Hello everyone, and welcome to my very first blog post! I have taken it upon myself to design my own photography website. After exhaustive research I tried two website development companies before landing with Zenfolio. The first two companies had excellent customer service and were very responsive, but the problem was that I couldn't even understand the directives they were giving me. Partly it was the terminology, and partly it was just that they offered too many options......templates, moving things around, etc. This 67-year old brain just wouldn't compute.
So.....here I am, and I must say I'm quite proud of myself. This website may not be the most beautiful work of art, but I DID IT!!! And I just have to give myself a pat on the back. I'm never one to back away from a challenge, but this was one of the most intimidating, daunting and all-consuming things I've ever done, and I almost caved in a few times. In fact, the task was SO daunting that it took me four years to get my butt in gear to do it!
It was a long process. Here goes.....
After returning home from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2014, I was raring to go with my photography. I took a big job right away shooting pictures for an arts organization, a group shot and 75 head shots. I felt I had the confidence and skill level to really take off with my photography business. The thing I DIDN'T have was a business plan. I needed a business card, and I couldn't get that until I had all of the pertinent contact information set...things like a name for my business, a website where people could view my portfolio, contact information (separate email account from my personal one), etc.
The first big hurdle was deciding on a name for my business. I struggled with that for several reasons. I wasn't thrilled about using my actual name. Christal Steele Photography is a long name to put on a business card, and not very creative either. And then there was the issue of spelling my name. Friends who have known me for years still spell my name incorrectly, using a 'y' instead of an 'i', or leaving out the 'h'. And then my last name is problematic too. Is there an 'e' on the end? How would people find me in a Google search?
I also needed to buy a domain name. This would allow me to have my own website with a .com after my name, rather than (for instance) .godaddy or some other web hosting company. I wanted my business name to also be my domain name but virtually every name I tried was already claimed.
So here's what I did.
I had a little contest on Facebook offering a free portrait to anyone who could think up a name for my photography business. Virtually every clever or sophisticated idea I had was already taken and copyrighted. I received 58 responses with some very clever ideas. It became a game (or literally a contest to see who could win the free portrait) so my friends really invested their time and effort and came up with some bright and witty suggestions. One friend got her family involved, spending their dinner hour laughing at some pretty preposterous names, but they gave me a lot of good suggestions in the end.
I spent 42 years of my life as Assistant Concertmaster (violinist) of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. So I guess it was inevitable that people who knew me well would try to correlate my musical background with my new profession of photography. In addition to name suggestions like 'Crystal Clear Images', or "Looks of Steele", I also got many like "Virtuoso Photography"and "Perfect Pitch Photography".
While I had fun with the contest, and I appreciated everyone's participation, in the end what did I do? Used MY name of course......despite the obvious drawbacks. At least the unusual spelling meant that nobody had claimed it as their domain name. What a sense of relief to have a firm business name (and domain name), after much consternation over the decision. And there was one lucky person who had suggested using my actual name, so I was able to follow through on my promise of the free portrait offer.
On to the next challenge......website development. After all, if I kept my images in the computer and didn't promote myself, where would that lead? So again.....researching ad nauseam......asking friends.....looking at many other photographer's websites.....and after seeing the glitzy TV ads for WIX, I decided to try them. Great company.....not for me. Then on to SmugMug.....wonderful customer support, but again, not for me. I could have used either of those companies, and a person with a bit more computer savvy would be well served by them, but it was going to take me a LONG time with them.....perhaps months.....and now that I had made the decision to start I was anxious to get going. This led me to Zenfolio, a site that is geared mostly to photographers. Right up my alley!
I should have totaled up the hours spent developing my website, but when I started I was idealistic and never imagined how much work was involved. I had some dark days when I thought I had reached a dead-end, but persistence would pay off. I am nothing but persistent. Several nights I would work until 3 or 4 in the morning, until I reached an obvious stopping point. I was so sore from sitting long hours that I had my massage therapist on speed dial. I went days without showering, and my husband learned to cook for the many weeks I spent hibernating in my office at the computer. My husband.....the saint.....patient soul, he is! He knew how much it meant for me to succeed at this, so he did everything possible to allow me the space and time I needed. And he infused some humor occasionally as well. One day I yelled out to him....."Norm, can you please come here a minute?" His response? "Where are you?" As if he didn't know where I had been holed up for weeks on end. The ensuing laugh was a welcome release!
I would encourage anyone thinking of designing their own website to give it a try. Trust me.....if I can do it, anyone can do it! Mine was complicated because of my expansive photo collection, but I think building a simple website would be a much easier endeavor. And there is always customer support. Unfortunately, Zenfolio does not offer phone support for my subscription plan, but I would email with details about the problem I was having, and within 24 hours a knowledgeable (and helpful) agent would answer all of my questions. They also offer a 40-minute one-on-one computer consultation for additional assistance. I found that very helpful.
Whatever you do, if you're thinking of building a website, please don't wait 4 years the way I did! Now......on to designing the business card!
Please give me your feedback on this first blog post. I've never created a website before, and I've never blogged before. Is it too short? Too long? Too boring? Should I attach pictures? And if you're interested in knowing some of my responses to my Facebook contest friends, here are a few of them listed below.
I just need to be sure to think long-term. I love every facet of photography, but at this point it's hard to say exactly what direction I'll go, so I need to create a name that will be able to stay with me as my photography evolves. For instance, I can't have 'stills' in the name because I may end up doing video as well down the road. I can't limit myself to only Indiana (tho' I like your idea Christina) because I have a lot of project ideas that will take me out of Indiana. And it can't say 'portrait' because I don't want to limit myself to only portraiture. You get the idea. I'm gathering some other ideas from some of the key words you've provided.......it's helping......really! Thanks!
The more I think about it I kind of like Kathy's idea.....simply Christal Steele Photography. But it's a long name to put on a business card, and I'm also worried that if someone wants to look me up they wouldn't be able to find me because nobody ever remembers how to spell my first name. I also like Kevin's idea of Steele-Works Photography.....it uses my name, but not my first name, is a bit shorter and it seems easy enough to remember. But does it sound too industrial? What are your thoughts?
Okay, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!!!! There is a winner for helping me name my photography business. After much deliberation (procrastination perhaps), I've decided in the end to not get too 'cute' and just use my name. Boring perhaps, but it works. So, Kathy Downey, YOU WIN!!!! You were the one who suggested that very thing, and so sometime this summer I'd like to offer you a family portrait session. I only ask that it be outdoors with natural lighting. I'll have some enhancements, reflectors and such, but I prefer natural light. Please contact me so we can set up a date around our traveling this summer. Thanks everyone for your participation and suggestions. I have some creative friends! :-)