I recently began mentoring a phenomenal young woman who is getting her graduate degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute. While talking about her goals, she mentioned that she wanted to work on how she “tells her story.” We discussed elevator pitches and bios, and I mentioned that she should build a personal website.
“I’m not really sure what I’d put on it,” she told me. “Or why I’d really need one. Isn’t that what LinkedIn is for?”
“Well, LinkedIn is an essential part of your online presence,” I said, “but building your own site — even a very simple one — gives you much more flexibility.”
I won’t lie: My mentee is not quite on board yet. She’s a little daunted by the task and by the prospect of having to find ways to humble-brag about her limited career experience thus far. But I’m working on her.
And now I’m going to work on you. I firmly believe that everyone — even folks who aren’t current entrepreneurs or juggling side hustles — should have a simple, tasteful personal website. And getting one up and running is FAR easier than you might imagine.
For Pete’s sake, buy that domain
Even if you are running an LLC with a whimsical name, you absolutely must buy yourname.com, yourname.biz or yourname.co — possibly all three and maybe even a few variants for good measure. Domains are incredibly affordable, and snapping up the ones associated with your full name gives you control over your online image and reputation.
There might be 983 other Sally McGraws in the United States, but by gum, I’m the one who’s got sallymcgraw.com.
And even if I decide to give up freelance writing to become a goatherd, I will pay to keep that domain safe and sound. And you should do the same. (But with your own name. Just so we’re clear.)
Build a personal website in an hour
Friends, gone are the days of hard-coding sites from scratch. There are literally dozens of cheap or free tools available that make building a personal website so easy you can whip one up in a little over an hour. So no more excuses.
Here are some of the most popular site-building tools for site-building novices:
WordPress. This legacy tool is incredibly versatile, though it can be a little less user-friendly than a few of the newer options. That said, since WordPress has been around the longest, it has the most support and customization options.
While some of the features within the WordPress platform might be free (i.e., themes, plugins, widgets), you’ll need a place to host the platform. Be sure to snag a good hosting package to ensure your site is fast, secure and up-to-date.
Editor’s note: Want to get a WordPress website up and running fast, without the hassle of separate hosting and time-consuming backend management (like core security updates)? Check out GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress solution.
There are a massive number of personal WordPress themes. These pre-loaded templates make building and customization a snap. Some of the most popular options include:
- Sydney, which features a full-screen slider, header image and sticky navigation.
- Bento, with its native infinite scroll, fixed menu options and WooCommerce integration.
- Shapely, which features a sleek single-page setup.
GoCentral. Looking for site-building tools that make the process easier than falling off a log? Look no further than GoCentral, which will literally select the perfect design for you based on your business name, industry or idea.
If you’d rather choose for yourself, you can access hundreds of diverse, malleable and thoroughly modern templates and tweak them to your heart’s desire. Integrated marketing tools help your site get seen, and the GoCentral Online Store makes selling your products a cinch.
5 essential elements of a personal website
So you’ve bought your domain, chosen a tool and are ready to roll. But what should go on your site? Well, I’ll tell ya.
1. Your elevator pitch
Whether you’re selling goods or services, or just telling the world who you are, a succinct, carefully crafted elevator pitch should be front and center on your home page. If you don’t have one already, use this formula: I’m a ___. I help ___ do ___ so they can _____. (Finesse as needed, but that gives you the building blocks.)
2. A pithy tagline
Yes, even individual humans can benefit from a tagline. Nothing makes you, your work and your web presence more memorable than a brilliant and succinct catchphrase. I do a ton of ghostwriting, so I went with “Your thoughts, our words.” Noodle around. Call your creative friends. Hire a pro. And if you just can’t generate something perfect, come back to it. But do your best to get a tagline onto your site eventually.
3. A killer bio
This can be tough, I know. Bios are often incredibly dry, and many of us fall back on yawn-inducing lists of accomplishments instead of adding personality and spice. This article provides a helpful template for writing an effective professional bio:
[Name] is a [title] who works with [who you help] to [how you help them].
[First name] [knows/believes] [what you know/believe about the work you do].
[First name] has [landed/secured/garnered/worked at/supported] [insert your most compelling experiences and wins].
[First name] is a [trained/certified/awarded] [insert relevant trainings, awards, honors, etc].
[First name] holds a [insert degree] in [insert area of study] from [insert university].
4. A portfolio or links to your work
Don’t just tell, show! Include examples of projects you’ve completed, client work you’ve been a part of or articles you’ve published. If you opt for a WordPress site, you can choose from more than a dozen portfolio plugins to help you showcase your work in style.
5. Contact info
And when I say “contact info,” I don’t just mean a web form. Give people options. Include links to all of your social media accounts and an easy way to reach out via email.
See? If you wanted to build a personal website 10 years ago, it would’ve meant a lot of time, money and work. But today, you’ve got access to user-friendly tools, affordable hosting and an infinite array of gorgeous, pre-made designs. So seriously, kick those excuses to the curb. The time to stake your claim to your personal online presence has arrived.
Also published on Medium.