Choosing a Website Template

Choosing a Website Template

GUEST POST from Samantha Mabe

choosing a website template a guest post by Samantha Mabe for


Have you ever been here? You decided to DIY your website (maybe for the first time or maybe you were just ready for a change), purchased a template, started adding your content, and then you stopped short. Your brand new template—the one you’ve already put hours into customizing—doesn’t have some of the features you need. Or maybe it has everything you need, but it just doesn’t feel like you.

You aren’t alone. When I purchased my first website template, I had no idea what I was doing, so I just picked the prettiest one I could find. And it wasn’t long before I had outgrown it.

When choosing a website template, how do you get it right the first time and jost just hope you’re guessing correctly?

What’s your goal?

The first thing you have to decide when choosing a website template is what the main goal of your website is. (I’ll give you a hint: If you sell a product or a service, your goal is to sell.)

I always start with the main goal of the website because the design for a photographer is going to look different than a website created for an actor.

Maybe you need an e-commerce website to host your online store. Or you might only need to share information about your services and how people can hire you. Your goal may also be to educate people and share content through your blog or to demonstrate your work through a portfolio.

What features do you need?

Do you need e-commerce? Will you be writing blog posts? Do you have images you want to share in a gallery? Knowing which features are must haves will help you narrow down your template options.

Once you’ve made a list of the features your website will need, start weeding out templates template that don’t include those features or that make it a hassle to incorporate them.

These are some common features you may want to include on your list:

  • E-commerce
  • Blog
  • Gallery
  • Sidebar
  • Banner images
  • Footer and pre-footer
  • Mobile-friendly (this is a must!)
  • Archives
  • Search capability
  • Navigation bar
  • Scrolling or parallax capability
  • Full-page images

What platform are you using?

The template options you have are going to be limited by the website platform you’re using. If you use Squarespace for your website, you’re limited to one of their pre-designed templates. For WordPress, anyone can design a template, so you have a wide variety to choose from, although WordPress doesn’t guarantee they’ll work correctly. For other website platforms (such as Wix or Weebly), you may have different template options, but they won’t be the same as those for WordPress or Squarespace.

I use Squarespace for my clients because there are a variety of template options and it’s easy for them to update their website on their own once it’s designed. But I also know many people prefer WordPress because the platform is free and you can use widgets to add functionality.

You may choose your platform based on the template you want to use, but it’s also important to consider the platform features and ease of use.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

Do you want to offer courses? Create a wholesale login area? Build a digital store or resource library?

It may seem silly to choose a website platform based on where you want your business to be years down the road, but it’s much easier to grow if your website template has the capability to grow with you.

Consider your big goals and what you will need your website to do in order to get there. These functions don’t have to be must-haves, but they should be nice-to-haves that can help you make your final decision.

How do you choose a template?

Now that you’ve determined the goal of your website, made a list of features you need, and chosen a platform, it’s time to go about choosing a website template.

Always start by doing a broad search for templates that work with your platform and then narrow down this list based on your goals and must-have features. When you’ve found a few options you like, try their demos and visit other websites using the template to see how it works. Consider if it fits your brand style, the customization features available, and the user experience.

A word about customization—even if you can’t customize your website template yourself, don’t limit your future growth by choosing a template that has limited or no customizable features. Down the road you may choose to hire a designer or developer and if they can’t work with your current template, you may have to start fresh.

You’ll also want to consider how popular the templates you’re looking at are for other people in your industry. There will be some overlap, but if it seems like everyone is using the same template, consider going with something else so you can stand out.

What if you chose the wrong one?

So what happens if you’ve gone through the entire process, but you still ended up with a template that isn’t right? First, it’s okay—we’ve all been there. Depending on your platform, you may be able to switch templates without buying something new (Squarespace allows you to do this) or you may be able to find some workarounds by searching online.

If you’ve tried that and you still can’t make your template work, you may have to start the process over and find something else. But at least now you know you need to add certain features or functionality to your list that you didn’t before.

Don’t hesitate to ask experts for additional help (Facebook groups are a great way to get advice) or to hire someone to design and develop your website if your budget allows it.


Samantha Mabe is a brand and website designer who helps creative entrepreneurs share their vision through design. Her background is in design and architecture, but she’s been creating since she could hold a pencil. She focuses on working with creative entrepreneurs who are ready to dig into what makes them unique, share their vision, and build a brand that represents them. Samantha is a Pittsburgh native now living in Richmond, Virginia where she spends her days designing brands and websites and her evenings watching Netflix with her husband and their dog #gambittheweshi.


Brand Inventory

Brand Inventory

GUEST POST from Sierra Kellermeyer


Have you lost track of your brand?

At some point during the time you spent planning your business, you probably sat down and got your visual brand sorted out—or you at least designed a logo and picked out a few fonts. But it’s been a while. Since then, you may have lost focus on your brand, focusing instead on the day-to-day operations of your business.

If that sounds like you, it’s time to take a brand inventory.

What’s a Brand Inventory?

A brand inventory is gathering all the pieces of your brand and assessing their worth individually and as a whole. It’s to see what you have, what needs work, and what needs to be created.

Why should you take a brand inventory? Here are three good reasons:

1. It helps you see the bigger picture
When you’re focusing on day-to-day business tasks, you’re probably not thinking about strategy or branding. There’s nothing wrong with that; those tasks need to get done. However, if you’re only giving yourself time to focus on the most pressing things vying for your attention, you won’t be able to make big plans for your business. A branding inventory allows you to take stock of what you’re putting into the world on behalf of your business. What you put out greatly affects the conversations and clients you’re pulling in and the direction your business is heading.

2. It helps you find weak links
If you don’t have a brand manager or a strategy for creating your marketing materials, it’s very likely your branding has strayed a bit from your original guide. The more materials you’re creating for social media, your blog, email marketing, etc., the more likely it is you’ve created things that don’t quite fit with your original brand. A brand inventory will help you see what’s working against your brand.

3 .It helps you identify opportunities for growth
By stepping back and looking at all of your materials at once, you may see a big gap in what you have—a gap that, if filled, could help you reach more people or make your social media marketing more effective. You may see you’re not promoting one of your services very much, or don’t have much social proof (testimonials, referrals, etc.) outside of your website. Maybe you’re doing something well, but could be doing more of it.

When to Take a Brand Inventory

An anniversary: There’s never going to be a time in your business when taking a brand inventory isn’t going to be helpful. Anniversaries or milestones are a good time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going, and a brand inventory should be part of that.

Repositioning: If you’re thinking about changing something about your business, especially if it relates to the services or products you offer or the people you work with, you may want to conduct a brand inventory to see what part of your brand doesn’t reflect those changes and will need to be updated.

Expansion: Maybe you’re not repositioning, but you’re planning to expand your current offerings or marketing strategies. A brand inventory is a good tool for analyzing what’s working and should be used in your expansion.

How to Take a Brand Inventory

STEP 1: List your target audience and goals
Yourwhy should guide your brand. Your brand’s number one job is communicating the why. Before you can evaluate how well your brand is doing at that, you need to get super clear on your why. Why do you love what you do? What values do you offer your clients? Who do you work with and why them?

STEP 2: Start with your brand guideline
If you don’t have a brand guideline, now is a good time to make one. The simplest brand guides include your logo and logo variations, two or three brand fonts, and your color palette. If you use a lot of photography in your business, you should also include three to five photo samples that reflect the style of photos you use. This and your why are what all your branded material should be judged by.

STEP 3: Assess your website
Your website is your brand’s home on the web. It’s the most important piece of branding for most companies because that’s where they find buyers and/or close sales. Grab a notebook or open a word processor and comb each page of your website. Take note of anything that doesn’t align with your why and brand guideline. Also, note any areas you could see adding onto.

STEP 4: Find all your brand touch points
Next, you’ll want to gather all your brand resources outside of your website. This includes social media graphics, newsletters, business cards, email footer—everything. Do the same for these that you did for your website—find things that don’t match your why or guideline. It’ll take time, but there are no shortcuts in an inventory. Use the same notebook or document you used for your website. For now, don’t worry about organizing your thoughts—just take thorough notes on what needs to change and any ideas you get for new materials.

STEP 5: Make a to-edit list
Taking your list, and referring back to your website and brand touchpoints if needed, create three lists:
—To edit: All the pieces of your brand that only need minor edits, such as changing the color or font.
—To replace: A
ny graphics you’ve been using that are off-brand and need to be replaced completely.
—To add:All
 the ideas you had for new graphics you could add to your website or marketing.

STEP 6: Create a schedule
Your three lists are helpful on their own, but if you really want to commit to a strong brand and follow through on the lists, make a schedule of when you’re going to complete each task. A tool like Asana is very easy to use and helps you schedule tasks easily and all in the same place. When scheduling your lists, start with the most important items and work your way down.


That’s how you conduct a brand inventory! Remember, creating a cohesive and powerful visual brand isn’t a one-time task; it takes constant work and attention. However, having a polished and professional brand is always worth the energy.


Sierra Kellermeyer is a graphic designer who creates professional and polished visual brands for entrepreneurs so they can feel confident about getting visible online. Check her out at Sierra Kellermeyer Designs or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
DIY Branding Photos

DIY Branding Photos

GUEST POST from Ruth Ann Rafiq


The struggle is real. When you snap your own photos for your blog or social media, there’s an obvious difference in the photos you take from the ones on “those” Instagram feeds. I’m sure you can think of a few feeds that are not only breathtaking, but also look so professional.

Why is there such a huge disconnect between the photos we snap and those “professional” photos? I struggled with this myself when I first launched my own business. And I came from a photography background so I should know this stuff. I was a photographer in the wedding industry for a couple years, but as I got more and more into product styling and flat lays, I just couldn’t get my photos to look how they’re supposed to look—the perfect lighting, the intriguing styling, and original concepts were just not happening.

Maybe you’ve struggled with this same thing. You know the basics of what makes a good photo, but for some reason your photos just aren’t looking the part. Well, I’m here to tell you great looking photos, taken by you, are possible. I know there’s a lot of information out there, but I want to give you actionable and practical steps that can make a huge difference in your DIY branding photos.

1. Understand Lighting

One of the most important things about good photography is good lighting. Back when I worked for a photography studio where I was a wedding photographer, we worked in beautiful vineyards and golf courses where there were gorgeous sunsets and an abundance of natural light.

But when you start doing product photography, a lot is indoors and it’s definitely more difficult. The reason working indoors is difficult is you may lack natural light, but you don’t want to turn the overhead lights on because it will give your photos a yellow look.

How do you get more light without using the overhead lights? An inexpensive way to solve the low-light problem is to either buy special lighting or work with what you have. You can invest in umbrellas or light boxes, which can be surprisingly inexpensive (as little as $50 at B&H Photo or Amazon).

Can’t afford these tools? Here are some tips for working with what you have:

Use reflectors to enhance the light you have
When you start taking photos indoors, find the most well-lit, natural light-filled room, and enhance the light with reflectors. For instance, I do most of my flat lays next to a window with three pieces of foamboard (one on each side other than the window side) and shoot from the top. Reflecting the outside light boosts the overall lighting. Another trick is to take photos outside, either in the shade or when it’s cloudy and overcast. This gives you brightness but, with clouds or shade, not a hot light but instead a softer, diffused light. I like to call an overcast day “nature’s lightbox.” Don’t shoot in direct sunlight or you’ll end up with harsh shadows.

Use light softeners
If you have a camera with a flash, you can use that for more light. Tear off a piece of napkin, tape it over your flash, and shoot. This is definitely the DIY version of lighting, but it works. Doing this will soften the flash of your camera for a softer look without those harsh shadows.

Time of day
Photographing during different times of the day will affect the coloring of your photos. When you shoot early in the morning you’ll get more of a yellow, sunlight hue. When you shoot in the evening, there’s a blue hue. Pay attention to the time of day when you shoot and experiment with what works best for you and your branding.

White balance
White balance is what I struggled with the most when I first started with product photography. My photos were yellow and looked awful, quite frankly. When you’re starting out, I suggest shooting in your camera’s automatic mode before trying manual. Automatic mode lets the camera decide the exposure settings based on the time of day. If you decide to use manual mode, it’s important to adjust your white balance to match the setting you’re in, and be quick to adjust it in different settings. If you’re using a smartphone, the camera will shoot in automatic mode.

2. Use Inexpensive Tools

Wwhite foam board is great because it’s stable enough to be propped up, it’s cheap, and it’s lightweight. It makes for a great background that disappears. Another background option is printed laminate, which is designed to look like wood or brick. You can find these on Amazon or B&H relatively inexpensive.

You can also make your own background with a little creativity. If you nail together several boards and paint the whole thing white you have yourself a great, original backdrop to test out.

The key is to try to think outside the box, and create something that’s unique to your brand. This is tough, but it just takes practice and experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

3. Software and Apps

Some of the tools I use for my photos that I couldn’t live without are Photoshop and Lightroom. Both of these programs take a bit of practice, but they can really change the game with your photos. I also used Bridge for a long time and that worked really well, but now that I’ve switched over to Lightroom, I’ve never looked back.

If you’re thinking that’s more professional and complicated than you’re ready for, you can get similar, professional results with some apps made specifically for photo editing, like Pic-Tap-Go, Snapseed, EnLight, and Filterstorm Neue. I’ve not used these apps myself, but I hear these inexpensive options can help you take your photos from good to great.

Final Word (and Most Important Tip)

Unfortunately, it takes time to get good at something, especially something completely out of our comfort zone. But becoming good at anything doesn’t happen overnight. You need to put the time in, experiment with your photos, try new things, and practice. All the tips will come together with implementation. Remember, as someone I admire says, success starts by taking action. So try it for yourself!

RuthAnn Rafiq is the graphic designer, photographer, and creative enthusiast behind R Artspace, a one-stop shop branding studio that takes the stress out of branding to give you a comprehensive, streamlined experience. When RuthAnn isn’t working or snapping photos, you can find her cooking Pakistani dinners with her husband, participating in game nights with friends, or curled up with a good book and a hot cup of chai tea.