Starting Ugly: Your Guide to Creating a Freelance Writing Website

November 28, 2016 Chelsea Baldwin

Freelance writer setting up his website.

Websites.

Ugh.

WordPress. Plugins. HTML. Integrations. Dashboards. URLs. Redirects.

Double ugh. (Triple ugh, for that matter.)

You’re probably thinking: Who even wants to deal with that? Isn’t my time as a freelance writing professional better spent actually writing?

Well, sort of. But, at the same time: You want to be taken seriously by clients, not just seen as another faceless freelancer begging for projects so you can make a few bucks pounding out sentences on your keyboard. And you know a website is an important step in getting there—even though the prospect of setting up an entire website by yourself is daunting.

Believe me, I get it. Sure, today I have a website that looks fine, helps me grow my business, and collects leads for me, but I wasn’t always there. I started freelancing for newspapers in 2008, and didn’t have a website of my own (or any means of conducting official client communications) until 3 years later in 2011. I still remember the day I called in sick to work to set it up.

And you know what? It was ugly.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Wordpress

I can’t find a screenshot of my first home page, but this was the theme I used in all of its green glory. It was set up on a free WordPress theme. I don’t exactly remember why I chose this one, but I think I associated the green with money and just ran with it.

It was imperfect in so many ways, but it worked. It helped me start building my career as a serious freelancer and eventual LLC business owner.

So I hear you. Website design is not easy. In this post, I want to help empower those of you who are struggling over the idea of setting up your own website so you can get over your uncertainty and just get it done.

Websites Are Crucial to Growing Your Freelance Career

Sure, you can coast on without a website. There are plenty of platforms with awesome writer profiles you can use to link back to—even if you don’t write for brands on those platforms specifically. For the record, I’m completely in favor of using this type of profile because it gives you greater visibility to awesome potential clients. I’ve used platforms to land some great freelance writing clients, and I’d totally recommend the same to you.

But when you rely on this type of profile for all your marketing needs, your goals won’t totally pan out for you. Because the thing is, you don’t own the web property. You’re at the mercy of the platform’s rules, how/if its rules are changed, and whether the company that runs the platform decides to disable an option, ruining your profile there forever. It’s nothing like being able to write out your own sales pitch in your own way on your own site.

For comparison’s sake, here’s my Skyword profile and my own home page. (You’ll notice on my home page I’m much freer to express my true personality.)

Plus, when you have your own website, you learn a lot about what business as usual is like for your online clients. Sure, it’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you figure something out, you’ve got it figured out forever.

Once you’ve committed to growing your personal brand with a website, you’ll want to know what to do next. From my experience, here’s what you need to do to get started.

Remember: your website doesn’t have to be perfect the first time—just set it up. You’ll learn a lot, and you can always improve later. The most important thing is to get started, because if you never take that first step, you’ll never get past where you are right now.)

1. Set Up Hosting and a URL

In order for your website to live on the internet, you need to rent space from a website hosting company. This is relatively inexpensive, and usually costs less than $200 per year. For first-time customers, a lot of companies will offer a welcome discount so you end up paying $100 or less. The hosting company I use right now is SiteGround, and I love their awesome customer service and low cost.

You also need a URL as the assigned space where your website will live within the internet’s data matrix. These usually cost less than $15 per year to maintain. Most of the time, you can get hosting and a URL from the same company, which will cut down a lot on your confusion. I’d recommend this practice, especially if websites are brand new territory for you.

Your URL doesn’t have to be perfect—my first one was www.carolinafreelancewriter.com, based on my location and freelance writing profession; When I established my LLC, I shifted it over to www.getcopypower.com. When it comes to ideating, your name is a great place to start. Just pick something simple and go with it.

2. Pick a Free WordPress Theme

There are many platforms you can use to host your website—SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, etc. I like WordPress because it’s an industry standard, it’s user friendly, and it’s great for writers.

Once you install WordPress on your site (your hosting company can walk you through that process), you’ll be able to search for free themes available under your Appearance tab in your dashboard and install the one you like the best.

Screenshot from WordPress Add Themes page

If you don’t want to bother with this yet, you can just go with the default WordPress theme that’s already installed—usually named after the year you’re in at the moment.

3. Write Basic Copy, Post Some Links

When you’re just getting started, honestly, you can just have one page that serves as your Home page, About section, Portfolio, and Contact page all rolled into one. There’s nothing wrong with concentrating all your communications in one place, especially when you’re starting out.The sidebar stuff, blog, and landing pages can all come later as you learn more and more about using WordPress.

Adding and editing pages within WordPress is super easy. And while I won’t go through a step-by-step tutorial here for the sake of brevity, you can check out this video, which is awesome for a first-time user:

4. Add a Few Plugins

Although they can seem complicated at first, plugins are an easy way to kick your website up a notch. Basically, they’re pieces of code you add into your website to make tasks easier to execute.

Here’s the short list of plugins I’d suggest you start with:

Each of these is easy to configure and use once you activate it on your site, and each one will help you tremendously in making the purpose of your website successful.

Make Something Now and Improve It Later

One of my favorite things is looking at massively successful freelance writers and bloggers and learning about how they got their starts. Believe it or not, most of them once had “ugly,” overly basic websites too. But that didn’t hinder their growth. They created something, got moving with it, and then improved it later as they honed their niches, their craft, and their understanding. If you want to see what I mean, check out this collection of before and after websites by Karla Starr. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Tim Ferriss’s or Marie Forleo’s first blog.)

So be easy on yourself and make something that will be good enough for the moment. I promise it isn’t hard!

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