Freelance websites and digital desert syndrome
Freelancer websites are a mixed story. 27% of freelance members secured a contract via their own website, blog, LinkedIn or Facebook according to the Professional Contractors Group.
But the typical experience of a new freelancer’s website goes something like this: After several months of weekend message crafting and developer quotes, a new site goes live. It’s taken a lot of time to get the developer to understand the exact shade of blue required, but now it’s done! The website is going to make a big difference in attracting and winning work.
The URL get’s emailed to a hundred or so friends and clients. Ten emails come back along the lines of “well done, the new site looks great”. The site features on Google page eight for the search term “freelance management consultant Putney”.
Thereafter, it gets ten visits a week. These visits crystallise into five emails a month about improbable lottery wins and dubious search optimisation services. Over time, the site’s once proud owner comes to hope that nobody visits because it’s, quite frankly, out-of-date and a bit embarrassing. After despair, acceptance arrives with the view that a website is just a hygiene factor – it’s necessary for credibility but doesn’t actually deliver any real value.
Going from high hopes to lifeless digital desert isn’t inevitable. A website can become so valuable that life without it becomes unimaginable to its owner.
As with all business decisions, clarity of purpose is what makes the difference.
Purposeful freelance websites
The worst reason of all for having a website is that everyone else has a website.
A brochure-ware site is hygiene factor, but it’s unlikely to help your business significantly. A purposeful freelance website should help you in four key ways:
- Differentiating your personal brand so that you stand out from competitors.
- Supporting your relationships with agencies, clients and peers.
- Selling your services in your tightly defined market niche.
- Making administration just that little bit easier.
Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.
A website makes your personal brand stand-out from competitors
Unfortunately, brains are two-a-penny. Job-boards and Google search are commoditised channels to market. They’re full of people with similar skills, accomplishments, qualifications, experience and achievements.
Worse still, the urge to identify as “professional” often drives us into clichéd design and expression which commoditises us even more. A visual symptom of this is a website with photos of executives shaking hands, team huddles and happy-smiling call-centre agents.
For more about this, see my post on “Beyond Handshakes“.
A website is a chance to create a narrative about yourself that is authentic, motivating to clients and puts clear and credible blue water between yourself and other freelancers.
The key points of personal brand differentiation for freelance websites are to:
- Focus on personal rather than limited company branding.
- Create copy that is authentic, motivating to clients and different to other freelancers.
- Integrate a blog into your website to showcase your knowledge and skills and give reasons to believe in your personal brand. It’s important that what you blog is helpful, useful and non-self-serving.
- Use prominent client endorsements that reinforce your personal brand and which are reference-able on LinkedIn.
- Avoid commoditised stock images.
A website supports your professional relationships
It’s often better to be remembered than found and most freelancing is relationship-driven.
By and large, we do business with people who know us, like us and trust us. As freelancers, we have relationships with agencies, peers and clients who may recommend us, promote us, or hire us. Cultivating those relationships over months and years creates a sustainable and dependable flow of opportunities.
A website doesn’t substitute personal relationships. But it can support them. The key points are:
- Integrate your personal social media profiles on the website and cross-publish your blog to your social media channels. This continuously reminds your network about you.
- Build in a simple customer relationship management solution to manage your contacts. Use simple tagging around relationship, sector and importance and ideally, integrate your contacts’ social media feeds into your records
- Take the time to periodically update your contacts with an email or phone call. A next level of sophistication is to integrate your customer relationship management with an eNewsletter. If you’re short of time, it’s possible to automatically compile an eNewsletter from your blog posts.
You might find my blog post about customer relationship management for small businesses and freelancers useful.
A website helps you sell
There’s little point building a website that’s only seen by your existing contacts and there’s no point being seen by anyone if it doesn’t drive action.
In other words, a website needs to deliver on the old sales formula of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.
The incredible importance of a market niche
Hyper-competition makes getting attention tough. Google UK returns 24.6 million results for the term “freelance project manager” and 8.4 million for “freelance management consultant”. If anyone suggests they can get you to Google page one for terms like that, you should run a mile. But it’s eminently possible to rank highly for more specific search terms.
That’s why having a clearly defined market niche is so important. A market niche is where you sit in the grid of specific industry segment, functional expertise and physical location. Reflect that niche with dense, relevant keywords in your website copy and tagging.
I’ll blog more soon about how to define and optimise keywords and how to use blogs and social media to drive site traffic. In the meantime, you might find my blog post about optimising local search helpful.
The overwhelming importance of a call to action
A website absolutely must have a strong call to action. From a sales perspective, the purpose of a freelance website is to get people to find out more, get in touch and stay in touch.
Useful and non-self-serving content is a cornerstone of establishing Interest and Desire. Converting that into an enquiry is often simply a matter of good web design. For example, placing a contact form widget on every page of the website is a good design principle if you have the screen real estate.
A website gives you back Sunday afternoon
There’s never enough time.
If you’re freelance, you spend it doing client work and hunting for the next assignment. You probably already use Sunday afternoons to do accounts and admin.
Time poverty means that important-but-boring-and-not-urgent marketing housekeeping doesn’t get done. Business cards gather dust, emails get archived and people forget they ever met you.
It’s possible to build a web platform that can automatically import business cards, streamline financial management and compile eNewsletters.
The key point is that modern web systems can support your administration and give you back Sunday afternoon.
A few final thoughts on authenticity and action
I’ve made a few points about authenticity and action in this article. So I thought I could reflect on both.
In terms of personal authenticity, my own freelance career started over eight years ago. In all that time, I’ve rarely been out of contract and my views on websites for freelancers come out of experience.
Photo credit: www.thomasvandenberg.nl