The Photographer's Online ToolkitWhether you're launching a brand-new photography business or adding an online presence to reach more clients, there are a few tools you'll need to bring your website and digital marketing into focus. The process of registering a domain name and setting up your website isn't complicated or time-consuming, but just as professional knowledge helps you capture better images than if you just aim and shoot, these tips can help you get the most from your online portfolio, email list, and social media. Let's zoom in on what you need to grow your business.
Your website needs a host that loads your images fastBecause images take longer to load than text—and because the average mobile user will wait no more than 10 seconds for a page to load before they leave—you must have web hosting that loads your pages as fast as possible. You'll also want plenty of storage space for site backups, to accommodate your image files. HostGator's WordPress cloud hosting plans offer both speed and storage space.
You need a URL that's on brandWhether you use your own name or a company name for your business, your first step in choosing a URL should be to see if the domain name you want is available. If it is—especially with the .com top-level domain (TLD)—snap it up. If .com isn't available, consider a newer top-level domain specific to your business—for example, SnappyGator.photography. Learn more about choosing a good domain name, and once you've settled on the right one, register it along with similar names and different TLDs and redirect them to your site.
You need a professional email addressOnce you have a web host and a registered domain name, you can create work email addresses for yourself and any employees using that domain name. Branded email addresses look more professional than a third-party email address and inspire confidence that you take your work seriously. Having a professional email address for yourself can also help you sort out your personal and professional emails, and it makes it easier to manage your business email list (more on that below).
Your site needs a design theme specifically for photographersWhen photos are your business, you need a site design that displays your portfolio in a way that's visually appealing, uncluttered, easy to navigate on desktop and mobile devices. There are so many free WordPress portfolio themes that it can be hard to settle on one. Some of the most popular include Magnus, Spacious, Splendid Portfolio, and Draft. Take your time exploring, and remember that changing themes later on is relatively easy to do. If you host your site on WordPress, be sure to check out our post on the top plugins for photographers.
Your photography site needs content and tags for SEOMost photographers serve a local market and have a specialty or two, like portraits, wedding photos, or product photography. Make sure your site copy spells out your location and services along with commonly searched keywords for what you do, like “Boston wedding photographer” or “Scottsdale real estate photographer.” Page tags aren't visible to your site visitors, but don't overlook them—include the keywords you want to rank for so that search engines can find your site. This search engine optimization (SEO) is how you'll get found by prospects most of the time. If you update your site regularly, it will tend to rank better in search results, and one easy way to update your content is by keeping a blog on your site. If you'd rather shoot than write, that's OK—photo blogs update your content and show off your work. Just remember to include at least a little descriptive text and keyword tags for each image you post.
Your photography website needs booking, proofing, and order toolsUse your site to make things easy for your clients. Pet photographer Erin Lynch of Seattle has an online booking page that lets clients pick the type of shoot they want, with prices clearly listed and links to a calendar with her available dates and times. Existing clients should have private access to proofs from their shoots so they can approve and order the photos they want in digital and print formats. Jireh Photography of Detroit, which we've featured on the blog before, has an online client proofing section that allows wedding and event clients to select the shots they love at their convenience. Online proofing also saves you the time, hassle, and expense of mailing proofs to clients or meeting to review them in person.
Your site needs an email listMake it easy for prospective and current customers to find out about your specials and new services by keeping an email list. For example, fitness photographer Audra Oden of Houston has an email opt-in form on her homepage so clients can find out about “special rates, projects, and events.” You can use an email marketing tool like Constant Contact to manage your list and your marketing campaigns.
Your photography website needs at least one social media accountThe goal of your social media account(s) is to drive potential clients to your website and to contact you for a shoot. You don't need to present your work on every social media platform, just the ones where your audience spends its time. That might be Pinterest, Instagram, YouPic, Flickr, or something else, where you show your favorite new shots, trade tips, and more.
As your photography business growsAs your business grows, collect your media mentions into a press section and add a testimonial section with photos, embedded reviews from Yelp and other sites, and thank-yous from satisfied clients. These elements add social proof that can win you even more new clients. Keep updating your portfolio and follow our blog for tips on properly pricing your services, tracking your time, and more tips for business success.
Enjoy a Successful Workcation by Answering These 5 QuestionsPart of the appeal of running an online business is the freedom from being anchored to a particular location. Another plus is that your online business can help fund your travel. Before you strike out for a working vacation, there are a few things to plan and do for a productive and relaxing experience. Use this guide to make sure you can reach your clients and customers, get your work done, stay on budget, and enjoy yourself while you're working (far) away from home.
1. What does “work from anywhere” mean to you?“Working from anywhere” covers a range of possibilities from writing copy at the local roller rink (true story) to consulting with clients during your month in the Caribbean to roaming the globe for years while teaching online. In this article, we'll focus on working remotely within in your own country or abroad for a relatively short period of time. Most countries issue travel visas for up to three months, so consider that a good upper limit for getting started. If you're interested in fully embracing the nomad-worker lifestyle -- moving from country to country for months or even years while you work -- you may want to take a few practice trips using these tips before you level up.
2. How will you connect with your customers or clients?Where you go determines how you make calls and get online while you're away from your home base. Phone and internet access If you're traveling domestically, your phone and internet access shouldn't change much, but you may want to check the strength of wireless coverage and speed of internet access with your hotel, landlord, or home-stay host before you go. When you're going abroad, make sure you'll have a working phone and reliable internet. For international voice, text, and data, you can buy an in-country access plan from your US carrier and use your existing phone and SIM card overseas. These plans aren't cheap, though. For example, AT&T's Passport packages range from $40 per month for 200MB of data to $120 per month for 800MB of data and voice calls priced from $1 to 35 cents per minute. If you'll be out of WiFi hotspot range frequently or make a lot of calls, the international add-on option may not be cost-effective. If you just want a backup plan and the cost isn't an issue, an add-on package is an easy way to get access abroad, although it's a good idea to find out which in-country network they partner with and confirm coverage at your destination. That's important because in some countries, reliable cell service is limited to cities and major tourist areas. If you're going off the beaten path, you may need to find other options. Work-abroad author Kathleen Peddicord's recommendation for travelers is to buy a local prepaid SIM card for your unlocked phone as soon as you arrive in your destination country in order to have a local number and inexpensive wireless service. However, with the local SIM card in your phone, your US phone number won't work. For that reason, some work-abroad travelers follow travel writer Rick Steves' suggestion to pick up a separate prepaid phone when they arrive or keep a separate unlocked phone just for in-country use. For those times when you need to work on your laptop with internet access, in-country co-working spaces, coffee shops, and hotels can cover you for free or with a paid pass. HotelWiFiTest is a handy tool for checking WiFi speed and pricing at hotels worldwide. To protect your business data, it's a good idea to use a VPN like the one that comes for free with the Opera browser. Power supplies and reliability Headed overseas? You may need to buy a plug adapter and maybe a voltage converter for your laptop and phone. Research power reliability before you go, too. You're unlikely to face outages in major cities, but rural areas and less-developed locales may have power outages often enough to disrupt your work. Time zones If your business is based in North America and you keep regular office hours, the Caribbean and Central and South America are probably your best options for working vacations, thanks to the time zones. People can and do work abroad from Europe and Asia with clients in the US, but it takes more planning and careful management of your client's communication expectations to pull that off.
3. What about emergencies?It's always smart to be prepared in case of a professional or personal emergency, and a little planning before you go can save you serious hassles on the road. Professional emergency planning Keep the customer service numbers for your web host, shipping carrier, and merchant bank with you. Upload copies of any work-related documents you create while you're away to the cloud so you can reach them even if you lose your laptop or phone. If have employees back home, establish a reliable way to contact each other if something weird comes up. Better yet, delegate local mini-crisis management to a trusted employee before you go. Personal preparedness Even if you're not leaving the country, it's a good idea to touch base with your health insurer to learn your options if you need care while you're traveling. Most US-based insurers cover emergency care abroad, but you'll have to pay out of pocket up front and then file a claim. For more coverage while you're abroad, comparison shop travel insurance providers or use InsureMyTrip to find quotes. You may be surprised by how much inexpensive travel medical coverage is. For example, coverage for a month in Panama would cost me between $43 and $50. At that price, there's no reason to skip coverage, especially because travel medical policies usually include medical evacuation coverage – a huge savings in the unlikely event that you have a serious problem and need to get home for extended medical care.
4. Are your travel documents in order?For international working vacations, you'll need your passport and you may need a visa. Whether that's a tourist or work visa also depends on the rules of your destination country. Benny Lewis, an online language instructor who's been working while traveling for more than a decade, has written about how online work is tricky to categorize when you travel. In general, if you're not earning money from clients in your destination country, you're not “working.” Ultimately it's up to you to make sure you stay on the right side of the rules, so check before you go.
5. How will you access your money?Between international ATM fees imposed by your bank and foreign exchange fees levied by your credit card, you can end up spending more than you expect on every transaction abroad. To avoid these fees, look for cards and accounts that don't charge for foreign transactions and withdrawals. Nerdwallet, Kathleen Peddicord and the New York Times Charles Schwab's checking account options for no-fee international ATM withdrawals. For credit cards, Nerdwallet offers a yearly list of the best foreign-transaction-fee-free options. Business income is another thing to plan ahead. If your shop has a merchant account or if your clients pay you through PayPal or direct deposit, you're already set. If your clients pay by check and you'll be away from home for more than one billing cycle, move them to an electronic payment method before you head out. Your “workcation” can give you a much-needed change of scene, let you catch up with distant friends and family, or help you preview a place where you might like to move later —all while earning an income. By following these steps, it can be a relatively low-stress, high-reward experience that gets easier every time you take your business on the road.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Want a Better Retirement? Start an Online BusinessA comfortable retirement at age 65 used to be a standard part of the American dream, but these days, many adults keep working well past that age. Others—about 20% -- say they never expect to retire. Why the change in expectations? Retirement's expensive, and some people are afraid it will be dull, too. Part-time work and self-employment offer a middle path that can give you post-retirement income, something to do, and more freedom to control your schedule. Even if you're not ready to quit your day job any time soon, starting an online business on the side now can help you transition to retirement when you're ready.
Why work past retirement age?More Americans seniors (age 65 and older) are working now than at any point since 2000, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center. Nineteen percent of this age group works full- or part-time, and over-65s are the only age group with rising employment rates. Experts say the trend is due to the fact that retirement—especially healthcare—is increasingly expensive, especially as average life expectancies grow. There are emotional reasons for working, too. Some workers enjoy their jobs and don't want to give up careers they've spend years building. Extroverts may shudder at the idea of giving up the workplace relationships they've developed, while introverts may stress out at the thought of having to establish new social connections after retirement. And plenty of people have kicked around the idea of changing careers or moving to a dream destination if they could afford to do so.
Working past retirement with an online businessAn online business can help older workers – and younger ones, too – meet these goals. Whether you want to retire altogether from your current career, keep working half-time, or pack up and work from Central America or Thailand, an online business may be a way to achieve your goals while still earning money. An online business can provide a low-overhead way to earn income Starting an online business isn't free, but it does spare you some major expenses like commercial rent and commuting costs. This post covers the must-haves for starting an online business so you can price your options and build a budget. If you're not close to retirement age yet, that just means you have more time to research, plan, and save for your online business. An online business can help you change careers or shift gears Maybe you're an accountant who's always dreamed of running a screen-printing business. Maybe you're an advertising account manager who would rather consult one-on-one with your own clients. Or maybe you're one of the many Americans who's gradually aging out of a physically demanding job like housekeeping, landscaping or construction. The New York Times reported in 2016 that some older blue-collar workers are switching gears to become mentors in their fields, switching to desk jobs, or becoming their own bosses. By developing an online business model for a new career or consulting role, you can make the transition more easily when you're ready. An online business can help you stay busy and engaged If the idea of staying home with your tech and your online store sounds like heaven, you already understand one benefit of owning an online business. But online business ownership isn't just for loners. There's a huge and always-growing list of local, regional, and national events that cater to or include online business owners so you can network and pick up new professional skills. The Small Business Administration has a national calendar of in-person and online events for business owners that you can search by location and date. Many of these events are free or inexpensive and provide information new and experienced owners can use. Some of the topics on offer as of this writing are Quickbooks instruction, accessing capital for your business, guerilla marketing techniques, and business plan development. If you thrive on big, high-energy events and have the time and budget to attend them, Inc. has a great list of some of the most popular options for small business owners. Your state or city may hold annual business expos, and just about every town has a business group that meets regularly for networking lunches and social time. Online retailers can extend their reach into the community by vending at fairs and other special events. Vending can be a great way to connect with shoppers who want to see and touch the merchandise before they buy or who want to get to know your story and learn about your process. And your online shop is a great way to promote these live events. An online business gives you the option to live anywhere Especially if your business provides creative services (writing, web design) or professional advice (consulting), you're free to work from just about any place that offers reliable electricity and internet access. Some people go full digital nomad and travel from place to place while running their business, as Heather Wilde did while she helped to found Evernote from a sailboat and an RV. Others take their online business with them when they move to a retirement destination that's more affordable than the US. Latin America is an especially popular destination for working retirees, thanks to the comparatively low cost of living in most locations, access to good health care, the number of English-speaking expat communities, and shared time zones with clients based in the US.
Figuring out your online business pathStarting an online business costs less up front than starting a brick-and-mortar business, but it requires the same kind of careful planning and preparation. Here are more tools to help you move forward:
- Read our quick guide to the 11 things you'll need to do to start your online business.
- Download the free HostGator Guide to Launching Your Home Business for how-to tips on everything from deciding if you should be your own boss to filing your new-business paperwork and developing products and services.
- Get inspired by these 50 online business ideas.
Monday, August 21, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
How Holiday Shipping Surcharges Can Impact Your SalesUPS has announced it will tack on extra fees for shipments sent out during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday as well as the week before Christmas to help cover the costs of meeting high demand. Analysts say the UPS holiday shipping surcharges—ranging from 27 cents to $2.99 for standard packages, depending on the shipping speed and date--will to hit small-to-medium online retailers hardest. Here's what you need to know about the new charges and how your business can stay competitive this holiday season.
Why is UPS raising its holiday shipping rates?The holiday gift delivery season is an exceptionally busy time for shippers, with an average of 30 million packages a day moving via UPS during the 2016 holidays, according to Reuters. Besides huge volume, the combination of inflexible holiday deadlines and winter weather can snarl even the most carefully crafted logistics. To handle package volume and to meet retailer and customer expectations, shippers have to hire thousands of seasonal employees, operate and fuel more trucks, run more flights, and cover all those costs. Hence the holiday surcharges, which some writers have compared to surge pricing charged by ride-share services when demand is high.
How might the UPS move affect small online sellers?Higher shipping costs during the holiday season may put smaller sellers at a competitive disadvantage. Amazon, Walmart and other major e-retailers can afford to cover the holiday surcharges, but most small businesses can't—at least not without taking a disproportionate hit to their profit margins. Chain retailers that offer buy-online-pick-up-in-store can avoid the surcharges altogether on those orders, because UPS is only adding the surcharges to residential deliveries. If you're thinking of simply passing on the extra shipping costs to your customers, think again. Nearly 90 percent of online shoppers say free shipping is the incentive they value most. If you can't offer a great deal on shipping, your holiday shoppers will likely move on to the next retailer. That's why it's critical that you figure out your pricing, shipping, marketing, and cost-control plans for the holiday shopping season now.
What do the surcharges mean for your holiday pricing and shipping?Now is a good time to review your store's shipping options, but keep in mind that surcharges for holiday shipping may not be limited to UPS. Although FedEx hasn't announced a holiday price hike as of this writing, the Wall Street Journal has reported that some analysts expect the company to make a similar move. On the other hand, if you find a better deal with another carrier that won't tack on a holiday sales surcharge, enjoy the advantage that comes with being a nimble small business – many large retailers are already locked into their shipping plans for November and December. If switching carriers isn't an option for you, consider adjusting your pricing ahead of the holidays to recoup all or part of the surcharges. You may wonder why customers would accept a slightly higher price instead paying a shipping fee. It's because of psychology. As Tom Popomaronis writes at Forbes, free shipping is “about the perception of saving money, feeling like you snagged a deal.” We want free shipping, even though we all know the cost is baked into the item price. So bake it in if you can do so without hurting your competitiveness.
What do shipping surcharges mean for your holiday marketing?The situation isn't all bad for smaller online sellers. Your business has some advantages, especially the ability to develop strong relationships with individual customers and pivot quickly to explore new holiday marketing approaches right now. Here are some options to consider. Focus on excellent service and individual attention to customers, especially repeat buyers and those who have sent holiday gifts from your shop in the past. Do you offer gift wrap, e-gift cards, or a yearly gift reminder service? Now's the time to consider adding them. Promote holiday deals ahead of Black Friday or from December 2 – 17 to work around shipping surcharges. Work on your upsell strategy to make each order more profitable. Does your shop have a “you may also like” widget on your product and cart pages? Now's the time to look into adding one. Explain your shipping policies clearly on your site. Whether you decide to absorb holiday shipping surcharges or pass them on to your customers, it's a good idea to let customers know what they can expect and why so they can make an informed decision.
Other holiday shipping tipsKenny Kline at the Huffington Post put together a helpful list of shipping tips for e-commerce sellers that can help you cut costs year-round. They include:
- Pack orders with size, weight, and item protection in mind. The smaller and lighter your packages, the less you'll pay. Just make sure that the items you ship are fully protected.
- Look for freebies. A friend of mine who owns a thriving online vintage jewelry business regularly puts out calls on social media for leftover bubble wrap and boxes. Her network gets to recycle their packing materials and she gets free supplies – win-win.
- Skip the carriers' package insurance and go with a third-party insurance provider. In some cases, making this switch can make up for holiday shipping surcharges. For example, Shipsurance offers rates that are 44 to 97% lower than UPS and FedEx, who charge as much as $2.70 for a package worth up to $100. At 44% off, that's a savings of $1.18 of $2.70 carrier-provided insurance.