Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Debut of My New Website, or, How to Get a Website Built, Eventually

Finding a website builder the first time was easy. I wasn’t really looking. In the middle of a casual conversation about maybe selling my pottery online, my friend offered to help out. Although already versed in web building, she was looking to learn a newer website building program and this was her chance.

My friend, (to whom I am grateful for getting all this going,) told me right away that she would only have limited time to work on my site, since some pressing personal obligations had to take precedence. I was okay with this, since I didn’t know what I wanted in a website design anyway. I had lots to work through and decide.

She stuck with me (and vice versa) while we figured it out. In the end we spent a good bit of time getting most of the way there, but not quite all the way. Meanwhile, I sharpened my thoughts of what I wanted, and completion of the site finally became my priority. But my friend’s other obligations still had to take precedence over my site. We had to come to a parting of the web ways.

I needed to hire someone to finish my online shop. I really needed advice.

As I’ve seen many times, having an art education does not mean I know anything much about the business of art. In fact, when I was a ceramics student once upon a time at Kean College, e-commerce probably wasn't even in the lexicon.

So I had no clue, once I would find someone to do the job, what to ask for. How would I know what should be included in the agreement? What should the contract cover?

I contacted a fellow member of my potters guild, Kathy, who has lots of experience in web design. Our guild’s website design and hosting firm had disappeared mid-stream, and left the guild stranded. Kathy had regained ownership of the site for us, brought the site live again, and undertaken the job of advising the guild members how to maintain their pages. Well, it’s true what they say about getting a job done; ask a busy person. Although juggling a couple of jobs and babysitting a grandchild when I called, Kathy took the time to write out some questions for me to ask when seeking a designer, and what to specify in a contract. Here they are:
* * *
1. Ask if he will be giving you a proposal for the whole scope of work prior to the start. (Don't pay anything in full upon start - I usually do 1/4 of total project first - i.e. for a $1,000 job I get $250 to start, then out of the rest of the $750 I break that up into two parts. You would pay $375 at acceptance of the prototype; make sure you are 100% happy with it. The last $375 is upon completion, when the site is done with search engines, and everything is working correctly.

2. Ask if he charges for edits, and at what rate. My rate is per hour, based on quarter-hour increments. This rate should be clearly marked in his proposal or contract.

3. If he has to re-design, will he present you with a prototype first? I give my clients 3 prototypes.

4. Does the template have a back end? In other words, can someone else edit for you if his fees are too high for edits?

5. Will he supply text, or will he be asking as he goes along for the information from you? If so, how does he request this? He should give you deadlines, too - it keeps the site going. But there is a lot you can do to help prepare the site. Be involved as much as you can. After all, your site is an extended reflection of you.

6. As far as the search engine optimization - will he be pushing this out to the engines on a monthly basis, or is this something you need to do? If he does this, there might be a monthly charge.

7. He needs to add a sitemap on your site - metatags used to be the thing search engines use, but most are depending on sitemaps now.

8. Will he be providing you with site stats? I have a couple of ways my clients can see how their site is being hit, but mostly they receive a monthly email from my hosting company that provides how many hits their site has, what pages, and even lists who and where these people are.
* * *

I followed some leads, spoke with five or six designers, and whittled the list down to a designer who came well recommended, Leah Helfgott of www.i-pointwebdesign.com. I asked Leah to have a good look at my site-so-far. I suggested where she could be most useful and listened to her own thoughts on the site.

Keeping in mind Kathy’s suggestions (and giving her thanks in my head as I proceeded), I clarified price and time frame with Leah and discussed the other items mentioned. She had clear and specific answers. My site had been started in Wordpress. I asked to see what websites she had done that were specifically artsy, Wordpress e-commerce sites, besides the ones already listed on her business site. She sent me links to several. They were clean-looking and attractive, purposeful and easy to maneuver. Only then, sure that she could produce what I needed, I asked her for a contract.

Now that I had a plan, a partnership needed to form that would only work to enhance the plan. I made sure to cover all points that were important to me before signing anything. I was sure this would be a good partnership. Having a contract would protect Leah, too, by keeping me from contacting her too often with thoughts about this or that item. (I have a tendency.) In that way, we were both protected.

She sent me an informal contract via e-mail. I clarified a few further questions, received satisfactory answers, affirmed, and then sent her a check for half her fee, as laid out in the contract.

In one eight-hour day, during which I was available by phone and e-mail, Leah fixed some layout, dealt with several other issues, and taught me how to put up my own photos and text. I had really been wanting to "take ownership" of my site. It was a huge buzz learning to do just that. Almost everything was complete in one day, except the shopping cart, which I asked Leah to work through.

I paid the second half of Leah’s fee after the 8-hour day. Our contract had set an hourly rate for anything further. Since service so far only indicated that she would follow up properly, I had trust. My confidence was rewarded quickly. Within a couple of days after the rest of the work was completed, Leah had contacted and had an answer from the template theme creator, and repaired the broken shopping cart code.

After that, I had more to learn, photos to take and edit, text and photos to add to the site, and some questions for Leah. She put in about eight more hours of work, about 16 all told. I put in many more. Long story short, I have a website.

(I couldn't figure out how to make this>> a clickable link to the website, but continue reading and you will find one...)

These are the main points: If you are going to build a website to sell your art, do your research first. Look at websites to find their best aspects. Think how your online gallery will represent your work. Think about what colors will frame your art best; you can go to www.colorpicker.com for that. When you are ready to find a designer, look for experience. But trust your own insights, too.

Read everything you can so that you can gauge the winds that are the current rules, trends and touchstones that guide the Internet marketplace. It is not my first web builder’s fault that we did not finish the first time around. It was to a good degree my own lack of planning and casual attitude early on. It was not a good template on which to build a business or a business relationship.

As for my website, I'm very happy to send you to www.mimistadlerpottery.com! check often in the beginning. It is starting with just a few pieces, but I have more photos of work to take and put up on the metaphorical shelves. Meanwhile, I will continue to be hard at work in the studio, making new pottery. This week: honey jars and washing cups! Bisque firing, glaze firing, cleaning the studio, fixing up my little gallery space bit by bit, there’s an awful lot to take care of. And now, add website maintenance to the list. A potter has to wear many hats indeed! And I do not mind at all.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Mimi!!! So glad that you are finally 'up and running'. Loved reading the history of the (final) website and appreciated your sharing most excellent and prudent tips, which can only be furnished by someone 'in the know'.
    The pics are lovely and I look forward to viewing more as they're posted.

    Lots of love and wishes of good luck,