How to build a freelance website–in just a few hours
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Let’s say you’re either living the dream or about to–you’re a solo entrepreneur/independent consultant/freelancer. A “business of one”, so to speak.
Congrats! For most of us, that’s way better than being in an office.
You know at some point you need an attractive website: Something simple yet professional. Maybe a single-page scrolling website or something up to 4-5 pages with a contact form. Maybe some social media links and a newsletter. Nothing crazy.
Essentially a digital business card or online brochure that confirms your credibility enough for people to start a conversation with you.
Why is that so damn hard to do?!
Well, there a lot of options.
First things first: disregard everything that anyone has ever told you about websites ever.
The amount of confusion and misconceptions around this topic are endless.
People read a few articles online on Inc or Entrepreneur and now they’re clearly digital marketing experts.
You only need a website for now; forget social media, email lists, forget SEO, and even forget a nice logo + business card.
Down the road, you may pursue this. For now, I imagine that your clients come in just fine through referrals/hustling/etc. The only thing you need is a professional headshot on your LinkedIn with some profile details, and that’s easily linkable on your website.
Chances are that people don’t want your emails. People definitely don’t want to be added to your email list without their permission. Don’t take it personally–it’s one less thing for you to worry about for now.
SEO (search engine optimization)
Chances are, your best leads aren’t just finding you through a cold random internet search. Or it can be very costly and time-consuming to immediately get to the first page of results. So don’t worry about this for now.
Logo and business card design
There are lots of online designers that can fit your needs at various price points. The good news is you don't need this piece to launch a good first version of your website.
Start with your website
Now that those things are out of the way and not involved in you launching your site, find a web-based content management system (CMS) that will allow you to build and manage your site easily and in a modular way (without having code anything by hand and without needing to install any software on your computer).
Some of the most common web-based content management systems are Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly, and Wix.
Usually, a solo entrepreneur/independent consultant/freelancer just needs a simple brochure website with pages like “Home,” “Services,” “About,” and “Contact.” You can easily implement simple eCommerce on your website if you want clients to pay for certain packages, or implement one of the many booking + payment software tools that can be embedded on your website.
You’ve picked a platform, now what?
Here are the questions from the project brief that I have new clients of WebsiteByTonight fill out:
What’s the purpose of this new website/what are you hoping to accomplish?
Chances are, it’s still the simple brochure website with a contact form to boost credibility. So optimize for that–simple enough to build credibility and entice people to pick up the phone/fill out the contact form.
Don’t overthink it!
Who is your ideal customer/client/audience? Usual demographic?
Think about your best customer–the one that you can help the most, enjoy working with the most, and is willing to pay you the most for your service? Create the website with this person in mind. The more specific, the better.
What are some websites you like–and why?
It’s preferable if the websites are of the same industry, purpose, or type/amount of content.
Once again, think of other simple brochure websites you like that. For example, let’s say you’re a business consultant. And you like the Apple.com website. As lovely as a website as that is, that website is made to advertise high-end electronic products, not consulting services.
If you’re having trouble, there are many great online “best of the web” repositories, such as awwwards (which can be filtered by certain categories too), or you can simply search “Web design inspiration for independent consultant websites,” likely with many great results.
Even though there are many high-end websites for solo entrepreneurs and thought leaders, many of the elements of those websites might be able to be applied to your site.
Once you pick a few websites to model yours after–possibly mixing and matching some ideas–it makes it much easier to build that with your content instead. At the very least, it gives you ideas and a vision so it feels less daunting.
When people see your website/brand, what adjectives or feelings do you want to pop into their minds?
Is there an overall tone you’re going for (e.g. calm, trustworthy)?
This will help determine the fonts and colors that you use on your website. For example, do you prefer a more modern and calm feel or a more sophisticated and passionate feel? There are no right or wrong answers–just whatever works for you and what your target audience can relate to.
There are many websites with recommendations for “font pairings” to pick.
Getting started on the platform of your choice
Once you’ve followed the steps above and have picked a template, you’re usually given a free trial. You can build the website entirely on a private URL (and if you already have a website, it remains unaffected).
A few other small odds & ends which are related and important:
- Don’t use a free personal email account for your business (e.g. @gmail.com or @yahoo.com), as it looks very unprofessional. Use a business email address, such as through G Suite (business Gmail) or Office 365.
- I strongly recommend you buy your domain directly from a domain registrar instead of a third party that happens to sell domains from registrars. Some popular registrars are GoDaddy, Google Domains, or Tucows.
- I recommend creating a contact page with a contact form on it. Reason being that I wouldn’t want my phone number on the site to receive a bunch of out-of-the-blue calls. Instead, I like using forms with the predefined info I need to best serve the prospect and frame the conversation to best set yourself up for success.
- I recommend the fields on the form to have: Name, Email, Phone (optional), “How can we help you?”, and “How did you hear about us?”.
- When you receive a message from a prospective client (called a “lead”) and you’ve determined this person could be a good fit, take time to set up an intro call. It’s usually way quicker and easier than email. And for scheduling those, I cannot recommend Calendly (or another widget that syncs with your calendar where people can book themselves) highly enough.
- Lastly, you’ll need to keep track of your prospective clients and where they are in the stages of becoming a client. I personally use Streak, the free CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that lives inside Gmail. It has a user interface like a spreadsheet so it’s very easy to see all of your prospective deals at a glance and update them as things change. But there are many great small-scale web-based CRMs.
Congratulations, you have everything you need to get started!
There’s my exact framework that I recommend to everyone (and have done it myself multiple times).
It lays the groundwork to get out there to focus on what matters most: selling, building relationships, and doing great work for your clients.
And then you get dig into the nuances later as your business grows: a nice logo + business card, and elaborate content marketing strategy, SEO, etc.
But thankfully you can have a pretty solid amount of success without having those things done.
If you think it might be a better use of your time and money to hire a pro, schedule a free ideas call over at WebsiteByTonight–mention Freelancers Union for $50 off a WebsiteByTonight package!
Jared Gold is the founder of WebsiteByTonight, which provides simple professional websites to solo entrepreneurs, consultants, and freelancers by building and launching live via screenshare. Jared and his team build all of his websites on Squarespace, and is even featured on their website as an expert on the platform, in addition to having a popular course on Udemy on using Squarespace.