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Top 10 Vital Elements of a Successful New Freelancer's Website

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If you've gotten your act together and put up a website to advertise your freelance services, congratulations. Most freelancers still don't have a website, so you're a step ahead of the competition.

But is your site getting you clients?

If the phone hasn't started to ring, the problem may lie in the design, layout, or content of your site. I've reviewed hundreds of freelance writers' websites, and I find many make a series of basic mistakes and do a poor job of attracting and converting prospective clients.

In general, freelancers usually overestimate how much patience a prospect will have for poking around your site to find the information they want. In fact, people are massively lazy on the Internet, have short attention spans, and want everything handed to them quickly and easily.

The job of your website is to quickly get prospects the information they need to hire you.

How can you make your site into a client magnet that has prospects ringing your phone off the hook? Here are the important items your freelancer website needs:

1. Clean Design

Nobody wants to read tiny white letters on a black background, or wade through a site with three different sidebars or loud, flashing ads. All you should be selling on here is your services.

Have another site if you want to affiliate-sell Carbonite or ClickBank products, or you have classes you teach or some such. Or at least get that stuff under a tab.

Especially on your Home page, it should be clean and simple. Your home page is like your online living room. Will prospects find it welcoming and want to come in and look around?

If not, clean up the clutter, just like we do in our real living rooms when company's coming.

If you're not a design genius or technical person, it's well worth getting a little help here. If you're on a budget, try the digital-design program of your local community college.

2. Prominent, Clear Contact Information

Once you have an inviting design, this is job one. Lots of freelancers hide their contact information either down at the very bottom of their home page in teeny-tiny type, or under a "Contact" tab. Then, when you click on that tab, all you see is that evil email contact form.

Do you want to fill that out, and do you feel confident that if you do, you'll get a response? Neither do your prospects.

Instead, put your contacts in your header or at the top of your sidebar, so they're visible on every page of your site. You never know when the mood will hit a prospect to contact you, so keep that info ever-present. Also, make sure your email link is clickable, and try to include a phone number (even if it's Skype or a cell phone you usually leave off).

3. Show Prospects What to Do

The key to turning prospects into clients with your website is to quickly make clear on your site what you do -- and what you want visitors to do.

When visitors are confronted with too many choices, they tend to make no choice and leave.

A common mistake is to put up a big row of social buttons at the top of your site or in the header. Then farther down is your contact email and phone. You might also have a blog on your freelancer site with a big "subscribe here" box.

This means you are asking visitors to do six or eight different things. You're saying, "Follow me on Twitter, check me out on LinkedIn, subscribe to my blog -- oh yeah, and maybe call me."

When visitors are confronted with too many choices, they tend to make no choice and leave. Your odds that they'll make the choice you want are low.

So as you create each page of your site, ask yourself what the most important goal is. What do you want the page to achieve? Then, cut all the other "asks" from that page so prospects know what to do. Also, consider making the contact you want the largest and things like social buttons smaller to visually indicate which you prefer.

4. Descriptive Header and Tagline

What type of freelancing do you do, and where are you located? If you answer these two questions at the top of your site, it will help your site find you clients.

Many prospects would like to find someone nearby who has experience doing the exact thing they want done, whether it's website design or yacht photography or blog writing. Spell out what you do, and you're way ahead.

Some freelancers use their URL to do this, taking AustinHealthcareWriter.com as their site name, for instance. If you have your name as your URL as many freelancers do, you can put your identifiers in your tagline.

I have a name URL, so I've put my own key term, Seattle Freelance Writer, into my tagline. Do a Google search for that and you'll see the other major benefit of using these key descriptive phrases for your type of freelancing in these key parts of your site -- it helps Google and other search engines send you prospects.

5. Short Copy

It's a fact of Internet life that many people do not scroll down on web pages. So keep your copy short, so prospects see all of what you're trying to say in the visible browser window.

This is particularly important if you're a freelance writer. In this case, your website is essentially a writing audition (just as the design of your site is an audition if you're a designer). Your site is a writing sample that shows how well you write website copy. Take a look at these 10 examples for some ideas on how to write compelling short copy.

Extra bonus for freelance writers: Many companies hire writers in part because they're having trouble being concise, so if you show you can do that on your website it's a major selling point.

6. Interesting 'About' Page

Many freelancers don't create an About page -- but it's important. It's typically the most-visited subpage on any site.

Why is that? Because prospects want to know who you are.

The Internet is an impersonal place and there are a lot of scams out there, so visitors want to check you out and see if you appear legit.

The Internet is an impersonal place and there are a lot of scams out there, so visitors want to check you out and see if you appear legit. They'd also like to see a little personality to see if they'd enjoy working with you.

While your Home page should be all about clients and what you can do for them, your About page is where we learn why you do what you do. Don't go back to when you first held a crayon or wrote a poem at age 5 -- that's a story to tell to your friends at cocktail parties. Clients, sorry to say, don't care about your whole life story.

Write this so clients can see how your life experiences will benefit them. This is the place to talk about your passion for your craft, how you came to it, and give us a small peek at what else goes on in your life besides freelancing.

7. Picture of You

Somewhere on your site -- ideally right on the Home page but if not on your About page -- you need a picture of you. This reassures prospects that you are a real person.

Try to get a professional (but not stiff) shot taken. That fuzzy iPhone shot of you on the beach in Cancun in a bikini holding up your dog -- or a drink -- isn't what you want here. Take a look at this travel writer's site for a great example of how to visually express what you do and who you are through your personal shots.

8. Talk in the First Person

There are a couple of 'voice' problems that are common in the copy on freelancer websites:

  • Third person. As in, "Joe Smith has been a freelance writer since 2004. He specializes in..." and so on. What's wrong with this? It comes off pretentious and a little goofy online. We all know you wrote it. And by using the third person, you miss your chance to make a personal connection and make clients feel you are talking one-on-one with them.
  • Posing as an agency. As in, "At Joe's Communications & Design, we specialize in delivering beautiful websites." If in fact you have a staff, this is fine. But pretending you're an agency rather than a solopreneur only sets you up for an awkward conversation with prospects who might ask, "When can I meet with your team?"

For best results, use first person and speak directly to your prospect. Remember that one of the most powerful words in sales copy is "you."

9. Easily Viewable Portfolio

This is the main reason prospects come to your website -- to be able to see or read some of your work. Yet, a surprising number of freelancers have no samples at all on their site. Many more have only a few samples up.

Know that even if you ghostwrote it, you can post it (unless you signed a non-disclosure). If you did it while at a staff job, it's still a sample of your work. Pro bono work you did also counts -- prospects need never know you did it unpaid.

There are two good ways to show clients your samples:

  • Link to where they live online on other sites; or
  • Serve them on pages of your own site through html coding or a tool such as the Google Document Embedder.

What you don't want are PDFs a prospect has to download to view. Remember that visitors don't know and trust you yet, and are unlikely to be willing to hit 'download' and risk a virus.

To make it easy for visitors, identify each clip by both the market and subject. Prospects shouldn't have to click on each one to learn the topic or client. Consider grouping samples by client or topic for quick scanning.

My philosophy on samples is the more, the better. You never know which sample might be the one that makes a prospect go "Aha! This is the freelancer I want." So post lots of samples and improve your odds.

10. Get Testimonials

Raves from your clients are the secret sauce that gets clients to pick up the phone. Make a habit of asking clients for a testimonial when you finish a project, so that you have as many as possible.

In this age of LinkedIn recommendations, it's never been easier to request a testimonial. I know freelancers who actually write the testimonial for the client and just ask them to sign off on it. That's a great way to get it done quickly when you know clients are busy.

Don't leave LinkedIn recommendations on that platform, either. Copy them to your own site. Sprinkle testimonials on all your pages, put them in your sidebar, or give them a subpage of their own -- but get them.

For extra impact, see if you can get small head shots of your clients to put with their testimonials. That allows prospects to better envision themselves becoming another one of your satisfied clients.

Free website reviews: If you'd like some feedback on how to improve your freelancer website, leave your URL in the comments. I'll give everyone who comments on this post's publication date at least one tip to improve your site.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by raywoo.

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