In looking at freelance writer websites done well, you might have noticed some common themes and site elements to give you ideas about what to include in (or add to) your own. But what if you're building a fresh freelance writer website from scratch?
Where should you start?
What pages should you include in your site?
What features should a new freelance writing website have?
How can you make your professional website do a better job of both attracting prospects and converting them into clients?
That's what we're going to cover today -- all of the must-have elements for a basic freelance writer website, and some additional features or types of content that can give you an edge.
Still debating if you even need a freelance writer website? Start here: 5 Reasons Freelance Writers Need a Professional Website
Goals of Your Freelance Writer Website
To put things in perspective before getting into what your site should include, let's start by thinking about what your freelance writer website is designed to actually do. I mentioned two goals above:
- Attracting prospects
- Converting prospects into clients (making the sale)
But a great freelance website is going to do that in a number of different ways. For example, it might:
- Showcase examples of your work;
- Demonstrate your expertise;
- Help you build trust before you're even in contact with a prospect;
- Set you apart from your competition;
- Save you time by answering common questions from prospects.
And if you really go above and beyond, it might even serve as:
- a "living" portfolio piece (or collection of them through your own marketing materials -- more on this in a bit);
- a "thought leadership" publication (through your blog);
- a resource for prospects in its own right.
Start by deciding which of these things you want your site to do (or come up with other goals based on your market and current position within it). Then you'll be in a better position to decide which of the following pages and features best suit your freelance writer website.
5 Pages to Include In Your Freelance Writer Website
There aren't a lot of things in business that I consider "musts." But when it comes to your professional website, there's no good excuse to leave any of the following five pages out. I'd consider these must-haves -- a bare bones foundation you can build on.
Your homepage will often be the first impression you give to a prospect who finds you online.
Don't make this something generic like a simple bio or services list. Make your homepage a strong representation of your brand. Let it be a portal of sorts, directing prospects to the things they most want to know. And use it to highlight anything from special promotions to news -- whatever you want to bring a bit of extra attention to.
Equally, make sure your homepage features significant enough copy that it will rank well in search engine results. When people search for your name, you want your site showing up. More important than that, when people search for writers in your specialty, you want your website showing up high in those results.
A near-empty homepage with an emphasis on a few images and links isn't likely to help you do this. But because of certain trends in theme designs, I'm seeing a lot of this on freelancers' websites these days. Don't rely too heavily on designers and their cookie-cutter themes to sell your freelance writing services. You're a writer. In this industry, possibly more than any, your words are far more important.
Clients need to know what services you actually offer. Simply saying you're a freelance writer is not enough. Ideally, have sales pages set up for your key services. But at a bare minimum, have a single services page where you list the kinds of freelance writing projects you take on.
Does this have to be an exhaustive list? No. I suggest listing your most common services, but inviting prospects to contact you for quotes on related projects that might come up. And don't forget to include benefits. A list alone isn't a strong sales tool. Tell prospects why they need those services, and why you're the right person for the job.
Make sure you include something on your professional website that demonstrates your abilities and experience to potential clients. The most common way to do this is by adding a portfolio to your site.
With online portfolios, you can include samples in several ways. For example:
- If you write for the web, you can usually link to samples directly.
- If you write for newspapers or magazines, you might just list your publication credits and mention that you can send .pdf copies as samples on request.
- When a client gives you permission, you might be able to publish a .pdf or image version of your work on your website (such as for a brochure).
- If you're a ghostwriter, you might just publish descriptions of the projects and offer to send samples privately (check your contract terms and make sure you didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent you from discussing that relationship).
If you're brand new and you don't have paying work behind you yet, here are a few ways you can build early samples:
- Write and share your own marketing materials (blog posts, a promotional brochure, a white paper targeting your prospects, etc.).
- Write a few mock pieces. (I don't love this idea -- you're better off creating pieces to support your own business and have them do double duty early on -- but if you're desperate for ideas, these can work. Just make it very clear they weren't actual client projects.)
- Donate some time to a nonprofit. Let this be an organization you would support anyway and see if they need a volunteer to help with projects, from web copy to blog posts or newsletters. Don't let these come out of your billable hours. Do them in your spare time like you would with any other volunteer work, or work them into your marketing hours. This can help you build far more valuable and respected samples than taking on quick gigs with super-low-budget clients who prey on new freelancers.
If you absolutely can't get samples together before launching your site, launch without this page, but add it as soon as you can.
I've often seen writers reference About pages as content rather than copy. They lump them in with things closer to blog posts than marketing copy found throughout the rest of their sites. But your About page is one of the most important pieces of copy you'll write.
Copy, in essence, is designed to influence or persuade the reader in some way. And that's true of your About page too, even though they generally don't focus on direct sales. Instead, it's more PR copy. It's about influence, because it's about trust. Your About page shows prospects why they should trust you. It does that by highlighting your experience, credentials, personality, vision, and values.
People will routinely look for an "About" link on websites when they want to learn more about a person or company. That alone is reason enough to make sure you include this page on your freelance writer website. But it's that trust that truly makes it essential. Remember, when you're a solopreneur like a freelancer, your brand is largely a personal brand. And with personal brands, building trust is not optional.
This probably shouldn't even need to be said, but it does -- your freelance writer website needs a Contact page. Not just a little contact form tucked in the footer of every page. Not just an email address or phone number in your header or sidebar. A Contact page.
Similar to an About page, people often look for a link to a Contact page. Give people what they look for. Don't make it tougher on them than necessary. Don't confuse them. Yes, it's okay to have those other types of contact information on your site. But give them what they expect too.
My preference is to use a contact form, sometimes with my email address as well (depends on the site). A benefit of a form is you can customize it. For example, my Contact page uses a form that's designed to let prospects send me a project brief on first contact. I've found this to save a lot of time on early back-and-forth.
Your Contact page is also a good place to note your location (if that's relevant) and your available working hours or call scheduling policies.
Optional Pages for Your Freelance Writer Website
Once you have the bare essentials on your professional site, you're off to a good start. But why stop there?
There are plenty of other things not included in the list above that can make your website work even harder for you. Here some optional pages you might want to consider:
Personally, I also consider this a necessity, but it's often debated. Later this month we'll get into that debate, and I'll make the case for including these. For now, think about whether or not you're ready to publish them, or consider adding them as a test.
I like to cover some basic questions and answers for prospects right on my site, including what my payment terms are and how many rounds of edit requests are included. This can save quite a bit of time because you won't be answering the same questions constantly.
The only reason I didn't include a Testimonials page as an essential is because you can work individual testimonials into just about any other area of your site.
A separate page really isn't necessary, especially if you tie quotes to portfolio pieces. But if you prefer a separate page, it's a great thing to add -- social proof, which again helps to build trust.
Individual Service Pages
Rather than simply listing services on a single Services page, consider adding separate sales pages or landing pages for at least your most popular (or most lucrative) services.
This not only gives you more space to make a case for hiring you for those projects, but it can make it easier to rank a page from your website in search engines for search strings prospects use when looking for freelance writers to hire for those specific project types.
Something else I like to do is offer free resources that would be of interest to my prospects. It can draw people to your site who otherwise might never see it. And if they like what you have to offer, they're more likely to come back to you when they have a budget to hire someone.
One of the best ways to bring in new clients is to educate them about what you do. Reports and white papers are great tools for this. We'll talk more about turning your freelance writer website into an all-out resource later this month.
A Client-focused Blog
These days I'd consider a client-focused blog an essential element of any freelance writer website for a new writer setting up a new site who actually cares about search engine rankings and standing out while demonstrating their expertise.
I'm not listing it in the essential group for this post simply because some more established writers can get by rather easily without one. It would still help them, but many of those folks get enough work through existing relationships and referrals that they could see better ROI with other things than building and promoting a new blog.
We'll cover freelance writer blogs in much more detail later this month. For now, just know they can help you rank higher in search engines, serve as an ongoing portfolio piece for freelance bloggers, and be helpful thought leadership publications when you target the right readers with a solid content strategy.
A Private Client Area
If you want to go all-out, you could incorporate a private client portal on your website (easy if you're using a platform like WordPress -- there are plenty of membership plugins that can handle this).
This would allow your clients to log onto your website where they could find and download copies of contracts, project briefs, past assignments, or anything else relevant to your working relationship.
This is a nice add-on, but definitely not necessary. It might come in most handy for those working with regular clients who might accumulate a significant archive of projects with you.
But please, only do this if you're confident you can do so securely. If those projects show up publicly because you didn't protect them, you could violate contract terms. And if you expose contract information accidentally to third parties, you could violate a client's privacy. Again, membership plugins can simplify this. But until you're confident using them, it's best to avoid this one.
Can you think of other website elements that might benefit freelance writers? Share your ideas, or tell us about something special you do on your website, in the comments below.
This post was originally published on December 5, 2013 and has since been updated, expanded, and largely re-written.