by Marilyn Sholin, Texas School Instructor

This year I decided it was TIME to finally redo my website and make it totally usable and incorporate all my business under one brand name. It’s been quite a journey and this is a lot of information I want to share with you as an amateur technology junkie who stepped into this project being FEARLESS as to what I wanted to accomplish.

In the past my websites were geared towards portrait clients and education for photographers. I actually had two websites separately: marilynsholin.com for my clients and digitalpaintingshop.com for my students. Although many things were already in place, I wasn’t using them to the best advantage, especially considering my large following on all of social media. As a result, I was getting pretty much lost in the shuffle. The bare bones start was I owned my domain names and I have it covered by owning the “.net” of them as well as anything else I can think of like “msholin.com.” I had purchased them years ago and also have my own server. So, I have all my information and it’s not hosted by anyone else but me.

Since moving to Asheville, NC, in December 2007 my work and art took a totally different turn and my website was still in the old mode and not very friendly to even look at. So I had to make some decisions. How to find a decent web designer was the first priority. In the past, I was lucky to have a good friend that helped me, but now I had to play with the grownups! Where to go?

From viewing websites of other artists, I noticed that some were very impressive and others were cookie cutter websites sold through domains that hosted them. So I looked at some up and coming artists and photographers to see what they were doing and found that many of them were designed quickly and easily with templates but were still hosted in the cloud.

After some research, I eventually ended up at www.upwork.com which, as it turned out, I was already a member of because it is who Corel uses when looking for freelanceres. I quickly filled out some forms to become a business hiring instead of my being a freelancer on the website. It was easy. Now I wanted to “talk” to some people and get their ideas. Some were happy to talk to me on the phone for free or for a modest fee to give me their thoughts and opinions.

After some discussion, it became obvious that I needed a WordPress website with Woocommerce and I was already familiar with it from my old websites. After a few phone calls, I learned a great deal. Here are some take aways from them:

  • Websites should be “Responsive” which means optimized automatically for all devices.
  • A Favicon is a little image in your tabs that identifies what page you are. All your pages have this so when people are looking at 30 tabs open they can find yours easily.
  • Current trend is big format and scroll down and down and down. Get the page huge and let it scroll.
  • Themes and plugins are what drives WordPress. Don’t use too many plugins as they can break a page or website when they are updated. Using a theme that cost a little is worth it to have most of what you need built into it.

Do NOT size your content until a web designer gives you the sizes you need for each element of the website.

What was nice about working with Upwork is that there is an app for your phone where you can read messages from your designer. So, even if I’m gone, he was able to ask me questions and not wait for an answer and I could answer quickly wherever I was. Another is the types of payments you can decide to use. We decided to go with what is called Milestones with one set fee. So, as he finished a milestone, the money was released to him as I approved it.

When choosing a web designer, they should give you a list of what they need from you and provide some choices of layouts.  Also, be sure they give you all their PSD files they used to create the website as those are already filled with the right sizes and fonts you need for updating the site.

Most importantly, choose someone who will help teach you what to do so you don’t need to hire them for every little thing. A good designer will explain the process and what you need and don’t need.

To see what my new website looks like, see the images above. It’s big and bold and easy to navigate and read. There are animations and bells and whistles that make it interesting without being cluttered. It is still a work in progress in that I need to keep adding products. But I finally have a website for selling workshops and tutorials as well as my art. There is now a “Marilyn Sholin brand at work for me.”

Yes, it was a lot of work but the heavy lifting was all by the designer. He also saved me a bundle on hosting my servers by recommending a switch for my websites. They are the experts! Use them to learn and to create for you what they know best. After all, your clients come to you as the photographer expert so you need to have your own experts for the rest of your business.

I will talk a little about this in the Marketing segment of my workshop at Texas School. Besides learning to paint in Corel Painter, it’s important to know how to sell those paintings.

After 25 years as a professional portrait photographer, Marilyn Sholin directs her creative juices toward fine art digital painting. Her fine art prints are exhibited in private and corporate collections throughout the United States and Europe. She is the only artist with honors in three worlds of art: digital art, portrait photography, and acrylic paintings. Join her at Texas School for a most enlightening workshop. For more information about Marilyn, go to:  MarilynSholin.com