You can promote your freelance business without having your own website, but holy cow are you making life more difficult for yourself. Even if you mostly live on word of mouth and social media, you need somewhere to send potential customers where they can learn about you and your services.
And it’s really easy to set up a website these days. Most freelancers won’t have the budget for a fully bespoke site (unless you happen to be a freelance web designer, of course), but with the rise of code-free tools like Squarespace, Webflow and Wix, you can quickly create a pleasant website for a very low monthly cost.
These five website tweaks can make all the difference. They’re not technical, they’re about the design and content. I recently helped a freelance consultant make these changes to his site and he found he got an 80% jump in leads overnight, and all without paying an extra penny.
1. Cut your homepage down to the essentials
We designers love our work and want to show it off. We also still have the confused idea of a ‘portfolio site’ in our heads. But your website is not a portfolio, it’s a marketing tool for your business. So here’s what you need on your home page:
- A headline that states how you’ll solve your customer’s problem (e.g. “Design on tap: stand-out graphic design with a fast turnaround”). If you don’t know what your customers’ problems are, talk to your existing ones and find out.
- A one-sentence description that backs up the promise you made in the headline (e.g. “I’m a creative graphic designer with 15 years’ experience of print and digital marketing”)
- A simple, two-option call to action. The main one should be a form to let people contact you about their project. The secondary one should be ‘see my work’ or ‘find out more’.
Here’s why this works: your home page is not usually the place people land on your website. If you’re writing blogs or sharing examples of your work, that’s where people will go first. So by the time they get to your home page they’re already interested in your services. You don’t need to re-sell them on it. Give them your best marketing one-liner and a clear call to action to get in touch. This also has the benefit of keeping your homepage slim and quick to load, which can make a surprising difference to its effectiveness. Even a load-time decrease of half a second can improve your engagement rates by 10%.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have your work on the site, of course. It’s vital. Just put it in a Portfolio section.
2. Add social proof
People buy from people, and they’re more likely to trust you if they see that other people trust you. The days of having a Testimonials page are long gone. Instead add quote banners throughout the rest of your site — get people to see how trusted you are without having to go look for it. This is what’s known as ‘splash damage’: visitors will pick up on positive words from your customers as they’re scrolling down your pages looking for other things. This helps to build a good impression of you much earlier in the process and makes the decision to contact you easier.
The perfect quotes for banners are short. Customers will naturally give you much longer testimonials than you really need, so don’t feel afraid to break them down into a couple of shorter ones. It’s nice to check back with the person who gave it to you that they’re happy with your abbreviation: I’ve never had anyone object and it’s a good way to treat people who want to carry on doing business with.
3. Carefully design your waiting room
There’s a reason that theme parks spend so much time on designing their ride queuing areas. From the moment someone gets in line, their goodwill starts to run down. If it’s a long wait, people may walk away, so the parks try hard to make the queuing area as interesting as possible (and to hide the full extent of the queue, usually).
Your business has a waiting room too. As soon as someone decides to get in touch with you, their patience begins to run down. If they’ve contacted a couple of freelancers and one gives a better initial experience than you, you might lose the business altogether. No one likes waiting, so what can you do to make the experience less frustrating?
- Lower the perceived effort of making first contact with you. Add a chat feature to your site (Hubspot and Intercom both offer excellent free versions) that makes it seem you’re right there to talk. In reality you don’t need to be there all the time — you do have work to do after all — but the system can quickly acknowledge the message and say when you’ll be able to get back to them.
- Send a welcome email explaining what you offer and if possible offer something useful and free (a template, guide or resource). This is an extra your visitor won’t be expecting, and it can be handled completely automatically. MailChimp is the go-to for email campaigns and has an excellent free tier.
- Be ready to go as quickly and professionally as possible. Have a pre-written call sheet or online form for getting briefs so you’re not rushing around to get back to them.
- Always be as clear as possible about your timescales. Freelancers always feel the urge to underestimate delivery times, especially with a new client who’s throwing the word ‘urgent’ around. It’s better to under promise and over delivery, every time. Leave yourself some wiggle room for when life doesn’t play fair.
The Magic Triangle
This is all first impression stuff, and we all know how vital that is. Remember the magic triangle of freelance business:
People will do business with you if you’re any two of these things. So get your basics right, make dealing with your business fast and high quality and the price becomes significantly less important, allowing you to charge what you’re worth.