How to set up a website for a freelance business

There is no point having a business if nobody knows about it, and having a website is critical to marketing and promoting your services as a freelancer, writes Julia Kermode, the founder of independent work champion IWORK.

Getting started

Anyone getting started in freelancing knows what their outputs will be; what their going to provide or produce, and what they’re ultimately aiming to achieve. 

So just like you know the purpose of your business, do you know the same about your website?

Some starter questions freelancers must pose to themselves so that they do:

  • What will the purpose of your website be?
  • Do you want your website to be a mechanism for clients/people to buy things from you?
  • Do you want your website to mainly be your online portfolio plus contact details?
  • Or is your website more of a hub for testimonials; a summary of your services?
  • Or do you want your freelance business website to serve some other function,(e.g. listing your availability on certain dates, or at certain locations)?

These five questions to get started with a website for a freelance business might all seem pretty basic, but it’s really worth giving them some proper thought, before you get started. 

Unless you have clarity regarding exactly what you want from your freelance website, there is no point starting to create it, yourself or via a third party. Without some well-defined particulars about its aim, your website could end up straying into becoming a vague mix of things. You risk becoming overwhelmed and potentially making poor decisions (and even wishing you’d never started), if your don’t plan what you wish to achieve and stick to this aim or objectives throughout the website set-up and building process.

The Nuts and Bolts

So, how do you actually get started with a website if you’re self-employed? 

Well, you’ll definitely need to get your domain name organised pretty early on. 

Usually it’s your company name, business name, or sole trading name -- but it doesn’t have to be. Some people choose an acronym, which might be more memorable or easier to say.  Some businesses have a completely different domain to their company, but if you’re going to do that then you’ll need to make sure the link is blindingly obvious, e.g. Home improvement retailer B&Q’s domain of www.diy.com makes immediate sense. 

When looking at buying domain space and setting your website address, don’t forget that your domain name doesn’t have to end in .co.uk or .com. 

Alternatives that crop up regularly are .net, .org, .info, and .online, and less commonly .pro .marketing, .services, .solution. website, .company. There are loads of possibilities, so think which ones suit you and your offering! 

Generally, with domain providers, shop around! There are a few big domain name companies where you can buy them from easily, such as 123-reg, and GoDaddy. The best-known online won’t always be the best for freelancers, so Google around and see if the one which catches your eye carries 5-star testimonials from one-person businesses like yours. 

Once you’ve got your domain name, you will need to get it hosted, i.e. pay a business to hold it for your use. Often, hosting is an option you can ‘add on’ when you buy your domain name. For most freelancers, it’ll make sense to get a hosting package offering unlimited bandwidth, so that your website doesn’t crash if you have loads of visitors to it at the same time!

So you’ve got your initial nuts and bolts sorted, what’s next?

Now for the fun stuff… ‘look & feel’

Once you’ve got the more technical aspects in place (website purpose, domain and hosting), you need to then start thinking about the design, so the ‘look and feel’ of the website.

At some point along the way you will need to decide whether you want to administer and update the website yourself, or get an external provider to do that for you. 

In my experience, most freelancers like the ability to run their site themselves (not saying we’re all control freaks, but many are!). And in which case -- I’d recommend using WordPress as the ‘back end’ to your website. The last two business websites that I’ve administered have been based in WordPress, and I’ve found it very easy and pretty much idiot-proof. Or at least. I haven’t managed to break anything yet!

So despite me now saying you’re actually onto the fun stage of setting up your freelance business website, paradoxically, it’s also the bit that’s actually the most difficult to get right. And it can easily be overwhelming! But as long as you allocate a sensible amount of time here, and don’t try to get everything live overnight, it needn’t be. Take your time and just refer back to your overall website purpose. This will inform all other decisions that you make along the way.

Chart and rehearse the customer journey

Next, think about your customer and their journey through your website. For example, ask yourself:

  • What are they looking for, e.g. information, advice, services, contact details, testimonials, prices?
  • How can you design your website so that it gives your customers whatever they’re looking for -- but quickly?

Remember, people can be lazy and freelancers’ clients can be time-poor, so don’t expect your website’s visitors to spend a lot of time clicking through every page on your website to find exactly what they want. Unfortunately, if whatever they’re seeking to know about your commercial offering, is not blindingly obvious, they’ll just leave and go elsewhere.

Pages, images, developer-saviours

At this stage, start constructing your sitemap, and thinking about the content of the various pages. As well as the wording, you need to think about the layout of the pages; your brand, your colours, and any images you want to use. Don’t forget to look into associated technical aspects like image load times, mobile-friendliness and also with images, appropriate copyrights and permissions.

Personally, I would always recommend working with a web developer (ideally a freelancer), to create the perfect website you want.

A good developer will be able to offer really useful advice from the outset, based on their experience of businesses like yours. Aside from their skills and knowhow, another perspective on your ideas is always very helpful. Moreover , not using a developer and doing your site all yourself can easily become stressful, time-consuming, and even unsafe, from a cyber-security standpoint.  

That said, there are also some really good ‘DIY’ website-build options available (Squarespace is popular). Be aware, you may have such an option included with your web domain purchase.

Even if don’t use a developer to save you time, stress and potentially going down a rabbit hole, I recommend getting other people (who regularly use websites!) to look at your draft freelance business website (a ‘preview’), before it goes live. Ask these people to test it for you, using different devices such as mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet. Your site needs to be fully functional across all devices. 

Finally, a few more Nuts and Bolts!

Security (previously mentioned) really is important, more so if your website or online business is going to be collecting data of any kind. Security will be even more important to you, commercially-speaking, if you are planning to receive (or make) payments online via your website. If that’s your intention, then an experienced web developer is all but essential to help you incorporate this element, safely and seamlessly -- for users, and for you as the site’s administrator. 

Alongside security, you will need to have certain legal policies in place governing how your website operates and what you will do with people’s information. So make sure you have a:

  • privacy policy
  • cookie policy,
  • terms and conditions, and possibly a;
  • website disclaimer

All these four should be made available for visitors as downloadable content from your website. It might seem boring (it did to me!), but you do need to get this stuff sorted if you want your freelance business to be robust; to be taken seriously, to stand up to scrutiny and to be ready for any and all challenges or approaches by individuals and officialdom. 

Very lastly, don’t forget to ensure that you have some sort of website backup system in place!  This could save the day if your website is hacked, as you should then be able to revert to an earlier version of your online operation. There are many ‘pay for’ and free plugins to choose from so, while this may seem less than thrilling to the average creative freelancer who just wants to get online, there really is no excuse!

                             

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