One cannot (make a living) off social media alone. Every creative professional needs a personal website. Why? Your own website is a place where you can showcase your work and control your own content. Most of all, it’s a place where people can find you online.
While social media is great for building a fanbase, a website is a centralized place that registers in Google's algorithms, thus making you easily searchable on the internet. Grants administrators and potential clients don’t want to go sifting through your socials to find your work, they want to be able to find you and see what you do as quickly and easily as possible.
Luckily, these days making a website is super easy.
You don’t have to hard-code a site from scratch. If you don’t know a ton of code and don’t want to learn it, there are a ton of options out there for “quick start” website building platforms that are relatively cheap and in some cases even free, and the results are stunning and professional.
Even if you hire a developer to build and manage your site, it’s important to know what your chosen platform is capable of, whether or not it can meet your immediate needs and grow with your career and business over time.
We’re going to focus here on the most popular, providing cost information, what creative field these platforms may be best for, and expected learning curve (if you’re a total beginner) once you dive in:
The most powerful and customizable platform of them all, Wordpress enjoys immense global popularity—64 million websites currently use it, and there are over 50,000 plugins, 8,000 themes and templates to chose from to make your site shine.
But there’s a learning curve.
If you want full control over the design and structure of your website, or even customization (being able to change fonts, colors, and the look and feel of the site), you need to have at least some coding knowledge (HTML, CSS, and PHP). You’ll also need some tech skills to manage hosting and troubleshooting, since there’s no tech support available with this open source platform (Remember: Google is your friend).
One thing to note about Wordpress is the difference between Wordpress.com, which is a managed service that helps you build a website using their software, and Wordpress.org, which is the software itself. Depending on your needs, you’re trading off ease of use and support (wordpress.com) for full control and customization of your site (wordpress.org).
Best for: Just about everything! But if you want a super-powerful website that can integrate robust membership systems, Ecommerce and other third party tools, Wordpress is your go-to.
Learning Curve: Difficult-Moderate
Pricing: Tons of scalable options that bundle hosting, domain names, and security options. Wordpress.com pricing ranges from $7-45 a month and you can download the software from Wordpress.org for free! But keep in mind if you want premium themes and plug-ins, outside hosting, or third party applications, that can be extra.
Squarespace is super popular among artists and creatives building their own portfolios for a reason. It’s a simple builder that’s focused on sleek and smooth design and visuals with an emphasis on responsiveness.
If you’re design-challenged, Squarespace can still set you up easily and quickly with a beautiful website. And if you’re any kind of visual artist, photographer, or musician, they offer an array of templates made just for what you do that can highlight your best work.
Squarespace also features built-in metrics, 24/7 support, and a newbie-friendly interface. But it’s marketing capacities are limited, as it lacks robust SEO and A/B testing features. And if you choose Squarespace, you may be stuck with it—since it’s designs are theirs, you can’t keep them if you decide to change your platform.
Best for: Creative portfolios and visual artists
Learning Curve: Moderate-Easy
Pricing: Personal plans are $12 a month and business plans, which offers more marketing support for video, popups and banners, are $18 a month. Squarespace also has a commerce plan which ranges from basic ($26) to advanced ($40 per month).
Full disclosure: Whipsmart’s very own website is built with Webflow (by the talented designers from Milli, a creative agency based in Tacoma). We can attest that it’s a great platform for our needs. In a way, Webflow has the best of both worlds: powerful ‘high-level’ design and developer options, along with intuitive Word doc-like blogging and visual designer tools for getting content out. And it’s easy to add fun flourishes like parallax scrolling and animations.
Webflow offers several SEO-optimization capabilities like metadata, image alt text, and keywords. And their Ecommerce platforms integrate seamlessly with various popular payment gateways. One drawback is the limited amount of templates available (only about 100) but that’s growing every day. And their ‘box model’ layout can be a little limiting if you do know code well and want to build from scratch.
Best for: Bloggers, small businesses
Learning Curve: Moderate-Easy
Pricing: You can try Webflow by building 3 pages for free! Their hosting plans include Basic ($12/month), CMS (which gives you access to use their Content Management System), and the business plan ($36/month) with marketing features for higher-traffic sites. There’s also Ecommerce plans ranging from $29-212 a month to sell products online.
Wix is great place for general sites, and not as specialized for visual content as Squarespace. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful platform. There are hundreds of templates, structural possibilities and integration with online marketplaces and social media feeds.
Usually the rule of thumb is more customization capabilities equals a higher learning curve. So what Wix lacks in flexibility it makes up for in being easy to learn and super quick to set up. A drag-and-drop site builder is so intuitive someone with no web experience at all can pick it up in minutes.
Once you choose your template, however, if you decide to shift your content over you have to manually do it, which is a pain, especially for bigger content sites. And the limited pages Wix offers with the basic plan, in addition to their proprietary designs, means if your business and website grows, you may be out of luck, as your site isn’t transferable.
Best for: Small businesses
Learning Curve: Easy
Pricing: You can get a free a website through Wix if you can deal with their branding on your site. Paid plans start at $14-$39 per month, and the business plan (great for selling products) ranges from $23-49 per month.