by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

I create glass work and would like to start a business now. I'm not sure where to start, especially pertaining to an online presence. Do I create a blog first and try to grow a following? If so, how do I go about it? Or do I start with a website where items are for sale and then add a blog? What should the subject focus on exactly to convert readers to customers? Steven Hollisberg

Simply stated, there is no right or wrong way to develop your online presence; how you start depends on your needs and ability to maintain both a website and a blog. We know a website is a great way to sell your product, and it seems increasingly clear that having a blog is certainly the way of the future, allowing you to quickly and regularly connect with your customers and to find new ones. Putting this together will take time, as will the response from your customers.

First let's tackle the question of whether to do a blog or website first. First build a website to showcase your work and allow a visitor to make purchases; after all, that's what this is all about. If you've been following this column, you know my insistence that we hire professionals to handle things like this. So the first task is to find a Web designer. Talk to colleagues who have sites and ask about their designers. You can also surf through sites and find ones that seem to work for you; often the name of the designer is at the bottom of each page; if not, contact the craftsperson and ask who built her site. Just remember, building a website is going to take time away from the studio. It's essential you be involved since you're the one who knows what you want and is paying for the site.

Once built, however, time and money spent maintaining a website is minimal because there isn't as much pressure to frequently write new content. The information on a website is more static and often contains reference information that people bookmark and return to occasionally, i.e., the bracelet he wants to get for her birthday. If your products don't change often, you can have a site that will serve you well with only seasonal changes. If you do frequently produce new product, then you'll want a blog.

Once you have a website, you can add a blog and use it to feed your site. You have to be ready to commit the time needed to be an effective blogger. Due to the way people read blogs, you'll want to produce new content on a consistent basis, perhaps each week. Certainly, these posts don't have to be long or to feature your work each time but should contain information that relates to what you do. Remember, the more focused your posts, the more likely you will be to convert visitors into customers.

"Whatever you do, please start with either a website or a blog. Don't try to create both at the same time; you'll be overwhelmed trying to market both of them."

The upside of blogs is they are most often free. You will need a platform to host your blog. Two of the most common are WordPress and Blogger, which are free and provide user-friendly assistance getting your content published. Register your own domain name instead of using the impersonal blog hosting platform. You have total control over the content on your website; however, a blog is interactive and visitors are encouraged to leave comments. It is this back and forth that makes a blog such a valuable tool, allowing the maker to get to the consumers. The feature of the blog format that allows this is permalinks. Permalinks are a URL assigned to a particular post--they give a specific Web address to blog entries so they can be bookmarked and visited after they have entered the blog's archives. Without permalinks, it is very difficult for others interested in what you have written to link to it on their own blogs. Permalinks are the facilitators of discussion.

There are over 100 million blogs online. It's important not to be discouraged at the outset by lack of activity. Just as with a website, be aware that simply creating a blog doesn't mean people will read it. It's your job to drive traffic to you.

One way to get your blog and website visited is to use social media to drive traffic to you. For more on this, be sure to read Kelly Rand's informative article, ''Take the Social Media Plunge: Get Started!''.