Maintaining your ‘brand’

Originally written for ArtsProfessional

For a while now, I’ve been telling myself that I’ll update my website. Coming off the back of my hiatus from producing, I’ve felt it’s time for me to look again at what I’ve put online – and to think about what purpose it actually serves.

That’s proved to be quite a difficult question to answer. As a freelancer a website can be an invaluable tool to let people know a bit more about you and your work, and gives you the opportunity to provide information a standard CV doesn’t – for many freelancers, their website acts as an online portfolio. My own website has served this purpose to some extent thus far, but at the same time the nature of my work means I feel a slightly different approach needs to be taken – as information regarding my work is naturally more text-based than visual, making decisions about what information is included and to what volume can be tricky.

To inform my update/overhaul, I’ve looked at a number of websites belonging to other arts freelancers to see what I think works – in an industry where large numbers of people are self-employed, being proactive in seeking work and generating opportunities is part and parcel of simply keeping one’s head above water. I find it quite surprising that, with this in mind, it seems from friends and colleagues I’ve spoken to that few universities and drama schools seem to advise graduates of this; the majority of people I know have been sent out into the world and left to fend for themselves with regards to finding work, when even the smallest amount of advice – or even raising awareness of approaches to finding work – could potentially make a huge difference. From my own experiences at drama school, advice sessions regarding how to survive as a freelancer were only offered as off-timetable classes, instead of even the smallest of concessions being made to find time within normal classes to offer such advice to all students. Although not everyone will go into self-employed work upon graduating, there is an increased likelihood within the arts that their careers will go in that direction at some point in the future – so advice given at this stage could eventually prove incredibly useful, instead of leaving people unsure of how to pursue a freelance career.

In terms of the websites I’ve looked at, it’s been quite interesting to see the different approaches people have taken, and how similar content can be more or less effective depending on the nature of their work. For actors – particularly those without representation – a personal website offers a great way to show the world what they have done, and to integrate different media as content; whilst large numbers are on Spotlight, the nature of their database means potential employers or collaborators not registered with them cannot always see their profiles – and furthermore, the standard layout of Spotlight profiles is quite bland and functional. A website can contain the same information as a Spotlight profile (and can also integrate the profile through fairly simple HTML script), but can take on a more personal look which may fit with an actor’s casting or is simply easier on the eye – and can also include showreels, production photos/headshots, news about upcoming productions and reviews. Whilst the early stages of your career can often involve trying to give your details to anyone in the industry you meet, for an actor giving a business card with a website address is much easier than having to carry a pile of headshots and CVs around with you!

For those of us less inclined to take the spotlight, a slightly different approach may be needed. I’ve seen a number of websites for artists which include some form of online CV, detailing previous credits, key skills and training/education information – and often references, which can be hugely valuable in an industry where advocacy plays a large part in getting ahead. Unlike actors, the background of particular projects and the individual’s role in them plays a much bigger part – as certain backstage and creative roles can be interpreted in different ways, a clearer idea of what they entail can be useful for potential employers and collaborators. Additionally, this can also give a clearer sense of an individual’s main skills and interests – ensuring any approaches regarding collaboration can be made with the knowledge that a project may be of interest to them, and that they are a suitable and interesting person to work with. As there may be quite a lot of information on a website, good navigation links are hugely important – particularly with regards to contact information; if someone can’t find how to contact you, then this could be the difference between employment and staying on the shelf.

In terms of the actual practicalities of building a website, then a good-looking, easy-to-use site should be a priority – if it is going to represent you as a ‘brand’ online, then it’s best to do it properly instead of cutting corners. There are a number of companies who can build you a website for a small fee, and who will host it in a way which makes it easy for you to update; they will often have choices regarding the site’s appearance, allowing you to go for a look which you think best meets your needs. Of course, this will also limit you in terms of the ‘uniqueness’ of your site – you will undoubtedly have to compromise between what you would like and what is actually available. Alternatively, if you feel so inclined and have the time you can teach yourself web design – an approach that I have taken. Although this won’t be for everyone, my personal experience is that web design is actually much easier than it appears once you get into it – I’ve used a number of tutorial websites to guide me along the way, and once I developed a grasp of the coding language I’ve looked at features I like on other websites and have tried to understand how they work. Through developing this understanding and learning how to combine it with designs created in Adobe Photoshop, I’ve been able to create a look I feel is personal to me and is slightly more interesting to look at. The time invested in developing these skills has been worth it for me – but whatever approach you may choose to take, remember that you want your site to represent you in a forum where people all across the globe can find out about you.

So, over the coming weeks my website will be going through some changes – do feel free to let me know what you think!

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