If you’re an independent artist or small creative business, a website is essential for showcasing your work and finding customers. But building and maintaining it is challenging for several reasons:
You don’t have a big budget. Even if you did, you’re averse to spending a lot of money on a website until you’re sure it will bring in customers. (Spot the catch-22.)
You’re a creative, not a web developer. Your eyes glaze hover when you hear expressions such as CMS, CSS, HTML and DNS. When different ‘experts’ recommend different solutions, it’s hard to know which is the best option for you.
You want to be in control. You hate having to wait for someone else to update your website, so you want a system that allows you to change the text yourself and add images, video or sound instantly. But you’re not a web developer, so this level of control feels beyond you.
It’s confusing and hard to know what to do so – so many creators put their website on the backburner, often indefinitely.
But website development has come a long way in the last few years. In fact, the market is exploding with beautifully designed websites that you can use and customise for a fraction of the cost of hiring a developer.
And your creative content can provide the magic ‘ingredient X’ that makes these designs shine. The best thing is, you’re a natural at creating media content, which gives you a competitive advantage when it comes to online marketing.
All you need is a reasonably-priced, and reasonably user-friendly system for building and maintaining your website. Enter the open source solution used by countless professionals and businesses…
What is open source software?
Software code, like other forms of written expression, is subject to copyright law. The traditional way of developing software is for a company to develop proprietary code, forbidding others from copying or building on it. But open source developers licence the software’s source code for anyone to copy, modify and distribute.
Open source software is often developed by the collaboration of developers who work for free. When tens, hundreds or even thousands of experts give their time for free to make a product better because they believe in it then it can lead to cutting edge technology.
The best example of this is the web browser Firefox. Firefox is updated by 10,000 people who work for free. Web browsers are big money because the browser you use (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome etc) will dictate your experience on the web – so the big names are fighting for your attention. Google pays Firefox $50 million to have its search bar on the right of the page. By being open source Firefox keeps up with (and some would say ahead of) the giants that are Microsoft, Apple and Google for a fraction of the cost.
‘What has this got to do with my website?’
A content management system (CMS) allows you to edit your website almost as easily as editing a document in Microsoft Word. It’s an interface between you and the actual code – so you can add and edit content without having to learn a programming language. Using a pre-built CMS means you can build a website without having to pay someone to program it.
Around ten years ago there was an explosion in developers making content management systems, because there was a need for people to update their websites and a need to share technology to move forward. Using the open source method lots of systems or platforms have grown and have become the industry standard. A few of these are WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Concrete5.
These systems or platforms are the engine of your website and are updated continuously by leading industry experts. Best of all, they are available to you for free.
If you’re not sure how good a deal that is, email a web development agency and ask for a quote for a custom-built website. Then take a seat while quotes from $3K to $15K come back at you.
‘Which one should I use?’
In fairness they are are all good, and I’m not going to tell you one system is better than the competition because like everything there are ups and downs with each one.
What I am going to do is focus on one that specifically is good for you, the creative. And the reason why it’s good for you is because you have the great content. All you have to do is add this great content and you can turn a good website into a fantastic one.
A massive shift in the amount of people using WordPress has seen an explosion of additional products to use with WordPress. This includes themes (templates) that are beautifully designed and customisable. It’s the quality of the designs on offer that separates WordPress from the other open source systems. Templates used to be a dirty word. Not any more.
What no one tells you about web design
As a creative, you know structure is fundamental to your process. It’s the same with web design. A good layout or page structure is essential. And that’s one of the most time consuming parts of making a website. Moving elements round a page, this way and that, trying endless combinations.
If you do this the old-fashioned way, building everything from scratch with code, every time you move something, you can knock something else out. It can take forever.
WordPress has a giant market place of beautiful designs that are pleasing to the eye and created by incredible designers. All you have to do is pick one you like and put your creative work in.
Let me explain. This is a the Craft Theme, which I have used on one of my websites.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that what you get with a theme or template is an empty grid. I’ve removed the images and greyed in the images boxes to show you what I mean
With the layout taken care of your job is to get creative with your images, videos or photographs and make it look fabulous in a way only you can.
This is what I did with the theme.
Here is another example of what Mimi Soam, an artist I worked with recently did. We start off with the free Twenty Eleven theme.
These are the areas to add content to.
Mimi is a great artist and made these images.
We added them to her site to quickly create her gallery page.
You can add video, audio files as well. If you’re a writer its the same principle. Use a simple theme with a few great images and add your copy.
If you want to sell your work, either as products or as digital downloads there are a number of options. You can use websites like Big Cartel or Ecwid. You can add a free extension to your website or just simply copy and paste PayPal button code into your website.
The price of creative control
You’ve probably got so much to do already. Twitter, Facebook, search engines etc etc. The list is endless and you still have to find time to do your work. The question is: do you want to showcase your creativity in an environment that gives you maximum creative control?
There will of course be a learning curve, as there is with all technology. It does take a bit of time to get used to WordPress. That’s the price of creative control. But if you’re the kind of person who would rather invest a little time up front, in order to save money and gain creative control of your website, that should be a price worth paying.
If you like the idea of taking control of your website with WordPress, and want to learn how to get started, you can watch my video WordPress Mastery in 7 Easy Steps. It walks you through the process of getting started with your WordPress site, from installation through to customising the look of your site, adding your content, through to keeping it secure and backing it up.
Click here to see the video – it’s completely free, with no need to even give an email address.
Over to you
If you’re struggle with getting your website built, what are the biggest obstacles you face?
What difference would it make to your creative business or career if you had a website that you could update instantly?
WordPress users – any advice for beginners?
About the Author: Simon Oliver is a digital consultant who has been making websites for over eight years. He specialises in design, search engine optimisation and teaching WordPress.