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If you want to make a living from music — online or off — you need to be appropriately professional. More than anywhere else, the web is where you can manage perception and leave an impression that says ‘Let’s do business’.

You might not have a terribly impressive office. You might not have an office at all. I’m hoping you have business cards and that you carry them around (I don’t care whether you’re a drummer in a metal band or a music publisher, a music teacher, retailer, manager or roadie — you will always stumble across people who will be both willing and able to help you or work with you, or will remember and recommend you as long as they have the details) — but the impression you leave is not generally a corporate one. It’s a personal one.

Online, you don’t get to make the impression personally. Your website has to do that for you. What most people think of you depends entirely on what they encounter when they find you online. Here are some of the things to remember to think about when creating the impression that you’re for real, trustworthy and long-term.

Remember perception is everything
You’re eventually going to have to back up the impression you give with actual results — but there’s nothing that says your website has to give an accurate picture of your current circumstances. It’s the easiest thing in the world to give the impression that you have a decent budget when actually, as one friend puts it, you could stick it under a glass. You know you’re worth spending money on, but you have to convince other people of that.

I know it sounds hokey, but give the outward impression of the kind of success you aspire to, and the universe will rearrange itself so that it’s reality. The universe doesn’t like inconsistency. Another, slightly less hokey way to think of that is: something is true if enough people believe it. Or, simply put: fake it till you make it.

Have a proper domain.
I’ve written in the past about the kind of mistakes that people make when choosing a domain name for their website, but most important of all is to actually spend the few quid, dollars, euros or shiny beads it takes to get a domain name in the first place. It’s about the price of a pint of beer, and you can set it up to redirect to whatever free hosting service you’re currently using. For the extra price of a couple of CDs, you can get out of the free hosting service and have a grown-up website.

Spend some time thinking about colour palette.
I happen to be colourblind (red and green). It’s something I have in common with 40% of the male population of the planet — and most of them don’t realise it. But it’s still important to match colours and think about the message that different colours send in relation to your message. You’re not going to put pastels in a page about punk music — but does it always have to be white text on black with some red in it? I found this very helpful page that will help you find colours that work together — and you don’t have to be an interior decorator to spot the improvement. I’ve gone for a sandstone thing. You like?

MySpace is not your website.
I can’t say this often enough. If you’re relying on MySpace for your web presence, then you’re just not in the game. I once wrote about the five mistakes you’re probably making with your MySpace page, and I put this as the number one transgression. I’m starting to question whether MySpace is more trouble than it’s worth, but if you’re using it, think of it like it’s the pub. Meet people there, socialise, exchange details — and then, if you think you can do business with them, take them back to your office — or in this case, your real, professional website.

Learn to spell
Seriously. This is important. Grammar makes an impression. Apostrophes matter. Yes, the language is changing and developing and that’s what a living language should absolutely do. But using affect instead of effect or your instead of you’re makes you look like an idiot — and while you might think that most of your customers don’t care, they’re not the only people looking to give you money. If you don’t give proper consideration to your written communication, then you’re probably going to be lazy or unreliable elsewhere.

Yes, I’m a university lecturer. Yes, this probably concerns me more than it does most people — but you’re trying to business here, right? If you get stuck, there’s always Grammar Girl.

Use high-quality photography
Photography is a professional skill. People devote their lives to the study of the craft and to developing a style. If you want photography on your music website (hint: you do), then find someone who knows what they’re doing. Taking snaps on your cellphone or cheap digital camera is not going to cut it. You may not be able to afford to commission a professional photographer right from the outset — but there are levels above enthusiastic amateur that you can make good use of. Some newcomers to the industry are trying to build a portfolio, and music-related shots can add to that.

One way to track down a talented photographer is to trawl through Flickr. Do a search on your town, or on your type of music, and see what you come up with.

Get a web designer who understands design — not just code.
Looking at other people’s websites might give you an idea of the sort of thing to ask for, but do bear in mind that most web developers are code monkeys first, and visual designers second. The cheaper they are, the more true that becomes. But design is not just about look — it’s about user interface, accessibility, search engine optimisation — and other things that I’m going to be talking about shortly. If you’re getting a website built, refurbished, updated, overhauled or worked on, make sure that the person who’s doing it has an understanding that goes beyond CSS, PHP, MySQL, XHTML and Python — or which button to press in Dreamweaver.

If anyone says the words Microsoft FrontPage — just smile and back away slowly.

Your website is not a brochure
I’ll end with one of the most important conceptual leaps that so many businesses fail to make: Your website is not an electronic pamphlet about your business. It’s not promotion for your business. It’s not a way of generating business.

Your website IS your business.

UPDATE: There’s a nice post over at Freelance Switch about managing your internet persona that complements and develops these ideas. You should go read it.