Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #3: Without This Tool, You’re Invisible

Freelance writers do different kinds of marketing.

Some writers like to make phone calls, some go to in person networking events and hand out business cards, some reach out on LinkedIn. Some send query letters.

But no matter how you do your marketing, sooner or later it all boils down to one thing: Prospective clients would like to look at your website and read your clips, so they can decide whether they want to hire you.

Without at least a basic writer website, you just don’t look professional. Especially in the fast-growing world of online writing markets. You just can’t compete for the good gigs.

So you need a writer website.

But you’re broke.

And technology makes you cry.

How can you get at least a rudimentary website together on the cheap, without having to become a technological genius? Here are a few options I like:

  • Take over your Zoominfo profile. Zoominfo automatically compiles references to people online — but you can take control of your profile and style it up. I actually used this for the first 18 months when I started freelancing in late 2005.
  • Use the Behance plugin on your LinkedIn profile to show your portfolio. This allows you to add many more than the requisite three or so links usually allowed.
  • Join the National Association of Writers & Editors, NAIWE, for $99 and get a hosted WordPress blog. This is my personal favorite deal. You get all the resources of a professional support organization — plus they throw in a hosted WordPress site for you. It’s pre-set up with a portfolio page for your clips and a basic design you can leave or improve. Bonuses: Your blog posts appear in NAIWE’s blogroll on its busy website, and you can get the organization to retweet your posts, too. An instant site that comes with some instant exposure, too.
  • Use a free, quickie platform such as Yola, Cuttings.me or Flavors.me to throw up a basic site. There are some real limitations you’ll bump up against here — but on the plus side, you could have somewhere to send clients right away.

What needs to be on your writer website?

Once you’ve got a site, you want to turn it into a useful tool that convinces clients to hire you. There are eight basic items you need on a professional writer website:

  1. A professional photo of you. Find a photography student and get a decent-looking shot that says “I’m a writer, and I love what I do.” Not a photo of you with your poodle, or in a bikini, or in a bar. Remember, people hire people. Look accessible and relatable, and real.
  2. Lots of clips. Don’t only put a few. Don’t just list the titles like a bibliography. The main point of visiting your site is to read your work. Don’t force your prospects to download your clips, either — they won’t. Either link to where the clips live online, or link to where they are on your site (you can get them made into PDFs, then upload them in WordPress on the “media” tab). Group them by topic and show the publication name in the title, too. Don’t make prospects click on each clip to find out where it appeared. Make sure your clips are readable — they shouldn’t be photos of the article where the text is all blurry.
  3. Contact information. Don’t hide it under a tab, and don’t make it one of those contact email forms none of us want to fill out. Put it in your header or sidebar so it’s visible all the time. This is the number-one thing you want prospects to do, so make it easy.
  4. Key words. Figure out what you’d like to rank for in search — maybe “Charlotte freelance writer” or “freelance medical writer.” Do some keyword research and think about the types of phrases prospects might put in a search engine when they need your kind of writer. Then get those phrases into your URL, your headline, and/or your tagline. Mention them in your body copy. Keep updating your site to help your rankings.
  5. A strong About page. This is the second-most-visited page on most sites. Tell a compelling story about who you are as a writer — one that a prospect would want to read. Describe the types of writing you enjoy doing. Don’t talk about how you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were five. Prospects don’t care. This isn’t the place for a boring resume with dates and publication names, either.
  6. Testimonials and awards. If you have these or can solicit testimonials, get them on your site. Cut and paste recommendations from LinkedIn and use them here, too. My experience is that prospects are inordinately impressed by testimonials and awards. If you can, get small photos to put with your client testimonials — it makes them more relatable and impactful.
  7. Clean design. Once writers get a site, some tend to go nuts, slapping on three sidebars, flashing ads, backgrounds that make text unreadable, and widgets with little pictures of all their Facebook friends. Don’t confuse prospects with too much information. Keep it simple.
  8. Personality. This is your chance to show prospects that you are unique. Style up the writing so it’s like having a conversation with you. Speaking of which, don’t write about yourself in the third person on the Internet. It’s pretentious — we all know you’re writing it.

Got a writer website? Leave a comment and let us know how you got it done — or stay tuned next week for a free website video-review contest. If you don’t have a site yet, use the tips above and get one up in the next 48 hours — then, share a link with us below.

Need more marketing help? There’s a community for that…


 

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38 comments on “Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #3: Without This Tool, You’re Invisible
  1. I agree that many don’t like contact forms, including me. However, I’ve found that people do still fill them out. As a result, I’ve listed my email address and a contact form so nobody is excluded.
    Terri Huggins recently posted..A Freelance Writer’s Christmas List

  2. Thanks for this article and all the others you’ve posted. I found some great tidbits reading your posts since I started subscribing about eight months ago.

    This entry did raise a few questions for me though and I’m hoping you can help:

    I’m a writer with an identity disorder – my passion is genre fiction (YA), but my blogposts skew toward business, digital media and interactive. My clips are a mixture of TV reviews, news articles and op-eds. I started a blog to coincide with my YA manuscript (that I hope to get published) and then realized I needed something with a broader base, so I started one that’s a bit more professionally focused. And now, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just junk them all and combine.

    I don’t have a huge following on my blog (I’ve downloaded your headlines secrets doc to hopefully remedy that), so I don’t believe I’ll be alienating anyone, but I’m always conflicted if I should promote one blog over the other or just start over.

    Any insight would be much appreciated. Has anyone else found themselves in this predicament?
    Thanks,
    Megan
    Megan Sullivan recently posted..The Selling Power of Nostalgia

    • Carol Tice says:

      Tough call on the multiple blogs, Megan.

      You might just do the one for YA and let that be your sample. Generally, I find it doesn’t matter what your topic is, as long as you stick to it so that prospects can see that you get niche blogging. You don’t necessarily need something with a broader base. I got gigs writing about surety bonds from my blog writing about how to be a better writer. They don’t have to necessarily relate. You just have to show you understand those niche blogging success basics — stick to your niche, write in blog style, write great headlines with key words, have photos, social sharing, respond to your community, and keep the blog updated at least once a week. That’s the stuff companies and publications want you to do for them.

      My experience with most people trying to run multiple blogs — and quite a few people in my recent Blast-Off Class had this issue — while they also do freelance gigs is that it’s next to impossible to keep all that up. Either the freelance marketing suffers and you’re poor, or one of those blogs ends up not updated much, which then doesn’t make it a good writing sample for prospects…and doesn’t keep your community engaged, either.

      • Megan Sullivan says:

        Thanks for the reply, Carol. I think you’re right about just focusing on one thing. If the writing is good, the subject matter shouldn’t be that important. I appreciate your insight. Happy holidays!

  3. Sion Dayson says:

    Great post! My biggest issue is that I’ve tried to make my website my “homebase” to describe all of my different writing projects – but writing a novel, publishing poetry, and copywriting for businesses are all quite different! I’m not sure if it just confuses people.

    Do you advise two different websites? One for creative writing and the other for freelancing?

    Also, I don’t think the link to the contest is working and I’d love to enter!

    Thanks!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, that’s my bad! The contest has moved to next week…so stay tuned for that.

      I think the novel and poetry probably belong on a separate site than the copywriting…I worry that prospecting marketing manager clients run away when they find out your real love is writing fiction. They want to hear that you’re into their thing.

  4. What timely tips. I’ve been working like a dog on my writer’s website and didn’t know how to upload basic print documents to it. It never occurred to me to use the Media tab in WordPress, to upload PDF documents. I had converted some docs to PDF format but didn’t know what to do next. I actually got so excited when I got that far in this post that I stopped reading and started uploading. Thanks a million!
    Madeleine Kolb recently posted..Exercising for Life: What’s Your Plan

  5. My site stinks. I spend a lot of time and effort on my blog but not enough on the place I want potential clients to look. I’m printing out this post so I can go through it one step at a time. Thanks a lot.

  6. k.t. says:

    Hey, Carol, great post as usual!

    And I listened in on the Freelance Writer’s Den seminar a week or so ago re email marketing: it was amazing! Thanks so much!

    Just wanted to mention free platform Weebly — that’s the one I use for my gluten free living site; I need to set up a writer’s site! (disclaimer: due to recent family issues, haven’t posted very much recently; that should change in January!)

    Weebly also makes it quite easy to upload photos.

    Thanks again! Karen

    http://www.glutenfreesafari.com/
    k.t. recently posted..Another gluten-free mention in an hilarious holiday movie: "On Strike for Christmas"

  7. Really fantastic post, Carol.

    the Zoominfo nugget especially……!

  8. Marsanne says:

    I don’t think my website is all that great, but I’m not a web designer! I’ve got it up and had a few nibbles thanks to it, but I know it has room for improvement. I’m open to any suggestions you might have, and will be working on this wonderful list.

    Thanks!
    Marsanne recently posted..Freelance Services

  9. John Soares says:

    I think it’s best for writers to create a self-hosted WordPress site and have it professionally designed. It takes some money and a bit of time, but it has the most flexibility and can definitely increase the chances you’ll get good writing gigs.
    John Soares recently posted..Why Freelance Writers Must Be On LinkedIn

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, definitely agree, John — but I find there are quite a few writers who find WordPress and hosting overwhelming and then they do nothing. So those 4 techniques are my alternative to doing nothing. ;-)

  10. Karen Cioffi says:

    Thanks for sharing so much of your knowledge and experience. I have a couple of WordPress sites (created myself using Bluehost) and one Blogger site. While Blogger is very user-friendly, it doesn’t have the same SEO and Media Library capabilities as WordPress.

    As long as you post valuable content on a regular basis, you should be able to get traffic even if you create your own sites without the ‘bells and whistles.’

    According to Google, milliseconds count in regard to your page load time, so simple is usually better.
    Karen Cioffi recently posted..Write Books for Children’s Based on Your Personal Struggles

  11. Margoax says:

    I think of marketing as the technique used to gain attention above and beyond the rest, whether it is posters (for example political candidates), commercials (selling products), or jingles. There are numerous means of marketing with the intended result being exposure.
    Margoax recently posted..1300 numbers in Australia

  12. This was super helpful! Thanks. I’ll have to create a writer website asap!
    Dani @ OK, Dani recently posted..Stuff People Say

    • Carol Tice says:

      I just don’t think I know any high-earning freelancers who do not have a website. It’s really a required tool at this point to present yourself professionally.

      But it looks like you have a blog, and you could start by just giving it a ‘hire me’ tab in the meanwhile.

  13. Własny Dom says:

    Hi there, I found your web site by way of Google while searching for a comparable matter, your web site came up, it appears to be like good. I’ve added to favourites|added to bookmarks.
    Własny Dom recently posted..1

  14. Maureen says:

    Hi Carol. Signed up for your “Marketing 101 for Freelance Writer’s” free course and am loving all the expert advice! I was just reading some of the above older posts and focused in on those from Megan and Sion about writing between the fiction and non-fiction arenas. That’s exactly where I am! Talk about finding what you need when it’s time….
    I write both fiction and non-fiction for children (mostly middle-grade) and would like to branch out into adult non-fiction (articles). I’ve yet to set up a website because my clips are at the kid level. I read your comment to Megan that it shouldn’t matter which area the writing is in, as long as it’s solid and you’re in a niche. But then Sion wondered about separating his sites and you thought it a good idea. His questions is exactly mine. But I’m a bit confused about the answer.
    Also, I’m a bit put off by the word niche because I tend to think “very specialized,” and don’t feel like I’d have a niche. I’d like to use my blog to talk about the writing courses I’ve taken and of course my own writing (and include other things like interviews, places to comment, etc.) Would that be my niche? I also teach and perhaps that arena could showcase my freelancing side.
    Lots of thoughts! but mainly looking for advice about separate sites for those two areas.
    I appreciate it!
    –Maureen C.

    • Carol Tice says:

      My advice is always to start with one site. Each one is work to update and maintain and costs money!

      See if you can’t do a tab for each of your interest areas and keep it one place. If it’s not working for you, then it’s time to think about maybe splitting children’s lit into its own site.

      Don’t worry about the topic of your blog being writing — that’s fine. The topic of my blog is, and I’ve used it to get a lot of paid blogging gigs about other business topics.

      Hope that answers!

  15. Karen Cioffi says:

    Hi, Carol, I commented back in 2011 on this post, but it’s definitely worth revisiting. I do have a question, would the same information go into a physical writer’s portfolio? Do you have an article that I can visit with details on what should be included in a physical portfolio?

    Thanks so much for sharing all your experience.
    Karen Cioffi recently posted..The Rejected Writer

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know anyone who uses a physical portfolio anymore! But if you like putting one together, just hang onto your clips and put them into a presentation binder. I’ve got one around here somewhere, but I think it’s probably been a good decade since I used it for anything, and at this point most of my clips are digital, and sent digitally to prospects.

      Seems like at this point going to a meeting hauling a physical portfolio would just be a way of saying you don’t get the Internet…probably not putting you in the best light!

  16. Anne says:

    Hello Carol,

    I truly enjoy reading your articles. I have created a writing blog website and am currently working to improve and create a writer website. The majority of my work was printed in a small hard copy newsletter for a local home school group. The content was written several years ago. The evolution of education is rapid. Statistics and facts are constantly changing and are not necessarily valid. Would this type of aged content be beneficial or harmful?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Anne, I always say there’s no such thing as too-old clips. I’ve never had a prospect comment on the age of a clip, and I routinely send out decade-old clips if they show a particular expertise I need to demonstrate.

      We all have the portfolio we have, and improve from there. If those are the clips you have, put ‘em up! I know writers who’d kill to have a clip that isn’t from a content mill, so you’re a step ahead of there, with clips from an organization offline.

  17. Jools Stone says:

    HI Carol, another useful post that I’ve bookmarked and returned to more than once, usually before I’ve shrinked away in shame at the state of my own site! Only now I think I actually might have a halfway decent writer site, of course I’d really love any feedback you or your readers would care to give. :)

    Like your commenter above I really struggled with whether to have one site that tries to tick off all the different aspects of my freelancing or different, but would hope that putting it all on one imporves its general SEO.

    Any tips for optimising for your various chosen keywords beyond the copy you put on the page? Should you try to build inbound links with anchor text etc? I have them from my own sites and my email sig, but so far not really noticed much search traffic, except for my name!
    Jools Stone recently posted..A few new web projects

  18. Renee Camus says:

    Thanks for another awesome and informative post, Carol. I’ve been researching this subject a lot lately as I’m building my own site.

    A question: you mentioned key words and including them in the URL. I am looking into buying a domain but haven’t yet. Should I buy one that is something like Renee Camus Entertainment Writer, so that it includes keywords in the URL? That’s kind of a mouthful, and I have a unique name so I’m not sure how much competition I’d have for the domain for my name. Thoughts?

    I’m also thinking, based on your replies to other comments, not to buy a separate domain for my blog, and just link to it from my main site (or keep it the Weebly address). Do you agree?

    Thanks very much. Your advice is really great.
    Renee Camus recently posted..Dance and Romance in Austenland: Nostalgia For Days That Weren’t

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think that would be too long, Renee — usually we either go entertainmentwriter.com, or reneethewriter.com, or just your name as the URL and then a good SEO tagline, like I’ve done with caroltice.com (“Seattle freelance writer” is my tag).

      But rather than simply grabbing a domain, do some key word research first to find out what gets searched for in your niche. Sometimes there’s a slight variant that would get you found by a lot more people.

      The answer to the blog question depends a lot on your blog and your goals for it. Is it just to create a sample for your portfolio? If so, yeah, put it under a tab on your writer site. If it’s something you think you could build into a business of its own with big potential to monetize, it probably should have its own site. But you can always spin it out later…that’s what I did with this blog, which was originally on caroltice.com. ;-)

      Can’t help but note that you say something about a Weebly address. You don’t want to be on there. Weebly is an amateur platform. I have reviewed hundreds of sites and have yet to see one from Weebly that’s a good writer site.

  19. Anna says:

    I built my writer website (www.annaraddatz.com) on Weebly.com and highly recommend it to anyone. It’s very intuitive to use – you just drag and drop text boxes, photos, titles, etc. into your pages. And their design templates have come a long way in the last year. A basic site is free, and can include a blog, maps, and a very useful set of doodads.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Anna –

      I’m afraid I’m not a fan of Weebly. While it’s easy to use, it tends to look amateurish, and there are some real limits to what you do with layout, from what I can tell.

      I’ve reviewed hundreds of writer websites and have yet to see one built on Weebly that I think looks professional and that’s a good tool for getting clients. Looking at yours, it’s a ‘bottom bar’ format, which doesn’t convert well — no one realizes that other stuff is down there. They come on and it’s just a big graphic and a couple headlines, no copy, no contacts, no picture of you…and they move on.

  20. Caitlin Reid says:

    Hi! I used someone on Odesk to help me build me website. They made it so easy, although I’m already looking for a cleaner theme for my portfolio. I guess your website has to keep evolving right?

  21. This is the best information! Really! I am going to work on putting up my writer website before I do anything else.
    I am not going to procrastinate. (For sure I’ll do it tomorrow!)
    Thanks!
    C. Lyn
    C. Lyn Walter recently posted..The Preventionist

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