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An effective website can do wonders for any creative professional's business. However, there are many questions that should be asked before getting started: Should I hire a professional designer or go it alone? How complex should it be? How do I promote it? Many people interested in building a portfolio site are not aware of the many details that make a site stand out from the pack, and the "do it yourself" approach is often not the right course of action for a busy image maker. In other cases, a designer might not be necessary at all. These steps are designed to get you started on the road to making a new site, or updating your site for added impact.
STEP 1: What do you want the site to accomplish?
First, it is helpful to figure out what you want the site to do. This may sound simple but when you start to delve into the process you'll find it takes some clear thinking to get it organized. Remember, even though showing your work is the focus, step back and try to see it from the standpoint of an art buyer or art director. They are generally not interested in "vanity" sites. If you make them jump through hoops to see the work, they won't come back. You make the art -the site should be about business.
STEP 2: Do your homework
Look at your competition. See how they have solved the problem of mixing web design with a good portfolio site. Keep bookmarks of the ones that you like, and more importantly, the ones you hate. Make a note of links to the web designers on sites you like. If you decide to hire a designer, you now have some place to start.
STEP 3: Find a designer who "understands you"
If you have made the choice to hire a web designer, contact a few sources to see if they understand your approach and goals for the site. Make sure you get a feeling they are interested in your work being the center point of the site - not their design.
STEP 4: Get it in writing
Now that you have picked someone to work with, its time to hammer out the business end of the arrangement. It benefits both parties to put the agreement in writing. How many photos; how many sections; what style of navigation; what do you have to provide; when they start designing; how much of an advance do they want; how many different designs do you get before incurring add-on charges; how long from beginning to launch; who will update the site in the future; when is the final payment due; and are you supplied with all files that generated the site? Always think in future terms. What happens if you want to change designers (for whatever reason)? are you going to get your source files back? A contract is the best protection for all known contingencies.
STEP 5: Keep it simple
As the design phase begins, you need to make it clear you want the work to be the star, not hectic Flash, graphics, music or sound effects. Remember, you are in the business of getting people to come back for future sales. Because this is a portfolio site, a large number of photos will need to be loaded. If you are sure only those with high-speed Internet access will view your site, you have fewer worries. However, if many view the site with dial-up access, it may be a concern. Many photography sites are now done in Flash because it is good at making smaller pages and it is the "cool" thing to do. Flash sites are usually a little more expensive to build. If you want to do your own updates, expect to pay more for the programming to build an independent updatable site.
STEP 6: "Contact me"
Depending on the content of your site (above and beyond the photos), you will want to give viewers a way to communicate with you while they are on your site. If you can get an e-mail address or other contact information you can build a list of interested people to send announcements of shows, new work, site updates, etc.
You can also create a newsletter and send it to your contact list. If you have value-added information on the site, such as a technical section for problem- solving photo topics, you can require visitors to register to make sure you get their information.
STEP 7: Emphasize your services
Usually, an "about us" section tells about the services you offer. You may also find a "Client list" useful to impress viewers with the quality of your clients. A list of Fortune 500 clients is a lot more impressive than "Bob's wedding party." So edit the list to the most impressive clients or leave it out.
STEP 8: Tell them who you are
A biography can be useful and can be in the "about us" section. Again, if you bio is impressive, use it, if not leave it out. Although, you never know when an alumnus of your school decides to hire you because he saw it on your site. Can't hurt!
STEP 9: How accessible do you want to be?
The Internet is being choked by unrelenting spam mail. The second you launch your site you will start to receive extra hits of spam. Why? Because, the search "spiders" spammers use are constantly scrubbing web pages for fresh e-mail address. If your e-mail address is listed on your page, the spider can read it and you are on the list.
There are ways to program e-mail addresses so they link to the real address but show on the page in gibberish. Make sure your designer incorporates this feature.
Also, don't have one e-mail address. Your site's e-mail address should not be your personal e-mail. You can have multiple addresses for your site like "Info", "Web Master," "Suggestions," etc. Unfortunately, your e-mail address is about as private as the numbers on your front door. You can cover them, but someone can look in the trash to find them on old mail.