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The Advice I’d Give You If I Were Right Next To You

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Recently I taught a workshop for a group of women on how they can build a website on Squarespace. As I put together my curriculum (you can get a free ebook on how to build a Squarespace site in a weekend right here), I decided to read through the many posts we’ve written on APW about putting together a personal website. I wanted to gather all of my best tips on building a portfolio site before I started teaching.

I figured my best tips would be technical. You know: how to layout a page, how to use fonts, and how to take photos you can use on your website. And while we definitely have articles on all of those topics (and have put all our best tips into an ebook so you can have them in one place), as it turns out: that wasn’t the best advice I had to give on building a website. The most important advice I have on building a website (and the advice I give women in my life over and over) comes down to three really important points.

  1.  You (very probably) need a website. I mean, on the off chance you are a secret service agent or someone who never plans to get another job again, you can ignore this advice. But for most humans who want to control what people find out about us when they Google us, and want to get good-paying jobs… well, we need websites.
  2. You need to brag about yourself. Like, a lot. I know it’s hard. I know it’s uncomfortable. I know every bone in your socialized-as-a-woman body will tell you to underplay your accomplishments. But it’s vital that you do it. Being able to talk up your accomplishments is the very first start to minimizing the wage gap. (That and asking for what you are worth… but a good website is part of that ask.)
  3. You need to be clear about what you offer people. This isn’t a fill-in-the-blank situation. Maybe you’re looking for a job, in which case, your website needs to be clear about what kind of job you’re looking for. Maybe you just want a website that presents a cohesive online bio, and a way to contact you. Or maybe you’re selling goods or services. The key is you need to know the goal of your website and be super clear about how you’re presenting that to people. Also: this will change over time, so remember to update your website.

While all of these are not really ‘technical’ skills… they are much easier said than done. Since we’ve already put the technical nitty-gritty info together in an ebook (I’ll say it again… you’ll want it and can download it here), I also wanted to gather some motivation, advice, and guidance on personal websites for you—all in one place.

If I could sit next to you as you build your website, and shout motivational things at you throughout the process, I would. Since I can’t, here is the next best thing.

Why You (Yes You) Need A Website

The TL;DR is this: you probably need a website. There are one million reasons, but you and I both know that you already know the reasons and you’re reading this post because you’ve been avoiding the part of just doing it. But, I’ll let a long-time former APW staffer Najva Sol lay out exactly why you need a website:

There are a lot of reasons for having a personal block around needing (read: deserving) a nice home on the Internet (or IRL, for that matter). You’re busy. You have imposter syndrome. You don’t want to mess it up. But here’s the deal: a personal website isn’t just another project that can get pushed down your to-do list indefinitely; it’s a way to control your own narrative online. And that’s vital.

The truth is that most of us need a website. Sure, maybe (maybe) if you’re one of those people with an aversion to the Internet who’s basically got nothing about them online and no reason they’d be Googled (who are you? A social media–wary beekeeper? A hacker?) then you’re fine without one. Or maybe you work for a big corporation, and you’re fine (or contractually required) to let their online bio of you do all the speaking. But for the rest of us living in the modern world, being sought out online is an undeniable fact of life. And when that happens, don’t you want the first result to be something you created? Or do you want it to be whatever possibly unflattering tidbits Google coughs up? —Read more

The truth is, even once I’ve convinced friends and clients that they do indeed need a website, they’re still not sure what on earth they should put on it. I mean, they’re not photographers, painters, or website designers. They don’t have an actual portfolio (in the way we might all think about it). So what on earth do they put on a portfolio website? Well, here is where you should start (and you can get even more details here).

A personal/portfolio site is essentially a curated story of you. It can have links to press or academic papers you’ve written. It can absolutely have stories about the kids you’ve taught and testimonials from their parents. It can have testimonials from past employers or coworkers. It can be a collection of your creative writing. It should always have at least these three things:

  • a bio
  • a way to contact you
  • an image of you that isn’t from a smartphone

It can even be as simple as a landing page with those three elements and links to your LinkedIn profile, social profiles, blog, company, whatever. Exactly what you include (or don’t) is your call. Pro-tip: Look up your peers, competitors, and bosses to see what they share, if you need a frame of reference.

In short: it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, Squarespace makes it really really easy (you can see exactly how former staffer Dana built her site in a few short hours, how Chelsea created and laid out her portfolio, and how I made my site look completely custom and expensive for not a lot of dough). But getting a basic website built will help you look like you know your worth, and it’s high time you got it done. (And yes, that is why I made an ebook, so I could walk you through the step-by-step and you can cross it off your damn list already.)

Brag About Yourself

I know this one is hard, but stick with me.

When it comes to writing a bio for your personal website, you have to be willing to write about yourself in the third person like you’re someone deserving of praise (or a new job, or new clients, or whatever the thing you want most right now is). And that is hard. I mean, trust me, I get it. I’ve often described writing promotional materials about myself as “like showering with sandpaper.” It’s… unpleasant. (Though it does get slightly better with practice.) Trust me when I say, “you are very worth it, and you can do this.”

I once had a conversation with my long-time employee and friend Najva, after she’d left APW and was looking for a new job. Najva is one of the best branding minds I know. She’s the person I turn to when I need to brag about myself. But when she handed me the first draft of her personal website that she was using to try to get a new job, I was confused about what job she was even trying to get. I happened to know firsthand what she was good at, and what a great employee she was… but her website was vague and confusing. She was underselling herself.

And because I’m your bossy Type-A Aries friend who really wants the best for you, I asked if I could spend thirty minutes editing the front page of her website. Najva is… remarkably tolerant of my bossy ways, so she let me. When I proudly handed over my notes… she…. did not… like it. Plot twist… the person I know who’s the literal best at personal branding still finds it painful to talk herself up without having a friend’s help. She said it felt “wildly braggy”… and y’all, that’s how it should be. (So pro-tip, get a friend’s help).

And why is bragging about ourselves so painful, even for branding experts? Social conditioning. We took a deep dive into shouting our own names from the rooftops right here:

It’s tempting to think that some people are good at talking up their accomplishments, simply because it comes more naturally to them. While that may be true for some (cough, every guy who ever stole your idea in a meeting), I’d argue that for most of us—especially women—talking ourselves up seldom comes easily. Truth is, many people don’t do a good job representing themselves. Because of the way women are conditioned by society, most of us are basically professionals at downplaying our skills. So when it comes time to represent the full epic versions of ourselves? Well, I mean, forget it.

So when you sit down to create your website, you might want to ask friends and family for help and quotes about how they see you, that might be a good starting place. You should also maybe drink a glass of wine, do a workout, have a dance party, or do whatever helps you loosen up before you take a pass at it—just trust me.

Because this is when I give you the medicine you really don’t want: you not only should brag about things you personally accomplished, you should brag about accomplishments you pulled off as part of a team. Or as I explained to Najva when she was building her website, accomplishments are not like pie. If you believe one person deserves to claim a thing, but you also worked on that thing… you can (and should) also claim the damn thing. So, when you sit down to make a list of your accomplishments, think not just about the factual, hard skills that can be backed up by a number of things you pulled off (though please, make note of those too). But also think about the more collaborative ways you contributed to your team or office. We described it this way:

Sit and think of all the shit you’ve gotten done that you don’t think of as “your” win (especially that invisible labor—you know what I’m talking about). Did a meeting you set up lead to an amazing donation? Own it. Did you suggest the new app that’s streamlined your office communication? Own it. Are you regularly called on to be the “diverse” voice in office conversations (as a woman or POC)? PREACH.

Be Clear About Who You ARe…

At the end of the day, we’re not just our accomplishments. We’re not just our job history or a list of improvements we made at a company. We’re not even our photography or painting portfolio. We are full and complete human beings with pasts, presents, and futures—we have hopes and dreams. And part of the point of creating your own website (instead of letting the internet represent you with whatever it digs up from its depths) is to present that whole person in the way you want to be seen.

This is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten on creating and editing my personal site (and yup, it came from Najva, because apparently, we’ve spent years bouncing ideas and website edits back and forth):

Who you are and what you aim to accomplish in this world should always precede the “where you work” spiel. Meg’s first sentence on her site says, “Meg is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of A Practical Wedding.” So let’s say APW folded… then is Meg nothing? This isn’t the APW about page, this is her site. I challenge Meg (and everyone) to change this pattern of thinking. I’d shift the wording to say, “Meg is an entrepreneur and writer who has dedicated her career to solving problems and creating digital communities of smart diverse women. She’s currently founder and EIC of A Practical Wedding, and she speaks as an expert both on the wedding industry and all aspects of running and scaling a successful self-funded media business.”

So as you create your site, lead with the best version of yourself. Lead with the person you want to be seen as. This is a classic case of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. Present the world with the person you most want to be, the person you know you can be… and that very act of presentation will help you get closer to more fully becoming that person.

… And How People Can work With you

Once you’ve done all that work: you’ve created a basic website (thanks Squarespace for making it so darn easy), you’ve gotten it together and possibly tapped a friend or loved one to help you brag about yourself, you’ve thought about the person you want to project into the world… after all that… you have to let people know how they can work with you.

DO NOT MAKE THEM GUESS.

If you’re looking for a job, be clear about the job you want, share your resume, and give the people an email address or contact page so they can get in touch… like yesterday.

Pro-tip:

Add a landing page describing the kind of job you want, so nobody has to dig into your work history and play detective to find out what you are all about.

If you are available for work as a speaker, or a consultant, let people know exactly how they can hire you, what you can do for them, and maybe even how much you cost. (Skip the vague “contact me to work with me” pages. Even people who want to work with you will often get stuck there because they’re not sure what you do, or how to reach you.)

If you’re selling something: put that something upfront. Also, include a ‘buy it’ link (Squarespace has e-commerce to make this wildly simple.)

If this is just an online bio, let people know how to directly get in contact with you. The whole point of bragging about yourself is to make sure that influential people can be excited about connecting with you, and then actually get in touch.

Here is the thing: you deserve this website. You are so worth it. And I am grateful that Squarespace gives you the tools to make your new website as stunning as you, quickly and easily.

Now go use the tools already. We put everything you need to know in this ebook, so you have absolutely no excuses.

DO YOU STRUGGLE TO PROMOTE YOURSELF? Have you put off making a personal website for months or years? WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK FROM SHOUTING YOUR OWN NAME FROM THE ROOFTOPS? PRO-TIP: EVERY SQUARESPACE SUBSCRIPTION COMES WITH A FREE 14-DAY TRIAL. SO IF WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK IS A FEAR OF COMMITMENT, GET ON THAT RIGHT NOW.

This post was sponsored by Squarespace. Whether you’re stepping up in your career or striking out to do your own thing, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create a place online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub that displays just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides an all-in-one platform (including everything from custom domains to templates, SEO tools, and now even built-in marketing tools like e-mail marketing) that makes it easy to build your online home beautifully. Never made a website before and have no idea where to start? We made you an ebook that will walk you through it step-by-step. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace. APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW at checkout.

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