Having a dot-com isn’t just trendy, it’s mandatory if you want to set yourself apart in an ever-competitive freelance industry.
As the CEO of NVS Design, Chad Brittian shares, developing an online presence starts with a digital portfolio for any sort of creative — especially writers. Showcasing your most impressive work and those bylines you’re super proud of makes you more desirable as a writer to potential editors or clients. Without having a solid URL that’s yours, it is tough to compete against wordsmiths who have invested their time and energy into their brand. Though Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media networking sites are important to pay attention to as well, without a website or freelance portfolio, you don’t have an area to tell your story how you want it to be told.
You may be thinking, “Well I have a website, it’s just not great.” Or is it okay? Meh — it sort of does the job? If your site doesn’t have a wow factor and it isn’t something you’re excited to show off, why would someone hire you? Or why would an editor get bored browsing your clips? Apart from dealing with taxes or meeting deadlines for assignments you already have, investing in your portfolio is crucial. In fact, it could make or break your freelance empire.
Considering Brittian hires freelancers of all kinds regularly, he only has a hot second to decide between hired or passed-over. “We deal with tight deadlines. So we need to be able and access the candidates work to know the full spectrum of what they are capable of doing, which can turn into more work long-term and even potentially being considered for a more permanent position,” he explains.
So how do you know if your freelance business website is up to par? Here, experts share the signs you’re in need of an update and how to get started ASAP:
1. Your site isn’t functional across all platforms.
Though websites used to be all about music, flashy videos and an experience (looking at you, MySpace), these days, it’s better to have a sophisticated, easy-to-navigate destination that’s attractive but not too over the top.
Most of the time, users get frustrated with sites that are inundated with animation and flash, Brittian explains, especially since they’re wonky off of desktop. “Most Americans now have smartphones in addition to tablets of their own. Many elementary and middle schools are now investing in these technological changes. We are a society that wants everything now and it’s only getting worse and younger,” he continues. “We want it efficient and to be visually appealing. That’s a lot to ask, but more than ever businesses are having to compete for that business.”
Though it might be a tall order, if a client arrives to your website, only to be met with broken links, strange pop-ups or a design that falls off the page or hides a button, it’s likely they’ll bounce right off and head to another applicant.
The fix: Pick the right template.
Creative director and developer Scott Frankum says the goal is an original, highly differentiated website, but getting there is a task. Everyone takes a different path to make their site appealing and user-friendly, but most importantly, Frankum says investing in a quality designer and purchasing quality photos can go a long way. You’re the writer, so you can handle the copy — but if you want a second pair of eyes, don’t be shy to ask a pal. Sometimes a custom-made site is the best solution, but other times, a template can make it easier.
“You’ll spend less money overall and have more confidence in road-tested templates that already build-in the most recent features, like a MegaMenu and beautiful calls-to-action. Some are even supported with template updates that let you get another year or two out of your site before standards change so much that you’ll need a replacement site,” Frankum explains.
Also consider creating an external portfolio, like a free CV Portfolio, to aggregate your best work and experience highlights for potential clients — that you can easily update and link to without redoing the code on your own site.
2. Your services aren’t clear.
So, you’re a journalist. Also a content strategist. You’re schooled in SEO best practices. Not to mention you’re a ghostwriter — and blog manager. Basically your job is, well, words. Does your website articulate your vast variety of skills? And offerings?
Brittian says sometimes portfolios don’t display a freelancer’s services effectively. If it isn’t a no-brainer to immediately know what you’re about and what you can do, he says a potential client won’t be likely to hire you. Mostly because they’re confused on what you can provide, what you excel at, and who you can work together. In short, your services should be your five-second elevator pitch. If it isn’t straightforward, they’re onto the next.
The fix: Understand your target client.
Before you start moving boxes around, rewriting copy and rethinking everything, take a pause. The key to a services page that turns into income is understanding your primary target, according to Brittian. When you understand what industry, what sector or what type of content you’re jazzed to produce, you can better set yourself up for success against the competition by developing your niche.
“Know what your demographic sees as valuable. It is likely completely different from when you designed your existing website. Be willing to take a chance and do something different,” he continues. “You have a lot more to compete against in today’s business world and that is not going to change — it’s only going to continue to grow.”
3. You haven’t updated your site’s look… in years. If ever.
You built it once — and thought it would take care of itself. Or, you hired someone who handled your website but you haven’t actually given it a second look in years. Director of Strategy and Development for Victory PR, Katie Bourke has an 11-year career in website creation and design, and says an idle dot-com isn’t helpful for any freelancer or entrepreneur.
“You should always keep your site fresh with updated content so people know your company is active and thriving,” she explains. “A facelift should happen anywhere from six months to two years. If you have a website where the users come back on a regular basis it’s good to stay on brand but keep the visuals fresh.”
Think about your clips — the ones that are most recent are most trusted by editors. Even if you love that print byline from four years ago, your digital clip from a well-known publication is probably more impressive and timely.
The fix: Ask for feedback to inform updates.
You want your site to represent who you are right now, which can be tough to do without an outside perspective. “Ask your clients and friends for feedback. Do they like they site? Are they using your site? If you have little engagement online or people aren’t contacting you through your website, it’s time to talk to a website professional about a website facelift,” Bourke suggests.
There are some tasks you can do on your own though by setting up a regular schedule for updates. This could be as simple as a one-hour block once a month where you check links, update with anything published recently that needs to be added and a quick read-over. If you do have a blog as part of your writing career, come up with a cadence you can maintain to build trust in your readership. Whether it is once a week or three times a month, it’s important for your brand — and your website’s ranking.
4. You haven’t thought about SEO.
(Not so) fun fact: Google suppresses new websites for the first three months. And if you have anything that the search engine would find questionable, it pushes you further down in results. Considering you help some of your content strategy clients rank on keywords, why wouldn’t you give the same TLC to your own name? Frankum says investing in this area and ensuring your site is on the right side of Google will make it more likely you show up for the opportunities you crave.
The fix: Apply your skills — or use an app.
Yep, there’s an app for that. Depending on the platform you choose for your backend — from WordPress to Squarespace — there are many plug-ins, apps or services that’ll help you stay relevant. Though you can also tap into those SEO analytic proficiencies you developed when you went freelance, sometimes letting the magic work on auto-pilot can be enough to keep you up to date.
Frankum’s best recommendation is Squarespace over WordPress: “[They] keep the back-end updated to the most recent web standards. Add-on apps and services auto-update to current standards or they get kicked-off the platform,” he explains. “This means you don’t have the WordPress glitch issue of plug-ins updating on different schedules. In this way, the right platform saves resources you can spend places that matter to customers.”
5. You have too many pages.
Founder and lead developer at DevelopHERDesigns, Jessica Tatham says though the trend used to be “go big or go home” in terms of design and pages, that’s not the case anymore. Now she explains it’s the opposite:
“Clients want to see that you are professional — without too many colors or anything distracting from what services you actually provide,” she continues. “Sometimes the best websites are one-pagers that explain exactly what you do as a freelancer, with a diverse and highlighted portfolio.”
This means if you have a 30-page navigation that leads from here to there to way over there, you’re going to lose people along the way. As Tatham puts it, when you go overboard with a directory, a client or editor won’t be able to find what they came to look for in the first place.
The fix: Double-down on your brand.
- What are you trying to say?
- And how are you saying it?
- What makes you different?
- What is the look and feel that you want a user to associate with your name?
“When a user visits your website, it’s important that they leave the site, feeling like they actually know you,” Tatham shares. “Part of this can be done through the design of the site, but the best way to show your personality is through the copy.”
And sure, you might be paid to pen for a living — but your own website copy probably wasn’t your top priority. Consider this Tatham’s push to make you take the leap: If you, like the rest of us, have no time on your hands for this redesign, then take the plunge and hire a professional,” she urges. “Believe me, you won’t regret it.”
Get your freelance portfolio up to snuff:
- How to Write the Perfect Bio for You CV Portfolio
- Five Smart Ways to Drive Traffic (and Clients) to Your Online Portfolio
- 7 Mantras for a Better Freelance Writing Portfolio