A freelance writer shares tips for creating — and protecting — your professional website Date: 05/27/21
By Barbara Mantel
Freelance writers always have to market themselves, and one way to put yourself before potential clients is to have a work website. But figuring out how to create a website can be overwhelming. Should you try to design it yourself or use a professional? And what design features will attract editors and convince them to hire you?
About two years ago, Vanessa Ahern, a freelance writer based in Saratoga County, New York, decided her “primitive” website needed a serious upgrade. Here, Ahern discusses how she went about creating her website to more effectively showcase her work.
Q: What was your original website like?
A: My first website was a two-page portfolio, with just a list of articles and a homemade logo. And I was having issues with my web hosting service. I would get a zillion spam messages, and once in a while, I would get hacked. I’d happen to check my site at 2 am, and I’d see a bizarre ad for a foreign dating site on it. Then, I’d panic and email my web host for help. They were always able to rectify the problem within a few hours, but it was a headache. I needed to change things. I wanted a more professional-looking website, and I wanted to have a website where I could integrate a blog into it too.
Q: Has your new website made a difference for you professionally?
A: I think it has. Editors have found me through the website. Maybe if you have a ton of accomplishments, have published books and have repeat clients, it may not make a big difference if you haven’t gotten around to updating your website. I wanted to attract new clients and make a good first virtual impression.
Q: Did you design the website yourself or did you hire someone?
A: I hired someone. My advice is to find a local web designer with good reviews and look at the websites they’ve designed for other local businesses. It’s good to be able to meet someone for coffee and go over your vision for the website, exactly what you want. I found a local husband and wife team. I showed her other websites that I liked, and she recommended the best Wordpress themes and a new web hosting service and designed the whole thing.
Q: Let’s talk design. What do you think is important to have on the home page?
A: I think it’s important to have a short, friendly description of who you are: what your specialty is, what you enjoy writing about, how long you’ve been writing. I don’t have my picture on the homepage; I have a visual, a typewriter, that represents what I do. And I have my contact information.
Q: I noticed you have both your email address and also a contact form. Do people use the contact form?
A: I think they do. It’s very practical because people can use a form if they don’t feel like copying and pasting my email address.
Q: You have a more detailed bio on the About page with your photo, and you continue the contact form there and on every page. Why is that?
A: It just makes it convenient. When the impulse hits to contact me, they can just do it.
Q: And then you have a page for writing samples and a page listing your clients. Do you advise writers to keep clients on the list that they haven’t work for in a long time?
A: I guess one way to get around that would be to have the heading say “Clients, present and past.” I don’t think a writer has to mention every single client they have had. It’s a matter of preference. In my case, I have been freelancing for the past 20 years, and some years have been busier than others. My client list shows that my main beats (parenting, health, travel, food, and New York State) have remained the same over time.
Q: What can a writer expect to pay for the design of a website?
A: I can’t remember exactly how much I paid the designer, but she was very reasonable. Sometimes designers charge by the hour, or they might charge a fixed price for a revamp or brand new design. I think that it is a really good investment. A web designer will send you a proposal with the estimated cost of the entire project when they know what your designing needs are.
Q: Did you ever consider designing your website yourself using a platform, like Squarespace or Wix, that has templates for amateur designers?
A: I kind of dabbled in a DIY site at first. I soon realized I’m not tech savvy in website design. It was such a big learning curve for me, and I didn’t want to make mistakes. I didn’t want to have problems receiving important emails or spend hours figuring out image size, SEO and formatting. If I was more of a software geek, I would try to create my own website. For me, it’s a much more efficient and pleasant experience working with a local web designer to create a new business site. And, it’s a tax write-off in the end!
Q: Are you able to update the website easily yourself, for example, adding new writing samples or revising the client list?
A: Yes, absolutely. It is set up so that I can edit all the content myself. I don’t have to go back to the designer. I also want to mention that it is important to have a secure website. If you look at the url of my website, you’ll see that it has a lock symbol. It’s called an SSL certificate. The web designer put that feature in for me. It’s not an expensive thing to do.
Q: Why is it necessary if you’re not taking payments from visitors to your website?
A: I think that it helps prevent your website and emails from getting hacked.
Vanessa Ahern (@girlgumption), a freelance writer based in upstate New York, specializes in essays, profiles, mental health, wellness and New York state travel. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing and her work has appeared in Headspace.com, DAYSPA magazine, Fit Pregnancy, Saratoga Living, SELF, WomansDay.com, Planning magazine, and many others. For more than four years, she has been a standardized patient at Albany Medical College. Her essay “I Play Sick for a Living” appeared in Folks magazine.