When you decide to work as a freelancer, you start building a special kind of one-person brand — one that will blur the lines between your professional image and your personal one. In doing so, you have the opportunity to represent your unique self in a way that draws people to your products or services.
Unfortunately, even if you’re not thrilled about having a personal brand, it’s going to form no matter what you do — and if you don’t take ownership for shaping it, others will do it for you. In the words of Jeff Bezos, “branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Naturally, if you’re getting set up as a freelancer and putting together your personal brand, one of the first steps is to create your own website – your home on the internet. Here’s how to set up a website that will represent who you are online, and how you can make the most of it.
Step 1: Establish your brand story
Arguably, there is no such thing as a brand without a story. GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a compelling brand story – they exist to change the gender ratio in engineering through interactive toys and games. Their mission is simple: “disrupting the pink aisle” and challenging gender stereotypes.
Your own personal brand story will be centered around three key elements:
- who you are
- what you want to achieve
- and for what reason.
It’s important to answer these questions honestly, particularly when you’re freelancing. A freelancer has to be open and accessible to make frequent connections with new people and new businesses, and authenticity is the key to this.
If all goes well, you might end up working with certain clients for many years, over which time they’ll get plenty of opportunity to form well-rounded opinions of you as an individual. If you want them to recommend you, you need to earn that belief.
With your personal goals identified, you can create a 2-3 sentence manifesto for your website. This is essentially your elevator pitch. It should be displayed prominently on your website, so visitors start to invest in your brand identity right away. Visual elements will be central too – in this case you are selling yourself, so consider investing in some professional headshots.
Step 2: Determine your website structure
Before you start building your website, you need some idea of what’s going where. A good starting point is to take a notepad and write down everything you need to include. There’s no set formula for this, so start by getting everything down on paper, then you can begin to arrange everything in a logical order.
For example, do copywriting and illustration samples require two separate pages? Or could they sit together on one Portfolio page? You can keep playing around with the structure until it feels like it makes sense.
Once you’ve decided what will go where, it’s time to start making your website. If you can afford it, a graphic designer can help you create a website that looks professional and feels fully unique — and the availability of freelance graphic designers offers a great middle ground between a full-cost agency service and going totally DIY.
But if you’re so strapped for cash that getting professional assistance simply isn’t an option, website builders make it unbelievably easy to go from nothing to a fully formed website in very little time, with no coding ability. Here’s a guide to the top website builders to choose from.
Step 3: Get a second opinion
After you’ve spent some time building your website, you may be too close to notice small mistakes or pick up on ways of making it better. When you’re close to finished, send your new website to some friends or colleagues and ask them to spend a few minutes reading and clicking around. Ask them for their honest impressions, whether it makes sense, and whether it comes across as professional and engaging.
Once you’ve incorporated their feedback, open your website the next morning and try to look at it objectively from the perspective of your target audience. Ask yourself honestly: is this website a true representation of who you are? Be extra critical – this is the time to get it right.
Step 4: Create a lead magnet
A lead magnet is something tangible that you can offer potential customers in exchange for personal details – their email addresses, for example. Ebooks are a popular choice, providing your visitors with something of value beyond a simple blog post, while at the same time demonstrating your niche expertise.
There are a couple of practical obstacles, namely finding the time to sit down and write an ebook, along with the fact that there are so many out there already. It’s no secret that ebooks make highly effective lead magnets, and it hasn’t taken long for marketers to catch on. But it’s not actually as time-intensive as it sounds – if you invest in a good ebook maker you can create a useful, valuable ebook in a matter of minutes.
Step 5: Keep updating
Search engines tend to view static websites as dead entities, since they have nothing new to offer. However, if you update your website regularly with high-quality content, then each time you make an update, they will take notice and reassess your ranking. That doesn’t mean constantly changing tiny, insignificant details on an hourly basis. But if you add new content regularly – in the form of a blog, for example – then you will increase your chances of ranking highly for relevant keywords.
Personal branding is an important part of building a freelance business. Build your personal brand around a simple, compelling story, and you won’t go wrong. This is your opportunity to control the narrative around how you are professionally perceived, and while it may take some time, it’s always worth it in the end. Once you have your website, be sure to put it out into the world so that others can find you.