By far, the most empowering resource for a creative is their digital identity. To create a way for customers, clients and audience to find you online. It can be frustrating knowing where to start, what platform, social channels and tools to use. What makes it confusing is different and conflicting advice you get. Here's a list of steps to take, tips and recommended options to do your due diligence.
What do you want your site to do?
A ~ Sell something
B ~ A way to build my profile, show my work and create an email list
C ~ Both A + B
D ~ I want to create digital products, courses, and build a community. I want full control to be able to scale with flexibility.
Other than your shop, site and social channels. The minimum requirement for building a sustainable business is to create a relationship with people interested in your products or service with an opt-in to subscribe to your list. To receive your news, offers and updates.
The challenge is not choosing a platform. The bigger challenge is it is how long will it take to build, the hidden costs, and the sunk costs if you want to make a change.
a bit of advice
The most important thing is to be real with yourself and not have bigger eyes than your appetite. In other words, don't bite off more than you can chew either with your skill level, the time you have to invest, the pricing options or money to cover outsourcing someone to make the site.
Time is money but it's also a drain on your attention. It is better to create a simple system, get it up online and a platform that is easy to maintain. You don't want the digital side of your business to be a massive time suck. Choose what you need right now with options to expand later.
where to start:
I have created a suite of recommended software providers, tools for starting out, and the next level up suitable for different stages of growth, tech skills and budget.
step 1. The DECISION-MAKING process
Set aside some time to use the trial option of the two platforms I'm considering investing in, based on the criteria above and then go to step two. My decision-making criteria are a combination of:
- Design and usability of the platform are my number one benchmark to pass go before I consider anything features. If the platform ugly, elementary, out of date or too complex, I will not go any further to see if it ticks other boxes.
- What is the training like to learn how to use the software? Is it easy to navigate and find things quickly? Is there a good third party/independent trainer offers a course to speed up the learning process?
- Does it integrate with other services and tools like email providers?
- Cost and return on investment.
- Set aside some time to use the trial option of the two platforms I'm considering investing in, based on the criteria above and then go to step two.
step 2. investment of time & money
How I test and compare which platform comes out on top for both time and money is:
- I found the best way is to start a free account of different platforms at the same time and experience the design, usability and training at the same time.
- Compare the cost against certain features. There may be one feature you need, and it outweighs one of your preferences on step one.
- Also, take into consideration how long you will need to learn the platform.
- How much would you have to invest in outsourcing the design and set up if it's above your skill or time available?
Start where you are - and consider where you want to be
level 1. #Smart Start
You are ready to start your creative business, you need a domain name and start your social media channels. The 'smart start' is to collect emails early to build your audience. You are not sure if you need a site yet, maybe a shop or a landing page will work to get started, and you can build a site later. The new TinyLetter platform is perfect to start a list of contacts to keep in touch with, and you can convert the list to MailChimp or Convertkit when your business grows.
level 2. #Quick Start
You know you want a website to promote your business and attract clients and customers.
Choose a simple platform that you can add a shop. Integrate with an email service that is all you need to get started to grow your business. As a creative, good design is important. Squarespace is popular with photographers, makers and artisans. Either MailChimp and ConvertKit are great email providers for all levels.
level 3. #tech Savvy or Unique design focus
If your site is your calling card as a designer Webflow is one you might like to check out. If you have the skills to use Adobe, you can master Webflow. It may take you some time, but it will match the look and feel for your design ascetic. Either MailChimp or Converkit is a great CRM option for all levels.
level 6. #tech team/scale - all the bells and whistles
You are OR want to be a dedicated digital content marketer, you want options for plugins to offer all the content creation you can muster! You are on a steep learning curve, and comprehensive tools are the right choice for you.
I have paired WordPress and SiteGround hosting because it is a winning combination. Also Thrive Themes because I believe it is the most user-friendly, conversion-focused theme builder on the market. With the addition of an online course plugin. Superior online business courses and tutorials. Either MailChimp or ConvertKit is both a great CRM option for all levels. Active Campaign CRM offers the most flexibility.
These are the tools I use and recommend to help you on your creative digital journey. I have not used the eCommerce tools yet, but both are well recommended.
PLATFORMS & EMAIL PROVIDERS
# SMART TINY START
TINYLETTER FREE MINIMAL EMAIL PROVIDER
landing page + EMAIL
# quick start
GRAPHICS #ADOBE CREATIVE SUITE
Discover New Ways To Collaborate, Create, & Connect With Your Community. Work Better Together, Even When You're Apart. Join Creative Cloud Today. Step-by-step tutorials. Free product updates. Free trial downloads. No internet access needed.
#scale AND FLEXIBILITY
#ACTIVE CAMPAIGN / email provider
you made it to the end ~I hope this simple guide will get you started
the happy ending:
The number of hours I wasted debating which platform or software to use! I hope now some of what I learned will be of use, and save you not only time, frustration, confusion but, a few brain calories as well.
Last words of wisdom. Set aside time to test these tools, CRM's and platform choices. Use your instinct when choosing a platform, software and tools. After learning new software, and creating a workflow, it's hard to unlearn so invest the time upfront so you're not tempted to change.
I started with MailChimp, and later when so many creatives were using Convertkit, I tried it out. But because I'd already invested in the course, Chimpessentials how to maximise and speed up learning the software it was hard to leave. Plus I like the way the platform works and the quirkiness of their brand, so I stayed with Mailchimp. There is no 'one right/best tool or software', there is only the right one for you.
I love the look of Webflow and the ease of Squarespace, but I am a dedicated Thrive Themes advocate. So it's a personal choice. What I've learned is just a person who I had an online business was using a tool or software it wasn't necessarily right for me.
No doubt this topic will be debated a lot in the community.