If you’re eager to express yourself in a blog or desperately in need of a website to promote your business, INSPIRELLE has just the expert for you. Meet Alannah Moore, a talented, hands-on website specialist / advisor from London now based in Paris. She teaches ordinary people anywhere to create their own extraordinary websites. We asked Alannah how an English graduate became a tech wiz, and how she can help you overcome any trepidation to deliver your personal message online.
At what stage were you in your life when you decided to move from London to Paris?
It was 20 years ago and I was young! I didn’t imagine I’d stay here forever. For me it was just an adventure, a place I thought I’d like to discover and stay a short while. I had no idea it would continue to become real, normal life. But of course, Paris has its own special pull—once you get a glimpse of insider life, and feel that life becoming your own, that’s something that you really don’t want to give up.
How did a student of literature end up creating blogs and websites?
Actually, it’s all because I lived in France. I badly needed something I could do freelance besides teaching because – a problem that fellow Arts graduates will recognize – the outlook is rather limited here for students of literature.
I was fascinated by the Internet as soon as I came across it and this curiosity, coupled with an entrepreneurial itch, made me determined to understand it and become involved with it. I learnt how to build websites; and before I knew it, I was doing it for other people – and web design became my business.
Of course, things have developed since those days – that was 15 years ago. Now, I write books, consult and run workshops. There’s a real need for knowledge to empower people to create and maintain their own internet presence.
Do you consider yourself a creative or technical designer?
That’s an interesting question. There’s a danger of getting so wrapped up in design that you overlook the needs of the person you’re creating for, considering the project more as an aesthetic entity than anything else when actually, a website is a business tool, not an artistic creation. There’s a parallel danger: of being so techie you can’t relate to the human side of website creation – after all, we are selling to/relating to/interacting with other humans via a website – or, totally lacking in business experience or sales/marketing knowledge, if you’ve only trained as a programmer.
So, one can’t be just technical or just creative. As a web designer you need to understand your clients’ needs and twin together the look they need to portray (the creative aspect), with the functionality they need (the technical aspect) to create a website that helps bring their business aims to fruition.
You actually need to understand business as well to be able to design a successful website.
How do you explain the phenomena of blogging? What impact do you think blogging has on the way we get and receive information?
People want to express themselves; this is purely natural. We’re lucky enough to live in an age when people can do this, and to an almost instant, wide-ranging audience, thanks to technology. This has brought about a massive wave of creativity and connection between people with similar interests and situations, which would not otherwise have made contact with one another. It represents a flowering of self-expression and of easily available information.
Just as musicians need videos to sell their music, can a business exist and be successful without a website?
You could have a business without a website, but today, why would you? I would say that having a bricks and mortar business without having a website is akin to opening a department store on an important shopping street and shutting the main doors, whitewashing the shop windows, painting over the signs and only letting people in by the back door. You might just about survive that way, but imagine if you opened the front doors, put signs up and used the shop windows to show people what you were selling. There would be quite a difference.
We all know what our first reflex is when we’re looking for something. Anything we need: from a dentist, to a new swimsuit, to a lawyer, to a hotel, to a mechanic, to a new pair of glasses, we look online first. When we find a dentist in our area with a website – even an extremely simple online presence with the address and a telephone number – that’s the one who will most likely win our business, or at least get the first call. That’s why it’s crazy – backward-looking and blinkered to be in business and not be on the web.
The same goes for not using social media for your business. Why on earth wouldn’t you use such a powerful means of promoting what you are doing?
INSPIRELLE is thrilled that you will be posting for us each month with lessons on how to build and create your blog and website. What tricks and tips can we expect?
There are some fantastic tools available today that people can use to get online quickly and easily—much more easily than they probably imagine. It’s my aim to introduce as many people as possible to these tools, and do away with the idea that creating your own website is something that’s impossibly difficult (or expensive) to do. I hope my column will also be interesting for people who already have their own website or blog up and running. I’ll be sharing ideas to help keep your website lively, and make it work for you as well as it possibly can. And, I’ll be talking about social media, email newsletters and Search Engine Optimization as well. Plus, details of some other amazing tools that I can’t wait to get the word out about!
Many websites are designed from templates. How do you customize a website to reflect the owner’s personality or message?
Templates are a godsend. They make things affordable for most people. Just adding your own logo and images will have an instant impact – already, your website will have a unique air.
With today’s modern full-width designs, photographs are more and more important. But don’t stop at photographs. Adding other custom-made visuals such as icons, sidebar elements and social media buttons is another way your website can reflect your (or your company’s) personality.
Your message and the wording you use throughout the site will create the unique voice that differentiates your site from others. Even for a business site, if your voice is distinctive, your website will stand out from the crowd. A website is much more than the basic skeleton on which it is built. It’s your unique content – visuals and words – that really bring it to life.
Can anyone create a blog or launch a website, or do you need certain knowledge and skills?
This is a favorite topic of mine and one I consider a lot since I meet such a variety of clients with different skill sets and different needs. I firmly believe that anyone can launch a website or blog as long as they have a bit of self-awareness and know what their limits are likely to be.
If you know you’re not very techie, you can still launch a website or a blog, as long as you don’t choose a complicated platform. If you’re aware you’re not a very visual person, stick to a template and don’t mess around with the fonts and the colors as this will give the game away, and make your website a lot less convincing. Conversely, if you’re a bit of a technical whiz then you’ll have a ball experimenting with bells and whistles and may well create something outstandingly original and wonderful.
So, yes – everyone can create a website, or a blog, but know your own limits. By all means shoot for the stars, but know when to reach out for help if what you want to achieve is perhaps somewhat ambitious.
In your book, Create Your Own Website Using WordPress in a Weekend, you empower individuals with a step-by-step guide on how to build a site. Why share the secrets of the trade?
This is an excellent question. But, actually, I’m not really sharing the secrets of the trade – not the top secret ones, anyway! I’m not trying to teach people to actually be web designers. I always advise people to stay away from coding and other complicated stuff, unless this is something they really want to get into.
I want to help them better understand website creation. People tend to regard a website as an “add-on” when in fact it is central to a business (or a project, or whatever it is you are working on) both in the way it presents you, and in its functionality. It goes hand in hand with whatever strategy you have in mind for the growth of your project. So, it makes sense for the person in charge of the business to be in charge of the website as well, involved in its conception and its creation right from the beginning.
Obviously not every project can be done the “Do-It-Yourself” way. I’m a huge believer in getting a professional to build a site right from the outset if it’s a complicated project or if you’re just not into that kind of thing. After all, your energies need to be spent on the project itself, not on learning how to do something complicated and new. But it’s a big mistake if the website owner isn’t “on board” every step of the way. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people had come to me and said just, “Build me a website!”
Tell us about the workshops you offer to help people develop their sites. INSPIRELLE hears you even give informal lessons over coffee.
I run WordPress courses where people come for the day, in a group, with their computers and get to grips with how WordPress works. I love WordPress and use it for all my own sites, but there’s such a buzz about WordPress at the moment that people kind of have the impression that it’s an easy solution to all their problems. In fact, because it can do so many things, there’s quite a steep learning curve. At the end of the one-day workshop, people walk out knowing pretty much everything they need to know to get going, and there’s great feedback. They’re usually really pleased, and while it’s exhausting teaching so intensively, it’s massively rewarding.
I also do one-to-one consulting where I sit or Skype with someone to discuss their site and make whatever changes they want to make there and then. It’s important to actually do it with the person because then you can get feedback and get it looking as they want it, together. If you do it all “behind the scenes” then you need hours of email back and forth to get it right and it’s really not that practical. At the end of the session we usually do a training session whereby I make sure they know everything they’re likely to need to know in future, how to change text, add pictures, add pages, add products, because then they can take control of the site themselves.
Your business is very transportable. Have computer; can travel. Yet, you have chosen to settle down and build your life in Paris. What keeps you here?
My son. Paris is his home. He was born here and it’s his familiar, loved, everyday world. When I was younger, I was hankering for the kind of lifestyle that combines work and travel, yet I’ve only succeeded in building it now, when I actually can’t make the most of it. I hope to benefit from it later on – but at this moment I’m enjoying having a family life.
What exciting projects do you have in the works?
I’m working on a new WordPress book called How to Really Create Your Website Using WordPress. It should be out at the end of the year, in digital format, and if any INSPIRELLE readers are interested in being notified when it’s available, they can hop over to www.alannahmoore.com and sign up for my newsletter and be the first to know (and possibly test-drive first versions if you’d be interested in helping me with that; just send me a message from the website).
Right now I’m also just finishing my fourth print book for my publishing company, which will be out next spring. The new book is about “Do-It-Yourself” website building systems (there are many options other than WordPress) and everything else people need to know to build their own websites. I’m very excited about both of these projects.
As “a Paris insider”, what do you see and feel about this French city that a visitor may not experience?
It’s the backdrop to my normal life. Still, even after 20 years, I enjoy the beauty of the city just as much as I ever did. But understanding customs and rules about normal life here changes everything. I know how to order a cup of tea that is as nearly as I want it (that is, with cold milk, not hot). I know I’m going to be charged double to sit at a table on the sidewalk at a café. I know what wine to order for whatever I’m eating, not to expect to be served lunch in a restaurant after 2 pm, to ask for a “jeton” to visit the “toilettes” in a café, what everything on the menu means and what the dishes are going to be like, how to be assertive enough to get a waiter’s attention… and above all, knowing the language changes everything. Once you do, you’ll stand a chance of getting treated decently in your daily interactions around the town. As long as you don’t, you’ll always be an outsider.
Will Alannah share one of her most favorite Parisian spots or pastimes with our INSPIRELLE readers?
I love eating out. My ideal evening is spent over a long and delicious meal, accompanied by wine, ideally on a terrasse outside on a summer’s evening. Even after years in my quartier (the 5th) there are restaurants I haven’t tried.
I find walking incredibly relaxing, especially with so many beautiful things to look at. I’ll always walk if I possibly can instead of taking the metro – one of the joys of this city is that one can.
My favorite spots? The little place at the top of rue de la Montagne Sainte-Genevieve in the 5th. The old streets around Place Maubert. Rue Mouffetard. Rue Sainte-Anne, on account of the Japanese restaurants. And of course I can’t leave out Montmartre, where I lived for 11 years – it’s quite ridiculously picturesque.
Alannah Moore will provide a monthly regular column for INSPIRELLE readers offering the best tips on how to create and maintain your blog or website. For more information, visit her website www.alannahmoore.com