No, You Don’t Need a Website to Build a Freelance Writing Career — Here’s Why

No, You Don’t Need a Website to Build a Freelance Writing Career — Here’s Why

I’ve been a freelance writer for over four years, which means I’ve received my fair share of advice from more experienced freelancers. I’ve consumed endless blog posts and podcasts over the years as well as invested in courses and coaching about how to become a freelance writer.

And over the years, I’ve noticed that most people share the same basic advice: 

If you want to be successful as a freelance writer, you absolutely must set up your freelance writer website and optimize it for your niche. 

And the underlying message always seems to be that if you don’t have a website, you’ll never be seen as credible to potential clients. Instead, you’ll be stuck writing blog posts for one cent per word on content mills forever.

The advice about setting up a website is spouted off so often, it’s taken as some sort of gospel. But is it actually true? 

If you’re just getting started as a freelance writer, do you need to set up a website right away? 

My unpopular opinion is no. 

4 reasons you don’t need a writer website immediately

To be clear, I do think having a website matters. I just don’t think it’s the most important thing new freelance writers can focus on. 

Here are four reasons why.

1. A website in itself doesn’t do anything

Just setting up a website in itself isn’t going to find you clients or make you money. How do potential clients even land on that website? You need a marketing plan and a strategy and those come with experience.

For many people, setting up a website turns into some sort of vanity project. They’re focused on “building their personal brand” when what they really need is paying clients. 

If you’re just starting out, your time would be much better served by setting up a basic portfolio website. And you can do that in about 10 minutes with a site like Contently or Muck Rack. From there, focus on finding and pitching clients. 

2. You may not know who your ideal client is

Some freelancers know exactly what their niche is from the start. They already have a subject they’re passionate about and have expertise in so picking their niche is a piece of cake.

But for most of us, that’s just not the case. In all likelihood, you probably have a variety of subjects you’re kind of interested in, but nothing you’re ready to commit to. Heck, you may not even know what types of clients you want to work with.

The thing is, you figure those things out by working with clients and figuring out what you like and don’t like. That’s why I think it can be helpful to get some experience as a freelance writer first and then set up your website. 

3. It can turn into a giant distraction

One of the hardest parts about starting any new venture is knowing what you should focus on. After all, your time and money are limited so you want to spend it in areas where you know you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

What I commonly see with new freelancers is that setting up a website turns into a huge distraction. You’re focused on figuring out how to choose a domain name, wondering whether you should use WordPress or Squarespace and searching for stock photos.

In fact, you’re so busy working on the website that you haven’t quite gotten around to pitching potential clients yet. It feels like you’re doing something productive, but you’re really not because your efforts won’t necessarily lead to paid work.

4. A website isn’t necessary to find clients and get hired

A lot of people will probably disagree with this statement, but I don’t believe you need a website to get hired. After I started freelancing, it took me four months to set up a website. I found tons of clients and earned thousands of dollars in the meantime.

And today, I write for clients like Business Insider, Credit Karma and Quicken Loans. None of those editors ever asked for a link to my website. They did, however, want to see some writing samples. 

The idea that you need a website to get hired is an idea that’s mainly perpetuated by other freelancers. It’s a made-up rule that new freelancers use to stress themselves out and waste time.

The bottom line on your freelance writer website

If you’re just getting started as a freelance writer then you probably will want a website at some point. But just understand that your website isn’t what’s going to find you clients or make you money.

All you need to make money as a freelance writer is to find a client who’s willing to hire you. So make it your goal to put yourself out there, find a client, and earn your first $1,000 as a freelancer. Once you’re making money and solving problems for people, then you can worry about setting up a website. 

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Filed Under: Freelancing

16 comments

  • Crowei Gibson says:

    Can posts on medium act as a substitute till you have a website or blog running?

  • James Mawson says:

    You don’t need matches or a lighter to start a fire either.

    It’s just a bit perverse to ignore the best tools for the job.

    Writers, of all people, should have little difficulty in coming up with a basic website.

  • Hi, Mariam! Thanks for your comment. I think you could benefit from my Freelance Writer’s Starter Guide – it’s completely free to download. Here’s the link if you’re interested: https://www.jamiejohnsonwrites.com/starter-guide

  • Tia Phillips says:

    Food for thought:

    I began freelancing a few years ago (on Upwork), and sparing you the long story, I came to a crossroads last summer. It was time to decide whether grow my business or just meander through it the way I had been. As I began to research all of the ways to grow a freelancing business, I became overwhelmed and discouraged.

    I did not want to pour hours into marketing myself. I did not want to build a fantastic website. I did not want to spend countless nights on social media making myself sound amazing. I simply wanted to write. I wanted to spend my valuable time providing content, not building a brand.

    I came across Jamie’s website one day and felt RELIEF. Her views encouraged me and helped propel my business to the next level – without the rigmarole.

    In the end, I did build a website that was inexpensive and took little time. I did invest in some marketing. But, at the end of the day, I focused on finding clients and writing. As a result, my business grew and I had to start turning down work and raising my prices just to keep up. (And I am 100% sure zero of my clients have come through my website.)

    Now, I am again at a scaffolding point. And you know what? If I research how to grow a freelancing business, I get all of the same information I did last summer. Everyone likes to tell freelancers they are doing it wrong.

    The truth is, some of us love the craft for its own sake, and want to our time in its creation and not in its brand. I maintain there is no wrong way to get up every day and do what you love.

  • Glad you found it helpful, JC! Exactly – of course a website matters but it’s not the most critical thing to focus on when you’re getting started. Finding clients and making money is the most important thing!

    Best of luck on your freelancing journey!

  • JC says:

    Read the article and the comments. The article and reasons provided are comforting when someone like me is JUST starting out. There’s enough overwhelm trying to figure out the things that the author mentions. Note she never said that one should “never” have a website. She only said it should not be the main focus starting out.

    I secured/reserved two writing domain names (haven’t decided which one I’m going to use hence the reason for two) and have gotten some attention from what I post on my LinkedIn profile.

    Again, I am literally at GROUND ZERO so the fact that someone is interested is a good potential start for me.

    Thanks so much!

  • I agree with you on all points, and applaud you for flying in the face of “conventional” wisdom. When I first started freelancing five years ago and joined all sorts of writers group websites that was one of the mantras drilled into all newbies: Must have website…must have website…SEO…SEO. I’ve yet to generate one lead from my “capture funnel” after spending thousands of dollars on different designers and SEO “specialists.” Much better to set up a simple portfolio site if you have clips and focus on getting work. Vanity and distraction does a newbie no good. Better to heed the mantra of survival: Must have work…

  • I agree with Gary Zenker. I’ve been freelancing full time for almost 25 years, initially for magazines and then almost exclusively for corporate clients and ad agencies. This means I am running a business. And in this day, businesses have websites.
    If you’re only writing for publications, then you might be able to get away without a website.
    But if you are writing for businesses, having a website gives you a place to highlight your skills and background. And as Gary pointed out, it also showcases your writing skills.
    Even if you are just starting out, having a website establishes you as a professional. Using portfolio sites is a temporary solution. You need permanent “home” and that is your website.

  • Melvin jones says:

    I tend to agree with the author’s assessment. I made over a thousand dollars with no website. Might I have made more with one. Maybe. But I was almost overwhelmed with work I had captured.

  • Katharina says:

    This is very helpful, both commentators above have valid points. I can’t wait to get started. I have been skirting around for so long, love to write but I don’t need to write a novel to indulge in it.

    Quite frankly, the self-publishing world is a nightmare to navigate and it seems the self-publishing companies are the only winners there with their expensive packages and huge marketing upsells, not the poor writers. Freelancing can’t be any worse.

  • Gary, I understand what you’re saying and agree having a website matters. I didn’t discuss the advantages of setting up a website because it’s a topic many other freelance writers have discussed at length.

    I wrote this article because I think most new freelancers obsess endlessly over their website as a distraction from doing the hard work of looking for clients. Paying for annual hosting and writing website copy is actually quite easy — sending cold emails and getting on the phone with potential clients is not.

    In my opinion, a website often just turns into a vanity metric and I don’t think it really moves the needle for most writers. But I could be wrong.

  • Gary Zenker says:

    All of your points are reasonable. But they leave out the reasons that a free-lance writer SHOULD have a website:
    1) Even with a great LinkedIn profile and lots of written recommendations, people still research you on the web. Your own website let’s you control which information you present about yourself.
    2) Professionals and companies without a website feel suspect. If you don’t have one, I question your being a valid pro.
    – Are you too cheap to invest $250 in annual hosting. You probably aren’t successful in what you do if you are pinching those pennies.
    – You can’t write decent copy for a website? Maybe you can’t handle my project either.
    – You don;t know how the world works? Again, you probably can’t handle my assignment.
    – I need to contact you for samples? I may do that but wouldn’t it be great if you offered a couple dozen by category with inks to finished implementations like videos, etc.

    There are a myriad of choices in hiring good writers. Bucking the system and the way most people work (by researching you a bit in the background)? There are easier choices to make than you.

    So your personal success notwithstanding, writers don’t NEED a website to get work. But as a professional, you haven’t got a good enough reason not to have one.

  • Amy Leibrock says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve been a successful full-time freelancer for 10+ years and have yet to feel like the time invested in building a website would be worth it. My best clients come through my network and word-of-mouth.

  • Kurt Buss says:

    I agree with you on all points, and applaud you for flying in the face of “conventional” wisdom. When I first started freelancing five years ago and joined all sorts of writers group websites that was one of the mantras drilled into all newbies: Must have website…must have website…SEO…SEO. I’ve yet to generate one lead from my “capture funnel” after spending thousands of dollars on different designers and SEO “specialists.” Much better to set up a simple portfolio site if you have clips and focus on getting work. Vanity and distraction does a newbie no good. Better to heed the mantra of survival: Must have work…

  • Terry Erle Clayton says:

    Glad to see someone finally said it. Thanks Jamie.

  • Mariam motola says:

    This was quite helpful, Thanks Jamie. I was wondering if you do a simple as ABC step by step guide on how to pitch and do gigs.

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