Every so often I encounter a writer or interview source who has no website. How can that be? I wonder. They seem to get by with a LinkedIn profile, Facebook business page or, if an author/journalist, by referencing their collection of clips on, among others, Contently, Skyword, Ebyline or Upwork or their books on their publisher’s page. While I myself have gotten some work from these various sources, most unreferred clients come from my web page. In fact I might be considered a web page dinosaur having had one since 1997, although it’s been revamped several times since.
The consensus seems to be that unless you’re doing business as—or with—the Flintstones, you need a website. “While social media is a valuable tool, it’s very risky to become too dependent on a platform that you don’t control,” observes member Bobbi Dempsey. “You are at the mercy of Facebook, Twitter and so on. But on your own website you are in control and don’t have to abide by a format or policies dictated by someone else in charge.”
Also, “each social network has its own strengths but none can really give you everything you need in one place,” she continues. “LinkedIn does allow you to share some samples and work files, so it can serve as a sort of mini-portfolio, but it isn’t really the best place to share random thoughts on whatever pops into your head, like Facebook or Twitter.” In addition, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) capabilities “on social networks and other platforms vary, as does the ability for people to access your profile/page. LinkedIn seems to offer pretty good SEO benefits, for example,” but can be limited by the people who are connected with you.
“With social media ‘rules’ changing daily, it feels nice to be the boss with your branding and messaging,” adds member Linsey Knerl. “You also need a place to house your clips and there’s only so much room on your social profiles.”
Not everyone agrees however. Photographer Andrew Griswold insists that Instagram is the best and most efficient way to showcase his efforts. “I work very lean,” he writes. “investing in the absolute bare minimum [for] gear and looking to save in all areas possible to keep myself making money rather than losing it.” Even updating a website every 18 months is “not fast enough in this day and age.” Yet even he recognizes the fickleness of a social network, the necessity of for using one’s full name and as much of a bio as allowed for those who “want a bit more SEO on the web… Not only is this important in the app when people search [for] your name, but Google has begun to find ways to connect these two things and its being updated every…day.”
In her blog, “Why You Don’t Need a Website to Build a Successful Business,” consultant Margo Aaron dances around the fact that she needed to learn the ins and outs of being self-employed, including meeting with prospective clients and writing bad proposals before she took the plunge. It was only when she was “commanding higher rates and started to need more credibility indicators to bolster my trustworthiness…[and] a good friend told me she wouldn’t refer me anyone until my online presence was ‘less sketchy’” that she decided to invest in a website.
And shell out you must. According to Amy Masson of Sumy Designs, a custom site for a professional writer costs between 3-5 thousand clams. Sumy’s specialized designs for writers reads like an ASJA Who’s Who, including members Sally Abrahms, Dara Chadwick, Sharon Naylor and many others. “A lot more goes into your website than just design and description of your work,” Amy explains. “You need a professional headshot so people know who you are. And the site itself should speak to a specific audience, being more about how you can fill their needs, rather than focusing on your own accomplishments. Testimonials from clients are also essential.”
Others prefer templates or general website hosting. “Over the years, I have rearranged clips and other information on each website to enhance whatever I want to stress at certain times,” says member Susan J. Gordon, who currently has two, www.susanjgordon.com and www.becauseofeva.com. As a member of the Authors Guild, she uses their web services, which helped her establish each site and maintain them for a nominal fee.
But as with anything else, doing it yourself can be dicey at times, especially if you’re trying to reach the largest possible audience. The Internet is about as fickle as any group of villagers can get. “How people use the Internet to look for things is whole process with its own unique system of logic and nuances that can be easily missed,” explains Amy, citing the example of a client who wanted to sell baby bibs and insisted on using “baby” as a keyword. “Most people who Google ‘baby’ are thinking about something completely different.” And as with the increasing use of mobile devices, “the site has to have a platform and interface that also works well with” Android and IOS.
And then there’s yours truly who, every time I attempt to do anything but add or remove articles and clips on my page—which is what it’s designed for—completely wrecks the template and has to call in a professional like Amy to fix it. This is not unlike my friend Elizabeth who caused her entire first floor to flood when she tried to replace a part on her toilet for $8.
“A good website should last between 3 and 5 years and then will need a refresh or update,” observes Amy. Yep, it’s about that time again.
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