Smart and sexy? You betcha.
Obviously not every model runs her own dot-com, but for those who do, it is (at least) a full time job. Many control everything from design to answering customer service emails. It's not all lipstick, giggles and sexing it up for the camera — an enormous amount of work goes into building, promoting and maintaining a successful website, and these girls are doing it all for themselves.
Nearly every model has her tale of woe — the ex-boyfriend or manager who undermined or sabotaged her work, the company that was supposed to help run the site but succeeded only in stealing her money, and so forth.
Sandee Westgate, who has been online since 1999, said her first foray was a complete disaster. While searching other models' sites, she came across an agency, submitted her photos and was convinced to do a website.
"It was basically sabotaged by the person. He was a complete scam artist, and I never saw a dime out of it, but I saw the potential behind the whole business," Westgate said. "I told him I was going to do one on my own and he was like, 'Yeah, right, like a girl like you could ever do anything.' It was a 'success is the best revenge' type motto that I was living by."
Aria Giovanni said that part of the problem is that it's difficult to find legitimate people who want to take on projects like a nude model site. Giovanni, a self-professed workaholic, was eager to control how her name and image were used, so that suited her just fine.
"I'm very hands-on," she said. "I wanted it to be my project because everything I had shot for other companies — you have very little control what happens to it or where it goes — this was going to be my site, the way I want to do it."
Sunny Leone said one of the most important things for her was spending time at webmaster conventions, both to learn from and network with others within the industry.
"I went to tons of webmaster shows, I sat in every single seminar, I heard the same thing over and over and over again, took notes, and a lot of people helped me out," Leone said. "I try really, really hard to implement the things I've heard over the years. You basically have to be persistent."
Adult site owner-operators spend a lot of time on webmaster boards like GoFuckYourself.com, and it's not uncommon that they get called out by other posters, chastising the ladies for not being who they say they are. These people assume that it is a webmaster, agent or boyfriend posting as the model.
"On GFY the other day somebody was like, 'Nice — webmaster coming in and pretending to be a girl,'" Westgate said. "I'm like, 'No, it's me,' and everybody vouched for me."
Most models have spent incalculable time over the years explaining to people that it really is them by responding to emails, writing the blogs and posting on message boards.
Trisha Uptown, who is based out of Kentucky and has been online since 1998, said she understands the confusion since most models don't run their sites and do have other people posting and corresponding as themselves.
"They don't think a lot of the girls run their own sites, and a lot of the girls don't run their own sites," Uptown said. "Over time the members start to realize when you do and when you don't. They appreciate the fact that you have a limited amount of time."
Giovanni said she often has a difficult time being taken seriously despite having run her site for nearly seven years.
"A lot of people still don't know I do it all myself, and that's the point of going to the webmaster shows," Giovanni said. "In some ways it's selling yourself, proving yourself, letting people realize that you are on the same level as them in business, not just some pretty face who talks about the color of her toenail polish all day."
BENEATH THE SURFACE
While being in front of the camera is what these women are known for, it is actually a very small percentage of the time they put in. Besides photo shoots, there is promotion, live cams, correspondence, conceptualizing, editing, writing copy, coordinating several weekly updates, overseeing the design (Westgate even did her own design until recently) and the countless other things that go into any business.
"I would say actual shooting is five to 10 percent of my time," Giovanni said. "Not only do I have to shoot all the content, I have to put it all together. It takes time to get your merchant account, the design, the wording, the photos, the concept, a store — it takes a long-ass time."
Much time also is spent corresponding with fans, not only their site members, but those who email and contact them through sites like MySpace.
"It's never-ending," Uptown said. "I do everything right now. I shoot my content, edit, upload, make galleries, I answer all my own emails, I do all my own MySpace, so I'm constantly working on it. I haven't left my house in three days."
PERSONALIZATION AND THE ART OF SELF-PROMOTION
For those who went online earlier, competition was less fierce. Not only did magazines like Penthouse allow models to plug websites with their layouts, it also sent them out for promotional duties, which allowed the models to hit the ground running. For Giovanni, members were ready and waiting when her site debuted.
"I had a lot of type-in traffic," Giovanni said. "I didn't have to do anything. I just launched and I had members. People knew it was coming, I had talked about it, done interviews about it, so when it launched I had members instantly."
It wasn't that easy for everyone. Westgate, whose early days were spent as a stripper in Sacramento, frequently traveled to Los Angeles for photo shoots and would sometimes accept plugs in lieu of payment.
"In the beginning it was all about being published," Westgate said. "Fitness magazines, instead of paying me I made sure they included SandeeWestgate.com. The main thing that got my name out there was being in Playboy's special editions. That's what really got my fan-base growing. I don't think my name really got out there for like a year. I wasn't making money for a while."
When it comes to promotion, the little things count Radio and print are important, as are business cards and making sure the website is included on every signed photo. But getting members is one thing; retaining them another. Competition continues to increase, and almost uniformly the models said that personalization was one of the most important elements of being successful today.
"I've got this live 24/7 webcam that's on me when I'm working, which I do for hours a day, sitting at my desk," Westgate said. "They just really love to know that there's really a girl behind it and it's not some network or manager behind the whole website. So many people out there have these great websites with loads of content, but they're not doing well because they don't have that persona attached to it."
While some had a built-in fan-base when they started, today each girl recognizes affiliate programs as an essential part of a successful site. Some initially resisted, but have since come around.
"The affiliate world is huge in my opinion," Westgate said. "I never really came in contact with it until 2005, and in the beginning I was like, 'Why should I share my money with somebody?' I've come to realize that those guys out there are working their asses off to get your image and name out there, and it's worth splitting half the money, because you're still making more money than you would be if they weren't promoting you."
GOOD TO BE ON TOP
Running one's own site may not be easy, but it offers a tremendous payoff if done correctly. Not only can it be financially lucrative, it also can allow the freedom that comes with self-employment.
"I love the challenge and I love my job," Leone said. "I think the adult industry is one of the greatest industries you can work in, where it can change every single day. The more you work, the more money you make. It's just a matter of motivation and your drive to be in this industry, and I am definitely still hungry."