As editor of Perceptive Travel for 10 years now, I’ve looked at a lot of travel writers’ portfolio sites.
Most of them suck.
The first thing I do when someone I don’t know sends me a query is check out their portfolio and then usually their other work. I know if they’re a good writer with a deep body of work, they’re probably going to turn in something good to me no matter what the angle is about. If they’re a terrible writer, the best idea in the world will turn to crap in their hands. It’s part of the reason I put the “book authors only” requirement in from the beginning. If you’ve strung together 80,000 plus words for one project, you’ve gotten a lot of practice and you’ll able to complete what you start.
Your query is your first impression, but it’s not the real first impression. Like when you talk to someone on the phone and them meet them in person, that in-person meeting is what’s going to stick with them later.
If your personal billboard is lousy, stop what you’re doing and spend the time or money to develop an attractive, professional portfolio site. Unless you’re purely a travel blogger who has no intention of ever getting paid to write for others, you need to pay attention to this. Make an investment in your future, just as you would by taking a class or buying a new suit.
I didn’t do this as soon as I should have, but my dawn-of-the-Internet-age website on the old Geocities platform was decent anyway. The one I’ve had and tweaked since 2005 looks great (www.TimLeffel.com). I paid a talented designer in Argentina $250 to set the first version up for me 11 years ago, then less than half that later for a graphics update, then $90 in 2015 to make it fancier and mobile-responsive. Every time that money was a great investment.
Here are a few more good ones to check out, some fancy, some not, but all effective:
Try to get some version of your name if you can since that makes it easier to rank #1 for your name then and remember that you can put dashes in and achieve the same result. Most search engines treat a dash like a space between words, so tim-leffel.com is just as effective as timleffel.com, for instance. It may even be better if your name is not clear when both are mashed together (like Carollynn or Tomotis).
Stop Putting This Off
Do this now. Today! Ideally from wherever you’re going to purchase hosting, but if the thought of researching that stresses you out, you can register the domain at Hostgator, GoDaddy, Bluehost, or wherever and move it later. It will usually cost you $8 to $15 a year depending on the host.
After you’ve bought the domain name, you can find a good designer by asking around, by using Craigslist locally, or by using Upwork, Envato Studio, 99 Designs, or Fiverr. These are sites where freelancers gather to bid on projects. You post what you want (be specific as possible, preferably with examples of what you like) and designers bid on how much they would charge to complete the project. Or in some cases you pay a set fee for a specific outcome. Money goes into escrow and they get paid when the job is complete.
Then don’t just put it up and forget it! I am continually amazed at how many sad, outdated, and abandoned portfolio sites I see regularly. If you’re going to be a pro, then look like a pro! That means ponying up a little cash to get mobile responsive and current looking, plus some time to add new links or material.
If you’ve done it right, this site is almost sure to show up on the first page for searches of your name. If the site is good, this is what you want in the #1 spot. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have this site show up first in Google rather than some old article you wrote or your Facebook page. Editors and employers are impatient.
Real grunt work in building something worth showing off isn’t always as fun as sending tweets or updating your Facebook page, but those things won’t get you many assignments. You also can’t control which of them shows up in search engines and where. So get your act together as soon as you have anything to say about yourself and develop a good portfolio page.
Hire a designer if you really want to look professional. But if you’re really hurting for money, hunt around for a good template from a hosting company or a WordPress theme you like. You can usually get a decent template from the place where you are hosting the site. It won’t be as great or as customized as something you invest real money in, but if you pick the right one at least it won’t be embarrassing. You will need to learn their interface and probably eventually some basic HTML to tweak the graphics later if you don’t use WordPress, but you’ll need those skills anyway, so get on it.
My advice today would be to put this book down and go get something on Contently.com first if you’re a freelancer. Then hire someone to tweak a WordPress theme for your own domain, with your host company. I hired my last person on Fiverr and it worked out great.
But there are some other dead-simple solutions like Wix.com, Weebly or About.me that look slick and give you a place to shine. (Click below to see Dana McMahan’s portfolio site built with Wix at www.bodybybourbon.com).
For these you pay a monthly charge to connect your own domain or you just use theirs. As with these others, Squarespace has made it possible to build a website via simple (and attractive) drag-and-drop functions rather than coding or installing a template, something many of us have wished for since the birth of Netscape.
A site like this is not designed to get a lot of traffic, so if you already have shared hosting you could just add this to your existing plan, with a new WordPress install. Otherwise you can get very reasonable entry-level hosting prices at ones like Hostgator and Bluehost. The best deal out there is usually at 1&1.com, where you get hosting, a template of your choice, unlimited e-mail (at your domain), and free 24/7 phone support for a few bucks a month.
After it’s set up, use that portfolio site as your showcase. You post links to articles on it, a feed from your blog, your LinkedIn page, your Twitter stream, whatever. Just make sure you’re linking to things that are professional, not your personal Facebook page filled with baby photos, your dog, and the flower garden in your back yard. This is a business page meant to show you off as a professional, remember?
Don’t put this off until you have a big body of work to list. Get the house built now and then hang your work up on the wall as things are published. If you hate looking at blank spaces, go write some free articles or guest blog posts to get things rolling.
Whatever you do, don’t send editors to a portfolio page that looks like it was built in 1999 and then abandoned. If you’re worth hiring, make it look that way.