In today’s digital age a website is the storefront for any freelance website developer. Without a site, you basically don’t exist. You need a website.
C’mon. You’re web developers. You know this stuff. It’s the same pitch you give to those backward clients who still want phonebook ads.
Of course you already have a freelance website pitching your skills. Please.
But is it working? Is your freelance website doing you any good? It’s easy for your site to fall to the bottom your to-do list. Simply put: You’re too busy building awesome sites for your clients to have an awesome site yourself.
That’s a problem. Let’s talk about how to fix your freelance website.
Why You Need a Freelance Website
Before we get too far, let’s remember why you even need a freelance website. You know the website pitch—you give it all the time. But there’s a problem. Traditionally we say the cobbler’s children have no shoes.
Web developers frequently have the same problem. Or you have a website—it was easy to build an awesome freelance website in your early days when you weren’t busy. But your site gets older and crustier with each year that goes by. Not cool.
If you’re trying to sell yourself as a builder of websites, then you better have a website for yourself. And it probably shouldn’t suck.
Here’s why you need a freelance website that works:
- Bring in Business – Your site should be a continual pipeline of new business. You might not need new business today, but who knows what will happen down the road (or, you know, next week). Those referrals could dry up and you’ll be in trouble. So keep that marketing funnel full with a solid freelance website.
- Establish Credibility – We’ve been at this Internet game for a while now, but there’s still that pesky question of credibility. Anyone can set up a site and claim they’re an amazing developer. But having a solid freelance website gives you a chance to prove your credibility with quality content, social proof, in-bound search and more.
- Build Your Brand – “This is often where many freelancers mess up,” says freelance developer Jared Atchison. “You can have all the technical skill in the world, but without a brand to support it, you won’t succeed with your own business.”
- Home Base – With all the social media options and portfolio platforms, it’s tempting to abandon your freelance website. But those sites will come and go. You need a solid home base to serve as your online hub.
- SEO Goodness – You want people to find you online, especially when they search for your name or your town and “web developer.” Good search engine optimization (SEO) only happens with a good freelance website.
Web Is Not #1
Now let’s be realistic. Your freelance website is probably not your primary source for clients.
As freelance developer Bill Erickson told us in an interview earlier this year, “I could take down my website right now and still have work coming in—that’s how important word of mouth is.”
Other avenues for potential leads are arguably more important than your freelance website. But you still need a site.
A freelance website is the foundation that makes word of mouth, email, social and every other channel more effective.
Your freelance website is an anchor to bringing in new business. Those word of mouth referrals will go to your website to contact you. Those Twitter followers will check out your freelance website to learn more about you. Any email campaign is going to push people to your site.
Seeing the trend? Your freelance website is central for incoming leads. You can’t keep pushing it to the bottom of your to-do list.
How to Make Your Own Site Happen
OK, OK—we’ve all fallen victim to the cobbler’s shoe problem. But what do you do? How do you make your freelance website a priority?
Remember the Importance
The first thing you need to do is accept how important it is. We all know how important a website is, but you need to remind yourself. We allow our excuses to dilute this truth and we keep pushing it off. Meanwhile our crusty site gets even worse and those leads click the contact button less frequently.
Put It on Your Calendar
Making your own stuff a priority requires carving out the time. You need to literally put it on your calendar.
This should be part of a regular effort to work on your own business, creativity and skill. Web designer Brian Casel is a big proponent of this:
“Make an effort to break off a chunk of your time—maybe 20%—to work on your own projects.”
It’s Good For You
One way to make that happen is to remember it’s good for you. More from web designer Brian Casel:
“Don’t be completely involved in just client work. You want to be doing stuff for yourself as well. That’s how you get better, that’s how you push your own creative style further.
“Maybe that’s redesigning your own site. I do that every six months just because I want to. That’s a great way to flex the creative muscles. Just because the time is not billable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using the time to be creative.”
Outsource Your Site
It may feel like cheating to outsource your own site, but it’s a legitimate way to get it done. Maybe you just outsource the portions you don’t like doing—the writing, the graphic design, the grunt work. You tell your clients to bring in professionals all the time, so why not do it yourself?
Just because it’s your freelance website doesn’t mean you can’t get help to create it.
Scale Back Your Plans
You also tell your clients to scale back their dreams when they’re being too unrealistic. It’s OK to do the same thing yourself. Maybe you don’t have time to build the freelance website of your dreams. But instead of putting it off, create something smaller. Start small and work up to the site of your dreams. Some progress is better than no progress.
What Your Freelance Website Must Have
So you’ve come to terms with the importance of your freelance website and you’ve found a way to make it happen. Now what do you need to do to make it better?
Let’s start with the basics. Here’s what your site needs to have:
Yes, people need to be able to get in touch with you. Duh. Do we really need to mention this? Yeah, we do. Because listing contact info alone isn’t good enough.
- Make sure your contact info is accessible from every page. If you don’t put the info itself on every page, make sure it’s in the menu on every page.
- Think through your strategy: How do you want people to contact you? Phone, email, web form? How do you process each of those requests? Make sure you have a system in place.
- If you’re brave enough to post your email address, consider steps to minimize spam.
- If you’re using a contact form, consider that every field will lower your response rate. Do you really need a perspective client’s mailing address? Keep it simple. And test that contact form!
- Consider giving people options. A web form may be the best way to contact you, but some people like to pick up the phone.
Check out the iThemes Training session on Contact Pages That Don’t Stink (members only) for more.
Your freelance website needs to show off your work. It should show potential clients the type and quality of work you deliver. Clients should see themselves in your portfolio, so don’t pick extreme examples that are outside your normal work.
“Don’t just list everything you’ve ever worked on in your portfolio,” says web designer Brian Casel. “Pick three to five really great projects that represent the type of work you want to get.”
Half a dozen amazing pieces in your portfolio is better than a dozen good pieces. Be picky.
And wowing your clients isn’t the point. Each example in your portfolio should showcase how you solved a client’s problem, as Brian suggests:
“Don’t just use screenshots. Put up case studies. Include testimonials: their problem and what solution you delivered. That shows the customer how they can benefit from what you offer.”
Not only does this make a better case to potential clients, but it’s also good for search engine optimization (SEO).
Anybody can have a website. What makes you credible? Your freelance website is an opportunity to backup your claims. This is a chance to tout who you are and offer your laurels. Give some client quotes or brag about your WordPress contributions.
You could also point to what you do as a way to back up what you say. Any content marketing that shows your expertise, such as a blog, podcast, tutorial video, etc., will do nicely. You could also point to exterior sources such as social media. If you’ve got a big following on Twitter and are routinely talking about your business, featuring your Twitter account can be a good way to establish credibility.
What Do You Do?: Big Picture
When people visit your freelance website they need to know what you do. Quickly. People should be able to browse your homepage and know what you do. Sometimes we’re so close to our work that we miss this step and we get too specific too quickly. Communicate what you do in everyday language. Don’t use code jargon.
While it’s important you give that big picture perspective of what you do, make sure you’re showing focus. What’s your specialty?
“The number one way to bring in business is to focus on something.” -Justin Sainton
And Justin nails it: “For me the most effective method has really been focus. Honestly, those first two years, even four years, I was very generalized. I could do anything and everything and I was OK at it. I wasn’t known for anything.”
So your freelance website should give us that big picture perspective of what you do, balanced with the need to show your specialty. And make sure it’s in language your clients can understand.
That can be a tall order. Here’s how to make it simple:
- “Web Developer” – Too broad. What’s your specialty?
- “I specialize in SASS.” – What? Avoid the acronyms. Use English.
- “I build WordPress sites for small businesses.” There you go. Much better.
What Do You Do? Nitty Gritty
Your homepage needs to give that big picture, easily understandable statement of what you do. But as you dive into your freelance website, you need to give more details about what you can deliver. This is where you explain your services.
But don’t give us a list of what you do. Talk about how what you do can benefit customers. This is the classic features vs. benefits distinction. Apple talks benefits when they say 1,000 songs, while Microsoft focuses on features when they say 4 GB.
Again, Brian Casel says it well:
“Most freelancers’ sites need to be less about you, less about the freelancer, and more about the customer. They really need to speak more to their ideal client and communicate the benefits that client is going to receive from choosing to work with the freelancer. Rather than saying, ‘I design websites and I love to use WordPress,’say something more along the lines of, ‘You can grow your business and manage your own website using WordPress, and I’m here to make it easy.’That’s the angle you want.”
What You Must Have
Those are some basics your freelance website must have: contact info, portfolio, credibility and what you do (both big picture and the details). Everybody needs those. But what’s going to make your freelance website stand out?
Ways to Make Your Freelance Website Work
Now that your freelance website has the basics that everybody needs, what can you do to stand out from the crowd and be effective?
A powerful one-two punch is to show your expertise and deliver something helpful. Content marketing does both. Whether you’re blogging, creating tutorials, doing a podcast, hangout or something else, it showcases your skills and helps people out.
Web developer Carrie Dils talks about how content has helped her business:
“A couple of years ago I made a concerted effort to generate more content on my site (tutorials, DIY blog posts, etc.), and that’s led to a tremendous increase in what I call ‘stranger referrals’—people I have no connection to. At present, I generate over 60% of my business from total strangers who’ve discovered me online. I’m not a blogging mastermind or business guru, but I’ve been amazed at what a consistent online presence has accomplished for my business.”
Not only does content display your expertise, but it also serves as an introduction to potential clients.
“The best clients I get have actually sat down and read a bunch of my website,” says web developer Curtis McHale. “They get to feel like they know me—there are no surprises.”
Your freelance website can actually pave the way for a good working relationship.
Just make sure your content marketing is current. There’s nothing worse than seeing a blog that hasn’t been updated in months. If you can’t commit to keeping it current, then don’t do it.
For more on content creation:
Another way to stand out is by giving back. Content marketing is one way to give back, but you might do less public efforts, like contributing to the WordPress community with code, upgrades, plugins, volunteering with a meetup or other efforts.
The downside, of course, is these efforts are less public. So you’ll need to find ways to make sure these things are reflected on your freelance website. You want these things to speak for themselves, not look like a self-serving pat on the back.
Freelance WordPress developer Bill Erickson has had luck with giving back:
“A lot of people with WordPress problems will Google how to fix it and find my stuff. Even if they aren’t technical enough to use it, they see my name over and over again, and they realize they should hire me when they’re ready for a developer. That’s helped.”
For more on how to give back:
- Take a look at our free How to Run a WordPress Meetup ebook.
Everybody talks about collecting an email list these days, and that can be an important way to capture potential customers and make sure you can reach out to them again. Building an email list of clients is important.
But be careful what you promise with an email list. Collecting email addresses and never sending anything to them is doomed to failure. If you only send an email once a year—or whenever you think of it—your open rates will plunge and your spam rates will skyrocket. Nobody will remember signing up for your email, and they won’t read it.
Just like your content marketing, your email list needs to be current. You must have a consistent schedule for sending out updates. And you have to stick with it.
Your emails can be short. All it needs to be is a quick check-in with potential clients and offer something of value. But you have to do that little bit. Otherwise it’s wasted effort.
For more on email marketing:
- Check out our iThemes Training premium series with DJ Waldow, Email Marketing Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 (members only).
Make sure your freelance website has Google Analytics or some other stat system installed. Yes, this is no brainer stuff—but remember the cobbler’s shoes—stats are a place you might put off or overlook.
Dig into your stats and see what pages are working and which ones aren’t.
For more on stats:
- Watch our iThemes Training videos on Google Analytics and Five Useful Features in Google Analytics (members only).
- You can also check out our free ebook, Getting Started With Google Analytics.
Your Freelance Website Should Win
It’s not always your first love. But your freelance website should be awesome. Carve out the time to make it work. It will be well worth the investment.