All types of independent professionals have been hearing it for years—to do business today, you need a website.
But what exactly is the function of your website when you’re a freelance writer? Unless you’re a blogger by trade, or selling books or products to consumers, it may be difficult to determine the purpose of your page and which features to include.
However, your website can be a tremendous tool for growing your client base and your career. Let’s take a look at how to create a writer’s website that gets you work.
1. Use your website as a selling tool
The most prominent reason to start and maintain a website is to showcase your work and help your potential clients visualize how you can help them. Susan Barnes, travel writer and host of the #GirlsTravel chat on Twitter, says, “Whenever I am pitching somebody, I always link to my site, to my clips page. If you want to put everything upfront, it kind of takes away the back and forth.”
There are a few tactics you can use to ramp up the professionalism of your site. Jane Friedman, former co-founder and editor of Scratch magazine and current columnist for Publishers Weekly, says customization can make a world of difference in setting you apart from others, and making your site look polished. “Have some custom design touches, your own header or color palette or background image,” she says.
Carol Tice, freelance writer and founder of several web resources for writers, believes a picture makes a huge difference.
“Not a picture of you with a drink in your hand, holding your miniature dog—a professional but friendly-looking shot of yourself. People come on writer websites to meet the writer, to get to know them and make sure it’s not another online writing scam.”
2. Make sure your site looks professional
Writers who lack technical skills may shy away from simple things that can drastically improve the appearance of their site. Friedman emphasizes the importance of a self-hosted site, “even if it’s just faking the appearance of a self-hosted site.”
Strongly consider purchasing a domain name on content management systems like WordPress, so the site looks like your own. “That small investment adds another layer of professionalism to it,” says Friedman.
There are also good, lesser known platforms on which you can host a site. Signing up as a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), for example, gets you a free site. And sites like WritersResidence.com design sites specifically for writers. However, Tice warns against using free platforms: “What that communicates to prospects is that I’m a dabbler; I’m not putting time into this.”
3. Include the Essentials: Homepage, About Page and Testimonials
Tice highlights four main components of a killer website: a homepage, an “About” page, contact info, clips and testimonials. The homepage should clearly and concisely state what you do and how you can help your client, while your About page can delve into the work you’ve done recently. “A lot of people’s About pages start, ‘I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I was five years old.'” Tice says. “This is not what the client wants to know about you—they want to know, ‘Who have you been writing for lately?'”
Friedman suggests beginning with a primary call to action, whether through a tagline, layout or menu, that indicates what you specialize in. In addition, she says, “the menu needs to be direct and clear about things your target audience will be most interested in—your portfolio, clips and how to contact you.” She adds it’s important to put your name somewhere prominent, preferably in the domain name and in big print on your site’s landing page. Your contact info should be easy to find and, if possible, on every page.
It’s also helpful to include testimonials with headshots of your customers on your homepage or About page. “Testimonials convert,” says Tice. “They add huge relatability… it is amazing how our brain makes that connection with the face.”
4. Spotlight your clips
As a professional writer, your clips and portfolio will be your greatest asset for attracting new clients. Friedman recommends offering up your clips in reverse chronological order, and split them up by category if you write in different areas. “If you have work online, link directly to it, or post a PDF of the opening spread,” she states.
Barnes puts all of her clips on her site over the past two years, and makes it a practice of always asking for PDFs of print pieces. Tice also emphasizes the importance of keeping your clips organized. “Once a year, I have somebody go through and make sure the links [to my work] are valid. If you have stuff you love, get PDFs or physical copies. Magazines go under, websites fold, and you’re going to lose that work.”
5. Keep the (good) content flowing with a blog
Barnes manages what she calls a “hybrid” site that’s part blog, part traditional website. She updates her site with blog-like posts, linking her latest work as a featured story. She says, “You may write something you don’t have a home for, and you can put it on your site and tweet or [write a] Facebook [post] about it. It’s kind of like a nice bonus outlet.”
Tice maintains a blog on one of her websites, but advises that writing a blog is only best if you’re planning on pitching other blogs—or if you really have a lot to say on a topic. “There are 700 posts on my blog. Think about iterating that many [posts] about the topic you’re thinking about blogging on, and if that idea makes you want to run screaming, it’s not the right topic for you.” She adds that the problem with blogging is that, “If you don’t keep it up, it looks dusty and abandoned.”
Friedman has also seen far too many writers blog poorly, especially if they’ve been told to do it for marketing reasons. “If you have the intrinsic desire to blog, go for it—but it’s not a good idea as just a means to an end.”
6. Avoid nonessentials that can clutter your site
It may be tempting to add every clip, link, widget, bell and whistle to your page, but don’t underestimate the power of keeping your site short and sweet. Specializing in one subject or type of service can also be advantageous. Says Friedman: “If you’re too vague or general, people don’t understand how or why they should partner with you.” But keep in mind that specializing in something now doesn’t mean you can’t change it later, she adds.
You also don’t need to include a resume because the content on your site should be your resume. Another item to exclude is a rate sheet. Tice says, “With a rate sheet, you’re totally shooting yourself in the foot, giving yourself a chance to lose gigs, or having to work for rates you wouldn’t want to with pain-in-the-butt clients.”
It’s better to be succinct than to put everything out there. Some writers add extensive FAQ sheets to their site, but, Tice, for one, is against them: “Every piece of data beyond the basics, you’re just giving them a chance to not like you, without having talked to you and finding out you’re really great.”
7. Know Thy Work Is Never Done
Once your site is live, your work isn’t done. In fact, it’s never really done—not if you want to keep getting work. “This is a fluid document; it’s like a business plan, where you need to update it every quarter as your ideas change,” says Tice. She recommends revisiting, tweaking and rewriting the content at least once every six months. Frequent updates can also help boost your search-engine ranking. After all, the point of your site is visibility.