12 Mistakes Photographers Make Starting a Website
Sharing Your Photographs Online
With the onset of low cost, high quality digital SLR cameras, new photogs from all walks of life are jumping into a field once dominated by professionals. While many are content to enjoy photography as a hobby, others look for ways to make money and even turn photography into a full time business. This has created healthy competition and completely changed the landscape of professional photography as it once was. The tighter the competition becomes, the more important it is to find ways to separate yourself from the pack. Capturing exceptional images just isn’t enough if you want to turn your hobby into a revenue generating business.
By nature, many photographers tend to be very artistic. Let’s face it, not all of us are technically minded. It is hard enough to keep up on all the changes in the field of digital photography without having to worry about website design and management issues. Unfortunately a marginal website reduces your marketing effectiveness. Your commercial website is the first encounter most people have with you (the photographer) and your work.
Think of your website as a virtual store front. If it’s messy, hard to navigate and unprofessional, chances are prospective clients will move on and hire someone else. Your website also acts as a digital frame for your images. It can make your images look finished or leave them looking unfinished. Prospective clients are only going to spend a few seconds on your website before they decide if they want to keep looking or move on. The idea is to hook them with a professional looking site that is easy to navigate and quickly conveys all the most important information about you as a photographer. You literally have moments to present yourself as a professional.
You don’t have to be a website designer or know the latest scripts to put together a professional, easy-to-use website. It’s just about marketing yourself as a professional. Here are the 12 most common mistakes photographers make when it comes to presenting their work on the web:
Choosing or Creating a Poorly Designed Website
Number One: Locking into a poorly designed website can haunt you for years. It takes a fair amount of effort to put together a decent looking, easy-to-use website. Take the time to sketch out exactly what you are trying to accomplish before you start. Are you planning to display and sell landscape images (which might require a shopping cart) or are you planning to put together a simple portrait photography website to advertise your business? Each type of website has different requirements.
You don’t need to hire someone to create a customized website nor do you need to learn all the ins and outs of website design and coding. These days, photographers can purchase ready-made templates and customize them to meet their needs. ProPhoto and BluDomain are great examples of companies that provide beautiful website templates for photographers. They offer a huge assortment of off-the-shelf styles and work with you to customize the final look and feel of the site. Along with that, they provide a secure back-end for each of their websites to give you the power to maintain and manage the site without any specialized coding knowledge. They literally set everything up for you!
There are quite a few venders to choose from for customized web templates. Take some time to sketch out what you want your website to look like and how you want it to operate. Check out what other photographers are doing. Pay attention to what you like and what you don’t like. Once you have a general idea of what you need, purchase a template that fits your requirements. Remember to factor in the future growth of your business. Ask yourself, “Will this website meet my needs as my business grows in the years to come?” Your business website should match your personality and style while conveying a professional image.
Picking a Slow and Unreliable Web Host
Number Two: There is no point in setting up a beautiful website if your web host is slow and unreliable. I actually ran into this issue the other day while checking out a competitor’s website. I am always looking around to see what other photographers are doing. This particular photographer is very talented and has a beautiful website. The only problem is that the site runs frustratingly slowly. Pages take forever to load and images seem to repeatedly stall out. I double-checked my own connection to make sure it wasn’t a problem on my end. I visited the site several different times throughout the day. Her website consistently loaded slowly. Images hung and pages took much longer to load than they should. To be fair, the sluggish nature of her website could be due to a handful of issues outside her control and it might even be a temporary issue; however chances are good that her web host is just serving up the site slowly.
The only thing worse than a slow performing website is one that goes down intermittently. An unreliable host can wreak havoc on your sanity. The first hosting service I went with dropped my website for a full three days before they finally resolved the issue. During that time they refused to answer emails or tell me what was going on. This is maddening, but it can also be detrimental to your business.
Be sure to make regular backups of your website and store it locally on your computer. This can save you a lot of frustration if your web host rolls up the carpet and skips town or if you simply decide you have had enough and want switch to a more reliable host. Doing a little bit of research goes a long ways toward finding a web host you can rely on. Search forums and message boards to find out what other people are saying before you take the plunge. I also recommend checking the Better Business Bureau (links for USA and Canada) to see how they are rated.
Note: The F/Stop Spot uses Host Gator. I also use Host Gator to manage Paxton Portraits. I highly recommend Host Gator, but don’t take my word for it . Check out Host Gator’s Better Business Bureau rating before you decide. Use coupon code “thefstopspot” and over $9.00 on your hosting package.
Using a Personal Email Address
Number Three: Nothing smacks more of unprofessionalism than doing business with a personal email address. Using a Hotmail, Yahoo or a Comcast account just looks bad. You know what I am talking about – an example might be email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (neither of these email addresses are real). You might as well just come out and tell your clients that you are running a business out of a spare bedroom!
Communicate with your clients using a professional email address! Most web hosting services offer packages that include a limited number of email addresses using your personal domain name at no additional cost. For example, my domain name is www.paxtonportraits.com and my business email address is stevepaxton [at] paxtonportraits [dot] com. I always, always use this email address when I communicate with my clients by email. It sends a clear message to my customers that I am a professional. Domain name email accounts are easy to setup and manage. Ask your web host if you need help!
Failing to Create a Cohesive Brand and Identity
Number Four: Do you have an identifiable brand as a photographer – something that is uniquely you? Take the time to create a logo that fits the theme of your website. Extend the look and feel of your website into your business cards, flyers and marketing material. Everything related to your business should have a cohesive feel and flow together. This is easier said than done – especially if you are just starting a business.
Anytime I have a free moment I try to create fresh marketing material. This includes updating my next mailer, creating new flyers, updating my business cards with new images, and more. Developing and promoting your brand must become a habit. It doesn’t matter if you are a wedding photographer or if you are trying to sell fine-art landscapes; building a professional brand that identifies you and your work is critical if you want to succeed. Remember you need to separate yourself from the sea of other photographers out there.
Trying to Be Everything to Everyone
Number Five: It amazes me how often I come across websites that offer every possible photography related service you can think of side-by-side on the same website. A website offering real estate photography along with wedding photography just looks weird. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a bride-to-be looking for a photographer. It would be confusing and frustrating to navigate through real estate photographs trying to find information related to your wedding service. The two just don’t go together.
There is nothing wrong with being diversified and having couple different pokers in the fire, just consider offering services that don’t fit well together on different websites. For example, it might be wise to purchase two different domain names, one for the real estate work and another for weddings and portraits. Prospective clients (whether it be real estate agents or brides-to-be) want to find the information they are looking for quickly. Make it easy by separating your services. Having different websites for each specific service you offer also makes it easier for people to find you using a search engine.
Quick Tip: Avoid displaying images that have nothing to do with the services you offer. There shouldn’t be a bunch of images of that cool Corvette that you photographed a few months ago on your portrait website. Just because you took some great shots doesn’t mean you should show them off on your business website. Remember to maintain a consistent theme and brand.
Using Poor Grammar and Misspelled Words to Describe Your Services
Number Six: It is hard to believe that this even has to be mentioned. Poor grammar and misspelled words scream that you don’t care. If you cared, you would have taken the time to proof read your content. You don’t think that it matters? If you don’t care about your website then how can I be sure that you are going to care about me as a client? Are you going to give my wedding the same attention you gave your website? There just isn’t a good excuse for having a bunch of misspelled words littering your website. With the competition as tight as it is, why risk it?
Proof read your text; then have someone else read it. Then read it again. If English isn’t your first language, take the time to have a native English speaker look at your grammar. It makes a difference.
Quick Tip: Avoid using words on your website that convey cheapness or that you are a low-end photographer. For example, instead of describing your pricing as “affordable” you might say it is “competitively priced.” Also consider replacing the word “I” with “we” (if you can do so without being dishonest). Using “we” subtly indicates that you are part of a larger team and that your business isn’t a one-person operation.
Displaying Mediocre Images
Number Seven: Most of us have displayed less than stellar images on our website at one time or another. It happens. I recommend holding off on actually going live with a business website if you don’t have very many high quality images to display. Ask another photographer if you are not sure if your images should be displayed in your portfolio. I think it’s wise for new photographers to wait on creating a commercial website and focus on building up a portfolio rather than displaying a bunch of so-so images on a fancy, new website. If you are a portrait photographer, shoot anyone who will let you including friends, family members and neighbors. Not only will you hone your skills, you will come away with a healthy body of high quality photographs that you can display on your website. Take as long as you need to do it right.
Missing Your Target Audience
Number Eight: Generally speaking, brides-to-be, mother’s with newborns and seniors really don’t care what version of Lightroom or Photoshop you are using. Most of them could care less that you prefer an Apple computer over a PC for processing your images or that you think Nikon is better than Canon (or vice-versa). Remember who you are trying to attract to your commercial website.
Using two paragraphs to describe all the equipment you have and why you think it is the best is just confusing to prospective clients. Most of them simply don’t care. Use your website wisely by marketing yourself and showing off your best work. Most prospective clients just want to see a quick representative sample of your work, read what you offer (pricing, services, etc.) and know how to contact you. They will know within moments of arriving to your website if they like what they see.
Failing to Connect Personally with a Blog
Number Nine: Just about everyone has a blog these days. The trend in wedding and portrait photography is to pair up a fancy commercial website with a more personal blog. Where a commercial website represents your professional services, a blog allows you to let some of your personality show through. A blog is a great way to communicate indirectly with your current clients and let prospective clients catch a glimpse of your personality. This is the place to talk about your fancy gear (if you wish) and anything else that might not be appropriate for your commercial website. Your blog should be fun and less formal; however remember to keep it professional.
Failing to Connect Using Social Networking
Number Ten: As I write this, Facebook has over 1.01 billion active users. Over 604 million users access Facebook using a mobile device. And that number is steadily rising. On top of that, the average Facebook user is connected to 130 other people. How can you ignore that? A fair number of my clients contact me directly through Facebook. Most of them have never seen my website and only know about me because of images they saw on a friend’s wall. Connecting with potential clients using tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is critical.
There seems to be two distinct types of photographers missing out on social networking. The first are photographers who have been in the business for 10 or more years and just never delved into blogging or social networking. I have a great deal of respect for this group. These are photographers who have been in the business for a long time and are well established; however being established can create a false sense of security. The second group of photographers are the ones who may be on Facebook or Twitter, but they rarely update their accounts.
Whether you are a trying to establish yourself as a wedding photographer or a respected photojournalist. The business of photography is constantly changing. Social networking is virtually free. All you have to do is invest the time and make them work for you.
Neglecting to Keep Things Fresh
Number Eleven: Make your website a destination that people will want to visit regularly! Failing to add new images to your website can lead prospective clients to think that you are not very active as a photographer. You should be adding new images and cycling out older images at least every month or two (more often if possible). I usually get permission from my clients (along with a signed model release) before I display their images publicly. It limits potential problems and is the professional thing to do.
Your blog should be updated more frequently – a couple of times a week if possible. I view my blog as a springboard for my commercial website. A fair percentage of my blog traffic ends up clicking over and viewing my commercial work. Give viewers a reason to come to your blog by regularly adding new content and letting them know what you are up. Remember that your commercial website and blog should have easy-to-find links back to each other.
Under Pricing Your Services
Number Twelve: One of the most important things I have learned about the business of photography is that people assess how valuable your services are based on your prices. This should be a no-brainer, but so many photographers miss it. The shoot-and-burn, “Craig’s List” crowd are a great example of this. Price yourself too low and people will assume that you are a low-end, inexperienced photographer. Cheap clients bring in cheap referrals. It’s as simple as that. Remember you are building a brand the minute you start a photography business. Do you want to be known as a low-end, budget photographer or one who has experience and knows what you are doing?
If you advertise yourself as a $500 wedding photographer, you might as well just come out and say you have no idea what you are doing and that are just desperate for work. Even if your images are stunning, serious clients willing to drop $3000 for high quality wedding photography will think you are a joke. Shop your competition and see what they are charging, then crunch the numbers and determine what your break-even point is. This should give you a good starting point for creating a reasonable pricing scale based on the services you provide. The main take away here is to be careful not to diminish your brand by stooping too low. Take the time to build your business correctly and charge a reasonable fee for your work.
Do It Right!
It is increasingly important to distinguish yourself from competition if you want succeed as a professional photographer. Prospective clients notice when a photographer’s website looks sloppy and slapped together in a hurry. Paying attention to the little details can make all the difference. Take the time to build a website that represents your personality in a professional way. You will be glad you did!
About the Author
Steve Paxton lives with his wife and two children in the Seattle area. Steve has been a photographer for nearly 20 years. His experience ranges from wedding and portrait work to landscape photography.
Steve owns and manages the F/Stop Spot; a website dedicated to supporting photographers of all skill levels. You can find more of Steve’s work at Paxton Prints and Paxton Portraits.