For many years now I have been nagged by a loud thought: “MY WEBSITE NEEDS WORK!” As my practice required that I start calling myself a ‘professional’ more and more, my online presence was not keeping up.
I built the website myself, 7 years ago, without any real knowledge of html or internet/ search engine protocols, equipped only with huge amounts of tenacity and brute force. It was a completely bespoke, drop-and-drag design that felt (and smelled) MINE, and I always loved the way my websites looked: no boxes, no straight lines, no generic templates. But the site was built on a platform, which is no longer supported, and as a result there were a lot of problems with navigation, loading times and online visibility, which compounded as technology advanced.
At the same time, the thought of paying many thousands of dollars for some corporate, glossy looking site, designed by someone who pumps out money-making websites for a living, filled me with dread.
This is not me! But then, what IS me?
I deemed the problem ‘too hard’ and at the same time, ‘not urgent enough’. Hence nothing was done and the nagging voice continued. Then COVID ruined my plans only to offer up new opportunities.
In late 2019, Western Australia Department of Local Government Sports and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) awarded me a grant to travel to Bologna, Italy, for a 2020 Book Fair. It was to be my big break into the European market. HA! You know what happened next, right?
My grant money ended-up frozen in airline tickets for over 16 months. When I finally did manage to retrieve most of it, I was faced with a new problem: how to spend it in the name of ‘self-development’ so that my grant could at last be acquitted. And this is when I hear that nagging voice once more…
After years of developing, re-developing and running my site, I had a pretty good idea of what components I wanted and the overall ‘feel’ of the site. I just needed someone to organise my ideas, prioritise user-experience and chuck the whole thing onto WordPress, (because it doesn’t look like that platform is going anywhere, anytime soon!)
Then the research begun.
* Looking through many websites of fellow comic makers and visual storytellers, taking notes on what worked and what didn’t.
* Looking at websites of local web design companies and comparing packages on offer. (It’s not as expensive as I initially thought, if you shop around!)
* Talking on the phone with my shortlisted companies, and noting down the vocabulary and development stages mentioned, so I can communicate my ideas better in the future.
* Making a list of things I absolutely wanted at the end of the process, including: ability to back up and maintain my site without any ongoing contracts, no ongoing plug-in subscriptions and no other ongoing costs that as a small business I simply can’t afford.
After an intense month of the above, I found PerthWEB: a well-established and people-focussed local company. The worries about translating my exuberant visions into dry HTML dispelled rather quickly. In fact, my web designer knew a lot about the workings of the local children’s literature sector, having previously worked for them, and so making a site that met my needs – visibility and work showcase rather than direct sales – was not a problem.
The job took 12 weeks from the initial consult to the website launch date, and involved me having to do a lot of (further) planning, image preparation, testing and more research. I was confused at several points along the way and occasionally misunderstood what was going to happen next, but the PerthWEB designer team were very patient and generous with their time and advice. Turns out that asking ‘dumb questions’ is actually really helpful in becoming less ‘dumb’. Lol. Overall, I feel that once I had the vocabulary to describe my ideas, it was more possible to make the process tailored to me and my needs, and give me the power to control the direction of my website’s development.
I’d like to thank DLGSC for their patience over the last two years of uncertainty, as I re-booked flights and extended grant deadlines. Although it is a bummer that Bologna did not happen, (CooooooVID!!!!!!), I am so very grateful for the opportunity to re-purpose the funds to develop my new website. A website which is already bringing in more queries and visitors, AND is enchanting my audience to stay and browse for longer.
If you are thinking about building a professional website and are feeling a bit lost in it all, I strongly suggest making a robust plan, taking time to look at other websites and asking your peers for feedback. Then talking to the pros – most of them are happy to chat before you sign any contracts. I’ve learned that making a good website is not just about handing the project over to the right designer, but also about the work and preparation that you yourself put in.