Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
The case for investing in a GOOD website
(By Kathy Jessup. Posted January 2013)
My friend Garry has a favourite saying: “Buy cheap, get cheap.” Never has this old adage rung truer than in the world of websites. I am amazed at the number of poor sites created by Artists. You would think artists, of all people, would want to create a site that was bright, fresh, creative, inventive…instead many artist’s websites are do-it-yourself projects that lack any imagination and don’t serve to entice anyone to take a closer look.
I suspect a big part of the problem is that most artists are struggling to make a living. Paying big bucks to a professional website designer seems a luxury few can afford. So, the tempting solution is to go to one of those cheaper do-it-yourself template-based website programs. The only problem is, a cheap website often looks…well…cheap! Now to be clear, not every home-made website is a disappointment. Some artists have a knack for design & layout, and they create wonderfully inviting websites all by themselves. However it seems to me, more often than not, home-made websites fail to meet the grade. If you are determined to create your own website, you need to put time and effort in to studying website design, or your site won’t begin to compete in the marketplace.
Start by asking yourself: WHY do I want a website? If it’s to attract work opportunities, then put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client cruising the web. They spot your website listing and –click- up comes your home page. If they don’t like what they see in the first 3 seconds, it just takes one more click and they’ve moved on to someone else’s web page.
There’s a reason web designers are good at what they do. They are EXPERTS. They’ve trained in the areas of layout & design, not to mention the technical aspects of website creation and page rankings (how to increase the popularity of your site.) It’s not easy for an amateur to compete with that! When I created my website, I choked at the initial cost estimate. It seemed sooo expensive---but then I did the math. If it cost me a couple of week’s work to get a really good website, was it worth it? I decided if it brought in more work, if it raised my visibility in the industry, if it made me look more professional--- then the answer was definitely YES! Remember, the cost of the website is tax deductible, and in my case, it did increase my bookings. That meant I could recoup my website costs quite quickly. Spending money on a good website is a leap of faith BUT, more importantly, it shows you believe in yourself and your ability to be a professional storyteller.
Creating my website was an exciting and nerve-wracking process. The way I look at it, the website is my “window” to the world. I am attempting to convey the essence of “Storyteller Kathy Jessup.” Every word and image is placed carefully and deliberately. Use of colour, layout & design, images, audio/video excerpts, text—every aspect is chosen for very specific reasons. As we moved through the various creative stages, my bottom line was always: does this site reflect me? Will viewers get a sense of who I am? Is there a warm personal feel that goes beyond mere information?
Equally important: sites need to be user friendly. A good designer can make sure viewers get the info they need with a minimum amount of “clicks,” and that the information is laid out in clear, logical pathways.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in amateur websites is the existence of too much information. Storytellers deal in words, and it is tempting for us to over-write the content of our websites. During the creative process, my designer often reminded me “less is more.” Pages that are content heavy tend to get ignored by viewers. Therefore, it is a real skill to present just the right amount of information---not too much and not too little.
Your first step: Do your research. Look at tons of websites (Artist sites and sites in general). Make notes of what you like and what you don’t like. That way, you can clearly articulate your vision to a web designer and give him/her a starting point in the process.
Next: Be prepared for lots of “back and forth.” Web design is a collaborative, creative process. You’ll need a good working relationship with whoever designs your site. Make sure you choose someone with whom you can work closely and who shares your vision.
Be specific: When dealing with your web designer, you’ll make progress a lot quicker if you can be specific in your suggestions. Certainly there are instances when a wide open exploration of ideas is helpful…but it’s also good to show concrete examples or clearly state your preferences as much as possible. Rather than saying “I want something kind of cheerful,” try to explain and show what cheerful means to you. Designers are talented, but they are not mind readers!
Feedback: It’s up to you to decide how much feed-back you want and when you want it. Some people seek feedback from friends and peers throughout their website design process. Others prefer to wait until their site is in the final stages of preparation. In any case, before you launch your site, it’s a good idea to have a few trusted advisors give it the once-over. Many sets of eyes catch many mistakes and omissions.
One final note: once you’ve created a website, it will need to be updated periodically. In this fast-paced, high-tech world, your site will begin to look old unless you tweak the content or make additions from time to time. You can learn to do this yourself, or pay your designer to refresh the site content for you. Updates aren’t too expensive and once again the costs are tax deductible. Keeping your site current is important if you want to attract business.
Kathy Jessup is a professional storyteller based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a contributing author to the Storyteller.net book, “How to be a Storyteller.” She adds, “While no site is perfect, I invite you to check out mine: www.kathyjessup.com and if you happen to spot any errors, for heaven sakes—tell me!”