This article was last updated on 4 December 2016.
You could argue that you don’t need a website to become a freelance writer. You could. But then I would tell you to sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen to this.
While yes, you may be able to snag the odd (and I do mean odd) client from Upwork or Fiverr or Craigslist without a website, you’re not going to be able to build a successful freelance writing business that will bring you a sustainable income with which you can do magical things like pay rent, buy food AND have enough left over to go on holiday from time to time or buy a really nice new bin.
Also, you’ll probably find it hard to score clients who won’t make you want to shoot yourself in the face. To find those kinds of clients, you’re going to need to put your best professional face on. And that means getting a professional website set up, all of your very own. One that clients will look at and automatically assume you know what the hell you’re doing. So. Here’s how to do it:
How to Set Up Your Website
I recommend you create your website using WordPress. WordPress is the biggest CMS (Content Management System) on the web today. That means your future clients are probably using it, and that you should be using it too. And this is where the technophobes start to sweat. ‘What the fuck is a Content Management System?’ I hear you cry. Basically, it’s something you install on your website so you don’t have to write any code yourself. To use WordPress, you have to set up and pay for your own domain name and hosting.
There are various free options out there (Wix, Weebly, even WordPress has a version you can set up for free), but, while you may think they look spiffy, others will easily be able to spot them (your website may be clunky, ugly, or display banners or links that give you away). This means people will know you’re cheapskate who didn’t believe in themselves enough to invest in their business.
So just trust me on this. If you’re serious about getting into freelance writing, just grow a pair and fess up the $100 or so it’s going to cost you to get everything set up. Yeah, it’s not even that expensive. If you can’t make $100 back from freelance writing, it’s probably not the career for you.
Obviously you’re going to have to decide on a name before you can proceed. A few suggestions if you’re struggling with this:
- Pick an adjective that describes an element of your personality or work ethic.
- Include something like ‘writing’ or ‘content’ or ‘copy’.
- Try to get a name with a .com domain extension.
The astute reader will notice that this is precisely what I did with Untamed Writing.
Once you’ve decided on your name, you’ll need to put your technology hat on and go through these steps:
Purchase Your Domain Name and Hosting
This is where your website will live. Personally, I use SiteGround and have found them to be excellent. I used to use Bluehost but they’ve become increasingly terrible over time and I decided to leave them after my site disappeared for three days straight. THREE. DAYS. STRAIGHT. My site has been consistently UP since I switched to SiteGround and their customer service is fantastic too (they may even crack a joke or two). Anyway, I think you get the picture: I highly recommend SiteGround.
The links throughout this guide are affiliate links, which means I’ll get paid a commission if you sign up after clicking one of them. If that makes you feel gross, you can just type the SiteGround URL straight into your browser (or use someone else – just, Jesus Christ, not Bluehost), but know that I recommend SiteGround because I recommend SiteGround, not because they pay me a commission.
So, back to the guide: click the Sign Up button on SiteGround’s home page and follow the instructions. The most basic package (‘StartUp’) will do fine for your purposes. Don’t worry about signing up for the additional extras, either, except maybe the domain privacy thing, which will hide your home address from the whole internet.
Now you’ve registered your online home, it’s time to add something to it. Here’s how:
- Log into your hosting account by clicking in the top right corner of SiteGround’s home page and entering your deets (which should’ve been emailed to you).
- Click ‘My Accounts’ in the tab at the top.
- Click the red button that says ‘Go to cPanel’.
- Scroll down to the ‘WORDPRESS TOOLS’ header and click ‘WordPress Installer’.
- Click the blue ‘INSTALL’ button.
- Select your domain name from the dropdown list.
- Fill out your site’s details under ‘Site Settings’. Don’t worry about any of the other stuff.
- Click ‘Install’ at the bottom of the page.
Choose a Theme
This is the part where you decide what you want your website to look like. The important thing to remember here is not to spend all fucking week on it. After all, you can always change it later. Essentially, you want something simple, clean and professional. This post will help you make a good decision.
Alright, time for another list. Here’s how to install a theme:
- You’ll need to log into your WordPress dashboard first. You should have been emailed information on how to do this when you installed WordPress, and you may have chosen your username and password then, too. You’ll probably need to go to http://YOURDOMAINNAME.COM/wp-admin to log in.
- In the menu on the left of your dashboard, scroll down to ‘Appearance’ and select ‘Themes’.
- Click ‘Add New Theme’ and browse the themes until you find one that takes your fancy. If you don’t like the look of any of the free themes, or just want to get your hands on something you know will work and don’t mind spending a bit of money to do so, I highly recommend grabbing a theme from StudioPress, which is what I used when I first created this site (that’s not an affiliate link, by the way). This will set you back around another $100.
Aaaaaand you’re done. Your website is now waiting for you to add content to it.
How to Add Pages to Your Website
There are a few things you need to include on your website:
- A quick overview of what you do, so people who land on your site will immediately know whether you can help them.
- Specific information about the services you provide.
- Evidence you can do it.
- A way to contact you.
We’re going to create pages to cover all of that stuff. Here’s how:
On your WordPress dashboard, scroll down to ‘Pages’ and click ‘Add New’. Add the following pages:
- Services or Hire Me (whichever takes your fancy)
Just type the titles in for now and click ‘Publish’. We’ll add the content shortly, but before that you need to go back to the dashboard, scroll all the way down to ‘Settings’ and click ‘Reading’. The top option on this page allows you to choose what’s displayed on the home page of your website. The default setting is your blog (‘your latest posts’), but you don’t have a blog and you’re (probably) not about to start one now. Instead, select ‘A static page’ and choose ‘Home’ for your front page. You can just leave the ‘Posts’ page blank, unless you decide to start a blog, which I’ll touch on shortly.
How to Write the Content for Your Pages
Now it’s time to get down to bidniz: you’ve got to write each of your pages. Your entire website is a showcase of your copywriting skills, so you’ve got to make this shit good. Therefore, before you start writing, I advise you to read these posts:
7 Quick Changes to Improve Your Freelance Writing Website
10 Super Easy Ways to Improve Your Website’s Copy
How to Make Your Writing Slick as Fuck
How to Write Conversationally
How to Write with Personality
Should You Refer to Yourself as ‘We’ On Your Website?
Should You Write About Yourself in the Third Person on Your Website?
Alright – happy you know how to write a half-decent page of copy for your spanky new freelance writing website? Then let’s proceed. Go back to the ‘Pages’ section of your dashboard and select ‘All Pages’. Hover over the page you want to edit and select ‘Edit’ (not to be confused with ‘Quick Edit’). Here’s my advice on what to write on each page:
Your Home Page
This is the page where you need to grab people’s attention. It is what will make people decide whether to stay or go. So, what does it need to include?
Well, not a lot actually. The point of your home page is to instantly let people know what you do so they’ll know whether you can help them or not. But it’s not just that – you also need to make them think that you specifically are the person who should help them.
So write a paragraph as succinctly as possible describing what you do, including brief information about your niches and why you’re qualified to write on them. If you struggle with this, just think – and I mean really think – about how you actually can help your prospective clients.
Your only goal on your home page is to get your prospects to go deeper into your website. You want to make them click onto your about page or your services/hire me page.
You should also include a professional-looking photo of yourself if you have one. If you don’t have one, at least find one where you look presentable and friendly, and where your face is visible (NO GODDAMN SUNGLASSES, YOU UNTRUSTWORTHY BASTARD).
For the love of Christ, don’t make this page too long. You need to get people interested before they’ll want to read a lot about you and your business. Present your viewers with too much information at the start and they’ll just glance at it, think ‘Fuck this’, and then click off.
Your About Page
This is the page where you help people confirm that you are the guy or gal for them. But you would be mistaken if you think this page is supposed to be all about you, your qualifications and your favourite ice cream flavours.
Instead, talk more about things that are relevant to the person reading it – talk about how you can actually help them. This is where you can expand on the things you mentioned on your home page. A good format for writing an about page can be found here.
Suppose in a past life you were an accountant, and you’ve decided you want to specialise in blogging for accounting firms and other related businesses – now would be a great time to talk about your qualifications and experience in the industry. That’s the sort of thing that will sway a prospect when deciding whether to hire you or that other asshole they’re considering. But always keep the focus on your prospect, rather than yourself. Make it clear why your education and experience are big benefits for them.
Your Services or Hire Me Page
Whether you decide to call this your services page or your hire me page is up to you – go with whatever you like best. Either way, this is the page where you should detail precisely what you can offer your clients.
Do you specialise in specific niches? Do you write on specific subjects or for specific industries or types of business? Do you specialise in a particular type of writing?
Do you write sales pages, web copy, blog posts, SEO articles, white pages, case studies, press releases? Do you also do copy-editing and proofreading? What about social media posts and content management? I’d caution against offering every service under the fiery star above, but it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to specialise in yet. Just bear in mind that specialising is a very good way to improve the value of what you offer.
This is also the page where you’d include your rates… if you decide to do that. This blog post will help you decide whether to include your rates or not. And this one will help you figure out what your rates should be.
You may also want to include information about your process on this page. How exactly will it work when a client decides they want to hire you?
Finally, at the bottom of this page, you should include your contact information.
Your Portfolio Page
Now, this is the tricky bit, isn’t it? Presumably you don’t have much to include on your portfolio right now. Yet people won’t want to hire you if you don’t have any proof that you’re a good, professional writer. So you need to get some samples! If the writing on the rest of your site is strong, that alone may be enough to get some people to hire you. If they just love your writing style, maybe they won’t take much convincing. However, that’s unlikely to be the case in most circumstances. So, here are some other things you can do:
- Just write some samples of whatever services you want to offer. Yes, I literally mean write some made-up stuff. For example, you could write some sample blog posts in the niche you’ve decided to specialise in, and publish them on your own website.
- An extension of the first step is to create your own blog. You can either do that on this website or on a completely separate one – it depends on what subject you’re going to write on. If it’s related to this business or writing somehow, great! You can just add a blog to this site. If it’s on something completely different, that could work too, but it may be better placed on a separate website. Either way, just remember to make your blog posts authoritative and professional, so that your prospective clients can read them and think ‘Yes! This fine fellow can do the sort of writing I need.’ This blog post will help you decide whether you should create a blog.
Creating a blog is a big commitment, and you don’t want to create one only to leave it hanging limply on the edge of your site because there’s always something more urgent that needs doing. If you’re going to create a blog, create a fucking blog and commit to the damn thing. Otherwise, choose a different way to get some examples of your writing.
- Get some guest posts published on other blogs. If you don’t want to create your own blog, this is a neat little way to get some published examples of your work. The only downside is that getting your pieces published will take longer than if you decide to publish them yourself. However, it will look more impressive if someone else publishes them, so this is the route I recommend. I’ve written a more in-depth blog post about this here.
- Write for free for some people. Find a business you love or that you think drastically needs a copy-overhaul, and offer to write some stuff for them for free in exchange for a testimonial (if they like it) and permission to link out to it from your portfolio page. Just be honest and explain the situation – but don’t be a total pushover and write free shit for people who ask for it.
When you do finally get some pieces published, list them on your portfolio page. It’s important to link out to things published elsewhere rather than republish them on your own site, and to get permission from the site the piece is published on if it’s not published under your own name.
Your Contact Page
Yes, you should have included your contact information at the bottom of your services/hire me page. But some people may not find it, or they may read your services page, see the contact information, but then decide to keep exploring the rest of your site. So! Make it easy for people and create a separate contact page. At the very least, include your email address. You may also wish to include a contact form, your phone number or your Skype ID.
If you follow all those instructions, you will be able to get a basic freelance writing website set up and ready to attract clients.
If you’re still shit-scared of going after clients, or want more detailed information about this whole freelance writing thing before diving in, you might be better off taking one of my freelance writing courses. In my courses I not only give you more in-depth guidance on how to create your website, but also guidance on how to decide what services to offer, how to brand your business, how to choose your niches, and what to charge. I give personal feedback on every step of the process and help you create the freelance writing business that suits you, your talents and your passions. Find out more about my freelance writing courses here.