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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WEBSITES - Are They Necessary?


“Do I really need a website?”  This is a question I am often asked, and my answer is always, “Yes, you do!”  I’ve been talking about the necessity of a website for months, but haven’t gone into detail about why they’re important, until now. 

A website is your calling card.  It will enable you to have all your marketing tools in one place.  This information will be accessible to everyone, 24/7.  If your agent needs to send a potential client your info, they can simply direct them your website.  Think of it as hiring a publicist, only it’s a lot less expensive. 

Free Publicity
I think of social media as free publicity.  It's a great way to connect with fans, friends, family members, classmates, professional acquaintances, potential employers, and those who want to find out what you’re doing. 

Websites are similar, except that you will need to make a financial investment. But it won’t cost you much to set up and maintain, and is free for everyone who visits. 

Domain Names
The first step will be to purchase a domain name.  There are many companies to choose from, and their prices vary wildly.  Check out APlus.net, Register.com, GoDaddy.com, Whois.net, siteskins.net, etc.  Find out what they charge and do a comparison. 

It’s a good idea to register with the company who will also host your website.  I set up my domain name with Register.com, but then transferred it to APlus.net, which is the company that hosts my website.  However, it was problematic to transfer, and now that I know I can purchase domain names from APlus.net for a much lower price and no 'transfer' headache, I’ll do that in the future. 

I tried to host my own website years ago, leaving my computer on all day and all night, but that became challenging, so I decided to find a company with expertise in this area.  My web designer had done a lot of research, which is how we selected APlus.net.  They charge me a monthly fee of $4.99 to host the first website, and $1.99 for each additional site. 

Once you’ve made a decision on where you’ll purchase your domain name, enter the name you’ve chosen to see if it's available.  If you’re an actor, I would recommend choosing www.yourname.com.  If that’s not available, try yourname.net.


CREATING YOUR OWN WEBSITE

NOWCasting.com
If you sign up with NOWCasting.com, which is a website for actors, they’ll assist you with your domain name.  All actors should list themselves here for free.  Casting directors use this site to search for actors and their representation.  It doesn’t cost anything to upload your photo and resume, but if you want to include your reel, clips, etc, there will be a fee.  I signed up as a Reels & Clips member, paying $6.00/month.  This enables me to have my theatrical reel and clips on my Profile page.  I can email my this page to anyone who requests my information by simply attaching a link.  My NOWCasting.com profile page gives the recipient the ability to view my photos, resume, representation, personal website URL, email address, bio, and theatrical reel.  

NOWCasting.com offers a variety of services at a range of prices, including designing your own website.  Depending on how fast you make decisions, you can have your website up and running within a few hours.  They have dozens of great template designs to choose from, and your website can be as detailed as you’d like.  The down side is that, more than likely, your name won’t appear at the top of the search list when someone googles your name.  You will also have a longer URL address on your business card, which will look like this: www.nowcasting.com/yourname.com versus the simpler and nicer looking www.yourname.com.  Still, for $21.00/month, it may be the easiest and most affordable thing to do. 

siteskins.net
This is a very cool website design company that I just learned about from a make-up artist on a recent photo shoot.  She highly recommended them for creating your own website.  It’s free to set up your site; you just pay $7.95-$19.95/month for them to host it.  It’s a good value, and I visited the new website she created for herself and was very impressed.  She has a huge amount of information there, including hundreds of wedding photos and videos, for $19.95/month.  She mentioned that they were extremely helpful when she got stuck and called for advice.  They also offer domain names at a very reasonable price.  I highly recommend purchasing your domain from the same place that will be hosting your site.  As I said before, transferring your domain name can be challenging, and you want to avoid a severe headache or migraine.

iWeb
If you have a Mac, and have purchased iWorks, you can create a website using iWeb.  However, I attempted this and found the design choices too limiting.  You may have better luck.

Template Designs
If you’re computer savvy, you can chose a template, from one of many websites offering a selection of designs, and design your own site from scratch.  Once you’ve uploaded all your photos, clips, reels, and resume, you’ll need to know the secrets of how to place yourself at the top of the search engine list when someone googles your name.  You don’t want people to have to search through pages of listings trying to find you.  The goal is to be the first listing when googled.

You may be tempted to design your website in Flash, but I would recommend avoiding it, simply because iPhone users won’t have accessibility to your website.    Many business people are on the go these days, and they’re accessing information via smart phones, so keep this in mind.  How will your website look on a smart phone versus a computer?  Until Apple and Flash stop feuding, you’re better off designing your site so everyone can view it.   


Hiring a Web Designer
If you have the funds to hire a web designer, I highly recommend it.  This is the best option for getting exactly what you want.  Ask around and find out who your friends have used and if they’d recommend them. 

Do your research before you call the web designer.  View other websites, and make note of what you like and dislike about those sites.  Note the simplicity, the ease of getting around on the site, color scheme, layout, tabs, pages, and other design aspects that speak to you.  When you’re prepared, make your call.  Share this information with your web designer.  The more specific you can be about what you want, the easier it will be to collaborate.  You’ll pool your ideas to come up with something original that is unique to you. 

A voice-over actress I know had an artistic friend create a cartoon caricature of her as Samantha from Bewitched.  Her website even has the Bewitched theme music, and it’s fun to navigate.   The ideas are limitless.  However, what you come up with may require a lot of time and energy, and will depend on your resources.  You’ll need to gather your photos, resume, reels, video clips, write a bio, and write your own text.  You’ll have to make decisions on how many pages you want, where to place things, what font you want to use, and the overall look of your site.  It’s an extremely creative process, and it will be rewarding to see it evolving and taking shape. 

A Temporary Home Page
Have your web designer create a temporary Home page while you’re developing the site.  The creative process could take weeks, or months, depending on how involved it is and how much content you’re uploading.  Keep your temporary Home page simple.  Include your name, photo, and contact info, and let the visitor know that your website is Coming Soon or Under Construction.  You won’t be giving out your website address until you’re ready to launch, but this will be nice for those who search for you before the site is ready.  This step isn’t imperative, but it shouldn’t cost you any extra.


Website Servers and Hosts
Once your website has been created and is ready to launch, you’ll need to find a host, which we discussed earlier.  There are a lot of great choices out there.  Hopefully you selected your domain name from the same company who will be hosting your site, but if that wasn’t possible, you’ll need to go through the transfer process.  This will, more than likely, require some assistance from the company who will be hosting your website.  If you hired a web designer, they’ll know how to do all of this.

Launching Your Website
Once your website is completed and ready to launch, make a big announcement.  Tell everyone!  Post your new website on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.  Upload it to casting services like LA Casting, Actors Access, and the Casting Frontier. Mention it anywhere and everywhere you can think of!  Email the link to all your friends and ask them to share it with others.  Be sure to include your new website on your business cards, and hand your cards out wherever you go. Design a postcard announcing your new website, get them printed up, and send them out!  

Keep Your Website Updated 
If you’re not managing your website yourself, make sure you’ve discussed expenses with your web designer.  They may teach you how to make changes on your own, which is normally included in the initial fee.  I know a great web designer who charges $3,000 to design your site, but all future updates are included in that fee, and he teaches you how to make changes on your own.  Every website that he has designed looks amazing, and was well worth the investment. 

Landing one big job can potentially reimburse you for all your web design expenses.  That happened for me.  Shortly after I’d launched my new site, I was booked on an infomercial, and the director told me he was impressed with my website and that it was a factor in landing me the job.  He had access to my reels, resume, photos, and other info that helped him make his casting decision.  Although it’s hard to gauge who is actually viewing your site, you’ll know, because people will tell you.  Be sure to set up an email link on your site so your viewers are able to contact you directly. 

I update my website frequently.  My web designer is a friend.  I paid him an initial design fee and am charged on an hourly basis for the changes I make.  I email him updates, additions, deletions, new video footage, and new photos, and he bills me every few months or so.  This morning I emailed him, asking if he could put my October Newsletter link on the Home page.  He had it done within the hour.  A few days before that, I decided to include my Host reel on my Video page (as well as the Host page where it already exists) and he had it done the same day.  He also edits my theatrical, host, and commercial reels, which are constantly being updated, and keeps me at the top of the google search. 


Knowing What You’re Getting Into
Make sure you understand the agreement that you enter into with your web designer.  A flat rate could run you anywhere from $750 to $4,000 or more, depending on the amount of time and work involved.  You may be able to find a friend who can help you, or is willing to charge a lot less.  Maybe you can make a trade with someone.  Whatever the expense, this investment is a good one.  It’s also completely tax deductible!  Your website is an integral part of your Business Marketing.

Business Can Be Creative
Artists tend to lack business skills.  Acting is so much fun that they can’t be bothered with the ‘business’ of acting.  As I’ve said before, marketing is essential, and building your website can be very creative.  You’ll be making decisions that are design related and artistic in nature.  I found that writing my own text, bio, and photo descriptions, really made me hone in on what I was contributing to the world as an artist.  It was also rewarding to see a body of work take shape before my eyes, revealing years of experience.  Now it’s all in one place where I can easily share it with others.  It’s accessible 24/7 to casting directors, agents, potential employers, directors, producers, fans, friends, family, classmates, and anyone who’s interested.


Congratulations!
Once you’ve purchased your domain name, created your website, found a host, and launched the site, pop the cork on a nice bottle of bubbly and celebrate!  You have your own website!  Tell everyone!


All Questions Welcome
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  And remember:  Marketing is the key to your success!

5 comments:

  1. Hi Anne,

    I followed my temptation a month ago and began designing our website in Flash, not knowing the issues with Apple. However, I found that Adobe is offering a free "preview" of its solution: Adobe Edge (Eg). Go to http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/edge/ to download the limited time preview through the end of 2011.

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