently leave insightful, considered comments, then you’ve just lit yourself up like a delightful sparkly Christmas tree.

For example, if you email me cold, I will be polite and I will try to respond to you. But if you’re asking me for a favour that doesn’t benefit me and I don’t have a clue who you are, then you’d better hope it’s an interesting one!

if you regularly comment here or talk to me on Twitter, I’m far more likely to go that extra mile for you simply because you’re already on my radar. I won’t be rude if I don’t know you but it’s far easier to grab my attention if you’ve made the effort to get to know me first.

This is just human nature. It’s the old ‘who you know’.

 

So how do I do this champion thing?

Find the people you admire online and love on them hard. Tweet their stuff, link to them, from your blog, comment on their posts, podcasts and videos. If you use their photos or art, link to them.

See. That was easy, wasn’t it.

Of course, like many things in life, there’s the wholesome-apple-pie way to do this and the ‘please don’t call me again or I shall contact the police’ way.

 

The right way to be a champion

Good
Give your loyalty to those who deserve it – the talented, the wonderful, the people who brighten your day. It doesn’t matter if they’re already internet famous. Go on merit.

Bad
Sucking up to people just because they could help your career. Don’t do it. It’s sleazy and people pick up on it.

If you’re only being nice to me because you think I could help you, you’re going to make me deeply uncomfortable and embarrassed. And I’m British, so if you embarrass me, I'll pretend you don’t exist. Politely.

Also, are you kidding? I’m nobody – I’m famous to about 5 people in Arkansas!

Good
Focus on your audience, not theirs.

Instead of trying to get your stuff in front of the other person’s audience (by leaving spammy comments, for example), focus on bringing their good stuff to your lovely people.

Bad
Don’t be needy.

Needy often manifests as nagging. I’ve had people do this to me and nothing put me off quicker.

If it seems like the person is ignoring you, don’t push it, just carry on being an advocate. Maybe they’ll get to liking you, maybe they won’t. It doesn’t matter because you’re not doing it to be liked, you’re doing it because you like them. Getting on their radar is a wonderful by-product but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make either of you a bad or worthless person. Leave your ego at the door.

 

Useful Resources

In weird coincidence land, Mars Dorian covered this technique the exact same night that I wrote this.

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein from Live Your Truth explains why seduction is the best way to pitch to her in this video post.

This article on Facebook faux pas makes a lot of good points.

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.

Leave A Comment

How have you been a champion? Has it brought you success and useful connections? Got any tips? Tell all in the comments...


15 Comments


Photograph by Johnny Grim. Used under Creative Commons license

I recently wrote about why there's no excuse for artists not to have websites. If you're still working on yours, here are a few things to avoid like the plague.

1. Overuse of Flash

I'm not a big fan of Flash - it can be useful when used sparingly but it's frequently overdone or used inappropriately. Web designers can start acting like puppies on crack when they get their paws on Flash. You need to smack them firmly with a rolled up newspaper.*

There are other good reasons for avoiding Flash. The web is increasingly moving over to HTML5, so a site that’s designed in Flash now is highly likely to need redesigning in a couple of years. Flash often doesn't work on mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads. Apple have said that they won't integrate Flash into those platforms. Microsoft have also come out in support of HTML5.

Even if your visitors are capable of viewing Flash, it often slows a site down considerably - I do not care how pretty your site is, if it takes several minutes to load, you've lost me.

*Fret not, it's hyperbole. I do not advocate violence against web designers. Or puppies. Or crack addicts.

2. Choosing Form Over Function

Unless your site is an actual art project and a pretentious design is vital part of your evil plan, please resist the urge to overcomplicate things.

I do not want to chase small objects around the screen. I do not want to have to guess what your obscure labels mean. I do not want to search in vain for photographs of your work. You are not a pirate constructing a fiendish puzzle to protect your buried treasure, so knock it off!

Again, this is usually more of a problem with professionally designed sites because the rest of us simply don't have the skills to complicate things in this way. I have a theory that web designers hear the word 'artist' and immediately start cackling like mad scientists thinking about all the crazy things they can get away with.

I don't want to sound as though I'm picking on web designers - most of them do wonderful work - but I have seen a lot of art websites rendered unusable through 'clever' design. Remember: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. People visiting your website don't care how 'arty' your site looks, they just want to find out about your work quickly and easily. Simple, functional and elegant wins out over complex and difficult to use every single time.

ETA: Artist and web designer iamANT pointed out that it's actually often artist clients who demand bizarre and 'creative' sites. If this is you, stop it, you silly artist! Listen to your designer when they tell you that strangely animated Flash sites are a bad idea. They are trained in their field. You are not.

3. Illegibility

It sounds painfully obvious but if you want people to read your site then you need to make it readable.

Large blocks of text are hard to read, so break it up with paragraphs and photographs.

Do not use colours with too much or too little contrast. In particular, be very careful of white text on a black background. This has been popping up all over the web recently like a bad case of shingles and I think it's appalling. I find it painful to read and 9 times out of 10, I simply click away. If you must use white on black, there are things you can do to make it more legible.

Do not use hard to read fonts or text that's too small. Websites are increasingly being read on mobile phones and small text that won't enlarge is one of the major problems. If you're on WordPress, there are various plugins that will make your site compatible with mobile devices. I'm currently testing out Mobilize by Mippin.

4. Clutter

White space is your friend, people.

Busy backgrounds and animated adverts do not enhance anyone's browsing experience. And you don't need to put hundreds of buttons, banners and widgets on your blog sidebar either.

I understand, I do. We’ve all been there. There are all sorts of cute widgets and plugins out there wriggling provocatively at you and promising to show you a good time if you'll just take them home. The temptation to tell people what you’re reading; what you’re twittering; how many fans you have on Facebook; what the weather is like where you are and when you last ate cornflakes is enormous. You could fill your entire blog with sidebar widgets. Unfortunately many people do.

But the human brain can only parse so much information at once: you need to be selective or none of the information will register. I've visited blogs where it's hard to focus on the actual blog post because it's lost in a sea of visual clutter. You need to prioritise & put the most important stuff at the top, especially things you want your visitors to actually DO. These ‘calls to action’ should be clear. If you want people to sign up to your mailing list, don’t make them hunt for it. If you want people to buy your products, make it easy to do so. If you want them to look at your art, direct them to it. And then get rid of as much else as humanly possible.

If you need further help optimising your website, I highly recommend a coaching session with Catherine Caine from Be Awesome Online.

And if you still feel the need to tell people about your breakfast cereal of choice, write a FAQ page.

5. Music

Apparently some artists think that my appreciation of their art will be deepened by tinny elevator music suddenly erupting from my speakers. They are very wrong.

Look, it could be my favourite piece of music in the whole wide world but I still don't want it to start up when your site loads for the very simple reason that I'm usually already listening to music while browsing.

Nothing will make me leave your site faster than music that starts automatically. It also makes me want to hunt you down and stab you but we won't go there...

6. Lousy Content

Are your photographs good enough? Are they properly labelled and easy to navigate? Do they load quickly enough? Is it obvious what things are? Avoid blurry or badly lit photos wherever possible (I do know that photography conditions in exhibitions are sometimes less than ideal but do your best).

What's your writing like? Unless you know you're speaking to an exclusively art audience, don't use art jargon. Use your spellchecker. Read through your stuff before you hit publish. Make a decent stab at using correct grammar, although you can get away with writing that's technically incorrect on a blog because a more conversational style is common in blogging.

Oh, and don't be boring or no one will read it. You have to sign up to a mailing list to get it but I found this free guide to writing 'non-sucky copy' from Laura Belgray of The Talking Shrimp useful.

7. Being Secretive

Do you belong to a secret spy organisation where your identity must be protected at all costs? No, you (probably) do not!

If you’re trying to promote yourself with a blog and/or a website, then you need to reveal something about yourself. Like, say, your name. You don't have to reveal everything but an 'about me' page is a must. Arts business coach Alyson B. Stanfield recommends having a good photograph of yourself too.

A lot of artists also make it far harder than it needs to be for people to contact them. Claire Platt pointed out in the comments that even simple contact information like an email address is often missing.

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.


5 Comments

I don't know about you, but I regularly get email invites to join art sites. It can be daunting working out if they're worth your time and energy. I can't make those decisions for you but I've written this general guide to help you assess this sort of opportunity.

1) Do You Like The Other Art?
People judge your work by the company it keeps. If you'd be embarrassed to be shown on the same gallery wall, then don't place your art in the same online space. The exception to this is when it's an enormous site like Saatchi Online, where there's a huge selection of work in a wide range of styles.

Submitting your work to a curated site can be more work but that 'gatekeeper' aspect often results in a site with a higher quality of art. That exclusivity can also appeal to visitors who may take your work more seriously because it's been vetted.

2) Does It Match Your Values?
Do you like the aesthetics of the site? Does the site have an ethos with which you strongly agree or disagree? How much control do you have over what appears on your page? Are there adverts? In short, does the site chime with your values, both moral and aesthetic?

One important point you must always check is whether the site retains any rights over your images. I know it's a nuisance but you need to read the Terms Of Service (often abbreviated to TOS). These are always available when you sign up to a site - you'll probably have to check a box to say that you've read them - or you can also usually find a link to them at the bottom of the site or in the FAQ.

3) Do They Charge?
Ooh, the big one!

I have no objection to spending money online but I do think that a lot of art sites prey on the desperate and inexperienced. There are many excellent free art sites that offer just as much exposure.

There definitely are good subscription sites out there. Even though I've still not got round to applying, I've long considered AXIS to be worthwhile, especially for UK artists. They're a long-established site with a solid reputation and they provide a lot of 'added value' such as job opportunities, forums, high Google ranking and access to curators. Personally, I'd be incredibly wary of newer sites who want payment without having that sort of proven track record.

However, different rules apply if the site is specifically for artists in your area. These can be very worthwhile. I'm a member of Bristol Creatives and Textile Forum South West. Both charge a small annual membership but they're worth it because they connect me to other local artists, give me access to pertinent news & exhibition opportunities and organise regular offline events that are close enough for me to actually attend. Consequently both sites have a far greater practical value to me than many free national or international sites. Similarly, as a UK artist I wouldn't dream of letting my annual subscription to a-n lapse. An artist at a recent networking event I attended described it as "like Equity for artists". There are masses of benefits but frankly, it's worth it for the free public liability insurance alone.

There's also usually at least one professional organisation specifically for artists using your particular material and many of these now have websites where you can add a profile. Even if their website doesn't give you space for a profile of your own, you'll get access to high quality information that is specific to your field.

So I'm not saying that you shouldn't join websites that charge but you need to research them thoroughly, find out if they're as effective at promoting artists as they claim and and know exactly what you're getting for your money. In my opinion, you should definitely spend your money on your relevant professional organisations and local networks first.

4) How Effective Is It?
Randomly pick a few of their artists (not the ones that show up on the main page) and type their names into Google. How highly do those site profiles rank? If their site profile doesn't come up on the first couple of pages, it may not be worth your time.

Do be aware that if that particular artist already has a broad and effective internet presence that will skew the results. I'm all over the net like a cheap rash, so any site I'm on has to compete with all the other places where I'm active online. But if you check several of their artists and none of their profile pages rank highly, then that site probably isn't promoting its artists very effectively.

The second way to judge whether a site is worth your time is by checking their stats. Diane Gilliland has put together an excellent short video demonstrating how to do this. Her video is specifically about judging other blogs but most of the information still applies.

5) How Much Work Is It?
Is participation necessary or is it a 'set it and forget it' kind of place?

A lot of sites strongly encourage artists to maintain blogs on their sites. In my experience, there's a limit to how much blogging a single artist can do well. Remember that Google punishes duplicate content - it regards it as spam - so simply writing one blog post and plastering it over loads of art sites is counter-productive. I do allow occasional republishing of relevant blog posts from this blog on a few select sites but I would never republish every single post because that would definitely hurt my Google ranking. Many sites also contain forums where regular participation can gain you valuable contacts and further exposure on the site. However, be aware that forums are a notorious time suck.

If you're spending a lot of time on an art site but not getting many visitors to your site, you should question whether it's a good use of your time and energy. Marketing bods call this ROI - 'return on investment'. There's a wealth of information about your visitor numbers and behaviour in Google Analytics. If you've not already got Google Analytics on your website, you absolutely must because you need to know that information.

Now there could be strategic reasons to spend time on a site that's not bringing many visitors to your main site - perhaps it contains lots of people you're trying to get to know or it may just be fun - however, if it doesn't fulfil the criteria you've set, reconsider your participation.

6) Will You Be Seen?
Will your work be lost in the crowd? The smaller, more intimate sites can often be a more effective way of promoting your work than the huge sites. However, if a site has sufficiently huge traffic, you may garner significant eyeballs just by chance.

Are there opportunities to feature in newsletters, on the front page of the site or otherwise be brought to people's attention? I enjoy Central Station, partly because it's a fun place with interesting people but also because they regularly showcase my work. Because it's not a huge site, it's quite easy to stand out there with very little actual effort. In places that showcase new work, it's smart not to upload all your photos at once but to stagger them over a couple of weeks - you're more likely to get featured that way.

7) Who Are Their Audience?
Will your work be seen by the people who matter to you? If you're selling work, are new customers likely to find that site? If you're more interested in coming to the attention of curators, is there any indication that they browse the site? Does the site contain a lot of artists who you'd like to get to know?

If you're marketing your work to a specific niche, consider participating in non-art sites where your customers are likely to congregate. For example, if you paint racehorses, being active on a respected racing forum might be beneficial. Obviously you don't want to spam people but many forums allow you to have a short signature when you post, so you can subtly let people know what you do. Plus, you're presumably painting racehorses because you're interested in them.

Conclusion

If the site is free, matches your values and joining it won't take too much time, then you might as well go ahead and whack up a couple of images and a profile. After all, you don't know exactly who their audience are and you've got nothing to lose. However, if a site charges or requires far greater time participation such as using forums or blogging then you need to carefully weigh up the costs against the benefits.

_____________________________

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.

Comment

I'd love to hear how you decided which sites to join. I'm planning on a follow-up post detailing some of the sites individual artists use, if you'd like to be included with a link to your site, please comment below or get in touch on Twitter.


19 Comments

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.


24 Comments

Palimpsest 02
Kirsty Hall: Palimpsest, 2004
Click here for more information on this piece.

A lot of blogging advice tells you to do things like have a tight focus, develop a recognisable style, keep to a schedule, always use a photograph, make your posts a certain length and do lots of guest posting.

This is probably excellent advice.

I mostly ignore it.

I am not a strategic blogger. I try to blog at least twice a week but I often fail, especially if I'm unwell or busy. I don't blog at the times that'll get me the most readers because it never occurs to me to do so. I don't promote my blog as well as I could. I don’t stick rigidly to one style; I’ll often have a serious post one day followed by a slew of what I call 'eye candy' posts. This is partly deliberate – I think it’s boring to have all my content the same and I like to mix things up a bit. But mostly it’s because I post whatever I feel like posting, whenever I feel like posting it. My posting style is largely dependant on my mood and whatever is bubbling up in my brain at that given moment. Like I said, not very strategic!

However, although they may seem random, my posts do have a common thread. I deliberately focus fairly tightly on art. So I don't talk about lots of personal stuff unless it has a bearing on my art - with the occasional foray into chickens!

I’m also very picky with my posts, which is partly why I don't post more often. I edit rigorously because I like my posts to be highly crafted with correct spelling and hopefully half-way decent grammar. I'll spend hours writing the longer, more serious posts and I repeatedly read them aloud to see if they make sense. The ‘eye candy’ posts are quicker but still involve meticulously selecting the right photos and then moving them around to get the visual flow just so. I've tried to blog in a quicker, less obsessive fashion but I just can't do it.

My blogging style reflects who I am – an anal perfectionist with an undisciplined and impulsive thread running through me.

If your blog feels like a millstone around your neck, you need to ask yourself why. Are you trying to be someone you’re not? Are you spending hours crafting long posts when you’re naturally more of a micro-blogger? Are you feeling scattered and overwhelmed by a daily posting schedule? Maybe a single, more reflective weekly post would suit you better.

It can also be helpful to work out why you’re blogging and who you’re blogging for.

Are you trying to get a larger audience? Are you trying to get a book deal? Are you trying to attract new collectors for your work? Are you trying to network with other artists? Or are you just interested in keeping a record of your own practice?

Personally I’m trying to help and entertain people, whilst giving myself enough freedom that I stay interested in blogging. If I get a higher art profile or make useful new connections, that's absolutely great and it's certainly part of the reason that I blog but it's not my main motivation for writing. My main motivation is almost always a variation on the thought, 'hey, that would make a great blog post'.

I am rubbish at doing things that don't interest me and I know this about myself, so I try to minimise the amount of boring things I have to do. I know that I could probably get ten times the number of readers if I was more strategic about my blogging but I also know that I have to be careful to nourish the pleasure I take in blogging or I'll burn out.

Anyone can start a blog and keep writing for a few weeks or months but blogging for years takes a bit more stamina. Knowing yourself and what you want or need from your blog will help you to maintain your blogging in the long run.

TIPS FOR KEEPING GOING
...and yes, the irony of posting a list of strategic tips in this post is not lost on me!

Think Ahead
Write and save posts for when you can't be bothered - some posts are time critical but many are not.

If I was really organised, I'd have a dozen posts all ready to go for those weeks when I'm too ill or busy to write. But while I think that's a great theory, I've never quite managed it in practice. What I do have is a slew of unfinished posts that I can sometimes complete with less effort than writing a post from scratch. In fact, this post was one that I started last month.

Keep an ideas file
I have blog notes scattered all over the house and in several places in my computer. One day, I may even get round to organising them properly!

Be Yourself
No one is interested in reading a faker; be genuine and your audience will respond. This goes back to the idea of finding and then respecting your own style.

However, it's OK to decide just how much of yourself you're willing to share. It's a blog, not an internal monologue; keeping some things private is not the same as being a faker. There's also nothing wrong with editing - remember, this is a form of publishing not a personal diary.

Know Your Own Rules
In real life I swear like a sailor but I made the deliberate choice when I started not to swear much on this blog. I have other internal rules. It's not happened yet but if I got an abusive comment, I would delete it - I don't mind constructive criticism but I'm not at home to trolls.

Define your own schedule
I saved the most important tip for last.

Work out when you have the most energy for writing and schedule it in. If you don't write, you won't have posts, it's as simple as that. And if you want your blog to be regularly maintained, then it has to be very high up on your to-do list or it just won't happen. Believe me, I know!

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.