Arts Entrepreneurship:

Making Your Website

In our modern world of consumerism, media and instant gratification, artists are absolutely essential.

 

Musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, actors, dancers keep us sane, inspire us, make us slow down, stop and reflect. There is undeniable value in the production and distribution of art, and artists that recognize they can also be entrepreneurs may find opportunities to thrive… including YOU. If you have an artistic talent and believe in the value you have to offer, then others will too. Ask yourself what is holding you back? (If it’s figuring out how to market yourself and promote your services to a wider audience online, you’ll want to keep reading.)

In the following interview with interior designer, Amal Aflak, and digital marketer, Marina Maffessanti, I ask some of the questions you might be wondering (I know I was) and get their professional advice. 

Interviewed by Katie Butler.

 

Where do I start? 

As soon as you have an idea, you should begin to research the market. Confirm that it has potential worth pursuing.  Talk to people you trust, people who have your vested interest at heart and who will support you, including a mentor if possible. Most importantly, choose people that will be completely honest with you, including brutal honesty. Trust me; these people should be regarded as your guardian angels because they will not give you false hope. It’s a tough world and life is not fair. The goal is to minimize some of the pitfalls you will encounter. 

Also, start looking at other companies/brands that are similar to your business idea and use their data to better understand the market. Find out what works for them and where they need to improve. Use that data as inspiration and integrate those elements into your own product or service to perfect your business model.

 

Research various web platforms to determine which one best meets your needs. For example, if your goal is simply to build a beautiful portfolio that is highly visual, then Squarespace is a great option. If your focus is on selling your artwork, then you might consider Shopify for its robust and trustworthy e-commerce capabilities.

Choosing the right platform can save you lots of time and headache in the long run.

 

How much personal information should I include? 

The amount of personal information you should include is a personal decision and depends on whether it adds value to your business or not. For sure never provide distinguishing information about where you live, family and friends specifics and details, including their names and pictures. A brief bio about yourself and your family/cultural background and what made you embark on your business is sufficient, in my humble opinion. 

 

 

 

There’s certainly a practical aspect to this – you’ll likely want to include contact information so that people can reach out to you. 

When you buy the domain for your website – www.artistofthecentury.com, for example – you’ll have the ability to create email address tied to that domain. Keep it professional and set up something like hello@artistofthecentury.com or info@artistofthecentury.com to provide people with a way to reach out.

Once you’re confident people can reach you, any other personal information you include is up to you and really depends on how you’ve decided to present yourself as an artist.

If you think your life story contributes in some meaningful way to people’s perception and/or understanding of your work, then it’s likely something you’ll want to include. You may also want to highlight your education or CV, especially if you are using the site as a professional portfolio. 

Conversely, if you work under an alias or pseudonym, then you might not include any personal information at all.

 

How often do I need to update/post?  

The frequency of your posts and updates depends on your business and marketing strategy. Company information should always be up to date. Product information and pricing should be current. Product descriptions should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are still consistent. Blogs drive traffic to your website, so a good rule of thumb is 2 entries a week. Social media posts should be frequent and based on your social media strategy.

There’s no prescriptive answer to this question and is dependent on what your goals are for your website. For example, if you are using it to sell your work, then having regular content - in the form of new art, articles, blog posts, or just random general musings - can help drive traffic to the website and more get people will see what’s for sale. 

Once you’ve outlined your goals, you can create a calendar and plan to post to support various initiatives strategically throughout the year. A simple Google Sheet broken down monthly is a great, easy tool to keep you on track.

 

One thing to remember, though, is if you are going to have a page on your website that has a blog or news, then keep it relatively updated. Stale content might suggest that you are no longer working or alive.

One great thing about any digital platform is that you’ll have access to incredible analytics. Individual platforms have their own analytics built in, but I’d recommend installing Google Analytics for deeper insight into the behaviours of your website visitors. The more you understand how people are engaging and interacting with your site, the easier it will become to fine-tune your content production.

 

How will know when I’m ready to make a website? 

You won’t know because it’s not about knowing. Having a website is mandatory and most imperative. That’s why I recommend creating a website as soon as you have an idea. A website is a hub from which all modes of communication and marketing stem. The sooner you have a website to use to engage and educate your audience, the better long term success you will have. 

Unless you know someone who can help you build a custom site for free, Websites cost money – usually some monthly fee charged by the platform you’ve used to build it – and they take time to manage and keep updated. If the value your website generates exceeds its operating cost(s), then you know it’s worth it. I would say plan on anywhere from $40 - $100 monthly for a good, all-round website.

Also for consideration is industry standard. I can’t specifically speak to what’s expected in the art community, but if – for whatever reason – having a website is generally accepted as something you need, then at some point it might become unavoidable, regardless of whether it’s technically profitable or not. Sort of like how having a LinkedIn has become a requirement when applying for many jobs.

 

Can I do it on my own? What help is available if I feel in over my head?  

Designing a website is not difficult if you are using a template, but you will need help in customizing and coding it if you are not tech-savvy. You will need a developer for the sites technical aspects. There is lots of help out there if you need it, whether it’s paying a professional web developer to work with programming and languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript to create your websites or utilizing online help forums that provide step by step instructions to follow. 

You can definitely build your own website. Platforms like Squarespace and Shopify are super user friendly and require almost no web development experience.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can reach out to the platforms’ respective support teams for guidance. If you’re looking for a quick answer, just Google it! I can almost guarantee you’ll find detailed, step-by-step instructions for how to solve whatever problem you’re having.

 

What do you recommend is the ideal balance between photos and written content? 

This answer is tricky because too many images may overwhelm the viewer, while too much text may bore the viewer. As an interior designer, my focus is on the visual focus of a space, so I tend to lean towards photos dominating the written content. I like to tell the story behind a design through photos. 

Another question with no right answer! A photographer’s website might be 95% imagery while a poet might lean hard in the other direction.

Your website should exist to support the goal you have for it (i.e.: selling your work, professional development, a creative outlet), so whatever balance of photo/video/written content supports that goal, is the split that’s right for you.

If you do use photography, make sure to use high quality images. There’s nothing that ruins the experience more than bad photography.

 

What website platform should I use?

I have only ever used Shopify, so it is the only platform I have experience with. I personally recommend Shopify for individuals and small businesses because it is user friendly and it’s a one-stop-shop. They offer a range of free themes that can be customized to suit your requirements and style through the addition of apps. They also have Shopify’s built-in payment system which means you don’t have to worry about transaction fees at all. As well, they have 24/7 support if you need it and so much more. 

I touched on this for question #1, but there are plenty of great website builders out there and choosing the right one depends on the specific functionalities you need for your website. If e-commerce is important, then I would recommend Shopify. If you’re not interested in selling anything and instead want really beautifully designed templates to build from, then Squarespace likely has what you need.

There are plenty of great articles out there that highlight the pros and cons of each – here’s one specific to artists’ needs – so spend some time researching which one makes sense for you and then dive in!

 

What will make my website stand out? 

A customized storefront that features stunning photography and color scheme, an aesthetic appeal, unique fonts, user experience features, and simple, clean navigability. The customer should feel a sense of exploration and get the sense of being on a travel trip. Your website should showcase your creative work and communicate your style and individuality. Imagine your website as a pretty merchandised brick and mortar store. Not only do beautiful window displays help bring in new and existing customers, they also allow retailers to highlight promotions, and enhance its brand image. The same principles apply to your website. 

Exactly what makes your artwork stand out! Uniqueness, creativity, and the fact that it’s beautifully made. I think artists are uniquely positioned to create beautiful websites because they have the creativity and often the technical skill to realize ideas.

Any platform you choose will have great looking templates to start from and with even the most basic customization, your website will usually look pretty good. Being able to break out of the confines of the templatized formats, however, is what will make your website truly memorable. This might require some additional help from a friend with more web development experience, but you’ll be surprised by how much can be accomplished with some more good Googling and a lot of patience.

 

 

 

How do I increase traffic to my website from the audience I want? 

 

Some of the ways to increase traffic to your website include; advertising, well planned and executed social media content, guest blogging, and inviting others to guest blog on your site SEO and email marketing.

 

 

 

Once your website is complete, leveraging the channels you were using before – Instagram, Twitter, a skywriter, etc. – to drive people there is a free and easy way to start getting visitors to your site.

If you’re looking to reach a new audience and want to do so quickly, then you might consider some digital advertising. This will allow you to reach your target audience cost effectively and at scale and is an efficient way to reach new people and grow your audience.

If you don’t have the budget for advertising, then you might consider reaching out to other artists or businesses to see if there’s opportunity to collaborate. Maybe you can produce some content for their website and then link back to yours. 

 

How will the role of social media affect my website content delivery?

Social media has a huge impact on your website presence because it can amplify your content by people sharing your posts further, thus increasing your website visibility and improving your search ranking. 

 

 

 

Social media can serve as an important driver of traffic to your website and can be especially effective.

 

 

What are some common website pitfalls to watch out for? 

Some common website pitfalls to watch out for are; bad navigation, poor use of content and whitespace, disorganized content layout and the biggest drawback, in my opinion, is having contact information that is impossible to find. 

I think the key here is to not overcomplicate things. Often just having a website with limited - yet unique or high quality - content is just enough. Two or three pages with some of your work, a quick bio, and contact info can be super professional.

 

Why is making a website the right move for my arts career? 

It’s the right move because you are showcasing your art to the world! Your artistic talent is open to be discovered firsthand by the mass. Having a website is the most effective way to market your work and build your brand. It’s also cost-effective and you can operate your website from anywhere in the world and your earning opportunities are solely controlled by you.

Your website helps to establish you as a professional and shows that you are serious about your work and/or your career. It’s a step up from simply existing on social media and helps to separate your work from your personal life. 

 

The Interviewees

Amal Aflak

Amal Aflak is an interior designer. She started her career working in the finance industry before she left the field to pursue her creative aspirations. Her venture into entrepreneurship began with the creation of Amal’s Room, an online retail world market with products imported from around the globe, for trendy urban shoppers. She has also successfully launched and managed entrepreneurial pursuits in the indie beauty industry creating Amal Beauty by Amal, an organic-based, high-quality spa and Moroccan skincare collection that is inspired by traditional beauty recipes and rituals from Morocco. She is currently in the process of launching Maisonologie, a virtual interior design service offered to give clients in Canada and the USA the opportunity to create custom-designed rooms that are tailored to their individual needs, style, space, and budget. 

 

Marina Maffessanti

 

Marina Maffessanti is the Director of Strategy for a digital marketing agency in Detroit, Michigan. She and her partner, Michael Weber, own Pressure Drop – a shop/café/bar in Windsor’s Ford City neighbourhood. Check out their website for a great example of what two people with no web development experience can do, and maybe buy some pants or beer while you’re there. You’ll want to run through the check out flow for the full experience.

Arts & Humanities Students' Council

Room 2135, University College

Office Hours: Mon-Fri, 9:30am-4:30pm

University of Western Ontario

London, Ontario, N6A 3K7

usc.ahsc.exec@uwo.ca