How to Promote Yourself without Pawning your Props
by Jacob D’Eustachio and Ross Berenson
All freelance jugglers probably know how important it is to have a well-designed website. But what does “well-designed” even mean? When I first graduated circus school in 2011, I didn’t have a clue! I saw accomplished performers with bare bones sites, newbies with flashy sites, and everything in between. I suspected that I was supposed to say I was the best juggler out there, but other than that I didn’t have any idea how to promote myself. To get specific advice, I reached out to my friend and fellow juggler Ross Berenson. Ross is a New York City-based graphic designer and web developer and a graduate of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. Some of his clients include Columbia University, Yale University, PlaceIQ, and professional speaker/juggler Jen Slaw. Creating your professional website is one of the best ways to promote yourself, but it can also be a great way to give yourself an ulcer. Here are Ross’s answers to my questions on how to create a great website while keeping your stomach ulcer free.
How do I even start thinking about what makes a good website? What’s the first thing to keep in mind?
Your website is your first impression with anyone who discovers you online, and it will enable you to build trust with the viewer. It’s crucial to remember that you are not selling your web design skills. Your website doesn’t have to be the most beautiful site in the world, but it should be user friendly, show potential clients your value as a juggler, and demonstrate what you could bring to an event. The design of the site should be engaging and welcoming, avoid overwhelming the viewer with blocks and blocks of text, and let potential clients find everything they need within a click or two. A cleanly designed, user-friendly website will appeal to everyone, and if it gets a client to click on the button to email you, it has done its job.
How do I make my website stand out? What are the major design dos and don’ts?
The most important thing is making sure your website design highlights (rather than distracts from) your unique content. Stepping backward though, this is less of a web design question than a question of self-discovery. To effectively promote yourself, you have to know what your unique selling points are. If you’re unsure, ask a trusted friend or coach. Are you really funny? Technically amazing? A fantastic mover? Once you know what your best attributes are feature them in your photos and videos to set yourself apart from other performers. The design of your website should highlight unique media that showcase your strengths and not be so flashy as to distract viewers from the content you’re sharing.
Jacob’s note: This takes time, so if you’re just starting out, don’t beat yourself up about it. The photos on my first website were more generic than my current ones. However, that first site enabled me to book enough work to discover myself as a performer, and gradually learn how I wanted to promote myself.
How many pages should my website have?
As a newbie, you might think having a one-page website is the way to go. However, deciding whether to have a single page or multi-page website shouldn’t be based on how long you’ve been performing. The better way to make the decision is to think about how much content you have. It’s totally fine if you do not have a lot of material or info yet. If that is the case, it might be wise to feature your highlights on one page. On the other hand, if you’ve already created a few different acts or shows, a multi-page website would probably be a better way to show your range of offerings.
If I’m finding my way as a performer and creating new acts, is there a way to design my website so it will still look good if my look, photos, or acts change?
If you are still developing and changing as a juggler, the most expandable design (to allow for your growth as a juggler) is a minimalist one. The more personality you add to the site, the more you risk it looking dated in a few years. However, a minimalist design does not mean your site should feel institutional; it can still reflect your professional personality.
What are the pros and cons of using Squarespace, Wix, or hiring a designer? Is one an obvious go to if you’re starting out?
Early on in the process of building your site, you will have to decide between using a site-maker such as Wix or Squarespace, a prebuilt design theme, or a custom-built design theme. This decision should come down to what you need your website to do. If you are interested in having an event calendar on your website with the ability to sell tickets, you’ll want a custom-built or pre-built design theme. If you only want a simple marketing website, Wix or Squarespace are the easiest options. If you are familiar with coding, a pre-built theme will probably be the most cost-effective option and enable you to customize the feel of your website. If you end up deciding to design and build your own website with a pre-built theme, learn the process before diving in. That alone will save you a lot of headaches. Don’t rush, but slowly build up your design and coding skills until you’re comfortable enough to build a website from scratch.
Here are some price estimates for an average performer’s website:
DIY / Wix / Squarespace: $0 – $300+ (monthly fees): This option is fairly user friendly and easy to set up. You don’t need much web design or coding knowledge to launch a basic site. Prebuilt theme: $800 – $2,000: This is a cost-effective option, and most themes can be customized and enhanced with slight challenges.
Custom build: $2,000 – $10,000+: This is the most expensive option but also the most customizable.
If you decide to hire a web designer/developer, first look at their previous work. Many designers focus purely on the visual aspects of a site, but the user experience and interface are quite important too. While there is some overlap between a site’s aesthetic, interface (the site’s buttons, links, and text placement), and user experience (how easily a user can interact with the interface), they each require separate attention from your designer. If you like what you see, reach out and ask them any questions you have, for example:
- Have you designed any websites that have similar goals to mine?
- What’s your design process like?
- What’s the average time it takes you to design and build a website?
- How many revisions/edits would be included in our contract?
- Will I receive the original design files?
- Do you have any past clients I can speak with?
- Will I be able to edit my website content after it’s done? How easy will that be?
- What are your expectations of my involvement as a client? Is there any content or work you’ll need from me besides my photos, videos, bio, and resume?
- Do you charge hourly or a flat rate? Will you help me maintain the site after it’s launched? If so, how long will you do this for, or what is the fee for maintenance? Once your site is up and running, you will still want to be able to upload images, edit content, and create new pages easily. The set-up of your website’s content management system will therefore be very important. It will help if you have a developer you like as you may well continue to need their help for years. Even after your site is up and running, you may want to add new content or functionality. However, if your CMS is set up well, you’ll need less help from your developer for basic content changes and upgrades.
And by the way, don’t even begin asking those questions until you’re ready to start work. You don’t want to hire a designer/developer without having your materials and budget for the site ready. The longer you take to provide those assets, the easier it is for the designer/developer to lose interest.
In conclusion, and to stay calm, bear in mind that these are all general tips. Promoting yourself takes time, and there is no single right way to do it (just as there is no single right way to juggle!). Do not be afraid to make changes to your website or break the rules, and most importantly, try to enjoy it. Building your website is actually another chance to be creative and express yourself.
As a juggler, Jacob D’Eustachio has performed in 15 countries on 5 continents. Highlights include appearing at the Kennedy Center, being the only American invited to compete at Moscow’s Nikulin Circus Festival, and appearing for Adele with England’s critically acclaimed Giffords Circus. He’s presently taking a break from juggling and studying creative writing and history at NYU. In his spare time he enjoys skateboarding, sushi, and reading the NY Times.
A freelancer and juggler, for the past 10 years, Ross Berenson, a New York City based graphic designer and web developer, has developed and delivered award-winning websites for academia and social impact brands. As a trained designer and senior front-end developer, Ross understands the nuances of translating robust user interface design systems into snappy websites. Ross earned his degree in Communication Arts and Graphic Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and his clients range from universities, to technology companies, to professional jugglers, such as Jen Slaw.