The good news is you don’t absolutely need to have an online portfolio to launch and grow your freelance writing career. Back when I was looking for a wide range of freelance writing work, I rarely used mine. Clients wanted me to send specific links to relevant content that matched their needs, and didn’t really care about reviewing my writer’s website.
But the bad news is not having a freelance writer’s website means you’re missing out on the opportunity for new clients to find you and validate your writing skill. Instead, that work is going straight to your competition. If I could start over in my career, I would have built mine sooner, and made it more specific to the kind of freelance writing work I was really looking for. Now my site is geared towards travel content writing with a smaller focus on business writing.
A freelance writer’s website may not always be necessary to land freelance writing work, but can help skyrocket your career as a new freelance writer. Fortunately it doesn’t have to cost much, or even take a lot of time, to get your freelance writer’s website up and running.
Ready to launch your freelance writing career? Here’s an in-depth (but totally straight-forward, simple and easy to do) tutorial to getting your freelance writer’s website up and running quickly.
STEP ONE: CHOOSE YOUR HOSTING PROVIDER
There are lots of players in the web hosting industry, but I personally recommend BlueHost (click this link for their latest flash sales). BlueHost is the provider I use to run my own websites, and I find their 24-hour customer support pretty solid. They also frequently host sales for as low as $3 a month for hosting, and new customers get a FREE domain (ie: YourName.com). They also have lots of tools to install WordPress quickly and back-up your site.
Click on ‘Get Started Now’ to set-up your BlueHost account. Select the option to pick a domain (free for new customers) or transfer your old one over. I recommend choosing BlueHost’s middle priced plan called their Plus Plan. It’s usually only a dollar or two more expensive a month than its cheapest hosting plan, but doesn’t come with enough features.
The plus plan also offers unlimited domain hosting. That all means you can use BlueHost to create your freelance writer’s website, and use your same hosting plan to host your personal travel website or blog. Right now I have five or six domains with BlueHost that I run on the Plus plan.
The Plus Plan also comes with unlimited email accounts and storage. The last thing you want is a struggle with email storage space when working with freelance clients. It’s not unusual for them to send over large images to use in your writing assignments.
STEP TWO: SET UP YOUR DOMAIN
Choose the domain for your freelance writer’s portfolio. If you’re not sure what to pick, I would recommend using your own name. It’s easy for clients to remember, and reflects the byline you’ll use for your work.
However, don’t be surprised if the domain you want is already taken. BlueHost will let you know and offer alternative suggestions. I’ve never found their suggestions to actually be that helpful, but it may give you ideas.
Instead, I would add something unique to your domain name. For example, Susan Finch was already taken as a domain, so I choose BySusanFinch.com as if it were my actual byline. For other suggestions, try these formats:
STEP THREE: ASSIGN YOUR DOMAIN TO YOUR CPANEL
Don’t be afraid if you have absolutely no idea what a CPANEL is. It’s the same thing as a dashboard. Once you’ve created your WordPress hosting account and chosen your domain, click on the BlueHost logo to make sure you’re logged in and directed to this screen. This is your CPANEL.
Next, click on DOMAINS to get to your domain manager. From here, scroll down to see your domain name and click on AddOn to assign your domain. Next to your domain, you should see the words “ASSIGN”. Click it and follow the directions.
Once your domain has been assigned and you’ve followed BlueHost’s directions, click on the BlueHost logo to make sure you’re back at the CPANEL page.
STEP FOUR: INSTALL WORDPRESS THE SUPER EASY WAY
Once you’re back at your CPANEL page, look for the icon that says, INSTALL WORDPRESS. Click it and follow along. It’s super easy – no technical knowledge required.
The next page is going to lead you to a premium marketplace. The url or logo probably says Mojo marketplace. Don’t get confused by the various pricing menus to get WordPress set up for you. You don’t need this and can easily do it yourself for free. Just click on Install.
Once you hit Install, it will ask you to check your domain. You may have to wait a minute or two while it checks. Next, you’ll be asked if you want to see their advanced options, and to check the box saying you’ve read the terms and conditions. You don’t need the advanced options. Leave that unchecked and move onto agreeing to the terms and conditions before hitting INSTALL NOW.
This will take a few minutes to set up and finish installing. Next, you’ll see lots of premium upgrade options to do all kinds of things with your freelance writer’s website, but you don’t need any of it right now. Instead, check the email account you used to sign-up with BlueHost and look for a confirmation that your install is complete. It should look something like this:
The email will give you lots of options, including to design your site with: Browse All Themes. Skip this. These are just premium themes you need to pay for. I wouldn’t recommend spending any money on a theme, and instead looking for free WordPress writer’s website themes. Once you figure out what you really want, then you can always upgrade to premium.
At this point, all you need to do is look for your Username and Password in the email you received. If you’re having trouble seeing your password, I’ll show you an easy way to access it in the next step.
STEP FIVE: CHOOSING YOUR FREE WORDPRESS THEME
Now we’re getting to the good stuff!
Log into your WordPress theme at your domain/wp-admin using the username and password from the email you got. For example, logging into my writer’s website would be BySusanFinch.com/wp-admin.
If you couldn’t see your password in the email, just click on LOST YOUR PASSWORD below the login area and it will re-generate it for you and send it to the same email you used to set-up your BlueHost account.
Once you’re logged in, you may see a few options to help you look around for the first time. Dismiss those messages, or take a look if you need to. Next, you’ll see your main Dashboard. Look for the option on the left that says APPEARANCE. Click that and then THEMES. This is what you’re looking for:
Your theme will help determine what the layout of your site will look like. Choosing the right WordPress theme can get complicated if you’re a newbie, so stick with something simple until you get more comfortable.
To access completely free WordPress themes, click on the option that says, “WordPress.org Themes”. This is directly at the top of your page in the middle:
There are a lot of ways to narrow your search, or you can just start browsing. I prefer to look at Featured or Popular themes so I get a sense of what’s popular right now. I also like clicking on the Feature Filter option and checking the boxes I want. For example, I prefer WordPress themes with flexible headers. When you’re done, just click ‘Apply Featured Filters’. But remember, you can just browse themes on your own without this step.
If you’re looking for ideas, type the words “Really Simple Portfolio” into the search field on the Add Themes page you’re currently on. This will lead you to an easy, flexible, WordPress theme for freelance writers.
However, for my BySusanFinch.com writer’s website, I choose Pashmina. Again, you can just type the word “Pashmina” into the search box on the Add Themes page you’re on if you want to check it out.
At first glance, you’ll notice that theme is pink and looks like a retail shop. This is just how the WordPress designer set it up so you can see what you can do with it. But the cool thing about just about any WordPress theme is it’s easy to change the colors and make tweaks.
STEP SIX: CUSTOMIZING YOUR THEME
We’re not going to get too far into designing your WordPress theme, but you can do some basic customizations to make your writer’s portfolio your own. Look on the left hand menu under Appearance and click on Customize.
You may not see the exact options as I’m describing – every theme is a little different. But the core concept is the same, and you should be able to figure a few things out by following along with these steps.
1) Look for the Site Identity option. This is where you can type in the title of your Website (re: Susan Finch ~ Travel Content Writer)
2) Choose a tagline that describes your writing services.
3) Go back to the Customize Menu and click on Colors. This should be pretty straight forward and let you open a color chart and use the slider to find the right color you want.
4) Look for Header Image. Depending on your theme, you may be able to upload a header photo, logo or other options.
STEP SEVEN: SETTING UP YOUR PAGES
Let’s move onto setting up the pages you’ll need for your WordPress theme. First, click on the upper left hand corner on DASHBOARD to make sure you’re back at the main page of your administrative panel. Next, look on the left hand menu and click on PAGES.
From here, you should see a page that says FRONT PAGE. This is just a place holder that WordPress created for you so you can see what it does. Hover over it, and click EDIT.
Now you can add a title for your page, like ABOUT, and write in some copy. We’ll get more into what type of copy to choose a little later. You’ll see the tool bar looks a lot like Word or Google Docs. You can bold, indent, choose font colors and add links. Over on the right, you can PREVIEW CHANGES, UPDATE and PUBLISH when you’re ready. The button ADD MEDIA lets you upload photos, videos and audio that you can insert into your pages and posts.
Before you complete this section, make sure you have a blank page that you’ve named BLOG and hit publish. We’ll get to this shortly.
I would suggest playing around with PAGES and see how it works, including inserting photos. It’s not hard to pick-up, but takes a few tries to get comfortable with the interface.
And as you’re publishing pages, don’t worry if they look out of order on your website. There’s an easy fix to that when we get to the section about creating your MENUS.
So what types of pages do you need? My recommendation is the following for your writer’s portfolio:
STEP EIGHT: SETTING UP YOUR BLOG
You don’t absolutely need a blog for your writer’s portfolio, but you’re missing out on a powerful content marketing tool for yourself. You also don’t need to update your blog weekly, but instead write a few long form posts showcasing your best work every few weeks.
However, you DO need a blog if you plan on trying to position yourself as a niche expert in something like travel writing or technical writing.
Think of your blog is an opportunity for potential clients to see if your writing style is a good fit for them and reach out. And the more information and samples you can give your clients, the less likely they are to waste your time. If you’re not a good fit for a particular client, they’ll be able to tell from your website and move on instead of trying to pick your brain or ask for a consultation. Meanwhile, if your work impresses them, they’re more likely to hire you quickly.
Let’s get your blog set up.
Go back to your DASHBOARD and click on POSTS in the left hand menu. This will work almost exactly like your PAGES. You can edit the HELLO, WORLD post that WordPress set up for you, add photos, format your content and hit PUBLISH.
This next step isn’t very intuitive, but also isn’t difficult to do. You need to tell WordPress which PAGE you want your blog to appear on. It won’t literally import your blog posts onto a page. It just means if someone clicks your page that says BLOG, they’ll be able to read through your posts.
Go to your DASHBOARD and then go to SETTINGS. From here you can tell WordPress that you want your front page to either display your latest posts or a static page. For a freelance writer’s website, I always recommend a static page. You want your client to see your homepage or about page when they visit your site.
Underneath those options, you’ll see an option for Posts page. Change that to BLOG. I also suggest changing the “Blog pages show at most” option to 3 posts. It can be any number you want, but having 10 blog posts on one page starts to look crowded and hard to scroll through.
Now save your changes and you’re all set!
STEP NINE: CREATE YOUR MENU
I found menus a little confusing when I was first learning WordPress, but it really isn’t that difficult to learn. First, go back to APPEARANCE and click on MENUS.
From here, you’ll see a list of your PAGES, and then also MENU STRUCTURE. Click on the boxes next to your PAGES to put them into your MENU, unless you want to hide them. For example, if you want a page with your rate sheet, but don’t want it totally visible, just delete it from your menu. Now you can still send clients a direct link to your rate sheet, without making it public.
And if you plan to put all of your pages into your menu, you can click the option under MENU SETTINGS that says, “Automatically add new top-level pages to this menu).” If you click and hold any of the buttons under MENU STRUCTURE, you can rearrange your pages in the order you want them to appear in your menu.
Save your menu and that’s all there is to it!
Depending on your theme, you can also add posts to your menu. This can be helpful if you’re creating a long form post you really want to show off and want to have it both in your blog and in your menu.
STEP TEN: SET UP YOUR WIDGETS
Widgets can help put things into the sidebars of your freelance website. Your WordPress theme’s widgets and sidebars may look a little different than what I’m going to walk you through, but that’s okay. It’s all more or less the same concept and easy to follow.
Go back to APPEARANCE and WIDGETS. You’ll see a list of available widgets for your theme and what sidebar they appear in. You may just have a few, or several that all say Footer Position 1, Footer Position, 2, etc. It depends on how the designer of your theme set it up.
At this point, you probably only need one WIDGET. I would choose TEXT and drag and drop it over to your RIGHT SIDEBAR if you’re planning on doing an email opt-in. You can use a program like Aweber (click the link to get a free trial month) to set-up an auto-responder and collect emails. We’ll talk about that more in an upcoming advanced website strategy, but it’s basically a way to capture potential clients’ emails in exchange for a report or interesting info.
And you might want to add RECENT POSTS into one of your sidebars if you want your clients to see what you’ve been working on.
STEP 11: WRITE COMPELLING COPY
Your freelance writer’s website is an audition piece, and can be crucial for new writers. So make your copy count. What do you want potential clients to see when they land on your homepage? What services will you offer?
This is the step where new freelance writers tend to freeze up. It feels like a lot of pressure, but doesn’t have to be. Your clients aren’t looking for the best writer they’ve ever seen and scrutinizing your talent. They just want to know who you are and what you do.