For the past few years I have spent late Aprils in New York City for the annual American Society of Journalists & Authors conference. I can’t say enough great things about this organization and event. (You do not need to be a member to attend the conference!)
In between panels I met another attendee who is a former magazine editor. We exchanged business cards and I immediately loved the design of her card. (I have a personal affinity for mosaic tiles and patterns.)
She started telling me about how the design came about, that she just launched a website, all of the little details she learned along the way, and I thought it would be a great guest post here on Write Naked. I am very happy to introduce the following guest post from Lynn Freehill-Maye. If you love learning about other places, she runs a fantastic travel blog on her ‘new’ website that I’ve been following. South Africa, Cape Cod, Thousand Islands…follow her travel blog for more.
Dress for Success, Develop Your Website for Success
By Lynn Freehill-Maye
During my first months freelancing, I hobbled along with a LinkedIn profile, but no website. My focus was on diversifying my portfolio before presenting it to the world.
Finally, though, I started to feel naked without an online portal to my work. Contacts asked if I had one—and I’d been in business long enough that I had no good excuse. Fellow writers encouraged me to slap something up. Friends of friends, neighbor kids, self-design—they tossed out options to keep things cheap.
But just as you should dress for the job you want to land, I realized, your website should be designed for the publications you hope to reach. Focus on aesthetics and usability. If you can’t update the site yourself, it’ll stagnate.
Here are the tips I learned along the way about website development for freelance writers, all folded into the article I wish I’d had.
Choose an updatable format. If you’ll need to go back to the designer to add a story to your portfolio, rethink your plan. There are easy-to-use content management systems to choose from. Systems you’ve worked in before can give you a leg up.
In my case, I’d used Dreamweaver, Blogger, and WordPress. If you lack any experience, though, commit to learning WordPress—it’s sleek, intuitive, and quickly becoming the industry standard.
Spring for great, clean design. Find creative people you admire, then peek at who designed their websites. In quality web design portfolios, you should see a lot of uncrowded pages on which striking images do the talking.
I liked the blog Chatting at the Sky, which led me to Design by Insight. I wasn’t sure I could afford this team but inquired. Even stellar designers might work on a budget. They may include extras like coordinating business card design, too.
Research style inspirations. Your designers will ask you to share styles you like. But Google “best freelance writer websites” and you’ll cringe at some of the chintzy looks that pop up.
Choose imagery and photos. A favorite photo can spark a fitting design. I had a high-quality photo from my editor days. My orange dress and turquoise necklace inspired my logo color scheme, and the jagged jewelry drew us to a lead image mosaic photo.
Alternatively, have a new photo taken. It can set a fresh tone to work from. An image of you laughing in the sun will lead your designer in an different direction than one of you with a blazer hooked behind your shoulder.
Have your work ready. Site development may take two or three months, depending on your designer’s schedule. Gather your materials. Have old magazines scanned (a conscientious neighbor kid can help) or request PDFs. Get issue covers as well as story copies.
Plan out your pages, including possibly a welcome, bio, portfolio, testimonials, and contact page. You can pre-write copy. I also requested testimonials from favorite editors early.
Plan to make it dynamic. You may just use your website to show editors you’re legitimate. Or you may want to build an audience that could help you later in writing a book. Either way, your site should have fresh content added regularly.
A calling-card website could have a portfolio of big magazine spreads, but also a “Fresh Links” box for infusing new or web-only pieces. I added that kind of box a few months down the line.
An audience-building website could include a blog. I’d long resisted doing one, reasoning that it wouldn’t pay. But I committed to four posts per month and have gotten both satisfaction and attention from it.
With trial and error, these ideas worked beautifully for me, leaving me with a website that snags me compliments—and higher-level business.
Lynn Freehill-Maye got her journalistic start as a reporter for the Virgin Islands Daily News, then later became editor of the University of Texas’ alumni magazine. Today she’s a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, and lifestyle. Her byline appears in newspapers and magazines ranging from Islands to Culture, Texas Monthly to the Washington Post. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @LynnMarieFree