How NOT to Start a Website - the Evolution of Catherineruddell.com

This is the first blog post on my NEW, designed by ME website! Something has to come first, and I thought it would be fun to post a few clips from my previous websites using Wayback Machine (a site that allows you to see how web domains have developed over the years.) Creatively Sustained isn't my first website, it is probably version #4 in the last five years. I thought it would also be useful to show that everything in life really is an evolution, and there is always something to learn from every decision you make.

1. Catherineruddell.com by Marta Spendowska, circa 2012.

I actually paid a fair chunk of money for my first website. I was fresh out of Marie Forleo's B-School, and was eager to promote myself online as an artist painting large scale textile banners. I was working from home on a number of commissions and wanted a site put together quickly, but knew I was limited in the skills and knowledge necessary to do it myself. I found out about Marta and her web design business through a blog post on The Middle Finger Project (she had just designed a fresh new site for Ash Ambrige around the same time.) After googling Marta I instantly fell in love with her dreamy watercolor artworks, and her mutual love for fashion and textiles. I knew I wanted her to make me a site, but I could only afford to have her customize a Wordpress template for me. It was well laid out, and I actually had my first set of professional photos taken of me and some of my art just for the site. I was happy with the way it looked, and the content I created felt appropriate for what I wanted to convey at the time. Here's a few screen clips:

The most memorable thing about the whole experience was Marta's encouragement for me to JUST GET STARTED. In our correspondence back and forth over content, I felt like she understood where I was at, even if at the time I still wasn't sure myself. As a fellow artist I think she knew how important it was for me to begin, and then just keep moving forward with my art and my online efforts.

You really don't know where you'll end up until you get started. What I learned from working at home on commissioned art projects was that I felt isolated and stifled by the nature of the work. It had been a long held dream of mine to work from home as an artist, but after about a year, I decided I really needed a more socially active and engaging career, so I went back to my old job managing a local cafe. I felt defeated, mostly confused, and didn't really know what to do when the big dream I'd been working towards didn't feel right once I got there. I didn't really know what to do with my old website, and I knew I was going to take a break from making art for a while. I wasn't really interested in making any site changes (what on earth was I going to talk about anyway?) So it just sat there unused for the next 6-9-12 months.

LESSON: It's TRUE - don't spend a ton of money on your first website because you will most likely end up in a very different position than you were aiming for - good, bad or otherwise. And the idea that "IF I spend a bunch of money on a website I'll be that much more COMMITTED to making it work..." doesn't make any sense either. I just felt more guilty about the site even though I knew I'd made the right decision to no longer work as an artist from home.

2. catherineruddell.com by Kelsey & JT Grauke, circa 2013/2014.

So I threw myself back into normal life again after deciding not to make art my career. I was working full time in a busy local cafe and in my free moments I immersed myself in growing my garden (since it was spring) and I also threw myself into yoga. I had been interested in yoga for a while, but after the giant emotional somersault it took for me to realize I wasn't suited to my dream job - I really needed to heal. I wouldn't have called it that at the time, but I knew when I was practicing yoga in the studio I would find moments where I wasn't hard on myself, or blaming myself for not following through on the art business. I began reading about yoga and listening to podcasts about mindfulness and meditation while weeding my garden. I was so engrossed in what I was hearing and learning that I forgot to take any breaks, and one weekend I crippled my body from hoeing and sowing so bad that I depended on yoga just to stretch out the kinks!

By the end of the summer I had grown way more vegetables than I could eat so I started selling the extras on Facebook. I would package my vegetables into 'recipes' and the most popular was 'borscht in a bag' and it included everything you needed to make the meal apart from a few common kitchen ingredients. I was having so much fun and was getting a lot of positive feedback about my garden and veggie photos on social media, that I felt ready to switch focus and build another online platform again. Here's what it looked like:

I had also recently enrolled in an online group program called Hey, Nice Package, offered by my former life coach Rebecca Tracey, who was now specializing in business coaching. There was some discussion about passion projects - about the process of trying something out for fun and not putting a lot of expectations on what kind of business it would turn into - and my gardening and yoga experience felt like the perfect type of passion project for me to share online again, with the idea to keep it fun and light. And I was learning how to make taking care of myself holistically - mind, body and creative soul - more of a priority.

This site worked well, and I did blog on it occasionally. I had the intention of putting together an online retreat program that focused on creative self-care and encouraging women to express themselves creatively AND take better care of themselves as a therapeutic necessity. I had a sales page created for the program and everything, and tested a soft launch. An acquaintance actually purchased it from me the first day and I was so terrified of having to follow through with it - that I promptly refunded her money and took the site down (I'm not even joking!)

LESSON: I think the idea of working on side projects that align with your passions is incredibly worthwhile, and it's where my current site has evolved from. My second website above cost me half as much as my first site, and included most of the copy writing and editing of my content, so there was great value there. But I still had no clue how to make basic changes on the Wordpress platform, and some obvious fear related issues held me back from wanting to figure it out. I can call myself out on my bullshit now, lol, but I made a TON of excuses about why I needed a brand new site before I could start the real work again. 

3. Catherineruddell.com by ME through the Better Branding Course, circa 2016.

Which brings us to today! I have my new site ready to show off to the world, which is the reason I'm writing this very first blog post to put in the queue. 

I came across Caroline Winegeart from MadeVibrant.com about a year or more ago, and I had a moment where I thought - oh.my.god. She's doing MY thing :o(

Have you ever had one of those moments that is pure, disheartening envy for what someone else is doing and feel like they beat you to it before you even knew what it was? Well fear not, that moment fades quickly when you realize there are a multitude of things that are different when it comes to who you and that person really are, and your perspectives on similar topics will be entirely unique because hey - you are the only YOU there is :o)

Suffice to say - I loved her brand and voice and style so much that I signed up for Caroline's Better Lettering Challenges on Instagram, and they were really great - but I found I wanted to draw/sketch pictures more than I wanted to create hand-lettering. I also learned the daily practice format was one of the hardest parts for me to master...

Caroline also has her own Better Branding Course - where she teaches you how to develop your brand so that it is specific to your own values and beliefs and reflects who you are and what makes your business different from everybody else who is doing similar things. She walks you through how to create your very own site on Squarespace, a platform that is user friendly and professional looking, that you can teach yourself to use with some practice. Here's my new site:

This is how the site you are visiting was created - by ME! Based on what I learned through my previous website experiences, I wanted to be able to adjust and change my site on my own, on a platform that I could understand. I didn't want to risk hiring and paying someone to create a site for me again and not knowing how to manage the technical changes that follow when you evolve your personal interests and direction.

So there in a nutshell is the history of my personal domain. I feel like I've ended up in a great place, and that I wouldn't have made it here without taking the previous steps to see what wasn't going to work for me. But the journey really iterates the most important theme for my new site - to try things out for yourself and see what happens, and to keep adjusting course based on what works for YOU. Sure there are a lot of great ways to host, design, and maintain a website - but chose the option that will allow you to do as much or as little as you can without feeling so intimidated that is slows or stops you from progressing forward.

There will be some fine tuning to this site as I move forward with all the things I want to do on and offline - but I know now that I can figure most things out for myself and thankfully I am no longer so paralyzed about how to do this stuff that it stopped me moving forward at all.

Another big reason for me to get a new website up by, oh, right about now - is because I will be speaking at the Spark Women's Leadership Conference again this year, and I've actually created a goal-setting/coloring book that is a bonus giveaway for all attendees (and includes a cute set of pencil crayons sponsored by my work - Whole Wheat & Honey Cafe!)

I am super proud of where I'm sitting right now, and it's going to be a very busy and exciting season, so if you want to follow along with everything that's going to happen in my world, enter your email below to be the first to hear all about it!

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