Website or No Website? Answers and Help for Independent Consultants

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As a self-employed consultant do you really need a website?

I’m asked this a lot, particularly if a consultant gets most business from referrals or they contract through agencies or boutique firms. Besides, it’s highly unlikely that a prospective client is going to stumble upon your website and decide to hire you. Surely creating a website is a waste of time and money, right?

I used to say that if you had a really strong LinkedIn profile and you keep your network warm, you probably didn’t need a website. Indeed, I know dozens of independent consultants making six-figure incomes without one.

Now, however, my answer is, yes, absolutely, you need to have a business website. Here’s why:

  1. Due to the recent Dynamex ruling in California, if you want to be paid on a business-to-business 1099 tax basis and preserve your business-owner tax advantages (see “1099 vs W-2”), you definitely need a website because it will serve as evidence that you are “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, business, or occupation.”

  2. Millions of people hang out their “consulting shingle” every year, so having a website will help you stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your professionalism. And of course, the more professional you are, the higher your perceived value, which in turn leads to higher compensation.

  3. If you don’t have a website, even a simple one-pager, a prospective client might perceive you as a short-term contractor, or worse, insincere about your career. A website is essentially a digital storefront or online brochure that confirms your credibility enough for someone to want to have a conversation.

If you already have a website, congratulations, you’re a step ahead of most self-employed consultants. If you don’t, keep reading!

The easy way to create a simple, yet professional website

I know consultants who have spent weeks and piles of money creating a fancy website with video, graphics, and custom photography. It doesn’t have to be that complex. Recently I interviewed Jared Gold, the creator of WebsiteByTonight, a service that specifically serves self-employed professionals and solopreneurs. Here’s his advice.

First, disregard everything you’ve heard about websites.

Confusion and misconceptions about websites are endless. People read a few articles in Entrepreneur or Inc. Magazine and they think they’re digital marketing experts. The first rule is to keep it simple. Ignore whatever you hear to the contrary. You only need a website to start. Forget social media, email lists, and search engine optimization (SEO). You can even skip the fancy logo.

Start your website with an easy-to-use platform solution: Squarespace.

As an independent consultant, all you need in the beginning is a simple brochure site. Squarespace is the answer.

Squarespace lets you build and easily maintain an attractive website by using intuitive widgets and drag-and-drop tools. After checking out numerous other platforms, Jared hitched his wagon to Squarespace over five years ago and it’s now the only platform his business uses. He says Squarespace is still the clear leader over Wix, Weebly, etc. when it comes to simple yet professional “brochure” websites. WordPress can be too complicated to build and too cumbersome to maintain for just a simple, attractive brochure website.  

Squarespace is a fully turnkey drag-and-drop web platform. It has all the functionality you need (including blogging, forms, e-commerce, and more), and beautiful templates that look great on all devices (including mobile). Everything works together and plays nicely. Never any updates or patches to download and install. If you have a problem, their award-winning, in-house customer service promptly responds via live chat or email. No third-party providers. The cost: a low monthly rate starting at just $12.

This blog is hosted by Squarespace, so obviously I concur with Jared’s recommendation.

So you’re going to use Squarespace. Now what?

Jared’s WebsiteByTonight clients fill out a simple project brief to organize their thoughts. He was kind enough to let me share it with you here.

  1. What’s the purpose of your website / what are you hoping to accomplish?
    As a self-employed consultant, it’s likely that all you need is a simple brochure website with a contact form to boost your professionalism and credibility. So optimize for that objective. Include enough info that people are inspired to pick up the phone or fill out the contact form. Don’t overthink it!

  2. Who is your ideal customer/client/audience? Usual demographic?
    Think about your best customer – the one that you can help the most, enjoy working with the most, and is willing to pay you for your service. Create the website with this person in mind. The more specific, the better.

  3. What are some websites you like – and why? It’s best if the websites you like are in the same industry or have the same purpose (for example, to increase credibility).

    Make a short list of other simple brochure websites that you like. To get started, think of other self-employed consultants you admire and look at their websites. Don’t use a corporate website or an e-commerce website for inspiration.

  4. When people see your website / brand, what adjectives or feelings do you want to pop into their minds? Is there an overall tone you’re going for?
    This will help determine the fonts and colors that you use. For example, do you prefer a more modern and calm feel or a more sophisticated and energetic feel? There are no right or wrong answers – just whatever works for you and what your target audience can relate to. It helps to have these tone adjectives in mind before you start designing.

  5. What are some Squarespace templates you like – and why?

    Squarespace has a many attractive templates to choose from. Most have the same core functionality (text, image galleries, online shop, blog, etc.). Jared’s main point of advice here is to pick a template that best matches your purpose and type of content. For example, photographers choose layouts with a lot of photos, while consultants may prefer a template with sections so they can easily highlight their service offerings.

 Here are a few other prep questions I suggest you answer before you start creating the website.

  •  What are your core service offerings?

    Remember, keep it simple, so no more than three. Write short descriptors (these will be headers on the website), then describe how these services help clients. Try to write so that a prospective client can easily identify with the situation or challenge. (Later, after the initial site is done, add case studies or samples to give visitors a better idea of what you do and how you do it.)

  • What is the market segment or industry of your ideal client?

    For example, start-ups, mid-market, or global companies? Do you specialize in a particular industry like biotech, financial services, or the tech industry? This isn’t critical to mention on your website, but if you do have an emphasis or a lot of experience in an area, you may want to mention it and build your business in that space.

  • Do you have any clients or prior employers that you can feature?

    Featuring the logos of clients or past employers is an easy way to demonstrate that you’re a qualified professional, particularly if they are household names like Levi Strauss, Clorox, or Nike. (Note, some companies state in their contracts that you are not allowed to use their names for advertising purposes, so review your contracts before you do this. As a practical matter, you may want to take a “beg forgiveness” approach and just wait and see if the company sends you a cease and desist letter.)

Once you’ve followed the steps above and have picked a template, you’ll be given a free trial site, which you can easily extend as needed. It’s a private link that nobody else will know about, though they can view it if you share it with them. This is helpful for getting feedback or input on your site as you build it. 

A few other important tips:

  • Buy your domain from GoDaddy. This makes the domain versatile just in case you need to move it from Squarespace someday, plus its customer support is excellent.

  • Do not use a personal email account for your business such as @gmail.com or @yahoo.com. It’s very unprofessional and makes you look like an amateur, even if you’re the best consultant on the planet. Through Squarespace, you can easily sign up for G Suite – which is just Gmail/GoogleDocs for business. Alternatively, GoDaddy has email packages for as little as $5 a month. (See also “One Easy Step to a Polished, Professional Image.”)  It’s best if your email address matches your website domain. Both Squarespace and GoDaddy make this easy.

  • Create a contact page form. This is quite easy in Squarespace. With the form your email address and phone number aren’t visible, preventing spam and robocalls. Jared recommends that you keep it simple with just four or five fields: name, email, phone (optional), and “How can I help you?”, and “How did you hear about me?”.

  • Write your text in a word-processing program first to easily catch spelling errors and basic grammar mistakes. Then copy and paste the text into Squarespace.

  • Include links to your LinkedIn profile and Twitter account if you have one.

  • Be sure to have someone proofread the site and test all links, just to make sure it’s flawless. If a link leads the visitor away from your site, it should open a new window or tab.

  • Once your website is built, let your network know! This is an excellent excuse to inform your network that you’re now an independent consultant or to remind them how you can help. Add a link to the website to your LinkedIn profile, post an update on LinkedIn, and send some personal emails to well-connected colleagues. (Tip: In addition to a link to your new website, include a short summary of the types of problems you solve or pain-points you alleviate. Remember to ask them to forward your email to one or two people who may someday need your help.)

Go forth and build! You have everything you need to get started.

Answer the questions above and lay out your basic website. You can add bells and whistles later as your business grows (a nice logo, search engine optimization, an elaborate content marketing strategy, etc.).

If you get stuck, don’t feel badly – this comes easier to some than others. Here are two additional sources for help:

  1. If you think it might be a better use of your time to hire someone to help you, schedule a “free ideas” call with Jared at WebsiteByTonight.

  2. Participate in one of Jared’s web workshops, hosted by the Professional Independent Consultants of America (PICA) a few times a year. There’s a free one coming up on Oct. 17. You can register here.

If you’re not yet a member of PICA, use this code to get 20% off: 18BL20A. PICA members also get $50 off the WebsiteByTonight build-it-accelerator package, so now might be a good time to join. :-)

Be your best.