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Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Actors Need Websites

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Imagine this: You are in your car (or walking to the subway) and you suddenly get a call from a casting director. They are interested in submitting you for an upcoming project, but need to forward your headshot & resume to the director within the next 30 minutes. You’re not at your computer, so you cannot email your materials to them. And you’re nowhere near their office, so you cannot just drop by with a physical copy of your headshot/resume. What can you do?

Or, imagine this: You are networking at an event (like the Tribeca Film Festival) and you have met so many people that you have handed out your last copy of your reel. You run into an agent who has seen you on stage, but comments that he would like to see your film work. He asks if you have a reel to give him. Sadly, you don’t, and it will be at least a week until you can get more duplicates made. What now?

If you are a business-minded actor, you would have a website and neither case would have been a problem! You could simply tell the casting director, “Drop by my website, where you can download a copy of my headshot and resume, both formatted for printing.” And for the agent, you would be able to say, “Here’s my website. Not only do I have my reel posted, but I also have clips from a few of the other projects I have done, including some singing and a few commercials.”

Having a website is one of the most important promotional tools an actor can have, second only to a good headshot. A website allows you to provide interested parties with a more full look at your body of work, your personality, and the way you run your business. And it allows them to do it in their own time, at their pace and leisure, which is vitally important in the larger, more competitive markets. The easier you can make it for a CD/agent to get to know you, the better chance you have of making an impact with them.

Now, some actors have “actor pages” created on industry websites, such as Actors Access, Now Casting or IMDB. While these are sufficient for communicating basic information, it is very difficult to allow your personality to come through with these sites. Your website, much like your headshot, is a calling card. After all, their templates are the same for every actor! A website is a reflection of your identity, and the more personalized you can make it, the better off you will be. If you do opt for this, at the very least you should purchase a domain name (www. yourname .com) and  link/forward it to your free page. That way, when someone types in your web address, they will automatically be forwarded to whatever website you choose. Some companies charge a nominal fee for forwarding, while others include it with the domain purchase.

That all being said, having a website can be relatively inexpensive if you do your research. One word of advice- before you sign up for ANY services, be sure to get all of the costs laid out UP FRONT. Websites contains a lot of components that add up to a well-created and maintained business tool. Make sure you have a strong understanding of all of the costs associated, including ongoing text changes, additions or updates to media (like photo, video and audio clips), and the creation of new pages. Often, the initial price tag seems small but the fee for design becomes much larger when considering the price of upkeep. It is very important to weigh all of the costs and decide what type of fee structure is best for your business, and then get all of this in writing before you choose your designer.

Here is a breakdown of what kinds of costs you might incur, and some pitfalls to avoid:

• You domain name will be around $10 per year.

• Ongoing storage (called “hosting”) usually costs between $5 - $9 per month. GoDaddy is one of the largest and cheapest and charges around $68 for a full year (great price!)

• Design services can range from a flat fee of $300 - $900 (and up) depending on how fancy you want your site to be. Be wary of companies that charge less- there may be some hidden fees or restrictions (like limited photos, videos or pages.) Often, the price seems small at first but added costs can push the prices well over $1000.

• Be careful when signing up for websites you can change/update yourself. These designs tend to either have a very high up front fee, or a moderate monthly fee you pay for the life of your website. For example, some companies charge $195 to design your website, and then charge $25-$50 per month ongoingly for hosting & maintenance. That may seem like a great deal, but consider that every year you’d be paying $250-500. How long do you imagine you’ll be keeping your website? That $250-$500 will add up very quickly. This is the same thing that printer companies are doing- they nearly give away the printer and then charge you $40 (or more) per ink cartridge. Be sure that this is a monthly expense you can afford to keep for the rest of your life (or, as long as the website is active.)

• Changes/updates that are done by your designer are usually less expensive, depending on who you select to do the work. Most charge by the hour for changes. But be careful- many designers have a 1 hour minimum, even if you simply want to add a resume credit. Look for someone who either does not have a 1 hour minimum, or someone who is willing to work on retainer. When I design websites for actors, I do changes on a retainer program and it is a win-win for both the actor and me as the designer. Here’s how it works: I collect a 1 hour retainer in advance, and then each time the actor has changes I deduct the time from their 1 hour retainer. If the changes take 5 minutes, the actor has 55 minutes of changes left. That way, I still am guaranteed payment for an hour of work, but the actor only pays for work that is actually done. Very few designers use this method because it means less $$ for them, but you have every right to expect that you’ll only be paying for work you need.

• Also, be sure to determine who actually owns the website design - once it is designed, is it yours to do with as you please (even if you choose to host/update it with someone else?) Or do they hold the copyright and keep the design (and contents) if you opt to go elsewhere? These are important things to go over before you pay any fees.

Remember the adage: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

• You can build your own website through a service like Wordpress, Wix or Weebly - you just want to make sure that you a) have enough time to learn the technology behind websites, and b) these services are capable to having professional looking galleries for photos and video (some templates make viewing media rather difficult.) What often happens is that actors start off by creating their own site, but it very soon becomes a time suck because they don't have the technical knowledge to make sure the site does what they need it to.

Regardless of how you choose to set up your site, all fees can be written off on your taxes as a business expense, and goes a long way in investing in your future as a professional performer.

Finally, since this is my blog I would be remiss if I didn't mention the web services I provide. The Actors' Enterprise offers an actor's website design service for a flat fee of only $600 (Unlimited pages, images, demos/videos, text and custom colors, fonts, and layout.) I have been building websites for folks since 1998, and have a clean and simple approach that helps the visitor get an essence of YOU very quickly! To see some samples or for more info, visit my design page. All costs are fully outlined, as well as my "YouOwnIt" policy, which states that you own ALL of your designs from the moment we begin our work together.

Contact me to set up your acting website!

PS: If you got to this article looking for Actor Blogs, click here to be taken to my article on blogging.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

2 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

GroovyBrent said...

As always you're right on the mark, Erin! Being an actor means you *are* a business, and being in business today means you must have a website. Without one you're taken less seriously and will lose gigs!

Kristina said...

So true. You have to be out there for fans, you have to have a presence beyond submission services.

~Kristina
KristinaHughes.com

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