You’ve finally decided to launch your freelance blogging career. Congrats!
Chances are, you’ve spent days researching how exactly to get started, and one thing you keep hearing is this: Your business needs a website.
Unfortunately, you don’t have the money on hand to launch a self-hosted site. After all, isn’t the whole point to make money with your business?
So you sign up for a WordPress account and decide to launch a free version of your site until you have the money to upgrade to a self-hosted option.
There’s no shame in that.
The only problem is that in general, a free WordPress.com site can make you look less professional. To clients, it says, “I’m not taking my business seriously.”
But that doesn’t always have to be the case.
If you get serious with your web design, you can get rid of that “unprofessional” feel all while maintaining your site on a free platform.
Want to look more credible to freelance blogging clients? Here’s what you can do to boost the professional appeal of your free WordPress site.
1. Dig deep for a great theme
One obvious indication of a free WordPress site is when you stick with the generic theme everyone else is using. If you’re building your site on the default theme, potential clients will immediately realize that you haven’t put much thought into your site.
There are hundreds of free themes, so don’t be afraid to dig for one that makes you look unique.
From inside your free WordPress.com website, hover over My Sites in the top left-hand corner of your screen, and head down to WP Admin. This is the dashboard where all of the following tutorials will take place. Go ahead and find it. I’ll wait.
Your dashboard should look like this:
Are we both there? Okay.
Now, on the left-hand side, hover over Appearance, and then click Themes. From here, you’ll be able to see what theme is active as well as gain access to hundreds of new themes.
If you’re willing to put a little bit of money into your site, feel free to purchase a premium theme. If not, filter the results by clicking Free on the top right-hand corner of the screen.
You can always hover over ones you like and click Preview to take a look before you install the new theme. Then, play around with the customization options to see what the theme will look like on your site.
A couple of free themes I personally really like that would work well for writer websites include:
The good news is that a lot of themes let you customize your colors and replace your header with a logo image so that you can make the site more of your own.
2. Buy a custom domain name
You’ve probably heard this plenty of times, but it’s worth saying again. A custom domain can boost your credibility.
It’s clear you’re not ready to invest money in your site just yet, but a custom domain name is worth considering. It’s cheap, and it will get rid of the “.wordpress” in your domain, which is the main indication that you’re using a free platform.
If you haven’t yet created your site, you’ll be walked through the custom domain purchase process when you sign up for a new site.
If you’ve already set up your site and want to get rid of the “.wordpress” in the address, head to Store and then to My Domains in your WordPress dashboard.
Click Register a New Domain, and you’ll be walked through the process. Most domain names from the WordPress store will run you $18 per year.
Alternatively, you can register your domain name through a third-party registrar such as GoDaddy. Keep in mind that WordPress charges a $13 per year fee to use a domain name you already own.
To do this, choose Map a Domain Name You Already Own in the My Domains section of your dashboard. You’ll have to update the nameservers with those from the company you purchased the domain name from. Need help? Check out this tutorial.
If you’re having trouble choosing a domain name, check out Sophie’s post on “3 Questions to Choose an Effective Domain Name for Your Freelance Writer Website.”
3. Rearrange your widgets
Too often I see writers with free sites who haven’t bothered to get rid of the “meta” widget or add their own widgets to their sidebar, which makes the design look somewhat incomplete or lazy. There are two ways to access your widget area and customize it.
The first is to go into your themes and click Customize on your active theme. (Or click Customize from the Appearance tab.) On the next page, choose Widgets from the menu. Depending on the options your theme gives, you may have multiple widget areas to choose from, such as Sidebar and Footer.
Start by working on just one. If your widget area is already populated with random widgets, click on each one, and choose Remove. Then, click Add Widget to add the ones you want. You can always click and drag them to reorder them. Make sure to click Save and Publish when you’re done!
The alternative is to head to Appearance and then Widgets in your WordPress Dashboard. Here, you can drag and drop widgets in each widget section. Your changes will save automatically.
What widgets should you include?
Obviously, that’s all going to depend on what information you want to give clients. Some good widgets I personally suggest include:
- Recent/Popular Posts (if you have a blog on your site)
- Social Media Icons
You can also use the image or text widget to create a custom “About Me” widget or to add your headshot to the sidebar (which I highly recommend if it’s not in your main content area).
4. Create a custom logo
Go ahead and type your site address into your address bar. Do you notice the little WordPress logo in your browser tab? It will look like this:
Did you know you can change that? This simple change will quickly get rid of WordPress’s branding and make the site more your own. Once you change your logo, it will also show up in blog comments if you send pingbacks and as the logo for bookmarks.
The requirements state that your site Blavatar (as WordPress calls it) must be square and saved as a JPEG or PNG. (You don’t have to upload a square image, but you’ll crop it down to a square later.) WordPress suggests using a photo at least 128 x 128 pixels.
Your logo–or Blavatar–can be as simple as you want it to be. Upload your headshot if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of creating a logo. Or, stick with just a simple letter. Here’s what my writer website logo looks like:
Super simple, right? All I did was type a letter in Photoshop and then remove the background to make the image transparent.
If you want to make things super simple, you could take a screen snip of your site’s header and upload that as your logo to maintain a consistent look.
But let’s say you want something more complicated. You could always hire a logo designer, but that’s not necessary. If you’re okay with designing your own logo, there are tons of programs you can use without paying a penny. (But if you already have the Adobe package, why not start with Adobe Illustrator?) Some free programs you can use include:
(You can do a quick Google search and easily find plenty more programs, although many ask for your email. Also be aware that some offer the logo building software for free, but require you to pay to download your finished product.)
Here are some examples of logos I created using the abovementioned programs:
Online Logo Maker
How to Upload Your Blavatar
Uploading your Blavatar is super simple. Start by going to Settings, then General in your WordPress dashboard.
On the right-hand side, you’ll see this:
Choose your file from your hard drive, and upload it. Next, you’ll be prompted to crop the photo. Crop it, and you’re done! Remember that it can take a couple of hours before your new logo shows up.
5. Customize your menus
One thing I notice a lot of writers having trouble with is customizing their navigation tabs. By default, every page you create will pop up on your navigation menu, but there’s a way around this!
Let’s say, for instance, that you offer blog writing, copywriting, and social media management services. You might want to create a separate service page for each, but you want each page to show up as a drop-down item under your Services tab.
Start by creating a custom menu by going to Appearance and then Menus.
The default menu will show up first. You can use this for your main menu, but you can also click on Create a New Menu if you want multiple menus (which you can then arrange using the menu option in your widgets area).
On the left-hand side, you’ll see a list of your pages. Click the check box next to the ones you want to add to the menu, and then click Add to Menu. If there’s a page listed on the menu that you don’t want, expand the choice and click Remove.
Want to layer your menu items so some will appear as drop-down items? Just click and drag your secondary menu item underneath your primary item until it indents. It will look like this:
You can always click and drag items so that they’re in the order you want them. Just be careful that any items listed as sub item are intended to be that way!
Once you save your menu, visit your customize area again (through your Appearance tab or in Themes). Head down to Navigation. Under Primary Menu, choose the menu you just created. Now you’re good to go!
6. Disable comments on pages
There’s no reason to allow comments on pages (which are different than posts). Unless the page is intended to collect public comments, leaving the comment function open screams “I haven’t really thought this web design thing through yet!”
There’s a quick and easy way to change that. Head to Pages in your WordPress dashboard. Check all the pages you want to disable comments on. Under Bulk Actions, choose Edit, and then click Apply. Under Comments, click Do Not Allow, and update. Simple as that!
7. Display your contact information
A final common mistake many writers make on their writer website is including only a contact form. While a contact form is a simple way of getting in touch without having to dish out your email, some prospects won’t fill them out, and others may want the assurance that you’re a real person by having other contact information displayed.
Depending on what you want to share, this could include your phone number, email, and Skype address. You’ll also likely include social follow buttons, in which case prospects might contact you through social media.
To make things easy on prospects, place your contact information in an easy-to-find area where they can see it no matter where they are on your site. This could be in your sidebar, footer, or in the main content of each page. If you have a contact page (which you should!), include your contact information along with your contact form.
Not sure how to get your contact information on your sidebar? It’s easy! We already talked about rearranging your widgets. You can choose the text widget to add your contact info, or you can use the built-in contact info widget.
Remember that you don’t have to include every means of contacting you. I stopped sharing my phone number online because phone calls never worked for me (either the call was fuzzy or I couldn’t understand the person’s accent). However, having a back-up available in case your contact form stops working or prospects don’t want to fill it out can boost your credibility.
Look pro for free
While most freelance blogging gurus will tell you to launch a self-hosted WordPress site, that’s not practical for all writers at the start of their careers. That being said, having a site of any sort is better than not having one at all. If you choose to go with a free WordPress site to start bringing in business, use these tips to give it more of a professional feel.
Still confused about how to navigate WordPress? Leave us a comment telling us where you’re stuck.