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Website platform for photography business with online session scheduling

Posted on 2015-02-06
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Last Modified: 2015-04-17
My wife runs a photography business and is looking to update her website.

She currently uses a provider called Blu Domain and has had a very frustrating experience with them (from a support and customer service standpoint)

She would like to have the following:
-marketing information
-sample photo galleries
-online scheduling for her clients, with ability to make reservations if a deposit is paid
-ability for clients to provide online feedback

Please let me know of any website platforms that would be worth consideration.

Thank you.  

Brian
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Question by:Brian Clausen
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Expert Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
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Hi Brian,

Three guesses as to what I will recommend :)










-marketing information

WordPress.  The basic functionality is present on install.  Use Yoast SEO to fine-tune marketing pages for best impact.

-sample photo galleries

WordPress either with a theme that has a gallery post type built in (tons, free and premium) or standard theme and a gallery plugin (NextGEN, or a ton of others)

-online scheduling for her clients, with ability to make reservations if a deposit is paid

WordPress with the WP Booking Calendar, small business version ($99)
http://wpbookingcalendar.com/features/

-ability for clients to provide online feedback

WordPress with any of a number of form plugins (Ninja, Gravity, Formidable)
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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE
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Hi Brian,

I've been looking into a website store for selling software that I develop. My leading candidate right now is Shopify, with the SendOwl app for digital delivery. I'm considering the Providence theme from Empyre (probably the Seaside style, not Birch).

As part of this research, I was led to a photography business, Nicolesy ("Tools for the Inspired Photographer"), that uses all of the components mentioned above. Your wife might enjoy taking a spin through the site. I signed up for an account there and tried various aspects of the site, including downloading some of the (free) digital content. Also, Nicole Young (the shop owner) was very willing to exchange ideas via email. I simply submitted the Contact Form at the site initially and after her response, we've been emailing. She has been very forthcoming with information about her site.

I've also found Shopify, SendOwl, and Empyre support to be extremely helpful — and prompt with their responses:

support@shopify.com
support@sendowl.com
support@empy.re

Best of luck to your wife with her photography business! Regards, Joe
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Expert Comment

by:Brad Rubin
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Not sure about scheduling, but thegrid.io is coming in Spring 2015. They are preparing to change the world.
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Expert Comment

by:Leslie Bloom
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The combination of Squarespace and Timely could be easy to use also.

Squarespace
-Hosting, building, galleries, built in e-commerce solutions, etc
-It has an easy drag'n'drop framework of the site
-Quick easy integration with loads of other tools (easy social sharing to build a network, gain customers)
-Quick add of announcement bars to highlight new updates
-Mobile optimization also - their sites look great on mobile
-Password protected pages allowed (you can set specific URLs for clients for them to view, only if they have the password)
-SEO
-Great templates that allow for highly visual layouts - perfect for photographers

Timely
-Scheduling software with an easy interface that easily integrates into Squarespace sites
-See how easy it is to integrate here
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Accepted Solution

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Lucas Bishop earned 500 total points
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-marketing information
-sample photo galleries
In my opinion, there's really two paths here. A custom site or an out of the box site.

For a custom site, I'd look at Wordpress (WP).  Being that WP is so common, you can easily find an out of the box template, or consult with a designer who's well versed in customizing a unique Wordpress template for you.

When it comes to hosting for WP, I'd recommend one that specializes in WP hosting, this way there's less effort involved for you in maintaining the site (patching/updating/etc.). Their support staff will be more inclined to solve specific WP questions as well. For example MediaTemple has been one of my favorite hosts for years now.

When it comes to WP templates, I prefer Themeforest, but I should mention MediaTemple provides a variety of nice templates with their service as well.

With WP + hosting, there is some configuration involved. If you'd prefer a more 'out of the box' solution, I'd look towards a service like Photoshelter or PhotoDeck that are built around portfolio/marketing presentation and ecommorce features that meet the needs of most photography businesses.

Another out of the box solution that I find really interesting is the 500px portfolio.  This is probably the route I would take if I was trying to promote my name as an artist, because 500px is a huge online photosharing community and there are a variety of benefits that you can glean from having your portfolio connected to this network.

From a pure business standpoint, I'd take a long look at PhotoDeck.

-online scheduling for her clients, with ability to make reservations if a deposit is paid
There are SAAS solutions for photography scheduling. The scheduling app works primarily as an add-on to whatever web site platform you use. You simply integrate a "schedule an appointment" link on your site that points to the SAAS. Here are some providers: GetBookedIn, Appointment Plus, Genbook, ShootQ. You'll want to review the features of each and identify if one provides specific functionality that is more focused on the needs of  your business.

Out of these options, I like Appointment Plus, as they provide a merchant gateway on top of paypal and can 'hold' a credit card prior to the appointment, allowing you to charge for cancellations/no-shows.

-ability for clients to provide online feedback
While capturing customer feedback is possible through many of these systems, I would highly recommend avoiding any automation for this. The relationship a photographer has with her client is more personal than most services. Along this line, I'd suggest sending a personal email out to each client upon project completion thanking them, and asking for a review on the 3rd party site of your choice (Yelp, WeddingWire, etc). Impartial reviews posted to these sites hold even more social influence than your personal web site and a personal email is how to close out this kind of project.

tl;dr PhotoDeck,  Appointment Plus, personalized email with review request
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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE
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Brian,

Now that a few folks have mentioned the online scheduling issue, I'll add to my previous comments that a big advantage of Shopify is the existence of many plugins via the App Store. I already mentioned SendOwl for digital delivery, and another one is BookThatApp:
Real-time availability lets customers choose dates/times right on your product pages

Embed a calendar into your store to display product schedules
However, I don't know if its online scheduling can be tied to a deposit being paid, as your wife desires. All of the other requirements that you mentioned are covered — the core site handles marketing information, sample photo galleries, and online feedback. But if your wife doesn't think that the core features are strong enough in a given area, then, once again, a plugin may be available, such POWr Photo Gallery for a more powerful photo gallery capability (and there are numerous apps for enhanced online feedback — search the App Store for them). Regards, Joe
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Author Comment

by:Brian Clausen
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Thanks for all of the comments and input.

We are going to dig into some of these options and do additional research about what will work best for her. I will then post an update on which path we decide to take.
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Expert Comment

by:Brandon Lyon
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I've recently started migrating my sites to http://postach.io, including my pro photography site. Postach.io integrates with Evernote or Dropbox which makes it really easy to update content. The service is cloud hosted and you can customize themes using git version control built in. It's free to try and free to use unless you want some of the premium features such as password protected pages. From there you could install some third party scheduling software as people have mentioned.

It will take some time to customize an appropriate theme but in the long run it's really nice software. Remember it's free to try.
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by:lenamtl
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I'll recommend this web application (not expensive) that have several gateway for the payment.

PHP version to embed in any html website
http://codecanyon.net/item/booking-system/87919

or
Wordpress version:
http://codecanyon.net/item/bookingwizz-for-wordpress/2602153
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Author Comment

by:Brian Clausen
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I wanted to share a quick update - we are in the process of testing Appointments Plus as a solution and are close to selecting it as the solution that we will use for online scheduling.

I will close the question and share a link to the live solution once we finalize our decision. Thanks for everyone's help.
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Author Closing Comment

by:Brian Clausen
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We ended up using the following:
-For website content management, photo gallery displays and basic eCommerce we continued to use BluDomain
-For scheduling we implemented Appointments Plus

The live site is now available at: http://www.erinclausenphotography.com

The appointment scheduling component is as follows: https://booknow.appointment-plus.com/7kgq467k/

Assuming Appointments Plus effectively handles the online scheduling component for 2015, we will look at alternate website management platforms next year (the peak season for senior picture photography runs from June through October, so we will make further changes in next year's 'off-season')

Thanks for all of the input, and thanks for the Appointments Plus recommendation. The Appointments Plus application ended up being easy to implement and configure. Also, the Appointments Plus sales and support team were good and facilitated the process of getting the scheduling site implemented.
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