How to Turn Off Potential Clients With Just One Glance

How to pitch for a freelance writing job is an art… But if you have nothing to show your potential clients, you’re out of a job from the get-go.

No matter whether you’re just starting out in your freelance writing career or if you’re established and rolling along nicely with a good client base, you need a credible-looking portfolio page, blog or website.

I’m not pushing this idea because of my business – I’m pushing it because I’ve often considered working with certain writers…and been totally turned off ever hiring them, no matter how well they write.

Think about it. You’ve attracted the attention of a potential employer or client. You write well, you’ve pitched well, and the person is contemplating paying you for some work he or she needs done.

In the contemplation stage, people gather information. That’s important. So your potential client casually check to see if you’ve mentioned a website. He idly glances at email signatures, maybe a link you’ve shared…

There is a link, right? Somewhere? Anywhere?

No link? You can’t be serious. This is 2009, people. If you can’t be on top of even basic technology, how can you be expected to be a credible web worker? Stop right now. At the very least, get some cheap free service with a basic template to build a small site with a bit of info about you and your work.

Ah, there’s the link. Whew. That employer almost thought about taking the other writer. But he doesn’t. He clicks through to see what type of businessperson you are – and winces.

It’s a visual assault. Alright, there’s a site, and the information is there, but the aesthetic appeal is a total mess. Colors are horrible, overly bright or clashing badly, Adsense riddles the page, and there are so many advertisements that the person begins to wonder what kind of business you run.

An ugly one, that’s for sure.

Visual appeal has a huge impact on how potential clients may perceive you. Your site puts your best foot forward, and if it’s a cheap and ugly one, that’s your best foot. You’re giving people a silent message that you’re a mess, unprofessional and are going to perform work up to the standards of what you show off – and your standards are obviously not very high.

That’s not what your potential client wants. CLICK! He’s gone – and you just lost a job.

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13 responses
  1. Marc - WelshScribe Avatar

    Well said James.

    I think a lot of people are underestimating online first impressions.

    When I had a stint at freelance web design there were quite a few people that were genuinely shocked when I told them they have less than 8 seconds to make a good impression before the visitor leaves.

    That was a good few years ago, I bet it’s even less these days?

  2. Phil Avatar

    Sorry to disagree…but I have none of the items you mention (though have considered it for a while) and support a family of four. I’m not totally against the idea, just haven’t seen where the time investment would pay off yet.

  3. Dixon Avatar

    Your very well-written post has convinced me that I need a website. Can you (or anyone else) recommend one of those low-cost, easy-to-use hosting services that would be a good place to start?

    Thanks for any and all suggestions

  4. Lisa Avatar

    I absolutely agree that you need “something to show.” WHAT that something is (a website, a physical portfolio of publications, a collection of good-looking photocopied clips) will depend upon who you’re selling to.

    If you’re looking to sell web writing, it’s more important to be able to link to web writing for a client than to your own website. If you have no links to published web writing, you have no experience as a web writer (except perhaps as a self-published blogger).

    That said, I find my website ( to be enormously helpful as a tool for selling my very varied writing experience. It’s a place to show off my client base, my broad and diverse knowledge, etc. without overwhelming potential clients with reams of paper. I keep it pretty simple – though without $ for a designer I know it looks a bit amateurish…

    We do what we can!


  5. James Chartrand Avatar

    @ Lisa – Make no mistake that the first place people turn today when they need information is… You got it, Google. So it really makes no difference what you do in life – garage, window cleaning, teaching, medical services, writer – you’d best have some sort of online presence.

    It isn’t just for web writers.

    That said, good on you for having a home base!

    @ Dixon – Personally, we always recommend In Motion Hosting. We’ve been with them for 8 years running and wouldn’t use anyone else. Our clients who have gone with them have always been pleased.

    @ Phil – I know many people who say the same as you. Then they get a website and suddenly their client base doubles, or they’re making three times as much money, or suddenly they can get better rates.

    You *can* do it without a website. But you can do it better with one.

    @ Marc – I believe the current standard now is 3 seconds to make an impression. I’m not even sure if that hasn’t been reduced. It’s *THAT* fast.

  6. Alik Avatar

    I really like 1and1 Internet for hosting ( – they’re relatively inexpensive, and in addition to domain registration, hosting, email, POP3, and many other basic features, they offer marketing statistics for free – you can see which of your web pages are being viewed more, which pages get error messages most frequently, where your views are from, etc… it makes it easier to optimize your Web Analytics and target clients better.

    I totally agree with James – you can be a copywriter without a website, but having one will increase your business. Personally 100% of my clients expected me to have a website/online portfolio, and I’m glad I do. For the older writers out there who haven’t grown up with technology like people in their 20’s and early 30’s, it IS worth it, and it IS very simple to set up. It doesn’t cost tons of money (yet you will have to pay a little for buying the domain, usually a couple dollars as well as a fee for having your site hosted), and they’re simple to set up; most of these hosting sites are pretty good about holding your hand and telling you step by step how to get started. Even a basic website is beneficial, as long as you have valuable information about yourself and the site is clean and easy to understand.

    Also, I consider my website like one big online portfolio, so I don’t like inserting ads into mine. I personally am a little turned off when I’m hiring writers and their websites are full of advertisements. I don’t think it’s the right time or place to use that. If you have a blog or other business website, that’s another story.

  7. Elizabeth Avatar

    I worked for years with graphic designers and saw the value of good design reinforced again and again. When I started freelancing, I did a work-trade with a designer; I wrote his business plan and he designed my website and business cards. (I did pay for the hosting and printing.) He’s a very good designer, and I get compliments all the time. I’d suggest the work-trade arrangement to anyone who needs design on a budget.

  8. Ed Avatar

    A couple points: editors (at least those I’ve dealt with) are busy, busy bees and don’t have time to surf the Internet scanning the Web sites of potential contributors. Make their lives easier by including a link in contact e-mail to your online clip page.

    While a Web site is interesting and keeps our fellow freelance designers busy, don’t go mad; a simple site can accomplish most of what you want. You don’t want PDFs and Flash that looks like Las Vegas getting in the way of your words.

    In the opposite direction, what are some creative ways to nicely turn off potential clients? I’ve had to tell a number of people the “fit just wasn’t right” when actually, they wanted journalism for PLR prices.

  9. Bill Avatar

    For ease of use, given that I’m somewhat design impaired, I like blog sites such as Typepad for my writing portfolio and other sites that don’t require anything too sophisticated. Grab a domain name for less than $10 and you’re ready to go.

  10. James Chartrand Avatar

    @ Bill – The problem with Typepad and Blogger styles of sites is that they don’t provide user-friendliness or a great look. Sure, they’re cheap – and that cheap appeal carries across in a message to clients, unfortunately.

    @ Ed – Exactly! Just a nice site works. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing expensive… just a clean, neat appearance. Like what anyone would need for a job interview 🙂

    @ Elizabeth – Bartering services is a great, great way to get what you need without investing too much money. Good idea!

  11. Yolander Prinzel Avatar

    I liked this post, but regarding the ugly portfolio site phenomena–people who have ugly sites probably don’t know that they do. I’ve watched people as they muck up a perfectly nice, simple site with Precious Moments or dream catcher gifs and inappropriate capitalized letters. How can one tell if their site is ugly? It’s like being color blind and trying to figure out if you match.

  12. Phil Avatar


    For some time I’ve thought that a Web site might help, but not sure about the ROI regarding time and expense of one. Could you answer those concerns (how to develop one and maintain one inexpensively, yet professionally).


  13. James Chartrand Avatar

    @ Phil – Sure thing.

    Web hosting is the most expensive cost you’ll face, and it’s about $7 a month, or $84 a year. You can then install WordPress (which makes a GREAT static site or content management system, not just a blog) and put up a free template that looks nice. There are thousands available. Maintenance on a WordPress platform is less than an hour per month.

    If you want a customized look, you can have the template tweaked and designed exactly to your tastes. The rates for WordPress designers vary from a couple of hundred to a few thousands. As an example, we offer a package at $749 that does the trick nicely.

    Return on investment is highly dependent on what you sell and how much, but we’ve found that almost all of our clients have the customization pay for itself within two weeks – an appealing website attracts clients and helps gain them as customers. Some take a bit longer to pay themselves off, but that’s usually related to poor marketing or promotion.

    But again, if you go self-hosted with free templates, the site pays for itself almost immediately – you only have $84 to recoup (plus your time, of course).

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