Building a website for your photography business is one of the first things you’ll do once you decide to turn your hobby into a career.
I design websites for creative people from all walks of life, and I often get clients coming to me frustrated by their first attempt to get online.
In the world of the world wide web, there are websites, and then there are websites. There are about as many different ways to build a website as there are people who want them built! When working with clients, these are the top four mistakes I see time and time again that cause frustration down the track.
1. Building your business website on a hosted website platform
Wix, Squarespace, Shopify and WordPress.com: What do all of these platforms have in common? They offer easy-to-build hosted websites that can get your business off the ground, quickly. Often coming with a free plan, these hosted services are often where most of us begin when we want to build a website.
However, I’ve found that when my clients want to scale their business, they begin to run into problems. The issue is with hosted platforms is that you never have the level of control over your website that you do with a self-hosted website. Also, as you try to regain that level of control that comes standard with your self-hosted website, you end up running into a whole bunch of hidden costs that suddenly make your “free” website a whole lot more expensive. Costs can include a custom URL, adding commerce functionality, adding a custom email address and more.
On the other hand, a self-hosted website can have a higher upfront cost, but once it’s up and running, the power is yours to create whatever you want. Rather than being hosted at a site like Wix or Squarespace, a self-hosted website requires you to buy a hosting account (such as Bluehost), often at an upfront cost of a few hundred dollars for three years of hosting in advance. Once that’s paid for, you can build whatever you want for free using WordPress.org (the free, open-source version of WordPress that powers most of the internet). Starting self-hosted avoids all the hassle of switching over and rebuilding if you do eventually decide that hosted is not enough for your goals.
2. Choosing a theme based on appearance, not function
This one vies for the top position in client frustration for me. In fact, most of the website jobs I do are rebuilding jobs, where a site has been built on a theme that is difficult for clients to use and update.
This requires a little extra explanation because website themes are such a source of confusion. From the name, it sounds like a “theme” is something you can quickly switch between, right? Try on different colors and layouts as easily as clicking a button.
Wrong. You should think of a website theme as the app that your website is built in. Here’s an analogy to explain. The hosting account is like your computer. PC or Mac? Hosted or self-hosted? Choosing one over the other commits you to a system that defines what you can do in that system. Next, the website architecture is like the operating system. WordPress (the open-source WordPress.org version, not the WordPress.com version) is like Windows 10: Install the operating system so that you have somewhere to start building.
After that, the theme is like the app you’re using. Think Microsoft Word versus PowerPoint. It’s not easy to change from a Word document to a PowerPoint document, is it? You have to copy-paste the text into different places, move your images over, and redo your layout. That’s what it’s like when you change themes on your website. And that’s why when you make that fateful “Change theme” click in your website back-end, your website ends up looking awful and broken. It doesn’t know how to read your old content in your new theme.
Now, that’s not the only pitfall of website themes. Some themes are straightforward and easy to use. Others make it hard, to say the least. I’ve worked with themes that required a dozen clicks just to update a single image on a page. That’s not user-friendly, no matter how beautiful the theme!
Also, it’s often really hard to duplicate what a theme looks like in preview (when buying it) compared to how it looks when installed, blank-slate style, on your brand-new website. When I build and rebuild websites for my clients, I use Divi, because it’s incredibly easy for clients to use when I hand over the finished website, and it’s extremely powerful to build whatever visual style you want for your site. That’s the marker of a good theme: It makes it easy to update your website when things change, but at the same time, allows you to create something that’s perfectly your brand style.
3. Building your website around features you won’t ever use
We all love the idea of a thriving online blog to complement our photography business, but the reality is we are busy people, and too often I find my clients just get frustrated when they can’t keep their blog updated. No one wants a website filled with dead zones. If the last post you wrote was four years ago, maybe it’s time to accept you’re not the blogging type.
Generally, building your website to include features you’re too time-poor to use is going to end in frustration. Blogs, communities, online stores: With a self-hosted account you can add anything down the track. So start with a small and efficient website, and add the bells and whistles when you’ve committed to their use and purpose into your business plan.
4. Too much irrelevant content on your website
For photographers, this is a big one. It’s so hard to choose just a few of your stunning images to showcase your work! But slowing down your website with piles of huge, un-optimized images will send your customers drifting off. It’s hard to get people to stick around long if your website is slow to load. Keep your photographs to a minimum, and make sure they are optimized with a tool like EWWW Image Optimizer.
Also, don’t overwhelm your customers with too much information. I spend time with my clients developing a brand script so that they can stay on message, concisely, in all written information with their clients. It’s not a script in the sense that you’re reading lines, but rather a story-driven message that connects your brand to customers. It’s essential when keeping your website clear and to the point so that customers know how to book you and what to expect when they do.
With a bit of foresight, your website can work for you, not against you
As with anything, a little foresight into how you want your website to work for you will help you to grow your business. If you need help, reach out! I work with clients worldwide.