This article appears here as a courtesy of "Clay Times" magazine.
Develop Your Own Potter's Website
by Tim Eberhardt
Do you want to construct a desktop web site in a couple of hours? With no special software, no special know-how? Read this then hit the web site mentioned below. You can have a basic website in a few hours. Promise. This analog article is supported and expanded upon by the digital supplement on the web at "www.newartpottery.com/web/site.html."
Early on, I decided to market myself and since I am devoted to remaining a one-man studio and I can't make "that" many pots, I wondered if the web might be for me. Would a web site, in the course of a year, be as profitable as doing an expensive, laborious and time consuming out-of-town show? The best show I do every year takes a week, cost me about $1500 and grosses me about $18,000. Could a website do that? The answer for me is "yes." Naturally I found it would take longer than I thought to gather the tools and knowledge to assemble a site, but every significant learning endeavor always does. Let me quickly tell you how I did it and you decide if it might be a good idea for you.
In September of 2000 I was computer illiterate, so I signed up for two computer courses at the local community college. One class was a six week, one credit hour course entitled "Basic HTML." "Hyper Text Markup Language" is the universal language of the web and all web pages are described using HTML. You can view the HTML of any web page by going to "View" and clicking "Page Source" when using Netscape or "View>Source" when using Internet Explorer. I admit I was initially lost in the HTML class, but fortunately I had a helpful, patient fellow sitting next to me. But more importantly, HTML is so simple it does not take much to understand the basic aspects of it. And you can build a fine looking site using only the basics. How simple is HTML? Mastering HTML is little more than knowing the HTML "tags." The tag "<br>" means break or skip a line. Type the tag "<hr>" and it means put a horizontal rule (a line) across the page. The tag "<center>" means to put whatever follows in the center of the page while the tag "</center>" instructs the web browser to stop putting whatever follows in the middle of the page. You must admit, that is pretty basic. There are something like 127 of these tags that compose the world of HTML. I use maybe 25 of them and I have a large and fairly elaborate looking site.
The second class I took was a semester long, three credit course entitled "Web Site Design" and it was offered through the Art Department. The beauty of going through the Art Department, as opposed to the IT Department, was that the class was approached as a studio course. No books, no assignments, no tests; the only requirement was to build a web site around a personal interest and have it uploadable for the web by Christmas. That's my kind of class!
When I first entered the class, I talked to the instructor and told him that I wanted to construct a simple, basic and universal site. I had a basic grasp of HTML and I knew I wanted a site constructed using only HTML. So when the instructor was demonstrating how to devise moving graphics or touting the abilities of "Flash," I turned my back and started typing in HTML. That was fine with him since it was a studio course.
Once you learn the very basics of HTML, you can start generating web pages on your computer's desktop. You don't need a web address to compose and view your web site. You do everything on your computer, get everything just the way you want it, view it just as if it was on the web, then you upload to the web. Once you are in the swing of the procedures, updating and uploading the site on to the web is a breeze.
That is the "what you need to know" part. What about the equipment needed? As far as hardware is concerned, you need an online computer, a digital camera to take pictures and software to "optimize" the photos. "Optimize" means to make the file size of a photo as small as possible and still have it look good. I'll make camera recommendations on the "free-website." A scanner would be helpful, but not a necessity. It boils down to you have to be able to produce and manipulate digital images. Adobe Photoshop is probably the best software for this, but it is expensive and complicated, yet very powerful. I recommend that when you are enrolled in an academic institution, you buy the academic version of Photoshop. It will cost you $250 versus the regular price of $600. More about software -and Photoshop in particular- on the "free-website" pages.
Approximate equipment costs? Camera: $500. Software: $250. If I were to count the purchase of my two year old Mac for $600 in with these costs, I hit that $1500 mark-the cost of that one out of town show. Those are the time and monetary costs involved before getting on the web. And the return? Right now my site averages $1500 a month in sales. Well worth it.
Once you have your hardware, your software and your website functioning on your desktop (and I can get you to that point in a couple of hours from now), you have to get on the web and set up shop.
The first thing you do is purchase a domain name. This is your "www" address, your URL (Uniform Resource Locater), that allows people to identify and find you. Generally, your domain name is the same as your URL. Think of it as the address on your front door. You can "rent" your domain name from any number of vendors. I use "www.ns.com" and it costs $14 a year. The domain name you choose could reflect what you make, as mine does: "www.newartpottery.com," or it could be your name, perhaps "www.lindasmith.com," or perhaps your existing business name like "www.snakecreekpottery.com." The ".com" means commerce. It means, "I am a business; take me seriously." You can have a site at your current email address, but don't bother. Nobody will find you and they won't take you seriously.
Next, you have to pay an "ISP" (internet service provider) to rent you some space on a server to hold all your data that people will click and view. I pay $25 a month for the most basic service from SBC Communications. It allows me 200 megabytes of space and 25 email addresses. 200 megs is a lot of space. The only other cost to get your site up and running- and it is optional- is either a DSL or cable connection. It is optional, but virtually a necessity. Monthly cost is $45 or so. Shop around for these services; prices vary.
Specific information about a plan to get yourself noticed on the web is to be found in the digital supplement on the "free-website." There is too much information to print here.
What about the time involved in being online? You will find that you will be at the computer more often. If you are a business, you have to tend to business. Being online is encouraging and there is a constant feeling of anticipation, because you never know when you will make contact with someone and perhaps sell a pot. You will also meet people at random and strike up e-friendships.
Maintenance depends on what you sell and how intimate your site is. My pots average about $400 a piece. When I am glazing, I like to update every six weeks or so. When I do update, it takes me a long day -10 to 12 hours- to generate all the photos and HTML pages- one per pot- and upload the changes. Then I send out an e-mail announcing the update and wait. Sending out an update notice is just like opening a kiln. Next time you open your e-mail, there may be a lot of surprises. After my last update, I sold $6000 in pots the following week. Was I excited! And no middleman; no gallery taking 50%. I would imagine that if you are a production person selling $50 pots, the whole process will be different to you. The work-to-return ratio will be different. Spending an hour getting a $400 pot on the web is different than spending an hour on a $50 pot. You have to decide.
I would guess that a site like mine averages and hour- maybe an hour and a half- a day to run and maintain. And occasionally, you will have to give it half a day at a time. That's what it takes. Twenty-five to sixty-five dollars a month, a little effort and patience and you are part of the web. The possibilities will open up when you are there.
If you have read this and understood what is required for you to get on the web and you want to be on the web, go to my site "www.newartpottery.com/web/site.html." There you will find everything you need to build and view a web site on your desktop. It's free and as simple as I can make it. Though this free site was designed initially to market artwork, it can be used to many different ends, as I will show you. It is an incredible tool. Doors will open. I'll supply all the info and material you will need to get a site up and running. Check it out. I do have to offer one disclaimer. Don't contact me if you have problems. And you will have problems, I assure you. But the answers will be there on my site. You can find them.
I don't have time to make pots as it is.