Your website is your showcase of your talents and it still utterly amazes me how little importance a lot of photographers place on their website, if there is a website at all. You cannot underestimate the power your website has as a marketing tool, it is without a doubt your single most important marketing tool available to you.
If you are not web savvy you should consider hiring a web designer to create you a website specifically for your needs and also someone who will be willing and able to do updates for you as and when you require it. The costs between designers vary enormously, so shop around not only for price, but consider if they produce a search engine friendly site, you like the look of other sites they have made and also that you find them easy to talk to and communicate with.
For those with more knowledge you may want to save yourself some money and design and build your website yourself. There are many options available such as Dreamweaver, SiteBuilder, Rapid Weaver, XSite Pro or Magix Website Maker to name a few. What you choose to work with will ultimately depend upon your knowledge of web design. Your local community college will most likely offer evening classes on web design for those inclined to learn and you will most likely get to make a start on building your website in class!
However you need to decide as a photographer where you want to dedicate your time, as running a small business by yourself means you will often be running the whole show by yourself, donning the hat of administrator, company accountant, sales and marketing executive, as well as that of photographer. Be realistic, do you really have the time or inclination to be your own web designer and to do your own search engine optimisation too? Once your business grows to where you want it to be you will most likely have to employ outside help to undertake some of your least favourite jobs for a start, freeing you up to do what you are good at and also allow you to do what you enjoy doing keeping those creative impulses flowing.
Once you have decided which is the best option for the creation of your website, you need to think clearly about the domain name for starters. Choosing a domain ending in either.com or.co.uk is a good choice for those in the UK as it is readily recognised and therefore more easily remembered. The name of your domain should ideally match that of your trading name just so long as that name is not too long. Try to keep your web address short and easy to remember. You can find many companies that offer domain checkers to see if the domain you want is available. If not you will have to carefully consider alternatives that capture the 'essence' of your business name. Also check out your proposed name on some of the search engines to make sure there is nothing too similar or an inappropriate site with a name like you are proposing, as the last thing you want is prospective clients accidentally visiting that other site instead. You also want to get an email address with your website domain name as this looks so much more professional than using a Hotmail or yahoo account for your business for instance.
Next you need to think of the layout of your site. You will need a home page with a navigation bar in which to easily visit the rest of your site. You may well want a page about yourself, in which to sell yourself to potential clients. You will also need a page with a gallery of your images and a separate contact page for a start. You also need a page dedicated to the services you offer and a breakdown of the various packages that you provide. It is also a good idea to price your packages on your website, so any calls or enquiries you do get will already know your prices and be prepared to pay that. That essentially will be your site, so you have got to make it good! It has to be easy to read; yet the text needs to be captivating enough to keep people reading. Your gallery should be full of stunning images to show the best work that you can do. This is without a doubt the shop window of the modern photographer. Your site should be easy to navigate around and you need to think about the colour too. The colour will tell people a lot about you as well as speaking volumes about your taste and professionalism. Very often simple colours such as Black, White or Grey are unobtrusive and will really allow your images to stand out.
Your website will open you up to a whole new world, giving people the opportunity to see the stunning work and services that you have on offer from the comfort of their own home. It gives you a place to refer to in your adverts, it will allow you to build social networks around it and is also a place in which to drive your online advertising campaigns. Once set up, your website will do your job even whilst you sleep! No longer do we have to speak personally to every slightly interested party, now, through your website they can find the information they want, look at your work and decide if you are a person they would like to work with. That is why a great looking, well designed site is so important.