Writing For Money

The Internet Newsletter That Shows You How To Make Money And Live A Great Life As A Freelance Writer

Business Tactics


Should You Have a Web Site? And If So, Why?


BY ROBERT W. BLY | Five years ago, if you would have recommended to me that I put up my own Web site, I would have laughed in your face. Two author friends, Roger Parker and Jeffrey Lant, advised me to do so back then … and yes, I laughed in their faces.


But today go to www.bly.com. Who’s laughing now?


Would I recommend to Writing for Money subscribers that they set up a Web site? For most, absolutely. Why? Several reasons.


First, time. Clients and editors are pressed for time. Many rely on the Web to find new information and resources — including freelance writers.


The easier and more convenient you make it for potential clients to find you and evaluate your services, the more you’ll get hired. Your Web site does that for you.


We live in the Nanosecond Nineties — the Age of Now. People want instant information … instant gratification … instant fulfillment of their orders, inquiries, and wishes. The prospect who has to wait for your resume and clips in the mail may lose interest by the time they arrive. But if these documents are available on your Web site, he or she can instantly learn more about your background and writing style — enough to become comfortable that you’re the one for the assignment.


The second major reason to have a Web site? Prestige. When clients ask to see samples, and you say, “Do you have access to the Web? My portfolio is online at www.me.com,” it impresses the heck out of them. Having your own Web site shows your technology savvy — a characteristic editors increasingly look for in freelancers in today’s computerized publishing environment.


There’s another advantage to putting up your own Web site: It teaches you the process of how to write for the Web. Some writers see the Web as the enemy of print. I see it as an additional, lucrative market for our services. You can earn $400 to $600 a page writing Web copy for clients. Some clients, however, may be suspect of writers who say they know how to write for the Web but don’t even have their own site; it’s comparable to the shoemaker’s children going barefoot.


If you want to take the time to master Front Page or another Web tool, you can build your Web site yourself. I hired a local Web designer to do it for me; rates range from $50 to $150 per hour; I paid a young and extremely competent techie $75 per hour and was well satisfied.

The key to saving money when putting up your Web site is to do the writing, organizing, and planning yourself, so the Web designer only has to handle page design and programming. I told my Web designer exactly how my Web site would be structured, and gave him all the copy via e-mailed Word files.


One thing he did do for me was to scan the samples I wanted posted on my online portfolio. You don’t have to do this … you can simply post text files of your samples … but scans of color book covers, annual reports, catalogs, and other finished pieces add a touch of credibility text files alone do not provide. Some of the pages of samples posted on my Web site are slightly crinkled from the scanning, (accidentally), and this turns out to have a surprisingly appealing look.


Get an idea of hourly rate and an estimate of the hours required before you authorize your Web consultant to begin work. Don’t over-design the Web site. You’re a freelance writer, not Microsoft or Intel. You want attractive, clean design with strong content, good organization, and perhaps some animation or interactivity thrown in to add color and interest. And remember, Web sites can always be altered and improved easily and affordably. Start basic. Then add bells and whistles later on, if you feel like it. My total out-of-pocket cost to put up the Web site you’ll currently find at www.bly.com was less than $800.


Once your site is up, friends will constantly ask you how many “hits” your site gets monthly. This number is irrelevant. Your Web site is primarily an online portfolio of samples and credentials potential clients and editors can look up conveniently and rapidly to make a decision about hiring you.


Promote your site, but target prospective buyers, not the mass of 100 million Internet users at large. A thousand hits from Web surfers who don’t identify themselves and aren’t in a position to hire you aren’t worth one inquiry from a qualified prospect who responds by e-mail, phone, fax, or “guest page.”


A guest page, by the way, is an online reply form prospects browsing your site can fill out to request more information. I don’t have a guest page on my site now but may add one later. In the meantime, prospects can simply click on my e-mail address displayed on every page of my site, and an e-mail form instantly appears. They then type their message to me and click “send.” I get their query right away.


Despite my enthusiasm for having your own Web site, I’m far from the world’s expert on building Web sites. That honor goes to my friend, Roger C. Parker. His book, Roger C. Parker’s Guide to Web Content and Design (MIS Press, 1997), is the authoritative guide.


Roger and I both love bookstores, so he’d be pleased if you bought a copy at Barnes & Noble or Borders. But if you prefer, you can really be high-tech and order Roger’s guide from his Web site, www.rcparker.com — or www.amazon.com. It’s your choice.


Other books on writing for the Web I recommend heartily include:

* Cyberwriting by Joe Vitale (Amacom, 1997).

* E-Mail El Dorado by Dr. Jeffrey Lant (JLA Publications, 1998).

* Marketing Online by Marcia Yudkin (Plume, 1995).


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BOB BLY is the author of 40 books including the just-published Secrets of a Freelance Writer: Revised Second Edition (Henry Hold & Co.). For a free catalog of Bob’s books, tapes, and reports for writers, contact: Bob Bly, 22 E. Quackenbush Avenue, Dumont, NJ 07628, phone 201-385-1220, fax 201-385-1138, email: Rwbly@aol.com.