How to Launch Your Freelance Site, a Step-by-Step Guide
So you have worked hard to align every pixel, harmonize the white space, and to finalize the perfect logo. Now to launch your website....hmmm, how exactly?
I was getting closer to launching my first website. The site launch checklist had more and more lines scratched through the tasks. And yet there was a slight sense of doom gathering. I didn't really know how to announce to the world that my site was about to go live, so I could then sit back and let the clients come knock'n at my door.
So you have worked hard to align every pixel, harmonize the white space, and to finalize the perfect logo. Now to launch your website....hmmm, how exactly?
In fact, I was sure that I couldn't throw all my files into the FTP client and cross my fingers. I was also pretty sure that all the angst and anticipation of working hard on my ready to be launched site would end up a small squeak and a fizzle with me checking every 5 seconds to see if anyone had looked at it. I knew I needed a comprehensive plan on how to launch my freelance website.
I began searching every day for advice. Many articles online talk about the checklist of your website launch, the invaluable SEO keywords, etc. Ideally it would be nice to read how other people launched their sites without too many generalities.
So after working with clients to launch their start up sites, collecting tidbits from online, and preparing to launch my own site, I brainstormed different techniques and listed the steps I used to successfully launch my freelance site. Let's take a look at this comprehensive list.
Here was my overall plan:
- Schedule Your Freelance Website Launch
- Build Up Your Site Launch Hype
- Handle Week Before Actions
- Attend to Site Launch Day/Week
- Schedule Momentum Material
- Monitor Your Site Launch Results
Schedule Your Freelance Website Launch
It's important to pick a specific launch date to work towards, then draft how long you have before you plan to launch your website.
- Decide the best day to launch. Grab a piece of paper, or get into your monthly planner. Set a date. You will use each week and most days to prepare a variety of launch material. Once you have a date, it feels real and keeps you focused.
- Consider the best timing for the site launch. I avoided any major events (like 4th of July). Friday was out as people were in "I'm about to relax" mode. Monday sounded good - the start of a new week. Online viewers were probably still in the "weekend wind down" mode. Looking at galleries and new sites could fit in with this.
You could spend a year building a solid base to launch your freelance site to, for me I chose to launch about a 1 month out on a Monday. I felt this would be enough time for me to work hard at networking and allowing for other preparations such as researching and producing graphics for promotion. Websites can vary in how long they take to make. Planning for your new website launch should happen before it is completed.
Build Up Your Site Launch Hype
When launching a freelance site, part of building hype involves building your online presence, as you are the product. As a no-namer, here are some things I did to spread the word. One of my goals was talking to the right people, my 'community' (other designers and freelancers) and my 'market' (people that would potentially like me to do online design work for them).
It's important to reach out to people, and once they are familiar with you, then you can start to introduce the launch of your site to them. Here are some website launch marketing tactics I used to hype the launch of my freelance site:
Make a Mind map of the types of people you are targeting. I targeted my niche freelance community and target market of potential clients so I could befriend them. As an example example, I looked up all the main logo designers, then befriended them. I then scrolled through and started conversations where I could.
Mind maps are a creative tool that helps push past blocks and they are excellent for creating free flowing plans. I used mind maps to plan out who to contact and where.
Make a list of niche conversations to interact with online. I made a break down of many popular conversations happening in my niche. I noted different types of comments popular web designers were making on Twitter (for example).
Guest blogging is a particularly effective method of building buzz for your site. Start pitching articles to blogs early and identify forums you can post in.
I planned how I would initiate conversations to these posts and maintain those conversations. So when I did start talk about launching I would have a better chance they would look at it. It's important to be engaged in your community.
- Add important RSS feeds to Google Reader. I read articles that I thought I could comment and contribute to over the month, remembering to always sign it the same way. Instapaper is also helpful to save articles that are particularly noteworthy, which you could engage with during your site launch.
- Create your avatars. Despite having the brand and identity ready, I spent time creating profile pics of my brand that would fit different online stamping for when I was writing online, such as LinkedIn graphic, post icon, Twitter avatar, etc. Having a consistent identity when commenting, blogging, and interacting in your niche helps to make you and your brand memorable.
Find the blogs you like. I found blogs that I enjoyed so that I could remember to go back to them. You can add thousands of sites and articles to your favorites, but some you will end up reading regularly. It's easier to comment pitch once you understand their tone.
Guest blogging is a particularly effective method of building buzz for your site. Start pitching articles to blogs early and identify forums you can post in. Many blogs will accept different article types and their needs can vary, so it's good to contact multiple blogs that fit your niche. Make sure they have a strong following that you can leverage.
- Create profiles on the social networks that are right for you. Pintrest, Dribbble, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. decide on the most suitable for and your site. Facebook for example, I felt would be too difficult to get volume in the beginning, and I was operating on a short enough time frame, so I focused more attention on Twitter.
Interact on social networks. This area can be a sucker for time and energy. It can leave you feeling like you've 'worked hard', but also feeling like you've achieved very little work wise. So after befriending people I felt fit in with my definition of my community and my market I developed a simple goal to spend 10 minutes each morning and night interacting on social media.
Add value, add advice or provide an answer on a forum in your field.
Add value, add advice or provide an answer on a forum in your field. I made sure I was consistent in signing each response with my business name. The morning and night part was to cover different time zones. It's less of a time suck if you stick to a limited social media schedule, but participate consistently.
- List your business. Google Places is useful especially if you have a physical location. Find other local business listings you can utilize.
- Coming soon page. Prelaunch you are not trying to drive traffic to your URL. However if people do end up there it can be a useful place to add to your hype. Make sure your launch date is clearly displayed. If you have a newsletter setup, and are looking to promote it early, then you can have a signup already in place on this coming soon page. Depending on the site, you could also offer an incentive to signing up, maybe a discount, or a useful eBook.
- Make associated sites. I used support portfolio sites such as Behance and Carbonmade. There are support sites for many categories; an ecommerce fashion site could use Etsy or Chictopia, a fashion social networking site. You can post other work by your brand to generate interest, or sell your work before you launch your official site.
- Blog before you launch. This can build hype, but that itself takes time, years even. So if you are going to use one to announce the launch, it won't help if you make a blog the day before. I felt I needed a blog months before I had a site up, to build that hype (pre-pre launch).
At the time I was cycling across continents, so I thought I could integrate that story with design. To write content of value can be a time consuming job, so that one went on the back burner. It's important when launching a blog to put in place a reasonable publishing schedule that you can stick to.
Handle Week Before Actions
You're getting very close to your new website launch day. It's time to make sure you have the tools you'll need to analyze your site traffic results. You need to organize your best article and portfolio work to promote right away. There are plenty of galleries and groups to consider joining as well. Here are some week before launch day actions to consider:
- Understand your monitoring tools. Spend your 'free' time reading about some of the tools you will use. After you launch your freelance site, important to understand if it is going well. You'll want to analyze results post launch and have techniques in place to tweak your site as it grows. These tools will help you git the ground running: Google Analytics, Google Webmaster, Google Adwords, and Open Site Explorer.
- Select striking work to post first. I held my very best work back to post once viewer numbers were on the rise. For launch I selected strong, attention grabbing work to use as teaser material.
Submit a teaser to portfolio galleries. I submitted to supporting portfolio galleries. Now the photographs used are on the first page listed by Google for my brand. These all include helpful backlinks to my site.
For launch I selected strong, attention grabbing work to use as teaser material.
Creating material for supporting sites takes quite a bit of effort. The site was to be launched soon, so I used the branding and researched the best ways to present it online. I bought some prop supplies. Then I photographed 101 different angles! After choosing the best shots and color correcting each I uploaded them onto portfolio sites. This helps create organic backlinks. The piece I chose can be found on Creattica and on Carbonmade.
Find all the web galleries. Once you have collected your list, prepare screenshots and angles, be sure to display the images in the correct sizes for the different sites. Write a consistent bio to be used on the sites.
Take note of when you submit; some do not notify you when work is posted. I did this to coincide with the launch and used this as another source of material for momentum to keep the site views strong a few weeks after launch.
- Check your continuity. Cross check everywhere online that references your brand. Same look, tone in writing that your site will have. It's important that you keep your branding and work message on target.
- Sign up to LinkedIn groups. I signed up to related freelance and design groups. This will allow you to add your freelance site to their listing of soon to be launched sites.
- Update all online details. LinkedIn, Skype, or anywhere my profile was online needed to be current, accurate, and on target.
Attend to Launch Day/Week
The day arrives, yes it's website launch day. It's time to make your presence felt, reach out to your contacts, jump into social media, post your site in directories, and work to expand your network while promoting your new freelance site.
- Make direct contact. I emailed all family and friends to announce the launch. I asked them to go view my site and to tell all their loved ones! I made the contact a personal email, asked them to check out my new portfolio site, and to let me know if anyone needs help with design.
- Make formal direct contact. Then I sent another email, basically saying the same thing, but more formal to past colleagues, companies, and past clients.
- Social media. On launch day I used all the social media platforms to tell everyone to go have a look. Unless you have 1000's of friends on these platforms already, I would not anticipate too much attention. People on these sites get told to "look at my stuff" all the time. Doesn't mean they will.
- Directories. Submit your URL to local business directories - e.g. Golden Pages, Ireland and international business directories such as DMOZ.
- Change your backlinks. I used Open Site Explorer to find all the places that referenced my associated portfolio profiles or anywhere I had a listing that I could change and add a web link to. Go through and change each link to your real site URL.
- Web galleries. Post to web galleries as soon as launched. These will take time to spread.
- Technology specific galleries. If you used a specific technology for your site, such as OpenCart, you can display your site on their own forums - OpenCart Forum. Then get chatting to other users about your techniques and the technology you used to create your portfolio site.
- The power of pictures. Photographs can have a stronger impact than text. So post with photos, use photographs of your own work that you have carefully crafted in the best possible way.
- Socially expand. After launch, keep chatting and keep adding contacts. You can also directly ask online contacts for feedback for more interactivity.
- Reminders. Repost links and announcements from the support sites.
- Ask for links. Ask to be included on related blog rolls and listings. You can also participate in interviews. You can cold email and propose why you are valuable for them. People need a reason to do this. You can offer exchanges or services. This is a long-term strategy and hard work, but well worth the effort..
On launch day I used all the social media platforms to tell everyone to go have a look.
Schedule Momentum Material
One thing for sure is that with all the new stuff going up online each day and with the 'noise' that is already there, you will need to get on top of content.
For freelancers, you will not have a new project to release to the world every day. This is why in Hype phase you were collecting material. Take time to plan out when to release the material you have made, and when you need to have more written, designed, and collected by. I try to keep a week ahead, and in the mean time build extra if I find time. Here are a few points to keep in mind with planning momentum material:
Releasing your strongest material. I searched for blogs that are the most popular according to Google blogs. Then I scanned articles that I had some knowledge on. One example is Graphic Design Blender, which is a design blog I decided to pitch an article to.
Keep in mind, when guest blogging you don't need to stick to your specialty every time. I found one article about hand illustration, which is outside my main area of expertise, then I offered information about a book that was used as part of our curriculum while I taught design. I explained some of the techniques from the book and offered a link with more information. You can leverage existing ideas, just add your own opinions and change the context of the information.
- Get your ideas flowing and out there. I made myself a 'pyramid' sketch to remind myself to always be working on content. It consisted of Gold at the top, which reminded me to create new information and original content at least once a week. The next level is Silver, which reminded me to improve upon an existing question and solution a couple times a week. And Bronze reminded me to Chat, respond (countless times a week). Tough enough to maintain, but again well worth the effort.
- Don't forget that blog. So if you didn't have time to get that blog happening pre-launch, you know what to be doing now right? Tumblr is easy to begin with. If you're looking to build a professional blog though, then jump into Wordpress. After pitching a bunch of articles, if any did not get accepted for publication, then you have your own content to start with on your new freelance site blog.
- Continue pitching articles. Now that you have a site, you can open your article ideas to places like Envato's Tuts+ network or design magazines like Computer Arts. There are a number of places to propose ideas to where you could do tutorials, submit articles, and these will differ based on your freelance niche focus.
Monitor Your Site Launch Results
After your site is launched, you will want to know if it is attracting attention, and is searchable by the search engines. These tools will help you to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses of your site for you to build upon. Here are some common tools to help:
- Do you need a newsletter? For me I didn't see it as a must have to launch with. You could create a newsletter to send out about your freelance site launch. Include any benefits. Keep in mind building an email mailing list can be helpful to building your freelance business long term. MailChimp is a common one to help you do that.
- Monitoring software. I set up Google Analytics on my freelance site. Understanding how it works before your site is up and done is beneficial. Setting goals specific to your site needs should be thought about and put in place. One of my favorite features in Analytics is being able to write annotations each day. So I can noted down when I posted an article, or submitted work to an online gallery, and then review the response.
- Google Webmaster Tools. This shows you if Google is crawling and referencing your pages correctly.
- XML site map. Create this to help Google index the pages of your site. Submit it through Google Webmaster Tools.
- Understand and utilizing SEO. This is a complex topic, and a phase that starts well into the production and building of your site. SEO can be maintained throughout the life of your freelance website. Here is a nice design friendly way of explaining the basics Beginners Guide to SEO.
- Social Media manager. I set up Hootsuite to help me search for tweets that I could use to talk about my freelance niche. There are a variety of similar products; such as: Tweetdeck, Tweetie. etc.
In fact there are lots of different avenues you could add to this list. These principles can be applied to launching portfolio websites of different freelance niches, whether you're a writer, web designer, audio engineer, some other freelance specialist. Always take into consideration your specific needs and tailor the advice in this article to your specialty. Work to build an effectively branded freelance site, promote it consistently, hype your launch to the best of your abilities, and put in a place the tools you need to perform well and to accurately track results.
What are some of your own freelance site launch techniques? And what tools and strategies do you recommend? What is on your site launch checklist?