A guide to getting started online (Pt. 1)

Last week’s article focused mainly on my own experiences using social media as a marketing tool for my work and how much those platforms have changed over time, forcing creatives into the “pay or punish” box. Now, while I’m positive that most entrepreneurs and business execs would’ve been familiar with the content I wrote, I’m not entirely certain my art colleagues were able to follow. And this is by no means any fault of theirs.

In fact, it would be indicative of our failure to adequately prepare those artists for the fast-paced world of art sales and marketing. As I’ve said before on many occasions, the education system has failed to teach them that they will have to learn to do a lot more than just make art in order to achieve a sustainable practice. So I’m here to use this platform to fill those gaps whenever possible.

As a creative practitioner, one of the most important investments you will ever make in your career is a good laptop. Before you consider anything else, this should be your priority. Unfortunately, I can’t tell head from tail about anything that isn’t a MacBook because this is all I’ve ever owned. So I can’t suggest alternatives that are less pricey and are comparable in terms of performance. Although Apple products are notoriously difficult and annoying to work with at times, once you get past the hoops the performance overshadows any of those issues (or maybe that’s my own bias).

Once you’ve got your laptop, you will need to equip it with the relevant software. I’m partial to the Adobe Suite because it has everything you will ever need including Photoshop, Illustrator and Premier. These will be crucial when the time comes to edit and curate your content before publishing online.

In addition to a really good laptop, you will also need a DSLR camera, an external hard drive and a flash drive. At this point you’re probably wondering why you should expense yourself buying these items. Well, it’s really very simple. If you’re considering an online presence then you need to invest in the tools that will give you the most professional image.

Taking photographs of your work with your cellphone tells your online audience that you’re not serious about your work and that you don’t care enough to make the effort to present high quality images. Cellphone photographs are okay if you’re uploading them to your blog, but any professional art listing or website would require a lot more effort.

And when enough time has passed after you would’ve taught yourself how to use the camera, you might also need to invest in an external flash, tripod, lights, soft boxes, reflectors and backdrops, depending on the type of work you do.

Now, I don’t think I need to explain why you should have, at the very least, one flash drive (64 or 128GB). However, what I will emphasize is the need for an external hard drive. As a creative practitioner, you will be making work continuously, taking photographs and creating content as you develop your various bodies of work. Depending on your laptop to safely house your material for the rest of your life, is asking for trouble. Laptops are extremely unpredictable. They overheat, they freeze, they crash and they have the potential to erase your entire career as if it never existed.

I’ve had a few scares in the past, and after my heart couldn’t take it anymore I decided to invest in a two terabyte external hard drive (which I got from Starr Computers). They aren’t always 100% foolproof but they are, by far, much safer than simply leaving your files on your laptop (not to mention those files can slow your laptop significantly and affect its overall performance).

Now that I’ve covered all the gear you will need to start building your online presence, it’s time to move on the next crucial step, getting your Visa debit card and PayPal account set up. I’m a huge advocate for debit cards (as opposed to credit cards) because the fees are minimal, you can control your spending and there is no risk of racking up a massive bill at the end of every month. Some persons are disciplined enough for credit cards but I prefer to avoid temptation altogether.

While our local banks all have Visa credit card options, I know for sure that the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) has an additional Visa debit card option. It was much easier to get this card when I applied years ago (sometime between 2008 and 2010), than it is right now since the passing of the Anti-Money Laundering Act last year. Regardless, anyone desirous of being a Visa debit cardholder can enquire about the documents they would need to provide the bank.

To start I would suggest you put at least US$100 on your card. The majority of that money will be spent building your website, buying your domain name, paying your domain name registrar and paying for strategic advertisements that you will definitely need in the beginning of your online journey. Next I would suggest you set up a free personal PayPal account since you most likely won’t immediately qualify for their merchant account that caters to sales over US$5000.

PayPal allows you to link your Visa debit card or credit card to your account to make online payments safe and easy. In addition to making payments, PayPal gives your customers the option of purchasing artwork directly from your website by providing “Buy Now” and “Add to cart” buttons. They notify you of sales and also offer options to print invoices and shipping labels through their website. These are all major pros if you choose to bypass online marketplaces like Etsy, Artspace and Saatchi Art.

Since building a website takes an incredible amount of patience and time I would suggest starting with much simpler (and free) social media platforms first, if you haven’t already. Think about the name you would like to use and, as much as possible, try to register the same name across platforms. In the case of fine artists, it would be smart to use the name on your birth certificate. There are situations where persons have used alternate names and have had successful careers, but most art professionals encourage the former. However, this becomes problematic if you have a popular name in which case you’re forced to “pick a number” to attach at the end of your name. Regardless, whatever you decide on should be applied across the board (email, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, Skype etc.).

Next, select an appropriate and high resolution photograph of yourself or your logo if you have one, and apply that to all of your accounts. Having the same name and photograph across accounts helps viewers to identify them as the legitimate profiles where they can contact you or view your work. Remember, consistency is key when building a successful online image.


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