In an increasingly digital world, an effective way to engage with professionals in a field of interest and even secure a position at a target company is to create your own website. Although traditional resumes are still very much required documents when applying for jobs, leveraging existing digital platforms to tell your story, showcase your skills, create original content, and cultivate new relationships offers a more viable approach to career growth and development. These can help you whether you're in a creative field or not, and can be of benefit no matter whether you're a student or a professional.
"Creating your own website allows you to take control of your image and message online," says Chelsea Krost, a marketing and brand strategist. Although you can certainly achieve that through professional sites such as LinkedIn, depending on your goals, a website may serve a better purpose. Plenty of platforms exist that make it easy to navigate the technical aspect of building a site, but having the digital space is not enough. Before taking the step of building and designing a personal website, review the do's and don'ts I've listed below.
Have an idea as to what your website is about. Will it build on your resume? Will it focus on a passion or interest you have (sustainable fashion for example)? Will it help you gain engagement or clients for your side hustle? Before going into the logistics of building a site, you want to clarify the purpose and message of your site. You may already have some ideas based on what close friends and mentors have mentioned or based on what you are already doing. If you are not sure you have a focus, consider the following questions: How would a personal website add value to your brand or story? What's the story you want people to leave with after visiting your site? What two or three abilities do you want employers to learn about after visiting your site?
Think about how you want to structure your site. Once you have a focused message, you'll determine how that message is delivered across the site. Be sure to prepare the essentials: your bio, work samples, project or blog space, testimonials, social media and contact information. You may want to review personal websites of others in your field or branch out for inspiration. As you peruse these websites, pay attention to what attracts you, both in terms of content and layout. Knowing your message and structure will make it easier to select a theme that best represents you. You may want to experiment with different themes to find out which one you like best. Consider which colors, fonts and page layouts best reflect your personality.
Plan out your content ahead of time, especially if you want your site to be active and you want to deliver original content through blog posts. Consistency is key to establishing credibility and meaningful engagement. Before going public, create an editorial calendar and have at least 10 or so pieces ready to post when you launch. That said, keep in mind that you don't have to have everything in order to finalize and launch your site. If you need time gathering all the information you'd eventually like featured on your site but you want it to be visible sooner rather than later, you may consider a one-page website that includes an image, your value prop/introduction and contact details. Your virtual business card!
Know who your audience is. Avoid thinking you'll just get started by casting a wide net to see who will bite. Focusing on the quality instead of the quantity of your audience will ensure that you create a more focused message, engage with people you actually want to connect with, and grow a network that'll ultimately help you design the path you love. To make sure your website does what you want it to do, test it out with a trusted group of colleagues, friends or mentors to gauge their reflections and takeaways. Send them a link to what you have so far and include a few specific questions to help them give you feedback you actually want.
Update your website on a regular basis. As you grow your site, periodically review content and performance and make necessary edits, such as replacing broken links, updating information in old posts or deleting them completely. You may redo your website to match new knowledge you've acquired or to reflect a new direction you've decided to go into. The goal is to stay fresh and engaging, and not have your website overwhelm and confuse visitors with too much information. Be selective and curate the work, testimonials and content you share.
Acquire basic knowledge of SEO and analytics in order to track your website's performance. At minimum, you want to know what searches bring visitors to your site, how visitors engage with your content while on your site, and what content performs better. To get started, check out available online courses through platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Udemy. Depending on your learning preference, you may also consider courses at local colleges.
Wait to secure a domain name until you are ready to go live with your site, or until you start building one. This is especially the case if you'd like to own your first and last name, which is what you may want for a personal website. Even if you are not sure what the website would look like, having your name can give you the needed boost of confidence to start working on a personal site. Otherwise, someone else might grab it and when people search for your name, they'll find that other person, not you. As you go about purchasing a domain name, make sure it's short, easy to remember and clearly associated with you. If you are worried about the technical aspects, know that most platforms allow you to get your website and domain at the same time.
Rely on text only to communicate your message. Once you've clarified your focus and know your website's purpose, consider images, videos and even your own artwork to engage with your target audience. A good idea is to include images of your work or of you at work. Presenting at a conference? Attending a workshop with an influencer in your field? Volunteering in the community? Take a photo to share on social media or to use with a blog post you write. Stay away from generic images. Use your own photos, especially if you want to highlight your photography or image editing skills. If you prefer the work of others, you may want to check out no-attribution sites such as Unsplash (though I always give credit when using images from that site!). You could also consider company logos, icons, charts and graphs to display clients you've worked with or the impact of your work.
Let your website be the end goal. Once you launch, engage with connections and followers on social media and direct them to your website when appropriate (for example, when you've added new content). You want your website to include your social media channels so visitors can choose to follow you on their preferred platforms. Follow others you admire and consider inviting them as guest bloggers. Continued engagement is key to growth.
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