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Nadia Meli | The Line Between Inspiration & Plagiarism: Creating A Website That Is Authentically You

This is an article by Nadia Meli – a brilliant portrait photographer based in the UK, a dear Flo client, and a beloved member of Flo’s Marketing and Communications team. 

Since plagiarism is a topic that we come across quite often within the creative and photography world, and many of you have unfortunately fallen victim to this unpleasant and disheartening act – we decided to tackle this topic from another angle. 

Rather than stating the obvious, that plagiarism and copying someone’s work, website, writing – is ugly, disrespectful, and also illegal – we wanted to share a list of steps and recommendations that anyone can follow to ensure that what they’re creating is original, unique, and authentic. We’ll be focusing specifically on how to create a website that is real and genuine to your brand and your clients. 

Let us know if this list was helpful, or if you have any other tips that would compliment and add value to this post!

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“The dreaded/exciting time has come: You need a new website!  If you’ve built one before, you know that it’s equally an elevating and exhausting process. You enjoy the freedom that comes with all the possibilities – but it’s also the possibilities that make it hard. Having a sea of inspiration and ideas at your fingertips can get you stuck before you even start. Especially if you haven’t figured out who you are and how you want to show up online.

The first thing you usually do when it comes to creating a new website is look for inspiration on other websites, right?

However, that can lead down a slippery slope: Sometimes we can become so obsessed with the originality of someone else’s website that we end up recreating it to a t. And while imitation might be flattery – it doesn’t show very much imagination.  

As someone whose website has been copied many times over the years – not just the fonts, layout, and design, but even my copy word by word – I know what it feels like to be on the other side. It’s really sad when something you’ve spent so much energy, time, and resources on is just copied and pasted. Not only that, but what you are copying is someone else’s voice and personality.  It’s frustrating, disheartening and it can, in the worst cases, have legal implications if the person you are copying from takes it that far. 

Is there a way to avoid ending up with a plagiarised website? Let’s explore a different approach to getting inspired. What if, instead of looking to others you went the other way? What if the inspiration you are looking for is not on the outside but on the inside?

In this article, I want to encourage you to build a website that is unique to you, that speaks, looks, and feels like you (or your brand). Here are some steps that can help you when building a new site or approaching a website refresh: 

Start with your why

Why do you want to change? Are you switching industry? Have you changed your branding? Has your style evolved? Or are you dissatisfied with your current website look, though not quite sure why? It’s important to understand what is causing this change, in order to know if you need a complete overhaul or not. Maybe you don’t have to re-do your whole site, yet your copy needs revision because it’s no longer accurate. Or perhaps you want to change your branding colours to freshen things up a bit. 

Sometimes a simple portfolio update, a new layout, or fresh styling can fulfill your craving for novelty. Other times, the problem lies deeper: maybe your clients don’t relate to the content or the website structure is confusing. It’s important to look at the reason you want to change things up -as it will help you figure out what you need to tweak, get rid of and what can stay. 

Create a moodboard based on you, not on others

Ask yourself who you are and what you like. This will sound simple, but it’s a big one. Do you prefer light or dark? What are your favourite colours? What colours is your house decorated in? What colours do you normally wear? What textures, smells, flavours do you love? Which fonts and design elements catch your eye? What do you naturally gravitate towards?

Create a moodboard based on the things YOU love first, only then look at other people’s websites. Collect fonts, colours, designs, layouts, patterns, images, and vibes – anything that speaks to you and aligns with who you are.

Get other people involved

Get friends and/or past clients involved. It’s helpful if they are not in your industry, so they don’t have preconceived ideas of what you ‘should’ do. Three people is a good number. Ask them to use a few words to describe you and your work. Find the overlaps between their words and the way you see yourself. 

This can help bring a fresh perspective (sometimes we are too close to see things clearly) and might even give you a new language to describe your brand. Past clients know what it’s like to work with you and can bring a lot of value from their experience.

Define your brand personality and customer

From there think about the business/brand you want to build: who is your client? Who are you speaking to? If you and your clients are similar, then your brand should ‘speak’ the way you do.

Sometimes your brand personality has nothing to do with you and has a different identity. In that case, you can still follow the steps above: think about who your brand is? What does it love? How does it speak? What does it care about? There is a super insightful FloInsider episode on Brand Personality with the amazing OhSierra team. You can check it out here.

Look at other websites last

Saving other websites as inspiration should be your last step. That’s useful if you want to find elements that you think are beautiful and smart, maybe features you have never thought of – that make the browsing experience easier and fun. Using someone else’s website for inspiration should be done with caution. Remember that there is inspiration and there is straight-up copying. Don’t use someone else’s lines, exact design, and ideas. You have the foundation now (steps 1-5), take the spark and make it your own. 

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These steps will help you focus on your own voice first and will decrease the risk of your website just being a copy of someone else’s. 

Sometimes the route of self-discovery can seem difficult and it appears easier to just copy someone’s success recipe. But it’s really worth it in the end, when you look at your final product and see yourself reflected in it. Your clients will see it too and your business will only be better because of it.

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