Photography Business: Choosing a Web Host

In my post titled Build a Photography Business in 24 Hours, I mentioned that I would expand on each piece of the puzzle for creating your own business. I’m using my recent experience with setting up Auer Photoworks as the basis for this guide. Here are all the pieces of the business-puzzle I talked about (with the * items being optional):

  1. Photographs
  2. Gallery Software
  3. Hosting Company
  4. Domain Name
  5. Trade Name
  6. Bank
  7. $500
  8. * Merchant Account
  9. * Accounting
  10. * Marketing

This post will focus on step 3 of the critical items: Hosting Company. Your web host will provide you with the real estate of the web — disk space with a connection. This is where you'll setup your storefront (gallery software) to sell your goods (photographs). You pay rent on that space just like any other real estate, but it's a lot cheaper than a piece of land.

Choosing a hosting company is very important and it can be stressful. You don't usually want to jump around from host to host because it will result in a lot of downtime for your business, not to mention it's a real pain in the butt. I've only switched once in over 5 years of using web hosts. You need to do your research up front and don't settle for something you don't absolutely want. The research can be frustrating because no two reviewers will rank the same web hosts in the same order of preference — and that's why I'm not going to give you a link to any host reviews. Do a quick search for “web host review” and you'll have plenty of stuff to sort through. That's a good way to get a list of hosts that are out there, but read the reviews with a grain of salt.

Once you get a list of possible hosts together, you'll want to start weeding them out based on some criteria. The first set of criteria comes from your gallery software. The software will have a set of minimum requirements that it needs to function properly such as the PHP version, graphics libraries, database support, and UNIX vs Windows. Most (if not all) hosts provide PHP, but some offer PHP 4.X.X and others offer PHP 5.X.X. Most of them also have SQL support, but some hosts limit your usage in one way or another. When it comes to operating systems, it usually doesn't matter unless your gallery software specifically requires one or the other.

After you size down your list based on your gallery software requirements, you'll want to take a look at the secondary requirements. This includes things like reliability, bandwidth, disk space, email, control panel, support, price, CGI, SSL, FTP, etc. There's a huge list of things to look at, so I've found a couple of sites that give explanation to these things: The Site Wizard, Thomas Brunt's Outfront, and Free Webmaster Help.

I would place things like reliability and support higher in priority than disk space or price. It's such a competitive market that most web hosts are pretty cheap and offer more than enough disk space. While you're checking out these hosts, you'll notice that they offer different levels of service. They usually range from shared server to virtual dedicated servers to dedicated servers. As a start-up business, you're not going to see enough traffic to need a dedicated server. Start cheap and get your feet wet — you can always upgrade later, and if you stay with the same host they'll usually take care of you. Expect to pay about $10 to $20 per month for a host. Go much lower than that and you might be skimping out in the wrong places. And whatever you do, don't get a free host — it's not very professional and you're not doing yourself any favors.

I use a hosting company called Host Gator. I pay $10/month for 100GB of space, 1000GB of bandwidth, unlimited domains, unlimited MySQL databases, and it supports my gallery requirements for PHP and the imaging libraries. I host 4 websites from the same space: this blog, Auer PhotoWorks, my family site, and a future development already in progress. I don't have enough traffic to require a dedicated server, so I'll enjoy the low fees for the time being.

Now that we have our photos in order, our gallery software, and a web host, we'll need a domain name. Tomorrow I'll talk about how to pick and where to get a domain name — your Internet address.

Photo of the Day…

Washington Reflections

Photo by Brian Auer
11/15/05 Washington DC
Washington Reflections
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3
65mm equiv * f/6.3 * 1/250s * ISO50