Okay team, here we are at week three of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge! And anyone else reading this but not taking part, keep reading because this is for you, too.
So the time has come. You sorta knew you would get to this place eventually, although you probably have told people that you never will, or maybe you just can't believe it's actually necessary. That's right: you need a website.
You need a website because if you are trying to build an identity, reputation or brand for yourself (note that I did not say business), you need a spot for people to go to learn more about you. This, unlike your social media accounts, is fully under YOUR control. As long as you pay those yearly fees, no one can take this away from you or dictate how you present yourself. I would argue that a website (and the blogs and mailing lists and links and information that go with it) is the only part you can for certain count on. Instagram is seven years old. It will probably be here in seven years, but maybe not. Will it be here in 15 years? 20? If you are trying to build the sort of reputation or brand equity that will allow you to do all sorts of things (sell stuff, teach stuff, share stuff) you need to be thinking long term. A website is the corner stone of how you do this.
I never thought I'd have a website. Now I have four of them. One for the tree farm, one for the editing business, one for the magazine, and one just for me. This last one is the most important. It started out an awkward amalgamation of the different things I wanted to share and promote, and this mix has gotten more comfortable and changed quite a bit over the two years I've had the site. The trick is that I make myself sit down every six months or so and overhaul the photos, the text, the very identity of the pages.
Now, I am not particularly savvy when it comes to technology. I was definitely snookered by the "drag and drop" claims made by the leading website builders, and then I had to spend a very frustrating couple of hours trying to figure out the way the software worked before I had any sort of familiarity with it. But I think it is crucial for you to be able to change your own website, at least one that doesn't handle complicated transactions like my editing one, which is built and maintained by a professional. So if I can do it, you can do it.
Like your social media handles, I would argue that you need to have your website just be your full name and .com. The reason for this is simple: life is long and things change, but you will always be you. Your website is not you putting on airs: it's you sharing who you are and what you have to offer, and that will of course change over the years.
So your challenge for this coming week is to make your website. I don't say this lightly. I know that is will cost you a couple of hundred dollars to buy the plan and the domain. I would recommend that you think about what you want your website to have in terms of options (store? mailing list? reservations?) The top builders-- squarespace, wordpress, weebly, shopify, wix-- all have these options, so do some research to figure out which one is the best fit. If you plan to try to sell, I would recommend getting the cheapest paid plan rather than go for the free one. Most of these will also host your domain and help you buy it, so figure that out too.
I know that this is a lot coming on top of continuing to carve and post, so if you need to do this instead of carving for a couple of days, do that. Use the photos you have been posting to flesh out the site, and in particular make sure there is a friendly picture of yourself on the home page.
Check out various makers' websites until you have a sense of the aesthetic, language and types of pages you want to make for yours, and then do a quick outline of what pages you want and what you want them to achieve. If you are like me, you might not want to actually enable the store feature but handle any sales in person, although I'm certainly not advocating for this.
Why bother doing this, if you think you are still a ways away from wanting to sell? Or maybe you don't want to sell at all, and think this is just wasted money. But what I'm saying is that this is a homestead. It starts out as a plot of ground with your stake in the center, and then log by log you build that cabin over time. You clear the trees and fence the pasture. This is your home you are making. And you don't need to know what you will use it for for it to be a good idea to start building it.
I know this is big. I know this is scary. I know this is not what you signed up for when you decided you wanted to take your carving to the next level. But I promise you, this will be the move that you will be glad you took three years from now. And setting it up is a one-time proposition. So put your shoulder to the wheel and push.
PS for those of you who already have a website, congratulations! I want you to update that website. Then I want you to start a blog.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.