Guest Contributor | Tara Swain
One question that I come across quite often is the whole “website verses blog-site” argument and what “I” think is better. That’s a loaded question for many different reasons.
Every photographer is different. Not just in their style or their specialty; that’s a given. What I’m referring to is the business side of things. How they prefer to handle clients. How they handle booking clients. How much of their business they put out into the world prior to having one-on-one contact with clients. Not everyone is going to do things the same way and no one way is right or wrong; it depends on your needs for your unique business.
Once upon a time, when I began my business in January of 2008, one of the very first things that I did was purchase a website. “Domain names, HTML, SEO” were all words that were over my head and quite frankly made my head hurt. But being that I was just starting out, when I purchased my domain name and realized that I “owned” TARASWAIN.COM, it was such a cool feeling. It strangely made things seem more “official;” I felt professional. I was young when I started my business. I felt that putting the money, effort and time into doing something as simple as my first (very basic) website, showed a higher level of professionalism. It somehow made me feel more “legitimate” in the photography world. You know that feeling, when you’re first starting out and are still SO new to the business side of things? When you have a client pay their retainer/deposit and you’re sort of wondering if in the back of their mind they are worried you might just take their money and disappear? Well, maybe that was just me. I always dreaded that moment in a bridal consultation when the mother of a bride would ask.. “How old are you anyway?” I braced myself for the moment when they would grab their belongings, get up from the table and walk out. Because honestly, who would entrust the task of capturing one of the most important days of their life… to a "kid?" Of course that never happened. But how clients viewed me and my business that I was in the process of building, was very important to me. I was self taught and I was young. I ran my small business out of my home and I was just starting out. I didn’t want to come off as someone who was flighty. I wanted to be viewed as a legitimate, legal business. I knew from the beginning that having a professional website, was a definite key in establishing myself.
I started out with a Blu Domain template, as most did, and I loved it. I went through a few of those templates actually. I would upgrade to a different, more expensive template ever so often and change things up a bit. There were lots of options and it was extremely easy to customize. I loved my little website. But suddenly, the world was flooded with websites that looked very similar to mine. I wanted my site to stand out. I started looking into my options and quickly realized that the custom website that I had always planned having “one day” was going to be pricey.. but it was going to be worth it. Not only would it make my business stand out, but come on; it was just plain fun to be able to design my very own custom site.
One constant that I’ve lived by in growing my business is the importance of INVESTING back into your business, and that is exactly what it is, an investment. When spent wisely, money put back into your business, aids in your growth. Whether you’re investing in better equipment, new software, furthering your education, buying or renting a studio or office space or even your “online presence.”
Most everyone owns a smart phone today. When I’m looking up a business, I almost always go to the web to get the information that I’m looking for. So for the majority of your prospective clients, your website is going to be their first impression of you. You want to make a good first impression. This doesn’t just apply to having a “nice” website. Even a custom website with a price tag of 2k can be a dead end for a prospective client. It’s important to make sure your website is user friendly, up to date and accurate. PLEASE, stop what you’re doing right now. Pull your website up and check—
- Is your location listed on the main page?
- Can you easily access the additional information on your page?
- Are the links listed on your website all working?
Your website is also your business card. You wouldn’t hand out a business card to a new client with the wrong information. The same applies to your website. Use your website as a tool for your business, because that is exactly what it is. DO have an “about me” section; it helps clients get to know exactly whom they are hiring. DO have your correct contact information on there and easy access to email you directly. DO list as much information as you want to share with clients online. They WILL read it. Serious clients will almost always check your website first for pricing, availability info and session details before emailing you. If you prefer not to list your pricing, and to instead have prospective clients contact you to discuss rates, you can still list details of how you schedule sessions and what they can expect from a session.
However, one make or break detail of having a successful website will always be, if you’re going to have a website, you MUST keep it current. This is going to take some time on your part. In between emails, shooting, editing, paying bills, maintaining equipment, taking orders, delivering orders, scheduling, social media time and everything else that comes along with this business, you’re going to have to set time aside to update your website on a regular basis with new work. You have to show what you want to shoot. If you’re showing outdated work, you may be booking clients off of that particular work. If your style has changed, that new client may be expecting your older style- the style that you are showcasing on YOUR website. Not only can this cause issues, it can be very frustrating.
This is why I finally decided a website was not for me; I was NOT excellent at this part. I rarely updated the “portfolio” section of my site. Why? Well, I have a lot of “favorite” images and the list is constantly changing. I shoot a LOT. I have a lengthy list of clients and sessions each month and spending hours going through recent sessions and pulling images for the website was exhausting and frustrating. I felt like it took so much time away from other things that needed my attention more. So eventually I slacked on updating the portfolio. It got to the point that I looked back and my portfolio was a collection of images that no longer represented my style. My technique had improved. My style had changed a bit. The work that I was showing was no longer the work I was providing at that time. The website was not working for me. I felt guilty. I KNEW better and I knew that I needed to buckle down and keep it maintained so much better than I had been, but I didn’t. I didn’t have the time or the drive to update it all. I stepped back and took a look at my website and my blog. I realized that most clients never even viewed my actual website. I had a blog. Other than it being linked to the blog, most clients were probably unaware that I even HAD a different website. Then I received an email that my hosting was about to expire and it was time to commit to another year of hosting. That is when I made the decision to let it expire. I felt that it was more wise to let the website expire and redirect everything to my blog, rather than to keep the out of date material up. What is a blog to a photographer anyway? A blog to a photographer is a constantly updating, representation of your recent work. EUERKA!! THIS is where I say that opinions are going to differ. When I first started out, I felt that it was important for me to have both a website AND a blog. I felt the need to separate the two. 1 was where I listed the information about my business and the other was where I posted pictures of recent work. But there was a bit of confusion there and I had clients claim they couldn’t find any information on “my website,” when they were actually checking my blog. When I ditched the website and merged everything together on my blog, I knew that I needed to step up my blog game and I paid to have a custom blog built. Prior to the custom blog theme I had a simple $100 customizable template on my WordPress blog. It was nice but it wasn’t anything special and it certainly didn’t stand out. I didn’t feel that it accurately represented the brand that I had created. So again, I invested money back into my business. I invested in something that was a window into my business. Something that was a total representation of what clients could expect when booking me. It was an example of my work and my style as well as the hub for information about how to contact me and book a session. It’s where friends and family of recent clients go to view images from a recent session or wedding, and the best part about it; I never have to update my “PORTFOLIO!” When I post blogs, I AM updating my portfolio. All blogs are archived by date. Every blog that I’ve ever posted is listed by date when you go to my blog-site.
I soon realized that THIS was a good fit for me and it was a smart decision on my part. But it does not go without some work on my part either. I can’t let my blog die. I HAVE to keep it up to date. Posting blogs IS still work. Pulling images for the blog, resizing, watermarking, uploading, and writing on the blog post about each particular session. It takes time, but it’s worked for me. WordPress is also very user friendly. I’ve used Mach Forms for several years and I’ve been able to easily integrate that directly into my blog. This enables me to refer clients to assigned links where they can fill out and sign portrait agreements directly on the blog.
I love when I meet someone for the first time and they call themselves a “blog stalker.” I LOVED when a nurse at our local hospital told me that at one time my blog was blocked from the hospital server because it was being pulled up too often during the day, at numerous computers. I also love when I meet a client for the first time and they ask about my daughter or our newborn son and we are able to carry on conversations as if we’ve always known one another. Another reason that a blog-site was the best choice for me was that I’m very personal when it comes to my business. I am Tara Swain Photography. I’m the one who returns emails. I’m the one who shoots. I’m the one who processes those sessions and weddings. I’m the one that meets with clients. I want my clients to know me and I want them to feel comfortable with me. Candid personal blog posts and updates appear on the blog often. Not only is my business kept up to date on my blog, but I try to keep our family life current as well.
Custom sites and blogs are not the only option. There are so many amazing designers now who sell one-of-a-kind templates for blogs or websites. They are pre-made layouts, but some designers will only sell ONE of each theme. You’re still getting a one-of-a-kind design, with a much smaller price tag. Not only do they offer themes or templates but also a lot of designers usually have branding (logos, graphics, fonts) to go right along with it. A complete re-branding of your business through marketing materials AND your online appearance.
You can purchase domain names through sites such as Go Daddy for your website or blog-site as well. There are options for free websites and blogs out there but when you’re running a business, spending a small amount of money on a domain name for a free website or blog (such as WordPress) go a long way as far as appearance of your site and business. Once you decide which type of site is best for your business, you can focus on transforming that site to match with your branding. But remember how to get the most out of your website/blog-site for your business-
1. Keep it current! Keep updating images for your “portfolio.” Show what you want to shoot and make sure clients have an accurate representation of your work.
2. Make sure important information is listed AND people looking at your site have the ability to locate it very easily. (If it takes more than a minute or so just to see where you’re located, you need to change that.)
3. Check your links. Make sure all links are working and current. Clients get discouraged if they have to click on links that lead to an expired webpage.
4. Don’t be afraid to really utilize your website/blog-site. The more information you can provide, the more convenient it is for your prospective clients.
5. Spend a LITTLE to make a BIG difference. Purchase a domain name and hosting. Don’t rely on free websites with added “tags” on your web address. Make your URL as short and simple as possible so clients can remember it easily.
6. Whatever your working with, customize it and match your branding. Think of your website or blog-site as the “frame” for your work. It’s how you display your art for perspective clients. Take pride in it and make it look nice. Don’t post beautiful images on a drab website or blog-site.
Tara Swain Photography
Join Tara on January 12th for a Celebrity Secrets Live Webinar all about Mini Sessions!
In this 90 minute LIVE web event, you will learn:
- How to promote your mini sessions for the best response
- Pricing mini sessions
- Styling, theming and collaborating
- Preparing your clients before their mini session
WHEN: Monday, January 12th 2015 @ 8 pm Central (6 Pacific, 7 Mountain, 9 Eastern)
Can’t watch the LIVE event? No worries. A downloadable video recording is available for pre-purchase (below) & will be sent to you 48 hours after the live event.
Live Event: FREE for forum members! (click buy now button below to register for free)
Live Event + Video Recording Download:
$39 for forum members. Price will increase to $79 after the live event
(must join forum first)
$59 for non-members. Price will increase to $79 after the live event
Hi, I'm Tara! I'm a wedding and portrait photographer based in Paris, Texas. I love bright colors, a vintage, eclectic feel and whimsical concepts. My passions are weddings and child photography. I've been happily married for over 8 years with a beautiful 4 year old little girl and I love being a photographer.
All of my portrait sessions are shot natural light either outdoor or in my natural light studio.
$39 for forum members. Price will increase to $79 after the live event
$59 for non-members. Price will increase to $79 after the live event