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In this era of digital imaging and information technology, some sort
of presence on the web is absolutely mandatory for every photographer.
Whether it's just a simple portfolio page with contact information, or
a full-blown storefront, you not only have to use the web, but not
using it can hurt your business. Imagine going to a doctor that doesn't
believe in X-Rays. That's how most people feel about photographers that
don't have a website. Depending on the type of photography you do,
the web may play a larger or smaller role. For some, it may act as
a business card or a portfolio; for others, it can be an entire online
repository where orders are fulfilled.
The sword cuts both ways. While the advantages can be considerable,
following a poor strategy in implementing an online presence can
be costly in time, money and lost opportunity. So, it's imperative to
understand your objectives ahead of time. This doesn't mean you have to
know how it's going to look and function from the beginning; you can and
should approach this slowly, in a step-wise fashion. What appears simple
and easy at first can be overwhelming, so try not to bite off more than
you can chew.
Note: I do not discuss the technical details of how to build websites.
Entire books have been written on that subject, and simple research
yields many that can quite helpful. My only word of caution, however,
is to be discerning in your sources. More specifically, looking to
other pro photographers as role models can be fraught with problems.
First, most pros who have nice-looking websites may not necessarily be
doing good business there. More often than not, successful photographers
these days became so well before the days of the web, so by the time they
implemented a web presence, they already had an existing business
that could not only finance the effort, but they had the
photo assets necessary (not to mention name recognition) to justify a
more prominent placement. Most books written by photographers on the
subject also fall into this category as well. While there's nothing
wrong with that, they often pitch themselves as having secrets to success
that really don't exist. The web is an inherently difficult and volatile
business model, and there are no proven strategies that can be easily
mimicked. As my favorite saying goes, "if it were that easy, everyone
would do it."
A better way to learn how to build websites is from sources that are not
trying to sell a business model. Books that teach about the technology
and the paradigms behind the web are the most useful because you can
apply them to whatever business model you're developing. Also keep
in mind that photo businesses vary dramatically from one to the next,
and there is no one-size-fits-all methodology for them, let alone how
you build or design a website.
Let's start by addressing the most common questions people have when
they consider using the web for their photo business:
- How long does it take to develop a good website?
- How many images does it require before you can get online sales?
- How good do images have to be to sell them?
- Can I expect to make a living online?
- Can't I just have a gallery of pictures where people click on a
shopping cart and order them?
It may not surprise you to know that there are no answers to those
questions. There are no formulas, no quick equations, and most of all,
no empirical data to support sweeping design formats that are proven to
garner a successful website. Therefore, one person's experience should
not necessarily be held up as a model for others to follow. That said,
there are small, more subtler guidelines based on emerging findings
(that span many industries, not just photography) that support the
notion that certain design elements are more effective than others.
Like any science in an emerging field of study, it's easier to identify
what doesn't work than what does, such as unsolicited emailing,
to name an obvious one. However, even just a few short years ago,
these very techniques were thought to be the best tactics for drawing
web traffic. The challenge is to find those "known" techniques, and
to utilize them (or avoid them) in combination with the your particular
business type. This type of analysis must be individualized for each
photographer. Professing a "formula" for success at this point would
be selling snake oil. This fact may disappoint those who seek quick and
easy solutions, but if you read this chapter carefully and thoughtfully,
you'll see there is some diamond dust in the coal.
For context, I'll present my story: I started my website in 1996 after
I placed some poor scans of my vacation pictures online for friends and
family to see where I was and what I did.
(See The Yucat&aactute;n, Peninsula, Mexico.)
Needless to say, it never dawned on me to consider a career in
photography; I did it for fun. But, as time went on, my interest in
photography grew along with my photo skills. The one thing I had going
for me was a strong software and internet background, so I knew how to
develop websites using a plain text editor. (Back then, that's all you
could do.) The other advantage was that I actually bothered to use the
internet, at a time when every single pro photographer and interest
group said that the internet was not only a bad model for business,
but were dubious as to whether you could make things worse for yourself
because your images would be available for anyone to steal. Because I
wasn't really serious about business, I didn't care if people "stole" my
images, I basically ignored these warnings. Ironically, as I'll elucidate
later, it was this very act that propelled my photos, and then my website,
into broader public awareness. This, as it turned out, is what created my
Because this ill-perceived notion by professionals about the web, I had
very little competition on the net in the mid-1990s, allowing my business
to grow at a much more accelerated rate, than if the professional community
had adopted the net sooner. On the other hand, I wasn't a very good
photographer either, so it sort of leveled the playing field. But this is
also what taught an invaluable lesson: quality is not as important as
other factors when it comes to the photo business.
As I became a better photographer, and increased the quantity of images,
my business spiked upwards in 2000; I was getting about 2000 visitors
a month to my website, with about $1000 a month in sales. Now, in December
2004, I get about 10 thousand visitors a day which has over 18,000
images. These photos represent a small percentage of my entire photo
collection, which exceeds 300,000 images. (I never expect to put them all
online.) I add about 5,000 pictures to my collection every quarter;
when I'm not traveling, I manage to get another several thousand a year
in various local shoots and personal projects.
That's my story, but it is by no means representative of the typical
one as there is no "typical" story yet. I do not necessarily pitch my
experiences as the secret to success, because I know it's not that simple.
However, there are things to learn from what I've gone through, along
with general lessons, which are all discussed here.
One of those first lessons is to understand what people do when they
come to your site, why they're there in the first place, and what frame
of mind they're in.
First, the premise of your site is not like that of amazon.com, where
most people already know what they're looking for and just want to buy
it. The exact opposite will happen for you: if people come to your site,
99% of the time, it's because they stumbled into it. Hence, they are not
in a buying mood. While the impulse purchase may happen from time to time,
it's an extreme exception that you should not depend on for sales. Most
importantly, you can't push them into this mindset by designing your
site with a pushy selling style. It will not enhance those rare impulse
buyers; they only turn people away. Worse, you may deter potential
clients that may want to license images or hire you for an assignment.
We'll get back into visitor mindset again later.
As for timeframes, getting your site up and functional depends on how
much you want to do (just a portfolio, or do you want to sell pictures?).
This is why it's important for you to have a sense for your overall
business objectives first. The options for getting your images online
are many, so the long-term timeframe cannot be pinpointed. However, since
it's easy to get images online in some manner within a few hours, it
may be merely pragmatism that you get the quick and easy work out of the
way first, and then re-examine your web strategy as your business evolves.
It can take a day to get a basic website up that has your name and info,
and it can take years to have a full-fledged shopping site. The wide
spectrum in between will come in stages.
For these, let's discuss some options for how you can get started:
The simplest way to get your images online is merely to use existing
websites that feature the work of photographers. Here, you aren't really
building a site at all; just getting your images onto other, more
established sites. This means that you must either have your images
in digital format already, or a plan to scan film.
Since most sites allow you to customize and populate "your area" of the
site with your own photos and contact information, this beginning step is
"good enough" for even the most skittish beginner. Most are free to use
(you only need to register), ranging from well-known names, like Yahoo
(www.flickr.com) and Microsoft (http://photos.msn.com/),
as well as more focused sites, like www.photo.net and www.smugmug.com.
There are other specialty sites as well, for wedding photographers,
portrait shooters, fashion (for both the photograph and the model),
and so on. A simple web search yields many options. The two drawbacks
to using photo-forum websites are:
Customers will not find you.
While you may get a lot of visits from other photographers that also
share the site (and it's rare that photographers buy others' work),
no one else will find you. Most traffic that comes to a typical website
is the result of people submitting keywords to search engines. But, search
engines do not index photo sites like this, so people looking for pictures
online are not likely to find yours.
You can't sell your pictures.
These sites are designed for photo enthusiasts, not business, so you're
not going to appeal to the typical photo buyer. Not only will the appearance
be non-business-like, but you won't have business infrastructure, like
a shopping cart system for taking orders.
Neither of these "drawbacks" are a surprisethese sites aren't designed
to be anything more than this. It's sort of like buying a car: you have
to know ahead of time that you have to know how to drive and where you're
going. You don't expect to buy a car and just get in and be driven around
by it. Sure, you can hire a driver, but you still need to direct them.
The same is true of these websites for photographers: know what you're
buying. I suggest them because they are great for getting started, but
you have to spend more of your time marketing yourself through more
traditional, non-internet methods. How you do that depends greatly on the
kind of business you're running. A wedding and portrait business might do
well with newspaper and phone book ads than a website for advertising and
generating business, but that doesn't dismiss the importance of having
a web presence. Here, a site would be used as a sales support mechanism,
though. That is, customers will do their "due diligence" on you by
looking at your site. If you don't have a site or any sort of presence,
that could work against you.
Whatever you do, I strongly advise against putting your images on
photo sites for which you implicitly grant "usage rights" to the company
that is hosting your photos, unless you are given some sort of commission
in return. That is, some sites will use your images for commercial use,
and give you a commission when your images are used. While it's a great
idea, the business model is unproven as yet. (That said, I've got my eye
on the trendit could be promising.) Even then, not all sites are equal.
I've seen an emerging number of sites that sell cards and other trinkets
that have photos in them, and pay the contributing photographer a royalty
based on the number of images sold. You should read the license terms
of any given site before joining up, and also probe discussion forums
for independent accounts from others who may have experienced the site.
A similar (but not entirely identical) brand of website as the above
is the photographer community website. Again, the usual suspects are
well-known and highly visible, such as Microsoft Photography Forums
(http://groups.msn.com/browse.msnw?catid=124), There are hundreds,
perhaps thousands more, as they come and go as rapidly as the internet
evolves. You should always use a good search engine to find sites that
suit your tastes. As with all these sites, you can display your photos,
but the real benefit to the "community" sites is that you can interact
with other photographers through discussions, question/answer forums,
and photo critiques. (In fact, even if you don't post your own photos,
these sites are good for this reason anyway.)
As is always the case with online communities, be a critical thinker:
not everything that everyone says is gospel, or even true. You are
advised to spread your time among many forums to gather the broadest
set of possible truths.
As I noted, most photo community sites do not allow you to sell
your own photos. There are some exceptions to this, and one is
www.shutterfly.com, which is one of many that do the following: you
sign up as a "professional photographer" (which requires an application
and approval process). Once accepted, you then upload your photos and set
your own prices on prints. You can direct people to your gallery on their
site, and visitors can place orders themselves for the size and format of
each print. The advantages are clear: you don't have to build a website,
and you don't have to be part of the ordering or printing/delivery
process. Customers pay shutterfly directly, who will print and ship
orders. You'll get your check after each month's worth of sales.
(This applies to prints onlythey don't handle licensing of photos.)
All sounds good right? Well, there are drawbacks, and it doesn't apply
only to Shutterfly; just about every site that does this sort of thing
suffers these drawbacks. The main one is that these sites are designed for
one kind of shooter: the "event photographer." For example, if you just
shot a wedding, you could just upload your pictures to the site, and
then tell your clients to go there to order all the prints they like. You
don't have to do anything beyond that. Unless you're that kind of shooter,
the usefulness of such sites is limited. Paper sizes are fixed, and styles
are limited (often to only one of glossy or matte finish), which may not
match your artwork. Customer servicelike the rest of the siteis really
designed for consumers, not pros, so you're not going to get the kind of
attention you may need to help your customers, if there's a problem.
And, once again, search engines never index those sites, so you're never
going to be seen by anyone whom you don't explicitly inform.
Outsourcing Web Development
Eventually, you may find the above options either too limiting, or
inappropriate in other ways, which means you need to have your own
website, complete with your own domain name. There are two ways to
accomplish this: do it yourself, or hire someone else to do it.
First, a general statement about outsourcing that applies to any and
all businesses: You often hear about large companies saving lots of
money by outsourcing work to foreign countries with cheap labor. As a
byproduct of that, many contractors pitch themselves as workers with
focused expertise that can save a company money. But there's a fine line
between short-term and long-term savings, and this isn't just limited to
money. There's time an efficiency to consider. In reality, small
companies who outsource do it far more than they should. People assume
that business is just a set of widgets stuck together in the right way.
It doesn't work that way; companies succeed because individuals within
them have particular motivation and loyalty that cannot be reproduced
by those whose compensation model is built on an ever-expanding workload
that maximizes hours paid. It's not that people are dishonest; it's just
the wrong kind of incentive to start a working relationship. And yes, such
outsourced workers can do a good job, but a good company outsources only the
most basic tasksthose not mission-critical to executing a business
plan. Accountants and lawyers perform important tasks, but they don't
produce the actual service or mission-critical tasks that differentiate
a company from its competitors. Those tasks should not be outsourced.
So, when it comes to outsourcing the job of designing and building your
website, the decision has everything to do with scope: Are you designing a
complex shopping site where your success or failure is dependent on how
well this site works? And if so, how cost-effective is it to hire someone
else, vs. learning to do it yourself, or hiring someone as an employee
(where they aren't always on the lookout for the next paying client, as
most contractors tend to be)?
Alternatively, if you're just looking to build a platform to display your
own photos and provide contact information, then in this day and age,
personal websites are easy and cost-effective to do yourself. There are
free products that produce very good websites. Adobe's "Bridge" can
set up a fairly simple page of images in a few minutes; their paid-for
programs are increasingly more useful. In fact, you can say that of any
modern web application these days. But, anything more than that, and you
will probably find that finer details become increasingly more important,
requiring more of your time and attention to oversee development. There
eventually come a cross-over between whether you're actually saving
time and money using and outside developer, or whether you should do
If you're undecided, or feel you want to start with one and migrate to
the other, here's what to be aware of: the more you want to do, the
further outside of your skills or interests you drift. If you intend
to follow through, great, but there comes a point where it may make sense
to outsource the job to a web designer. But buyer beware: this path comes
To begin, understand that both photographers and web designers are artistic
in nature, in which case, there may be control issues. You may think
you want to step back from the process and let the expert do his work,
but this is rarely sustainable. Sure, the first part of the job goes
quickly and smoothly because it's just a matter of setting up foundations
(the site's structure and basic functionality). This is why outsourcing
the job is adequate for photographers who do not depend heavily on the
web, or have very ambitious plans.
In the spirit of the step-wise approach to developing the web part of
your business, it may make sense to hire an outsider to do the initial
groundwork, with the understanding that you will eventually take over. How
soon that happens is more dependent on your technical aptitude, or your
willingness to develop it.
Building Your Own Website
When I got started in this business, building a website required technical
knowledge and programming expertise, so I learned HTML (the language
that describes what a page page looks like) and edited it by hand using
a standard text editor. I also had to program the back-end functionality,
so that when someone clicked on a shopping cart icon, it would do the
right thing. Yes, it's a lot of work and took a lot of time, but it
turned in to a very nicely customized solution that served exactly my
needs. And, because I wrote it all, it's very easy (and free) to maintain.
Today, with automated software pre-built for you, building a website,
even from the ground up, is not hard anymore, nor does not necessarily
have to cost a lot or take a lot of time. As we'll soon discuss, there
are ways to get sites up and running instantly, and for free. But the
"price" come in the form of limitations, flexibility and perhaps
performance (bugs). In the end, there is a tradeoff between these; the
more you assume control and responsibility for your website, the longer
it'll take and the harder it will be, but the longer-term benefits may
outweigh them. Conversely, taking the easy way out in the beginning will
get you up and going quickly, but your growth will stagnate sooner.
For those with a strong technical background, I enthusiastically recommend
that doing it yourself. For everyone else, I recommend it so long as you
feel comfortable with whatever tools are available. As time goes on,
more and more tools (and websites) are increasingly becoming available
to do this task, each requiring less and less expertise and effort. When
I originally wrote this article, there were no such tools. A few years
later, there were simple tools that non-programmers could do easily,
but not your average consumer. Today, there are numerous tools that can
be used by virtually anyone. As a consequence, however, other issues
come into play that may or may not make any one of them worthwhile.
If you are not going to have a major web presence, you may opt for a
minimalist site that you can do using most word processors today, and
uploaded to a web service provider. Let's review some options:
Most internet service providers (ISPs) give you web space and tools to
create web pages as part of your service agreement. If you go to your
ISP's home page, you'll probably see a member login link, where you'll
see information on how to create your pages.
One of the pitfalls of going this route is that you website is under the
banner of some other larger organization, and you'll be limited in how
much you can build the site and grow it with your business. To break out
of those restrictions, you can go towards a web hosting company, whose
business it is to host websites like yours for a monthly fee. This
is what I do. I have used www.peer1.com in the past, but now use
www.serverbeach.com, but these choices are entirely arbitrary. I neither
recommend for or against them; there are many in the field, and prices
and service offerings change daily. In my case, I choose to administer
my own server, so I chose companies that offer such solutions. But
the downside is that you won't have the easy, sexy tools like those
from AOL and Earthlink to build your site. What's more, it requires a
moderate amount of technical expertise to know how to administer your
own site. Here, you're entirely on your own. That said, if you have
the technical know-how to administer a web server, you've got more than
enough skills to use some evolving products that are designed to build
photo web sites. One such product is http://gallery.menalto.com/,
which has the added benefit that it's free. You can only use this
product (and those like it) on web servers that you administer. You
can't integrate it onto your AOL account, for example.
Other programs that go even further include www.PicturesPro.com or
www.Pickpic.com, each of which provide shopping cart interfaces to
existing photo sites. Are these for you? I'll answer that question with
a question: do you know what PHP and MySQL are and how to configure them?
If so, then yes, these programs would be very suitable. If not, you may
need to consider other options for enabling your website to sell photos.
For that, see the section on e-commerce below.
If you're going to host your own site, the first thing you'll need to
do is choose your domain name. I recommend using a name that's easy to
remember, and especially one that's associated with you. I chose to use
my own name, simply because it's the easiest way for people to remember
my site name. This may not work if your name is hard to say or spell.
On the same note, people with extremely common names may find their name
already in use by another site owned by someone with the same name. In
these cases, you have the arduous and frustrating job of finding a good,
creative name to use as your domain name. This can take many days before
you're happy, so get started soon.
There are plenty of professional level tools that let you build websites
from the ground up. Adobe's Dreamweaver and Fireworks,
or Microsoft's Expression Web
typical examples of such tools, and are probably the most common for those
who build larger web sites, whether they are individuals or professionals.
However, those programs are really generalized for any kind of site,
and while they may be robust and powerful, it's sort of like riding
a motorcycle. You may not need all that power and flexibility if you
don't need ityou could easily go beyond your capabilities and be worse
for wear. As noted earlier, there are more and more tools specifically
for photographers, and many are worth looking into. Examples include:
Each of these has features and capabilities that are geared specifically
to photographers, but they vary considerably in feature sets and what
level of technical skill you have. (Some are easier than others, and
PhotoStore actually offers the service of doing it all for you, including
the web-hosting part.)
In summary, the time and attention you devote to your website should
be in proportion to its importance to your business. In other words,
never hand over critical business tasks that generate income to
others. Things like tax and legal issues are not revenue-generators, so
hand those off to professionals as needed (but make sure you know
what they're doing). If your web space is part of how you generate income,
you need to have tight control over this process. If the web is not
mission-criticalfor example, it's just for your portfoliothen
having someone else build it is fine.
Deciding on Design and Content
Numerous books have been written on the tasks of web design, and many
more will be written before you're done reading this. Most are very good
in general design aspects and technical details, but none address the
niche of a photography website. What may be good design for some sites
(even most sites), may not necessarily be appropriate for a good photo
site. In that spirit, here are some fundamental guidelines that should
apply to a well-designed website (all other advice notwithstanding):
Keep the quality of your images as high as possible.
Because you're a photo site, it's plain obvious that bad images degrade
the experience of going to your site. What constitutes a good or bad
image is the hard part, because it's entirely subjective, and there's
no way anyone can figure that out for you. However, the underlying
issue is saleability: what images can be sold?
Remember, you yourself are solely responsible for
what you think are good images. How good your self-assessment is will
ultimately be told by your sales figures.
Quantity is just as important as quality.
Populating your site with as much good content as you can is critical.
The more quantity you have, the more content search engines have to index
your site. This translates directly into more traffic. But, the more
quantity you have, the more important quality becomes. More of a good
thing, in this case, is good. But more of a bad thing can be disastrous.
So, beware of just throwing a lot of content on your site because you
Use reasonable Image Sizes
More people in the USA use high-speed internet access via DSL or Cable
Modem than dial-up. What's more, serious buyers are usually in companies
with even faster internet access than home users. The days of designing
sites optimized for low-speed modems are gone. The size of the thumbnails
you use for low-res images don't have to be all that small, but they
shouldn't be too big either if they're together with other images on a
single page. The issue is a matter of site design, not the speed in which
a page loads. You can dilute the quality of a page with too much "noise,"
just as you can under whelm the visitor with too little to chew on.
Navigation should be easy.
You'd be surprised how painful it is to come up with a design that makes
it easy for a complete idiot to use a website. Visitors do not read
plain instructions, or see the menu bar across the top, or realize that
an icon does what you think it does. There are some de-facto standards,
such as using a shopping-cart icon to represent a purchase point, but
there are very few of these rules to rely on. So, as you go through the
design process, expect to make changes frequently as you discover the
"use" habits of your visitor base. (If you've hired a designer, keep your
costs in mind here, and don't necessarily believe they know best. If that
were the case, every website on the net would be designed identically.)
People often make the mistake of designing their site with their own
web-habits in mind, or based solely on artistic reasons, where design
prevails over substance or usability. My most important rule of thumb
is this: going from any one part of your site to another should require
as few clicks as possible.
Have good content besides images, if possible.
Photos are great, but if you can add something (of substance), then
it can help. If you can write, give advice, provide helpful links,
tell stories, or make your site useful, your site just becomes more
popular. What's more, search engines have more content by which to
index you. (We dive into this later.)
Don't have a "login page" before accessing content.
Also, don't require people to "register" for anything (except, perhaps
for opt-in newsletters, etc.). Statistics show that sites that require
registration or any sort of "agreement" to enter are abandoned by a margin
of three to one. Similarly, don't have an opening "splash page" (an intro
screen or photo) whose only purpose is to offer the user a "click to enter"
button. It just wastes time.
Avoid reliance on Flash.
Flash is fine for aesthetics, it's really just style over substance.
It's not that I advise against it, but sites that have no other access
than to view them with Flash are statistically prone to lose more
visitors than they keep. One reason for this is that Flash is not well
indexed by search engines, so you're unlikely to increase your traffic
from those sites. And they account for up to 95% of most photographers'
Also, as the internet becomes more accessible across non-computing
devices (like touch-screens, phones, etc.), not every aspect of the
traditional mouse/keyboard based UI will be present. In short, be
judicious about using flashy technology, and try to assure that your
site has cross-platform compatibility.
Don't use pop-up windows (ads, slide-shows, etc).
It should go without saying in this day and age that pop-up ads on
websites are a sure way to lose customers. Because of this problem, people
use pop-up blockers to prevent any window from coming up, including those
that aren't ads. You may be tempted to use extra windows to display images
separately (such as enlargements, slide shows or other material you really
want the user to see), but the user's browser is more likely block them,
and you won't know it. So, keep everything in the same browser window
all the time.
Also, do not resize windows. The user has his browser at a size that he
likes to use. You are not to change the size of the window if you want
to keep this visitor.
Don't be pushy.
Nothing turns off people more than a hard sell. Don't use big fonts,
flashy graphics, exclamation points, glaring money-saving offers, and
by all means, don't design your site as if you expect the person to buy
something right off the bat. Providing a shopping cart icon next to each
photo is sufficient.
Identify yourself without being arrogant.
Obviously, you want to let people know who you are, and you should provide
as much contact info as you can to be informative. Many people advise
putting up a bio or resume, but be conscientious about how you portray
yourself. Referring to yourself in the third person often appears
"Dan Heller started his photo business from his modest, rat-infested studio
apartment that didn't even have heat or running water. Yet, through his
artistic craft and enduring love for photography, he has become the
successful artist for which he is beloved today..."
See how stupid that sounds? Don't do that. Humility is a very attractive
quality, and talking about yourself in the first person underscores that
"I started my business at home at a hobbyist and eventually
found my inspiration in my travels."
This sounds much more believable. The one occasion where you should
write about yourself in the third person is when you are writing text for
someone else to print about you. If you're going to hang your pictures in
a café, or on someone else's website who is featuring your work,
those are the times to do it.
Be active in the community (forums, etc.).
Being active on the Net, discussion forums, newsgroups, photo-related
websites, and outside photographer communities (photo clubs,
etc.) not only helps your career and knowledge evolution, but also gets
you noticed. Whenever you participate, your name is out there, and search
engines figure this out fast. Of course, there’s a twist to this. You
actually have to contribute good, useful, interesting stuff. Posting ad
nauseum without substance tends to get your name weeded out, which hurts
your rankings. Also, your reputation can evoke bad things to be written,
which also get indexed. You may not be running for governor someday,
but you still need to be conscientious of what you put out to the world.
Don't worry about letting people use your images.
Stealing is one thing, promotion is another. While you want to protect
yourself from theft, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by
prohibiting or discouraging people from downloading your photos. If you
warn people not to download your pictures, you just might be discouraging
a graphic designer from using one of your images as a mock-up for an
ad layout they're going to propose to a client. This usually turns into
big business, and you don't want to stand in the way of that.
The money to be made in this business comes from customers who license
high-resolution images for use in some sort of media (print or digital).
Worrying about downloaded images is putting a huge amount of effort into
a slim segment of the business model that yields little money at all.
Sure, you can and should sell low-res images to people who license them
for web use, but that business will come, protections notwithstanding.
That said, you do want to watermark your images (using your image
editing software) to put your name and website on your low-res images,
so that you and others can identify your images. This is the extent to
which this issue should occupy your concerns.
Don't forget that you're a photographer, and the web advertises you.
While it was never my intent, it turns out that one of my most effective
marketing strategies is to let people spread my images around. These
are like free ads that lead people back to my site. (25% of my web
traffic is via links from non-search engine sites.) As long as your
images have an identifying copyright mark that incorporates your web
address visibly, you're going to get a reasonable return of traffic.
Private use of my images is the greatest conduit for getting those images
in front of the eyes of buyers. Those buyers are either from commercial
sites that want to use images for licensing, or individuals who buy art.
Search Engines: The Holy Grail of Web Traffic
I've mentioned copiously throughout this chapter the value of search
engines. These account for 75% of my traffic, but most new sites
rely on search engine traffic exclusively. For example, go to
www.google.com and type "photos of sunsets" and look at the first page
of results. Most people will look at this first page only, and as
they visit each one, they either find what they want, or they search
again using different search terms. If you advertise or engage in other
self-promotion that brings people to your site, that's great. You should
do what you can to optimize this kind of visibility. However, nothing you
can do will yield the kind of traffic that comes as a result of a highly
ranked placement on search results pages like this.
Therefore, the question that most people ask is, "what are the secrets
to getting search engines to rank me higher?" That's not an easy answer.
Problem is, whenever someone thinks of a sneaky way to artificially
raise their site's rankings in search results, everyone does it,
leveling the field once again. The easiest thing to do is simply buy
advertising space on the search engines so that you are guaranteed
placement. But, that can be costly, and if your business isn't general
enough to appeal to a wide demographic, you could be paying for a lot
of traffic that doesn't turn into sales.
There are ways to help your site improve its rankings, but there are
no guarantees. Whatever there is to learn, it's all abundantly available
on the Help pages of all the major search engines. You don't want to
buy into those email offers that will submit your website to the top 100
search engines for some number of dollars per year (a simple task you can
do yourself). Note: getting your site indexed is not hard. Getting it
ranked highly is.
Making Your Site Important
Assuming two sites are identical in quality, quantity and design, we cannot
necessarily assume they are ranked equally by search engines. The reason
for this is that rankings are also set by how many important sites
link to it. Read carefully: it's not just the total number of links,
but the number of important sites. This distinction illustrates how
important it is to promote your site, but not just anywhereyou need to
get it linked to on other important sites. More often than not, these sites
are highly-trafficked sites, like photo forums, discussion boards, news
sites, industry associations, trade groups, or even high-profile clients.
When you license photos, request clients to link back to your site. If you
participate in photo critiques or reviews, your website should be part of
your signature. If people see you from there, and they talk about your in
new discussion groups, your rankings go up.
This "secret" is not really a secret, per se. However, there is a penalty
for implementing it wrong. For example, "link-back programs," (where
sites agree to exchange links with as many sites as possible) attempt
to raise the rankings of sites artificially by merely cooperating with
others to maintain reciprocal links. Since this adds no value for those
who are searching for legitimately good content, this scheme doesn't work.
In fact, sites with "artificially high linking" are ranked lower than
sites that don't participate in such schemes. Although my web logs
indicate that about 75% of my traffic comes from search engines, those
engines are more likely to rank my pages higher because the sites that
link to my page are also ranked highly.
Now, let's not fool each other: getting important sites to link to yours
is really, really hard. But, as with the other items noted, it's the
natural by-product of good content, and active participation in other
net activities discussed above. If your images are visible and people
want to use them, if people are talking about you, if you are talking
to others, and you are doing everything else associated with building
your broader business model, then important sites will eventually link
in your direction. How long this takes is anyone's guess. Some people
are better at self-promotion than others. It took me about three years
before any of the pages on my site created enough interest to rank highly.
And even to this day, not every page on my site is highly ranked.
Content comes in three basic forms: quality, quantity and design.
First and foremost: quality. The fact that I have marketable material
that appeals to the broader general public is pivotal to my success. In
my case, I also try to have as much diversity as possible. If I were
to only have black and white photos of abstract swatches of cloth,
I probably wouldn't have the traffic and interest that I do now. But
even diversity isn't enoughit has to be "good." Yet, judging that
isn't easy, because it isn't consistently the same for everyone.
Lest we forget the first rule of artwork: "to each his own." There is
a reality about what does and doesn't sell, but it's not always easy
to grasp due to cultural and artistic variances. At the end of the day,
it's whether your notion of what's good matches those who visit your site.
It should be stressed that you should be honest with yourself about the
choices you make in what you put online. Be proud, but realistic.
Next is quantity. Whoever said, "too much of a good thing is bad,"
never designed a website. Having quality images is one thing, but it's
the volumes of them that attract more and more traffic. Similarly,
uniqueness helps. By that, I don't necessarily mean that images are
unique from other photographers; what I mean is that you should strive to
have photos that are unique from each other. I've seen people post 25
pictures of the same, great looking image, but this isn't helping.
(An example of this is on the page, Camping out and the Mandarin Hotel, San Francisco, California.)
So, combining quality and quantity only makes sense if the net sum of
it all is a unique enough package that holds visitors' interests.
Now that we've covered quality and quantity, it's time to focus on
actual design. That is, organizing the images coherently with an
intuitive navigation so people can find what they want with the fewest
number of mouse clicks. How does this affect your site rankings in
search results? Remember, if other people link to you, your rankings
are higher. Other people will link to you if you have a site that's
attractive, but useful. Design involves aesthetics, but that's something
photographers almost always put ahead of functionality, so I should warn
not to neglect functionality, which can make or break your site's popularity.
(Many photographer media organizations have awards for web site design,
and the winners are almost always those with great-looking and impressive
design work, but whose functionality is so limited, that it bring very
little actual business... that is, to the photographer. The web designers
usually fare pretty well.)
Images Online: Promote them!
In keeping with the spirit of the previous section, here's the lesson:
When it comes to promoting yourself, your greatest asset is your
photography. Use them to promote yourself. As you will soon learn,
I am rather liberal about how I allow my images to be used on the web,
including allowing people to download/access my images, and how I make
no attempts to stop this. Don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting that
you don't protect your images or make no effort to stop unauthorized
use. (I'll address that later.) I'm just saying that, in the grand scheme
of things, there are tradeoffs that must be considered before choosing
to keep your images in a locked box. Before going further, I strongly
recommend copyrighting your images. This is an amazingly simple process,
Starting a Photography Business.
I've seen a lot of resistance to putting high-res images on websites,
leaving only the smaller thumbnails for visitors to see. The motivation
for this is born out of the concern that images will be "stolen."
Understandable. So the question then becomes: how big do your images
have to be before they become "worth stealing?" Also, it's not just a
matter of size, there are other usability considerations as well.
Let's address the size issue first.
Long ago, I felt that it was important to keep people from downloading
"bigger" pictures in violation of my copyright. When people complained that
they just wanted to see them bigger, I wrote it off as a reasonable tradeoff
between allowing photos to be seen "well enough," and having them stolen.
But, the impact on business never really hit me till I got an email from
someone that said, "we can't use your images to layout a page we're
considering for an ad campaign, and time is tight; can you get us a higher
res image to use as a prototype?" Because I was away on assignment, I couldn't
get to this right away, and they had to go somewhere else.
So, I started linking my low-res images to a higher-res version of
the image, and I placed my copyright mark on the side. (See
Starting a Photography Business
for more on how and why such techniques are used in conjunction with
your business.) This "higher resolution" image was only 550 pixels
in the long dimension: big enough to see in detail, but nothing that
could be copied for print use. I felt I was happy that I was now able to
accommodate a potential client's workflow by allowing them access to what
they needed so as to close business. The better lesson had yet to occur:
bigger images encourage longer visits, more page views, and more interest,
all of which translate to more business. The average time people stayed
on my site increased from two minutes to thirty. Pageviews per visit
went from twelve to 35. About a month later, orders for prints not only
increased, but became a lot less erratic, and have been ever since. What's
more, the rate is consistent: I've found that the amount of traffic,
the number of emails and the number of orders directly and proportionally
increases with the number of high-quality/desirable images on my site.
Best of all is efficiency. Rather than having to deal with every
request for a high-res image, the work is already done, and I can
spend my time more doing other things. I don't need to monitor every
potential client; just respond to those who order. In other words,
Don't irritate your real potential customers. They shouldn't need
to contact you to download comps, and if they do, you've inserted an
annoying and unnecessary (and worst of all, time-consuming) step
into their workflow. Worse, they're interfering with your workflow.
(If you have time to deal with constant requests like that, you aren't
spending time doing far more important things.)
There are various ways to "mark" your images so as to identify them
as yours. The obvious method is to use a visible watermark, which
is a copyright symbol, name, or other identifying features, digitally
superimposed on the image itself. (You see this on all my images.)
This is not only useful for identifying the image's owner, but makes the
image less useful in any commercial context. Because someone can "crop"
the watermark out (by cropping the image), some choose to avoid this by
placing the mark on the center of the image. Problem is, doing so often
interferes too much with the image's aesthetic, making it (subtly perhaps)
less desirable. I actually had a client that bought one of my images
over that of another photographer because his was too difficult to see.
How much to "obscure" the image to protect it from being "stolen" in
a usable way, and how much to leave it unimpeded so as to maximize the
image's saleability is a cost-benefit analysis. Me, I choose the minimal
imposition in favor of happier clients. If a client requests a series of
even higher resolution images as samples, I'll send them larger versions,
but with the watermark in the center. This tradeoff only goes so far.
I trust the client, but images can find their way into the hands of
people I don't trust. Print-ready high-res images are definitely worth
So much of this discussion has revolved around the issue of protecting
images (and websites) from clients before they buy. So, what can you do to
protect images after they're sold? You have to deliver a clean image,
right? And once you do, it's out there. How do you know your client is
going to protect your images from being stolen by someone else? Or that
it won't somehow end up floating around the net, into other companies'
hands, or be used by the same company in ways they didn't license?
The awful answer is: you can't. This business is all about trust. You can
protect yourself with legal language in license agreements as deterrents,
or using digital watermarking to make sure you can track images on the
web. But, as stated before, web use isn't going to bring in the big
dollars, thereby hardly making the time and effort as worthwhile to
the bottom line as other business-building activities. The best thing
you can do is make sure you have a good working relationship with the
company that licenses your photos. (That, and make sure you work with
people who don't give you the creeps.)
Sales: Payment Methods
When designing your site, the highest hurdle you'll face is that of taking
payment. At first, it appears easy: just get a phone number and call them to
arrange for a check. But then, you figure people like using credit cards,
not to mention the sense that the easier you make it, the more the sales
come in. There is some truth to the notion that "ease of payment promotes
sales," but, as has been the case with everything we address, it's not
One can certainly do lots of "good" business on the net without accepting
credit cards. Implementing the technical side of credit card payment has
its pros and cons, so your decision isn't "if" as much as it is a matter
of timing. If the overhead and technical barriers of accepting credit
cards is holding you back, checks are (and will be) just fine. In fact,
I only just started accepting credit cards in June, 2003, well after
I'd past the milestone of $5000/month in print sales back in 1999.
Until that point, everyone sent me checks, and even though people would
ask if I accepted credit cards, I can't think of any serious buyer that
didn't purchase because I didn't accept cards. Sure, I may have missed
some spontaneous "impulse purchasers," but then, I also don't use price
points that spark an impromptu purchase. So, for me, that artifact
didn't apply. Again, my business model may not match yours. If you sell
lots of low-priced consumer products, then accepting credit cards should
be on your list of necessities for your site.
The key ingredient here is discerning the difference between an impulse
purchase, and a consultive sale. In an impulse purchase, a credit card
makes it quick and easy, so anything that interferes with this process
disrupts that impulse. If it's quick and easy, there are people who will
buy. This isn't the case for the consultive sale, where people want to
talk and discuss an item before they lay out the big bucks. Once they
decide, sending a check or using a credit card is usually irrelevant.
When the time comes that you want to take credit cards, there are two
ways to go about it. First, there is the merchant bank approach. This
is just like any other bank, but instead of their clients being everyday
people like you and me, they are businesses. (The larger consumer banks
also offer merchant banking services as well.) So, if you are a business,
have a tax ID, and have a resale license from your state's franchise tax
board, you can apply for a merchant banking account. With this account,
you will get the necessary tools to accept credit card payments. That's
great, but it also sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? We'll get back
to that in a minute.
Another payment option is Pay Pal. This is a convenience that many
find useful, because you can avoid much of the administrative overhead
of this part of your business because you'd be paying Pay Pal to do it
for you. But there's a price for this convenience. The way it works is
rather simple: rather than your accepting credit cards, Pay Pal interfaces
with the customer and takes payment on your behalf, depositing the funds
in your account (minus their fees). What those fees are varies, but it
can be as high as 3% of each sale. That's not bad, actually, especially
for not requiring any of the licenses and forms that a standard merchant
bank would require. What's more, Pay Pal's fees have been drifting
lower as competition with the merchant banks heats up. (Note: when
comparing rates to merchant banks, keep in mind that the "low" rates
that banks charge are usually for "card present" transactions, where you
swipe the card with a reader. Rates for internet transactions are
going to be much higher, which makes Pay Pal's rates not seem to bad.)
Granted, you eventually have to get licenses and permits for your
business anyway, but when you have to do that is sort of sketchy, much
the same way that there's a wide grey line between when you're a "real
business" or just an elaborate hobby that happens to get a little income.
Hobbies don't require licenses.
(For more on this discussion, see Starting a Photography Business.)
The point is, you can begin by taking credit cards through Pay Pal before
you get those licenses, and then move over to handling your own transactions
as the fees justify it. But, regardless of where you finally end up down
the road, beginners should almost assuredly avoid running credit card
transactions entirely until a stable and moderately consistent sales
trend is established. This has nothing to do with fees or anything else;
it's a matter of biting off more than you can chew in your site's
initial development. You can can delay or even prevent your site from
ever getting going if you try to deal with too much. Don't worry that
you may be losing sales because you don't take credit cards; you're not
missing anything in the beginning.
Communication/Contact with Visitors
Bringing people to your site is one thing, keeping them is harder,
and having them come back is the hardest. This is why it's important
to provide a quick, unobtrusive way to get feedback from them, to
be responsive to them when they do contact you, and most of all, to
be able to maintain contact.
A great way to solicit feedback on your site is to have a feedback form,
a page where people can type anything they like and click a "submit" button,
which emails their statement to you. Sure, they can send email, but people
seem to be drawn to forms. (I've found that feedback forms generate more
feedback than email links at the rate of 15:1.) Once you've bought into the
"forms" idea, options open up. You can have people rank images or reply to
surveyspeople LOVE voicing opinions. The simpler the form, the better:
"check boxes" and "lists" get even better return rates because people
don't have to type. Very early in my web-life I had a checkbox under
every single photo where people could check whether they liked it
or not. This not only generated good feedback (it keeps people longer
because they like the interactivity), but you can also get an accurate
sense of how many visitors you get. You may not know the percentage of
the total traffic is filling out the forms, but you do know that the
more you get, the higher your traffic is growing. One valuable lesson
I learned was that there is almost NO correlation between images that
were overwhelmingly praised or disdained with higher or lower sales. (I
rarely see any sales from what I think are my best photos, and I'm often
nodding my head in disbelief when people buy really mediocre pictures.)
Emailing: Newsletters and Announcements
People love contacting photographers about their work, and it's your duty
to reply to each and every one of them. Anytime someone asks a question,
I reply to it personally. If they have a comment, I almost always reply
to those too. Of course, you have use your time judiciously, which is the
hard part. (You can't and shouldn't reply to every 4th grader who asks
whether sand in the Sahara Desert really was shipped in from Arizona,
despite a joke I once had on my website.) When I answer emails, it's
amazing how much positive feedback I get from people that simply say,
"wow, I never thought I'd get a response from you!" I can appreciate
thatI'm offended (and bewildered) when I email a photographer about how
much I like his/her work, and they simply don't reply. It shows arrogance,
even if that wasn't their intention. This begs the question: does
replying to email generate sales? No. But, it is good PR, and as your
career evolves, so does your reputation. It's very important to maintain
humility throughout your career in this field.
I have an "opt-in" email list that I use to keep in touch with those who
want to hear from me. But be careful: in these days of spam and other
unsolicited email, you can kill your business if you don't handle email
properly. If you do send bulk messages out, make sure you only send
to those who want to receive them. What's more, give clear instructions
on how to get off your mailing list. (Some who signs up will forget by the
time you get around to a newsletter, and then think they're getting spam.)
Unsolicited emails increase your chances of having your entire domain
added to spam registries' blacklists. These are used by most spam
filters on most major ISPs, from America Online and hotmail, down to
your local neighborhood portal. Once on such a list (and there are many
registries), any message you send, even your legitimate ones, may be
filtered before your recipient even knows you sent it. Getting off those
lists is extremely difficult, so tread carefully in this area. If you had
thoughts of getting one of those bulk email programs, or even accessing
mailing lists of photographers, galleries or other sources, think again.
Sending unsolicited, but individually personalized email to lists of
art directors and photo editors is another story. Here, you don't have
to worry about being accused of sending spam, but you will probably be
ignored. There are success stories of photographers who solicit business
this wayI know of one person who tried for four years using this method
when his jackpot was finally hit: he got a big contract with a major
department store, and they shipped him around the country shooting events,
models, and other on-location spots. All of this yielded him about $20,000.
Great gig, but he had no other business at all for four years. On average,
he could have probably invested his time more wisely elsewhere.
It takes time for an opt-in email list to grow, but these people
invariably become great contacts for continual feedback, support and even
critique. Many may become clients, too. I send out a newsletter once or
twice a year, and most people tell me that isn't often enough. (Truth
is, I just don't have the time.) If you update your site with new images
often enough, that might be a good excuse to reach out to your email base.
E-Commerce and Shopping Carts
When people think of a shopping cart, they think of how the websites of
retail companies work: visitors place a number of photos into the cart,
prices are automatically calculated, a payment screen is provided, an
invoice and/or receipt is created, and the product is delivered. In the
case of a photo site, this means either that a high-res images is
shipped to a printing service, or it's made available to download to the
client. The advantage is that all of this is automated, convenient for
the customer, and easy on you. However, this technology comes at a price:
No wonder then, in a recent conversation with a colleague about why
he doesn't sell stock images on his website, he said he was looking
at some packages that do shopping carts, but added, "I could not
devote any time to really figuring them out until I did my newsletter,
shored up some business, and finished a couple of projects."
There are two problems with this response: The simpler one is the
false impression that a shopping cart is actually necessary in order
to do sales, which itself implies a general misunderstanding of how
people buy stock images. I'll get to that shortly. But the broader
problemand perhaps a more important one for career-developmentis
that people should do projects that have the longer-lasting benefits
first, and save the short-term projects for later. A newsletter is
short-term because it only generates business within the next few days.
Implementing a sales mechanism into your website has a longer time-horizon,
because it generates revenue long after you've completed the task.
Of course, there is another reality to contend with. My colleague's
economic condition is one many can identify with: he needs money
now, and projects that have longer-term payoffs don't pay today's
bills. This is where career-planning is important. You shouldn't
get yourself too dependent on short-term income; you need to build
a business infrastructure early on so that, over time, it generates
business for you while you're doing other things. Otherwise, you'll find
yourself in an endless cycle of constantly chasing short-term (and often
low-paying) business opportunities, and your business never grows.
(For more on this, see Photography and Business Sense.)
This is where e-commerce comes into play. It's not only important to
have it, it should be done as soon as possible. Every visitor to
a site that doesn't have a shopping cart is a potential missed opportunity.
(True, some people will still contact you to ask about buying, but these
will buy anywayit's everyone else you need to think about.) The good
news is that building a very basic, bare-bones ordering mechanism
sufficient for most visitors is easy.
Why is "basic" good enough? Unlike the perception that most photographers
have about stock photographythat millions of monthly visitors go to
the websites of major stock agencies to buy millions of imagesmost
real people don't buy photos that way. Stock agencies generally focus
their marketing efforts on traditional advertisers and media companies,
who have very particular and precise business models. This, as opposed
to buyers that end up on most photographers' websites who landed there
as a result of a keyword search from a general search engine. These
users don't need multiple photos; they usually only need the one that
they were looking for. Also, unlike media outlets who need photos
"right away", most users don't; they're happy to wait a few hours,
a day, or often longer. Therefore, most photographers don't need the
degree of sophistication that most shopping cart applications have for
websites. And, that level of automation, as my friend at the beginning of
this article points out, requires considerable time and effort to figure
out, and then integrate into an existing website. (That is, unless if
you're not already technically proficient.) So, a shopping cart "system"
really isn't needed by most individual photographers.
Besides, there can be other reasons why you wouldn't want to have
a site be totally automated. For example, I view each and every
order to assure that the order can be delivered in the first place.
There may be circumstances of the photo that may prohibit or limit the
sale, such as a photo of a person that isn't released, or if an image
already has a semi-exclusive license. In such cases, I wouldn't want to
run the transaction or deliver an image. Building in such decision-making
algorithms into the database that a real shopping cart application would
use would be an incredibly onerous task. Making the decisions manually
on a case-by-case basis is much easier and more time-efficient.
Remember, you're not a stock agency with millions of images and visitors.
My bet is that even the most active stock photographers who represent
their own works get no more than a few orders per day. Fulfilling orders
manually takes only moments, and all those moments will never exceed the
time necessary to learn about shopping cart software to the uninitiated.
So, the best thing to do is have a simple shopping cart "icon" next to
each image that simply provides the visitor a form to fill out. It has
the price for the image (say, as a grid of radio buttons with different
resolutions and prices) and fields for billing and payment info. When
submitted, you get an email with the values of the fields the user filled
in. This sort of HTML form is the most basic web-building feature that
is provided by all applications that build basic websites. You can even
write it by hand using sample HTML code found in any introductory HTML
book (or online).
It may surprise you that my site gets about 20,000 visitors a day, and
I host almost 40,000 images, each of which can be licensed for stock
usage or sold as prints. And though it appears I have shopping cart,
I don'tit just looks like I do. For the first five years of my
business, I used exactly the method I just described above, with revenues
up to $5000/month in sales. All this using sample "form" code that I
copied from a how-to book on HTML.
What about credit cards, you ask? Yes, you should still get a merchant
account for credit card payments, and you can still have people input
their credit card numbers when placing an order. Again, that's just what
I did, too. But it doesn't mean you have to figure out how to get your
site to process payment. You'd just do it manually: just login to your
merchant bank's website and run the transaction using their own online
processing form using your customer's data.
Incidentally, I never fulfill an order (print or license) unless and
until payment is made. Only certain repeat clients get net-30 payment
terms. Delivering photos without payment first is a sure way to eat up
your time chasing that money later. That's a business decision I came
to midway through my online careerit's just a better management of
time, and I found I wasn't losing sales. Yes, clients can often ask,
or even whine and complain, but if your site doesn't provide the option
of getting an image without payment, customers stop whining and just
input a credit card. That may not be the case for your business, but
that's beyond the scope of this discussion.
As for the expediency that an automated shopping cart system provides,
in my empirical experience, the lack of "immediate download" has only
caused a handful of lost opportunities over the course of time.
Of course, I'm not saying that shopping cart software is overblown,
nor do I mean to imply it's never needed. If you're technical enough
to employ one without spending too much time and effort figuring it out
and integrating it into your site, that's great. There are also several
website building applications specifically designed for photographers that
have shopping cart features built in. Mind you, these aren't applications
easily managed by technophobes, or even the moderately technical. You have
to understand at least enough to manage a web server in the first place.
Whatever you do, remember that the successful photographer is one who
genuinely understands where to best invest time and resources, so if
you're seriously weighing the benefits of all the costs (tangible and
intangible) of e-commerce, don't do just what you see others do. Take a
good, hard look at what you need, and don't do more than necessary. That
said, don't avoid monetizing your content just because it may seem
challenging. If you have a site at all, then you have the wherewithal
to build some kind of faux shopping cartat least, insofar as the
visitor knows it. When you've done that, then go write your newsletter
and tell everyone to come and buy something.
Having a photography business requires some sort of online presence,
but how much you need is not etched in stone. Your business model
governs the degree in which you should invest in this format. For those
more technically adept, the more investment you make in a website, the
more dividend you'll receive in the long-run. For photo businesses that
focus on consumer services, like portraits or weddings or other events,
the most applicable use of the web will be to allow clients to see your
previous works, and possibly to order prints from a session they've had
with you. But the common denominator for anyone is to have at least a
sufficient portfolio that represents who you are and what your business
For those looking to do online sales, your e-commerce solution does not
have to be an all-or-nothing approach. It's far more important to build
it incrementally as your business develops, rather than tackling your final
objectives all at once. As for payment, asking for checks is fine; you
won't lose business because you don't accept credit cards. When time and
efficiency reaches a certain point where credit cards make more sense,
it should be easy to set up because you've already got a reasonably
mature site, where "card technology" can integrate in rather seamlessly.
Regardless of what you do online, it should be balanced and integrated
with a more broad business model. All aspects of the business require
time to evolve, so don't focus on one over another in such a way that
drags down progress.
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