I have spent the past couple of days sorting out my email list and subscription forms. It just recently came to my attention that my forms were not behaving properly on my website.
I am hoping I have solved the issues and that things are starting working smoothly now. I apologize for those who did not received emails from me or if you received too many duplicate copies of emails. Cross your fingers for me!
But that brings up a good topic for discussion. I often hear from creatives that they are looking to start their own website and are looking for various internet platforms. With so many options out there, they are desperately needing direction.
I started down this particular path many years ago and I am still trying to figure certain things out. Here’s what I have learnt so far.
WordPress is great but be aware the learning curve is huge. I started blogging on wordpress.com not knowing much about the internet and how things worked. Since this was a completely free platform and one so many had used, I had nothing to loose. Then after using this platform for a while, I realized it’s nuances and limitations so began the process of hosting it on my own server.
For those “noobies” our there who don’t know the difference, wordpress.com is hosted by WordPress on their server. You get your little portion of their site & can post your content with the hopes that other bloggers on wordpress.com will come to visit what you are doing. There is a feed and you can follow other bloggers and they can follow you. It’s a bit of a combination of a blogging and social media site which could be quite useful to build a following. But you don’t technically own your site.
If you want a little bit more control of how your website looks or behaves, you can download WordPress for free from wordpress.org. You will need your own host and can put this program onto their server for a monthly fee. You have access to your own FTP and can upload separate files to the internet. This WordPress will need to be set-up and configured but their help walks you through the process. The configuration is not for the faint of heart but take it step-by-step and anyone can work it through. You are left with a log-in that only you can access and your site is completely yours to manage.
A WordPress site can do all kinds of things, from photo galleries to online shopping carts, but it also does have its quirks and limitations. You set your theme right off the bat to define the look of your website. Some themes are free and some themes have a price. Each theme has its own set of customizations that allow you to change the look & feel but again each theme has limitations. For ultimate customization, you really need to understand a bit of coding with either html or css.
For the most part, problems you may run into can be solved via plug-ins that you can install through the WordPress dashboard. Again, some plug-ins are free and some have a price. Each plug-in has to be compatible with the version of WordPress you are running and they need to be updated regularly. Plug-ins open up more features that are otherwise not available through the barebones WordPress site.
Google has a wealth of information and is my go-to to figure out how to solve any problem I run into. I have been able to figure out what plug-ins can do specific jobs. You do have to be a bit tenacious, though, as I find some plug-ins work as promise and others don’t. (At the beginning of this post, I mentioned my subscriptions forms were not working properly. Well, I discovered one of my plug-ins wasn’t working as it should and I had to come up with an alternative solution.) Sometimes it is a bit of a search to find the one that works on your site & actually does what it promises. I can be a bit “trial and error”.
I have been working with WordPress for a long time now. I can’t remember exactly when I started this particular journey but it is how I started working for Aviva Photo Studios. I, currently, manage their WordPress site. The owner, as a photographer, is pretty typical for a creative. She just wants to take photos and work on her craft. She doesn’t want to have to manage the technical side of a website.
Like her, there are other alternatives to going down the WordPress rabbit hole yourself. Over a year ago, she hired a web company to built a WordPress website for her. This company hosts her website on their server. She pays for them to code certain complex things. But she doesn’t have complete control, doesn’t have access to their FTP, has to go through them in certain situations and she is still has to deal with WordPress’s quirks and limitations.
And, even though she has paid for a website design, she still has to manage the day-to-day running of it. The thing with websites is that they are fluid entities. If a website is left too long without updating or changing, it begins to feel a bit dusty and stale. Photo galleries need to be updated. Blogs or information often needs to be updated as things change constantly when running a business. As an example, marketing offers come and go and need to be presented in a timely fashion.
As makers who just want to focus on their craft, they can pay to have this technical side taken care of, but it will cost money whether it be a web company or an assistant/web manager. Be aware of this and set aside a significant amount of money accordingly. Paying for technical help is not cheap.
With even more cost, a completely customized, non-Wordpress website can be commissioned by a web designer who can code a website from the ground up. A competent web designer can cost upwards of $100/hour. Since the cost for this is huge, you must be very clear on what exactly you require or you will be constantly having to pay for changes. Communication between client and web designer can often be difficult to get everyone on the same page.
This comes to my last alternative suggestion. There are other internet based platforms that are a bit more simplified and intuitive. For instance, Shopify has blogging capabilities as well as a shopping cart alternative. I have not worked with this platform but I know many artists have success setting up their own websites using Shopify’s templates. Just because you use a template, doesn’t mean your site will look like everyone else’s. Originality comes from your art and the photographs of your artwork, not the format of your website.
Which ever platform you decide to use for your creative website, be aware that there is no perfect solution. Every platform will have its nuances, limitations and quirks. And, until you start engaging with one specific platform you won’t really understand all the ins-and-outs.
If you are not getting the site you want, you can always change to a new platform. But that new platform will have a different set of problems and quirks, not to mention, you will be into a new learning curve with a new platform.
I, personally, feel it is better to choose one platform and stick with it. With a bit of googling and creativity, you can usually find a “work around” or a solution to your problem. I think, being resourceful is better than starting at the bottom of a new learning curve only to discover you were no further ahead on the dilemma you started out to solve.
Bottom line is that if you are wanting your perfect website, you will be waiting a very long time. Don’t let your vision of the perfect website block you from acting. Jump in and choose a platform that feels right to you and work with it as best you can. Let your website grow with you, just as your art grows and changes.
I have come to conclusion that my site will always be a “work in progress” and I cannot let that stop my momentum. I need to be content with its imperfections.