048: A Complete Guide for Launching your Artist's Portfolio Site.

The Launch Checklist For An Artist's Website

A step-by-step guide for all you need to do before you launch a Squarespace Website.

You are an artist. Illustrator, calligrapher, pottery maestro, photographer, musician, maker of hand-made crafts and goods - these are just a few examples of what I mean when I think "artist". I live in an area of Western North Carolina which is rich in inspiration provided by nature's beauty. And where there's natural beauty, there are artists who are drawn to it.

(If you are interested, go to Google Maps and take a look at the southern tip of the Appalachian mountains. You will find the Pisgah and Cherokee National forests with breathtaking beauty surrounding the area of Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, NC.)

A website is important in 2019!
Artists tend to be wonderful at showcasing their work locally at art events, festivals and farmers' markets. But where they also need to be is online. It is 2018, after all, and soon to be 2019!

A good website is very important for several reasons from presenting your portfolio, showcasing your biography, sharing your creative process and increasingly, for selling your creations to a world wide market with ease and speed. I will go into all the reasons in a different post some time down the road. Just having a Facebook page is simply not enough!

Building a website can feel like a daunting task
But building a website or hiring a website can feel like a daunting task. Understandably so! There are a gazillion bits and pieces that need to be taken care of. That's why you have countless website design professionals such as myself who offer their services to take onboard your vision and give it form on a website. However, that can be costly ranging anywhere from $1600 to several thousand dollars. If you are ready for the adventure and want to do-it-yourself (DIY) then this post is exactly what you need to start off.

The Artist's Launch Checklist
So, if you are an artist or serving an artist community in your region, have a careful look at the following checklist. I walk you through all the most important steps you will need to take before a website can be launched. There will still be many details involved but this is a good overview so you know what is involved.

Although it can be applied generally to those other than artists, this checklist is specifically for artists, as well but there are some important elements that are unique to artists.

A complete checklist of all that you need to do before launching your artists' website

The first step, of course, is to decide whether you want to DIY your site or hire a designer. This list below is what you will need to do if you decide to go build your site. 

Before You Start: 

Choose a website building platform
There are many options out there and I will say the cliched phrase, "there's never been a better time than now" to build your own site! Your options are Squarespace, Wordpress, Wix, Weebly among the top platforms.

I am a Squarespace pro and I choose Squarespace for building my own site and exclusively design client sites on Squarespace, mostly because I find it has a user-friendly dashboard making it very easy for small businesses, not-for-profits and individuals to update and maintain. Plus, there are tons of resources both from the Squarespace team and a huge number of Squarespace experts on your beck and call to help. If you want to know all my reasons why I choose Squarespace everytime, read this blog post.
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NOTE: The rest of the steps apply specifically to building a site on Squarespace. You can extrapolate it for Wordpress or others but the specifics will be different. I will only share here of what I feel confident will be helpful to you from my point of view as a Squarespace expert.
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8 Steps to Website Launch!

There are 8 steps before your site is ready for launch. I've laid this out in detail below. But here's an overview:

Overview of 8 Steps
Step 1 | Site Goals Prep
Step 2 | Design Prep
Step 3 | Content Prep
Step 4 | Site Front-end Design
Step 5 | Site Front-end Content
Step 6 | Site Backend
Step 7 | Site Backend Conversion
Step 8 | Launch!

Here we go!


Step 1 | Site Goals Prep 
These are the things you will do even before you open up your Squarespace account. This is the conceptual phase where you think of your main goals for your site. Get a pen and paper and start brainstorming!

  1. Decide on your # 1 goal:
    Deciding your No. 1 goal for your website is key because it will help you make all the other decisions much more easily. Do you want your site to be a digital showcase of your work primarily? Do you want to build a following? Do you want to sell prints of your work, the actual pieces themselves or fill out events? Do you want to inspire other artists and creatives with the mind-set challenges, show them the ropes of your art, share with them your wisdom and knowledge? This will also help you know how many pages you will need to achieve your goal.
     
  2. Decide on your secondary goals
    A site can achieve many goals. Your # 1 goal or the primary goal will be most important. But knowing your secondary goals will help in the nitty-gritty details. For example, if your primary goal is to sell prints of your artwork, your secondary goal could be to demonstrate your creative process that went into designing that piece of artword and that would influence whether you blog or video record about it.
     
  3. List what pages you need to convey the goals of your site
    Your no. 1 goal give you your main focus for your site. From there, you will know what content to place on your site, what key actions you want your visitor to do. Remember design is important but functionality of your site is even more important. Write out all the pages that will serve your goal. Examples of pages for an artist: Portfolio, About, Contact, Blog, Shop/Events, Resources. This is important so that you can easily choose an annual plan on Squarespace where # of pages and ecommerce functionality determine your costs.
     
  4. Chart which pages go in the top and footer navigation and which will remain unlinked.
    Think of the architecture blue print of a house. There is a reason why some rooms are on the lower level, while others are upstairs. A kitchen is most likely on the lower floor because you will access it three times a day (at least) for your daily meals. A bedroom is tucked away on the upper level so that it is a quiet refuge from the hustle-bustle of activity in the rest of the house. Think of your website in that way. What is the most important point you want to achieve? Those corresponding pages go in top navigation. Those that are supplementing or supporting pages but still important, can go in the footer.

Step 2 | Design Prep
This is what you will do for preparing for your layout, the visual aesthetics of your site - an important part of your process.

  1. Choose a template for your site: 
    Every Squarespace site comes with a template. The template gives you a starting point for your design and layout of your site visually. Squarespace templates are grouped in families. So there many be several templates grouped under one family who all behave and function in a similar way. Squarespace has demo sites for each template so you can give that a look. I am also creating a guide on how to select a template in my blog posts.

    Tip: If you just want to shortcut that process, start with any template in the Brine Family. This template family is the most versatile and has the most options of all template families.
     
  2. Pick 2-3 fonts
    I tend to go for a minimalist approach when it comes to picking fonts. So pick no more than 3 fonts. This is also becoming an industry standard for modern websites. Here are some resources on how to pick a font.
     
  3. Pick 3 colors for your fonts:
    Again like point 2, less is more. Choose one color for your body text font, one for headlines and one for links and buttons. You can have another color for design elements. On my site, I have two colors for my fonts. A dark grey for headlines and main body text, and mango yellow for links and buttons. I use burgundy red in my logo and other graphic elements such as my YouTube thumbnail and Facebook thumbnails. 

    Tip: Don't worry too much about the colors because as you learn more about what you want, you can easily switch the colors. For starters, focus 3 colors only: for main body text; headlines; and link+button colors only.
     
  4. Have your logo ready:
    Get a logo for your website designed by a graphic artist. Or create one on Canva or PicMonkey if you enjoy that. You can also create a text logo inside Squarespace - a paid feature for everyone but free for you as a Squarespace customer.

    Tip: You can always get a logo down the road also. So don't let this be an obstacle. You can insert a text title in place of your logo in the meantime. 
     
  5. Collect good quality photos for your site in a stand-by folder:
    Photos make a big difference. As an artist, you will most likely use a lot of your own photos to talk about your process and showcase your creations and items for sale. But you may choose to get nice background images to break up text. You can get stock photos (free or paid) or organize a photo shoot for brand photos. See an example of how I use stock photos to break up text content in a website I designed for a writer's club. 

    Tip: There are tons of places you can get free, hi-quality photos. I've put together some resources to help you find them.
    See blog post 045: 51 resources for free stock photos to use on your Squarespace site.
     
  6. Prepare your images before uploading to site:
    This is a very important step for artists because generally your site will be image-heavy. The more images of hi-resolution you have, the slower your pages will load. And Google notices that and marks negatively towards search engine results. So format your images before loading it into your pages. Read my guideline for image formatting.


Step 3 | Content Prep
This is where you write out content for all your main pages.

  1. Build out your page content:
    You will start writing copy for all the main pages. I would suggest that you craft your content in a word processor and save it first. Then you copy and past that text into Squarespace.

    Tip: There is no auto-save feature in Squarespace, so if you forget to save, you may lose your content. As you get more comfortable, you can write straight into Squarespace.
     
  2. (Bonus): Write a couple of blog articles
    I say this is a bonus because it can be very overwhelming to start a blog and I rather that it not become an obstacle for launching your site. You can always build out your blog bit by bit.

    Tip: Don't postpone it too long because the content on your blog will greatly help your site be found in Google Searches. 

Step 4 | Site Frontend Design
n this phase, you begin to build out your navigation, create the page layout and implant your text and images. If you've got a shop or a blog, you can start off with one or two of them and build it out gradually to avoid overwhelm.

  1. Stick with the current template or install new template:
    When you start your Squarespace account, you will be asked to pick a template. If you did your prep work and selected the right template, great. You don't have to do anything. But if you just picked a template without doing the due diligence on it, then now is the time to go a bit deeper into your research and see which template is the best fit for your website needs. Then go into your dashboard back end and switch the template.
     
  2. Move all demo pages into unlinked or delete them:
    All templates come with a set of "demo" pages. You guessed it right, they are all meant to serve as a demo or a demonstration of what is possible in that template. Many will uste the demo pages as their starting point whereas others like to start off on a blank canvas. In either case, I suggest you move all demo pages into the "Not Linked" Section. This way, they are not filling up your main navigation. If you choose to use them, just click on them and create a page just like it. Otherwise you can simply click the trash icon and delete those pages. I show you how to do all of this in my online workshop.

    Note: You may do Step 4.3 and 4.4 together.
  3. Select the fonts for all texts:
    Next, go into the Style Editor and set the right fonts for all your text content. This includes headers (H1, H3 and H3), main body text, navigation fonts and footer fonts.
     
  4. Select the colors for body text, header and links/buttons:
    You can set your text and link/button colors to match your branding colors. See Step 2.3 on that.

Step 5 | Site Frontend Content
In this phase, you begin to build out your navigation, create the page layout and implant your text and images. If you've got a shop or a blog, you can start off with one or two of them and build it out gradually to avoid overwhelm.

Tip: Review SEO Checklist points before beginning this part.
Tip: Either use the demo pages that come with your template or start from scratch.

  1. Create and build out your page content
    Add text and image content. Create Home page, About page, Portfolio and Contact pages. Create all pages for the footer as well. Add images on all pages make sure to use keywords behind images. Your portfolio page is important so take your time in building that out. Know that you can always add more. Start with the least viable product and then add more later.

    Tip: For SEO (search engine optimization), use only one H1 header on each page.
     
  2. Build out top navigation pages:
    Now that all the pages are created, drag the important pages into the Main Navigation inside your Squarespace dashboard.
     
  3. Build out footer navigation pages:
    Do the same for the footer. Put the supporting pages into the footer by dragging them in your side panel.
     
  4. Build out any unlinked pages:
    There will be some pages you want to link from within your page but not show up in the top or footer navigation. These can be easily moved into the unlinked section.
     
  5. Design the footer
    You may like to change the background colors or font colors here.
     
  6. Bonus: Create your blog, create your shop
    I say this is a bonus because some of you may not have items for your shop all ready. And some of you may not be prepared to start writing about your work. By the way, the simplest way to have blog posts is to put up work-in-progress images of your art and write short descriptions for each stage. 

    Tip: Remember a website is a living breathing organism and it will grow and evolve in time. Don't put off launching your site until you have every detail perfected (an artist's pet peeve but also affecting a lot of us!). Remember you want your site to be found and the sooner it is launched, the sooner it can start creating SEO juice for your future, making it more easily found by your audience down the road. Makes sense? I hope so :)

Step 6 | Site Backend
Step 6 and 7 are your final steps before launch. Now it is time to get the nitty-gritty details of the backend of your site squared away so you can launch your site.

  1. Purchase Squarespace Plan: 
    Review the pricing plans on Squarespace and get your credit card ready. Note that if you are a participant in my online workshop, you get a 20% off discount code because of me being a Squarespace Authorized Trainer. So maybe you want to look into getting some training before you DIY your site.

    Tip: Annual plans are cheaper than going month-to-month.
     
  2. Buy/Transfer domain name
    This is your website URL which can be the same as your name if you are an artist, or it could be your studio's name or business name.

    Tip: You can buy your domain name with one click inside Squarespace which saves a lot of time as you won't have to do the configuration and tech stuff that comes when you buy the domain name from another place such as GoDaddy or JooHost, etc. My suggestion is to keep it simple, get out of the tech mess and get the domain from Squarespace.
     
  3. Add Logo/Site title:
    If you've got a logo ready, now it is time to upload it. You can alternatively use a text title for your site which will be visible on the top of your site.
     
  4. Fill out site description:
    Write out a short 2 sentence para describing what your site is about.
     
  5. Add favicon: 
    This is what is seen on left of your tab as you open your pages. My favicon is a burgundy red colored kitty, which you can see right now on the tab!

    Tip: You create one inside a free tool such as Canva or PicMonkey or inside Squarespace in the logo making tool.
     
  6. Turn on HTTPs and AMP:
    This will make your site secured (HTTPS instead of HTTP). And it will make your website better viewed on mobile devices. Being AMP friendly is another point won in the eyes of Google!

Step 7 | Site Backend Conversion

  1. Do all SEO items on SEO checklist
    This is important. My workshop participants get an SEO guide and checklist so they know what things they need to do for crossing off the most important SEO tasks.
     
  2. Set-up list building form ex. newsletter signup
    Make sure you select an email newsletter so your visitors can get updates and messages from you periodically. There are many out there both for a monthly fee as well as free.

    Tip: Mailchimp and MailerLite are two free options (at least until certain number of subscribers). Mailchimp is integrated inside Squarespace which makes it a great one to start off for your first website. ConvertKit is one of the paid options.
     
  3. Set-up integration with third party apps:
    If you need other elements such as a booking app, you can now go about integrating these.

    Tip: When you use Squarespace, for certain plans, you get free access to one of the plans on Acuity, which is an app for scheduling meetings.
     
  4. Connect all your social media accounts
    You can connect your website to all your social media accounts. 
     
  5. Disable Squarespace badge
    There's a small badge on the bottom of your site that says that your site is built on Squarespace. You can disable that badge from your dashboard.

Step 8 | Launch!
You did it! What an achievement!! Now it is time to tell all your friends, family and peers about your new website. Get your visiting cards printed and begin sharing your link in your email footer! 

Well, I hope this detailed step-by-step guide gives you what you need to decide if you want to DIY your site. And if you do choose to go that route, then you have a nice overview of everything you need to get done before launching your new website. 

Good luck and have fun on this amazing adventure!

~ Peace, Sophia

Hello there! Glad to meet you.

Sophia Ojha Squarespace Web Design ConvertKit Mailerlite

I am Sophia - the person behind this website. My intention is to provide useful content that helps solopreneurs, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations to build trust with their audience, grow the number of beloved fans as well as happy clients. I'm a Squarespace Authorized Trainer and a Certified ConvertKit Expert.

I love helping people through producing my weekly video tutorials and blogs, live workshops and online courses. Also, I work directly with clients in all aspects of content and email marketing strategy + implementation as well as designing high-converting Squarespace websites.  Let me know in the comments if you've got a question and I'd be happy to help.

 

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