To maximize the potential of your creative side-hustle you really need to make a website for it. A website is your business’s home on the web and serves to market your products or services. It also allows you to connect with your audience to drive future sales.
If you find this post useful then make sure to check out How to Turn a Creative Side-Hustle into a Business and How to Host a File for Download the Right Way.
There is a lot to consider when creating a website for a creative side-hustle but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s dive in to some of the main steps…
How to Make a Website for a Creative Side-Hustle
To make a website for a creative side-hustle the main steps to follow are:
- Evaluate Your Website’s Requirements
- Purchase a Domain Name
- Get a Hosting Plan
- Set Up Your Website
- Design Your Website Structure
- Create Content for Your Website
- Connect with Your Audience: Digital Marketing
- Monetize Your Website
- Grow Your Website
Evaluate Your Website’s Requirements
The type of website you’ll need depends on your specific side-hustle. On top of that, creative side-hustles have some unique requirements of their own.
Website Core Components
A few examples of core components of a website aimed at supporting a creative side-hustle are listed below. Don’t worry, you won’t need all of them but depending on your particular business, you’ll require a your own combination of a few:
- Portfolio of your best work – show off your skills to the world to cement your authority in your niche
- Digital download store – a great way to monetize your skill with passive income
- Physical products store – this could be linked to a print-on-demand service or a logistics provider
- Blog – pull in traffic from Google searches with useful written content
- Links to your marketplace pages – point your website visitors at your marketplace stores if you don’t yet have your own
- Links to YouTube or Social Media accounts – keep your audience engaged with your brand by getting them to subscribe
- Paid courses – teach your audience what you know. Very profitable if done right but a lot of work to build.
- Membership area – expert-level customer engagement. Can be serious money but requires an ongoing time investment.
…start small with one or two core elements before moving on.
Some of those mentioned above are more advanced and can be something that you move into as your website and brand expands.
Remember, start small with just one or two core elements and learn how to do them well before moving on.
Website Marketing Requirements
As well as selecting the content for your website, you also need to plan for how you will interact with your current and future audience.
For this you should ask yourself a few key questions:
- Who are your audience? Understand what key demographics your audience fit into. What information do they respond to, how do they want to see it presented, why are the coming to your site?
- What do they want from you? Connect with your audience’s requirements and pain points. What information are they seeking?
- What do you want from them? Once you have created the information or products that satisfy what your audience’s needs then, plan what your ultimate ‘call to action’ is for each one. Eg: funneling customers to your e-commerce store to sell your digital templates or getting them to become a subscriber to your email list.
- Where are your audience coming from? Are they coming from Google having searched for digital templates to purchase or are the coming in cold from social media? This affects what information you present to them when they land on your site – Eg: e-commerce store vs portfolio or blog, etc.
When you can answer the questions above it should become clear how to present what your audience are searching for. If a large proportion of page views are coming from portfolio sites then it would make sense for them to land on your portfolio page and then funnel them to your digital store to purchase some of your work.
On the other hand if your audience is coming from forums where you have been providing Adobe Photoshop tips and tricks then you might want them to land on your tutorial blog or courses store to solve their current need.
Purchase a Domain Name
Before you can create a website you will need to purchase a domain name which is your address on the internet.
How to Choose a Domain Name
If your branding yourself as a creative and you’re not shy then, it’s a good idea to buy ‘yourname.com’ to give you the most exposure.
Alternatively, you may decide you want to create a brand. If this is the case then, try to keep it relatively short and check when written without spaces that it does not spell anything profane or confusing.
In addition, keeping your domain name more general allows for future expansion into other areas. For example, instead of ‘Stan’ the Wedding Photographer choosing ‘stansweddingphotography.com’ he should choose something like ‘stansimagery.com’. This way Stan can move into other areas of photography, stock images, graphic design, etc, later down the line.
…keeping your domain name more general allows for future expansion…
It is a good idea however, to retain some level of relevance to your subject matter to avoid confusing your audience and make it more memorable.
Another interesting consideration is what ‘top-level domain’ to choose. Examples of TLDs are .com, .co, .co.uk, .club, .biz, etc. You can get pretty much whatever you’re searching for. In days-gone-by choosing a .com would come with better rankings in Google over something more specific like .kitchen. Nowadays these newer TLDs are more accepted by the general public but my personal preference is still to go with .com where possible.
Finally, before buying your domain, do a trademark search in your own country and also in countries where most of your audience reside. Always avoid using any trademarks in your domain name. If your business takes off then you may want to consider trademarking your business name. The last thing you want to do is to have to move domains once you have a thriving business because you’re getting sued by the trademark owner.
Where to Buy a Domain From
Most hosting companies will offer you the ability to purchase a domain with your hosting package but it is usually a good idea to keep this separate. This is to make it easier if you want to move hosting companies at a later date or have problems with them down the line. Moving hosting is easy (if you’re keeping back-ups) but if they’re holding your domain hostage then that can be a real problem.
Examples of popular hosting companies are:
Watch out for cheap first-year deals that then increase in price dramatically later. These are a favorite of hosting companies to lock you into expensive annual renewals. Another reason to avoid them for purchasing domains.
You’ll be offered domain privacy protection as well which is always a must in my eyes. This will mean that your personal details are not listed on the public ‘whois’ register and will instead show your domain registrar. If you don’t opt for this then anyone will have access to you name, address, email address and phone number which will result in unwanted spam and nuisance phone calls or worse.
Get a Hosting Plan
While a domain name is your website’s address, hosting is where your website’s files are stored which are accessed by your visitors.
There are a number of types of hosting available to suit all budgets. The bottom of the rung is ‘shared hosting’ where your site will be on the same server as many other websites. Hence, if they have a lot of visitors then your site will slow down. On the plus side it is very cheap and typically comes in a package that allows you to host as many sites as you want.
These types of plans are a good place to start until you are getting more traffic, at which point you’ll want to move to dedicated hosting or cloud hosting for additional speed.
Where to Buy Website Hosting
I encourage you to do your own research on the best hosting provider that meets your requirements. It’s perfectly fine to move hosting companies if you find a better deal or your needs change as your site expands.
Popular places to buy hosting are:
- Host Gator
- WP Engine
What Hosting Extras Do You Need?
Hosting companies will offer you a lot of extras when you gin up with them but these all add to the cost of your monthly package. Who knew? Most of them can be avoided when you first start out if you’re willing to put in some leg-work. If you want an easy life and have the budget then you may decide that it’s worth the expense.
Frequently offered hosting add-ons are:
- Automatic backups – can be done with a free plugin such as Updraft Plus but make sure you have some kind of automatic backup system in place at all times.
- SSL Certificate – should be free but is essential nowadays
- Malware Scanning – great if you can afford it but free and paid WordPress plugins are available as well
- GMail – can be achieved with mail forwarding to another GMail account
Set Up Your Website
WordPress is what is known as a ‘Content Management System’ or CMS. It is the world’s most popular platform with over 30% of the world’s websites using it. WordPress is a free opensource platform available from wordpress.org but most hosting companies will install it for you for free if you ask them to.
Beware that wordpress.com on the other hand is a managed wordpress hosting service that has many restrictions and should be avoided if you want full flexibility.
…Wordpress is the way to go for a creative side-hustle website.
The benefits of using WordPress are that it is very easy to create and maintain a website with a large variety of themes and plugins to do basically anything you want. The downside is that websites can become bloated and slow if you install too many plugins on them and they can be open to security vulnerabilities if you don’t keep these up to date or install the wrong one.
However, there is a wealth of information out there to get you up and running and in my mind, WordPress is the way to go for a creative side-hustle website.
There are other website builders out there such as Wix and SquareSpace which make it very easy to create a website but they can have limitations later on if you want to change direction or implement something a bit unique.
Choose a Theme
There are many themes on offer, both paid and free. Keep in mind that a simple theme will keep your website fast and avoid potential customers getting frustrated and leaving before you site has even loaded.
Whilst it’s always nice to have a good-looking website, don’t get too obsessed with it and try and stick with a basic theme.
Popular themes that are built for speed:
- X Theme
Avoid using page-builders such as Elementor if you want a fast site. Whilst they enable you to create a fantastic-looking site more easily, they add a lot of extra code which can impact loading speed significantly.
There are so many plugins on offer for WordPress, it can be tempting to go overboard. My advice is to keep plugins to a minimum. Too many will slow your site down, can conflict with each other or have security vulnerabilities if not kept up to date. I would suggest trying not to go over 8 plugins if you can.
When choosing a plugin make sure that it has a large number of installs and positive ratings to avoid installing something that could put the security of your site at risk.
There are a lot of free and paid plugins available and sometimes the free version may do everything you need. You don’t need to go out and pay a lot of money if there is a good free one that will do the job. In addition, check if one of your existing plugins does the job before installing another.
The main categories of plugin that are of interest are:
- Security – a good example is Wordfence
- Backup – if you have not opted for hosting backups then a plugin such as UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore is essential
- Additional Features – be wary of these since the WordPress Gutenberg editor can do a lot already
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – worth considering if you are a blogger
- Site Speed – Caching plugins can speed your site up but it’s worth investing in better hosting, a CDN (content delivery network) and using an Image Optimizing plugin for speed instead.
Design Your Website Structure
Make a map of your site on paper first to get your structure clear before you start working in WordPress.
You should already know the core content of your website such as a Blog, Portfolio, E-Commerce Store. These should all be front-and-center for your audience to find easily.
In addition to your core content you will need the following pages:
- Home Page – links to your most important content should be easy to find
- About Page – who are you and what do you do? Creates brand authority for both users and Google
- Contact Page – consider using a contact form to reduce spam
Posts vs Pages in WordPress
If you’re creating a blog then make each article you write a ‘Post’ rather than a ‘Page’. WordPress is optimized around blogs and as a result they have created ‘Posts’ and a system around them.
Assign each post to a Category which groups them with similar content. Aim to have a minimum of 7 Posts in a Category before you consider making another. When starting a blog you should only have 3-4 Categories post.
For fixed pages such as stores, policies, home page you will need to use a ‘Page’.
Create Your Navigation
A clear navigation structure not only helps users of your website but it also helps search engines like Google to discover your content and understand your site. This helps your content to appear higher up in search results called ‘rankings’.
Always have a top navigation bar with links to your most important website sections. Keep it to a handful of items such as Blog, Store, Portfolio. You do not need a ‘Home’ link as most people nowadays are used to clicking on the site logo to return to the home page (wordpress does this for you by the way). If the core of your website is a blog then you would also have you post categories in the top navigation bar.
Use your footer menu to include links to secondary pages such as About, Policies and Contact pages.
Design Your Homepage
The fact that this is so far down in the post should give you a clue that the homepage is actually not that important. Most visitors will end up coming through links directly to particular content and may not even visit your homepage. As a result do not spend too much time on the design.
Make it clear and functional first and foremost. Since you’ll most likely be making a website to represent your creative business you should still make it pleasing to the eye. Just don’t obsess over it.
Having links to your most important or recent content is useful since your homepage will have the most authority in Google’s eyes. Any links from the homepage will get a little boost to them in Google search results.
Having a cool logo isn’t going to earn you an extra money or make your side-hustle more successful. You could get away with a basic logo and do just fine.
That said, working in the creative space does mean that you’ll want to design something half-decent or you’ll potentially lack credibility in your customers’ eyes. As with you homepage, do not spend too much time on it.
I’ll only include a quick note here about subdomains since this is more of an advanced topic.
A subdomain is a url under your main domain (eg: subdomain.yourdomain.com) that can be used for different purposes. It will essentially be treated as a separate website by your hosting provider.
You can choose to install WordPress on it, use it for an e-commerce store or simply not have a website on it at all if you just want to use it for email.
Using a subdomain for your customer-facing email communications such as email.yourwebsite.com is a good idea to protect your main website. If your marketing efforts ever go slightly wrong and run into spam penalties it will not affect your main website.
Likewise, having a subdomain for your digital store such as store.yourdomain.com enables you to keep your main website separate and keep things clear for your customers. It also enables you to install an e-commerce platform if you do not want to use WordPress.
Guidance for setting up subdomains will be available from your domain registrar with a simple google search.
Create Content for Your Website
Creating content for your website is the most important thing you can do. All the other stuff before this point is just to allow you to create and host content. Keep referring back to your overall requirements for you site to make sure your content is always focused on your main goal and user requirements.
It goes without saying that you should be selecting your best work to show in your portfolio. We won’t go over how to do that in this post but once you have your shortlist the first thing to do is create your portfolio gallery page. Remember, this should be a Page, not a Post in WordPress.
This gallery page should be linked to your top navigation bar and feature thumbnails of each project. There are many ways to design the layout so experiment with different Gutenberg blocks in WordPress so experiment with different layouts.
If you really cannot achieve the look and feel you are after then consider a plugin. Do this with caution though as plugins will slow down your site.
For each project create another page and hyperlink it to the corresponding thumbnail on your main portfolio page. This will allow you to design a specific layout for each project and include some text about the project itself. Alternatively, if you don’t want a page for each project then consider a pop-up slideshow using a plugin such as Envira Gallery Lite (see video below).
Since portfolio websites are very image intensive you will find that they severely negatively impact on load times. Therefore it is critical to use an image optimization plugin that will convert and compress images automatically for you. There are many to choose from both free and paid.
Good examples of image optimization plugins are:
- reSmush.it (free)
- ShortPixel (paid)
Having an e-commerce store on your site for digital downloads can be a significant income stream, especially when marketed properly. Setting one up though can be very complicated so choosing the right system is important.
The biggest players in the market are WooCommerce and Shopify and both have their advantages and allow you to sell digital and physical products.
For more information on selling digital products check out my post How to Sell Digital Products for Free.
WooCommerce is built for WordPress specifically. It can be a little complicated sometimes but it allows a lot of control over customizations.
Do not host large files on your website…
The downside with WooCommerce for selling digital products is that you need to take care of the file hosting yourself and provide a url to your product. This can me more complicated than it sounds so be warned.
Do not host large files on your own website as the customer experience will suffer and the bandwidth in your hosting package may not be sufficient.
Shopify is the king of e-commerce stores. Primarily based on physical sales they also competently handle digital downloads as well. The great advantage with Shopify is that they will also host your files which simplifies things enormously.
The point of Shopify is to keep things simple and easy for store owners to set up and run their online store. The trade-off is that you have more limited control over customization when compared to WooCommerce.
Shopify’s big thing is that you don’t need a website of your own. They will host your store for you on their servers if that’s what you want. The alternative for creatives that only want a store as a part of their wider website is to integrate Shopify into WordPress using the Shopify plugin.
Creating a blog is one of the best ways to drive organic traffic from search engines such as Google to your website. Research topics that your audience are searching for and write a post that addresses this search. You can then direct visitors to your store, portfolio or get them to subscribe to your email list. You can also monetize directly on each page with display ads.
Creating a volume of quality content will establish your presence as an authority in your niche and build audience confidence which converts to higher sales or wider recognition.
The demand for video content is expanding exponentially. By creating video content such as tutorials for your audience you can build a loyal following that can either gain you greater exposure or convert into paying customers.
The tricky bit here is where to host your video content. You may immediately be thinking of jumping straight to YouTube. After all, YouTube is a massive search engine filled with people searching for your content. If you can successfully grown a following then you can also monetize using ads on your videos.
The downside to hosting your videos on YouTube is that you do not own your audience. Your account can be cancelled at any time without warning meaning that you could lose everything. In addition, getting viewers to click over to your website can be very difficult. YouTube’s number one purpose is to keep viewers on their platform and not to promote your website.
The size of YouTube cannot be disregarded however but just make sure you diversify your income with multiple income streams that you own as well. This is the whole point of building a website. You can also host your videos on your own website directly. Just make sure that your hosting package can keep up with the speed and traffic requirements that visitors place upon it.
Selling a course can be one of the most profitable ways to make an income as a digital creative. If you have a skill that you can teach others then you can make a course.
The important thing to do first is understand what your audience actually wants or needs. You might do this with a survey on your site or to your email list.
Once you have identified a market need then you might be thinking of jumping straight into creating your course. Do not do this! You need to validate the market demand first.
Just because your audience have expressed an interest does not mean they will actually purchase your course once you have spent many many hours making it.
When building a course you should make it available for pre-orders before you even create it. Build a concept and detail the content that you intend to create. List it for sale as a pre-order beta version for testing at a discounted price. This way you will see if there is true demand when customers have to get their credit card out.
If you don’t see the required number of pre-sales then simply abandon the project and give refunds to everyone that purchased. You should make this clear upfront to your customers though.
If enough people purchase your pre-order then simply create your first module and release it to them. You can then get feedback as part of your beta and evolve it. Then move on to create your next module and release as you go.
The best format for a course is via video lessons as your audience will engage the most. You can provide supplementary documents and quizzes to make it easy for them to follow-along and understand your content fully.
Popular platforms to host your course on are:
Creating a membership program for your brand could be considered the pinnacle service you can provide. A membership can be very challenging to successfully implement and requires real authority and experience in your space. As a result it is not for beginners and should only be attempted once you have mastered many of the other content strategies already mentioned in this post.
If you have progressed through these already then a successfully implemented membership program can be extremely profitable.
A typical membership program will typically feature exclusive courses and other content and a community forum. You will have to provide consistent value and quality content to justify your customers monthly fee and it can be very demanding on your time.
There are a number of platforms out there that can host your membership program with an example being Podia.
Connect with Your Audience: Digital Marketing
Now that you’ve created your website, your potential audience needs to know it exists. Digital marketing has many elements to it but once you’re competent you’ll find that your audience will steadily grow and so will your income.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a collection of techniques to make your content appear as high up the search engine results as possible. This then results in more visitors to your site. If you’ve created a good quality website full of interesting content then these visitors may well return or become customers.
Currently Google is favoring good informational content so having a Blog is a good way to attract visitors to your site.
The core concept of SEO is to research what your audience is searching for and then provide the best answer to this query. The second concept is to format your post to enable search engines such as Google to understand it clearly so they then present it as a top search result to a potential visitor.
Keep in mind that SEO is a slow process. It can take up to a year for a post to achieve it’s final Google ranking so you have to be patient and not quit too early.
The benefit of SEO is that if done successfully, each piece of content can just sit on your website (with the occasional update) while it climbs in the rankings. It will provide traffic for years afterwards with very little effort.
If you have some money to invest in your website then you can pay for Facebook or Google ads to attract visitors directly to your site. In contrast to SEO techniques, the results of this are immediate. The downside apart from the obvious financial outlay, is that if you stop running ads then your traffic stops. Personally I prefer SEO as a longer term and more hands-off strategy to driving traffic to a website.
However, paid ads can be a very good idea for short-term campaigns such as product launches if you have a digital product to sell while you might be simultaneously building longer-term traffic via SEO.
Social media platforms tend to exist to keep users on their platforms. Posting to social media is generally a waste of time for a new creator. Time would be much better spent on creating new content or other forms of digital marketing.
In addition, social media platforms are making it increasingly less attractive for users to click on external links, such as your website and leave the platform.
Any content that you post on a social media platform is hosted by them. You have no way of directly contacting your audience outside of the platform. Your account can be cancelled at any time at which point your entire audience is gone.
Posting to social media is also very time consuming and requires constant maintenance. Anything posted is only there for a short period so is really not a sustainable option in my view.
I do not count YouTube as social media but it does have some of the pitfalls but equally has unique benefits as well. YouTube gets an enormous amount of search traffic so can be an excellent complement to a website.
Ensure that you are directing your audience over to your website where you can engage with them directly in case your account is ever closed for some reason.
Once you have an established brand then it can be a good idea to reach out to other companies or influencers in your space. You may be able to be featured in a blog post or video on their site or you could offer to write something for them and link back to your own content within it.
Sometimes this can result in sponsorships or other deals but it must be done very carefully to succeed. Every successful brand is bombarded with requests like this so you really have to be polite, respectful and be able to stand out from the crowd and offer them something as well.
Start an Email List
By far the best way to connect with your audience is to start an email list. This way you are in complete control over how and when you can contact them. In the event that Google, YouTube or social media take a dislike to your website and your traffic drops, you can still send your audience information or marketing material.
Create a ‘lead magnet’ for your site which can be provided to entice your audience to sign up to your email list.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and as such, this is not legal advice. Consult your own legal professional to advise on digital marketing law before starting an email list.
Depending on where in the world you live certain legislation such as GDPR in Europe will prohibit a subscription to an email list being a condition to receive the lead magnet.
Therefore you will need to sell the benefits of subscribing to your email list as your core offer with a lead magnet being a small part of it. Alternatively, you can also include a separate opt-in to your email list.
Once you have a functioning way to capture email addresses you must keep subscribers engaged. It is a good idea to use an email marketing tool to automate sending emails. This way you can have a welcome sequence when subscribers join and also send out regular broadcast emails on a regular basis without you needing to do it yourself.
I like to use AWeber but there other popular packages are Mailchimp, Active Campaign, Convert Kit, Mailer Lite and Get Response to name a few.
Monetize Your Website
Now you have a functioning website and a direct connection to your audience you can think about monetization. Chances are you already have if you’re selling any products.
If you’re receiving regular traffic to your website then a passive way of generating income is by using display ads on each page. These pay according to the number of engaged visitors see an ad impression. Advertising fees vary depending on the subject matter of the page since different advertisers will pay varying amounts.
If you have a lot of traffic then income can be substantial but you should balance viewing experience of your site to not negatively impact user engagement.
Popular display ad companies are:
- Google Adsense – basic ads with low advertising rates
- Ezoic – great for new websites with no page view entry requirements and better rates than Adsense
- Mediavine – mid-level traffic entry requirements
- AdThrive – high traffic entry requirements
Sign up for affiliate programs for products that you recommend and net a commission when you make a referral.
Amazon Associates is the most popular affiliate program out there but most companies will have one. Do some digging to find the right ones for your audience.
Earn big money by teaching others what you’ve already learnt. Pre-sell your course to avoid investing a lot of time in something that nobody wants.
E-Commerce: Sell Digital or Physical Products
Chances are that this is where your creative side-hustle started. Selling your creations on marketplaces can be a great way to start earning money with your skills but once you start gaining a following, selling directly will net you a much bigger margin.
Grow Your Website
If your website starts to take off then you should be really proud of yourself as this is no easy task. To keep up with the additional visitors you’ll need to do some upgrades.
Optimize Your Website for Speed
As your website starts to receive more and more traffic you’ll need to think about upgrading your hosting plan. If you don’t then your website speed will suffer as the servers struggle to cope or even worse you’ll hit a data or bandwidth cap and visitors won’t be able to access your site.
Optimize your website further for speed with a faster theme, optimized images and minimal plugins. You can check your website’s speed using Google’s Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. Set up Google Search Console here.
Outsource Certain Tasks
If you’re struggling with certain tasks as your website grows then consider outsourcing them. At some point along the road you will find that the main obstruction to growth will be the amount of time that you have.
Hire a Virtual Assistant to take care of admin tasks and allow you to concentrate on more creating content. If you want to turn your creative side-hustle into a larger business then you can even hire additional creative staff as well.
Step up Your Marketing Game
Consider running paid ads on Facebook or guest posting on other blogs in your space. Find larger players in your niche that have a Podcast and contact them to see if they’ll feature you as a guest. They’ll drop a link to your website in their show notes which will earn you more visitors.
Reaching out to companies in your niche can earn you partnerships, sponsorships and back-links so it’s something you’ll need to do later down the line at some stage.
If you found this post useful then make sure to check out How to Turn a Creative Side-Hustle into a Business and How to Host a File for Download the Right Way.
Featured image: MclittleStock / stock.adobe.com
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