Conventional wisdom says you could be the best freelance medical writer in the world, but unless you have a website, potential clients might not know you exist.
However, not all veteran freelancers agree that a freelance website is essential. Marketing is mandatory, but not all marketing happens on websites.
In an intriguing article in Pencil Points #123, the free monthly newsletter from The Accidental Medical Writer, authors Brian G. Bass and Cyndy L. Kryder explore the question of whether it is necessary, in today’s digital world, to build a freelance website.
The article is reprinted with the authors’ permission. Pencil Points is a free medical writing resource available by subscription.
Do You Really Need a Website?
Freelance medical communicators as a whole are not fond of marketing. Yes, we realize we're talking in generalities here. There are some freelances who love the marketing aspect of running their businesses, but in our experience they are few.
Thanks to the internet and the emergence of social media, it's easier now than ever to employ marketing tactics that don't require cold calling or face-to-face networking. The introverts among us are happy.
If you're a newbie, you've probably been told that one tool freelances supposedly can't live without is a business website. Between the two of us, we have three websites: Brian's business site, Cyndy's business site, and The Accidental Medical Writer site. But do we get any return on investment (ROI) from these sites? What ROI can you expect to get from yours?
Before we talk about ROI, let's talk about why you have a website in the first place. Is it to sell your services and attract clients to your business? If it is, you might be disappointed. It takes quite a lot of work to optimize your site so that it appears on the first page of search results when people search for keywords like "medical writer."
Digital Marketing Realities
If your goal is to get prospective clients to find you through your site, hire a digital marketing expert whose sweet spot is search engine optimization (SEO). And be prepared to increase your marketing budget for some paid advertising. Gone are the days when businesses could rely on organic traffic. Next time you do an internet search, notice how many of the top results are ads. If you're not willing to pay, it's unlikely that you'll appear on the first page of search results. That's the reality.
Rethinking Business Websites
We suggest thinking about your business websites differently. We view them as reputation marketing tools (thanks, Scott Kober, for talking about reputation marketing at the 2019 AMWA annual conference). They lend legitimacy to our businesses but don't necessarily attract clients. We're OK with that.
Sure, it's possible that new clients find us through our sites, but, honestly, we get most of our referrals through LinkedIn, the AMWA Freelance Directory, and word-of-mouth recommendations from clients and colleagues.
When a new client reaches out through one of these other channels, we can direct them to our websites. Cyndy's site includes samples of her work and, in essence, serves as an abridged virtual portfolio, if you will.
Our thinking about business websites has changed since we first established ours—in the days of the dinosaur when LinkedIn and Facebook didn't exist. Websites were how you reached customers. Back then, we checked site analytics and ran keyword searches on a daily basis. It was pretty much the Wild Wild West when it came to SEO and search algorithms. We cheered when we appeared on the first page of a Google search and agonized when we didn't. It was exhausting; our investment in terms of time, energy, and mental health just wasn't worth it. Don't get us wrong, site metrics are important depending on the site's purpose, as we mention below in the metrics monitoring section, but we went a bit crazy.
It was incredibly freeing when we were able to let go of the expectation that our websites were the primary tool for customer acquisition. But we're certainly not planning to get rid of ours—nor should you. Sure, our businesses would survive without them, but the costs to maintain them are minimal and, as we said before, the sites reinforce the fact that we are actual businesses run by real people. In a world where differentiating the real and the fake has become a challenge, legitimacy is priceless.
Knowing how many people visit your website and where they come from is essential information for certain types of websites, for example, those designed to sell products or earn affiliate income. Or maybe you blog on a topic you're passionate about and want to know more about your readers. You can do that by installing an analytics tool on your site. We went overboard monitoring our website metrics when we first launched our sites.
Perhaps the most powerful website analytics tool is Google Analytics. Take a look at it and you'll see that it's kind of complex. In our opinion, to use it effectively, you really need to have some coding background or you need to hire someone to help you out. Google Analytics gives you valuable information; you can see which pages of your website are the most popular, how long people stay on your site, and much, much more.
If you have the funds to optimize your site based on the results, Google Analytics is a great tool. We don't know very many freelance medical communicators, though, who are experts in its use.
If you're reluctant to spend the money to hire an expert, check out the MonsterInsights plugin that simplifies the process of setting up Google Analytics on your WordPress site.
Full disclosure here, we don't use this tool. But when we were looking into Google Analytics, this was recommended to us by someone who works in digital marketing. We appreciate that MonsterInsights offers MonsterInsights Lite, a free plan, so you can actually play around with the tool before purchasing.
Learn from the Experts
Kryder and Bass, along with their colleague Lori De Milto, share more advice for freelance medical communicators in the 3-part AMWA series Unlock the Secrets to Freelance Success. This webinar dives into strategies for running a freelance business, including structuring a business, finding prospects, developing marketing tools, and keeping clients satisfied.
After all, a website is only as good as the content and services it represents.