What seemed like a monumental task is now complete. I spent the better part of this Sunday redesigning my website, business logo, and marketing tools. I considered moving what I had- some blog posts & my domain name all to a new host, but the more and more I thought about it, the more appealing that a fresh start became.
I had used the old business name for years. The logo was something that I thought was OK. The blog was good, but not quite what I ever pictured for what I wanted to use it for. Starting fresh gave me the opportunity to set things in place exactly like I wanted them to be.
There were a few things that I had to have:
1. A home page that showcased my photos and stated who I was. I wanted it simple- a logo, a non-Flash slideshow showing a sampling of photos, and a menu.
2. A link to a blog instead of featuring a blog post on the home page.
3. Selling tools- I needed a shopping cart and a way of selling photos directly from my website.
I began by searching for a new host. The host that I had been with for years had changed hands twice while I have been with them and the features and access I had was just not what I needed to utilize some of the tools that I required. I had not really shopped around the last time I made this decision and I felt now would be an opportunity to do some research. I knew that my website would be based on WordPress. I switched from Blogger to WordPress a long time ago and like the ability to customize. Bluehost came across my radar while actually searching for WordPress themes as many designers recommended this host because of their many WordPress friendly features. They were actually cheaper than what I was paying currently, had very few limits on storage and bandwidth, and had quite a few good independent reviews.
Now it was time to decide on a new URL. The last one I had was annoying to me in the fact that it was sooooo long- www.harnishdigitalphotography.com was a lot to type. I reviewed many photographers’ sites to see what they had gone with. My aim was to keep things simple- chrisharnishphotography.com came to mind but again, this was just as long as the previous and “photography” was easy to misspell when typing too fast- at least for me. I am a terrible typist.
I noticed that many of the professional photographers simply used their name as their URL. This is not done for vanity alone. Most potential clients will learn of your name first and that is what will likely be typed into Google if they want to find you. Many of these would be “name”- photography.com or “name”-photo.com. I wasn’t sure if I would be lucky enough to find chrisharnish.com but I did. This is where the uncommon surname is to my advantage. Thank goodness I am not Bob Smith. No offense, Bob!
Though I believed that the business name itself should reflect what I do, I went with www.chrisharnish.com so that I may have a simple URL. The business name would be Chris Harnish photography. It defined what I do but did not pigeonhole me into any niche. It works if I only end up doing weddings or only freelance travel photos.
I registered the domain name for free with Bluehost. One domain comes with their basic hosting package. The hosting package is just $6.95 per month. The old host was charging $11.88 a month for my domain name and hosting. So I have saved nearly $5 a month or $60 a year with the switch.
The next step was getting a fresh install of WordPress on the new domain. This is where having a WordPress friendly host comes in handy. They have a WordPress self-install feature that with the clock of a button, you can have your basic template up and running in seconds- no download/upload or FTP required. Done!
Now I had played with many WordPress themes in the past, many of them free. I knew, at this point, that if I wanted the powerful customization features that would enable me to make a unique design that I would have to fork out some dough for a theme. Fortunately, some of the very best and highly recommended themes out there can be purchased for well under $100. I did my research and came across the Photocrati theme. It has an extremely customizable interface that requires little knowledge of code, is oriented for photography, and best of all allows me to divert my blog to a link off my home page rather than be the home page.
I had considered other options. I even purchased a theme from GraphPaper Press for $99 on a trial basis and played with it on my old domain. It was a close second, no doubt and would have integrated seamlessly with the Photoshelter account I was considering- more on Photoshelter later.
I went with the Photocrati theme and it was $20 less. The folks at GraphPaper Press refunded my $99 promptly with the only requirement that I remove the theme from my domain. No problem. Like I said, they were a close second so if you are looking for themes, you should definitely consider these as well and determine what works for you.
This was no problem installing with WordPress. I recommend FileZilla for FTP. I was using CoffeeCup software and had some strange issues with permissions on the old domain, so I switched and was amazed at how much more quickly my files were transferred back and forth with FileZilla. It was so much easier to use as well.
The Photocrati theme has a good interface with which to tweak your page. I sized and uploaded photos, made a slideshow and set my home page all with just a few clicks. It was time to upload a logo. I had spent hours in the past downloading obscure fonts and playing with designs to come up with a fancy logo that would be cool and eye-catching. I decided that if I was going with simplicity then I should keep the logo simple as well. No fancy scripts or graphics this time- just a simple font – “Arial”- with simple colors. You can see the final product at the top of this page. It is easy to duplicate for business cards, adding to materials or watermarking images and I no longer spend much time worrying about it. It looks professional and clean. That is all that I want.
Now I had two out of three of my main objectives fulfilled and it was only just after lunch…
I really wanted to be able to control my own sales with a minimal amount of effort. I needed a database that I would be able to price, sell, print, and ship to customers from. There are two main companies that provide these services- Photoshelter & Zenfolio. There are others but I would estimate that a majority of professionals that use this format for selling will be using one of these two services. I had already signed on with Photoshelter as part of attempting to integrate the GraphPaper Press theme that I was using on the old domain. You can set your own pricing, customize the look and feel of the site used for ordering and with the GraphPaper Press themes, you had the ability to actually copy the CSS from your theme to the look of your Photoshelter pages. There were quite a few options for customization and they had a great support team with many articles on their website ranging in topics from SEO Optimization to pricing. Since I was sure that I wanted to use the Photocrati theme by this point, the integration between Photoshelter and GraphPaper Press was no longer a factor. I went ahead and signed up for a trial run with Zenfolio, which has many of the same customization features and pricing abilities as Photoshelter. It was worth a try.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to quickly customize the look and feel of the Zenfolio pages to my Photocrati theme. This had to be done manually instead of the automatic option with GraphPaper Press & Photoshelter, but since I was keeping it simple, it was a piece of cake matching page backgrounds, logo and menu placement and inserting menu links so that navigation would be nearly seamless. I uploaded a few photos to begin with, customized some of the many options, and was, in the end very pleased with the result. I had built my framework for a photography business website in a little more than an afternoon. I felt that I had the tools in place to be able to tweak where needed with WordPress, Photocrati, and Zenfolio. I plan on cancelling my previous hosting and domain name, and letting my Photoshelter account expire.
If you have read this far, you may be seriously interested in having a setup similar to mine. I recommend determining your needs and looking at many options. Definitely consider the GraphPaper Press & Photoshelter integration. I chose what I did because it worked well for my needs. There are other options that I have investigated as well and some plugins for WordPress that I would recommend but I will save that for another day.
If you are having trouble deciding, click on the links within these posts and check out their sites. Comment below if you have any suggestions or even e-mail me. I am not a web designer by any means and my recommendations come from many of these options being very easy for the novice.
But those of you who are savvy and have a suggestion, I am open to advice.