How To Rebrand Your Website From Portfolio To Business
In 2016, I changed around my whole business focus, from portfolio to business site.
I had been working as a freelance writer for a few years and in 2015, I expanded into web design, based on my training as a graphic designer and self-taught web design skills. Then my family and I moved to Laos and I kept going with both things. But although my new food blog, Eat Drink Laos, really took off, my freelance writing was more difficult to sustain. I had lost the contacts I'd built up in Australia as I couldn't continue writing with an Australian focus. My work became more irregular - a few corporate projects and the occasional travel magazine article. It was frustrating, to say the least!
Meanwhile, my web design work was taking off. I found that I really enjoyed the technical side of web design, and more than that, I loved helping small business owners to grow their new ventures online. Clients kept coming back to me and asking for more - help with social media, SEO, blogging, content, and my offerings were expanding because I really wanted to dive into their new businesses with them.
So, I made the decision to pursue that avenue - web design, content and marketing for small businesses, and to put my freelance writing on the back burner. I’d still blog on Eat Drink Laos and write the occasion corporate article but it wasn’t my main focus anymore.
With that epiphany, I knew I needed to shift my website from a writer’s portfolio site to a small business site. And this is how I did it.
I developed my new business branding
I've blogged about how to brand your small business before. It's basically choosing colours, fonts, a style and a personality for your business and then blanketing it across all your mediums.
I started by choosing my business personality. I wanted my business style to be fun, personable and informative. My favourite writing style, and the one I use on both my blogs, my newsletter and my business emails is one that's friendly, relaxed and yet knowledgable. I want people to feel that they can trust me not only because I have the technical ability and skills but also because I'm a nice, honest and down to earth person.
Then I needed to pick my colours. I love anything bright and bold (my wardrobe is full of Australian designer Boom Shankar!) so it wasn't hard to choose the primary colours of red, yellow and blue. I also paired them with another shade of blue and a grey. I used an awesome, free colour scheme generator, Coolors.co, to see how my colours worked against each other, and this is what I came up with.
Then I designed my logo
I didn't have a logo before but I felt I needed one for my new business. As a former graphic designer, I had a good idea of what I wanted. But I'd gotten rid of my design software a while ago and I was already feeling snowed under with the whole rebrand, so I decided to outsource the logo.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a great outsourcing experience. I tried and failed to get a personal recommendation and ended up with a woman based in New Zealand. But from the get go, I didn't think we were suited and I didn't like her initial designs, so I decided to cut my losses and cancel the job. Then I discovered that she didn't have any international payment methods for Australians via PayPal or credit card - an assumption I'd made but should really have checked at the outset - and she wasn't at all helpful about the issue.
Lesson learned - Check that people who work online actually have the means of doing business with international clients.
Then I had a brainwave and realised that I could do this job fairly easily by myself - by purchasing a monthly subscription to Adobe Illustrator. Woohoo! I ended up creating my own logo for just under $A35. I did spend an age researching ideas and inspiration but in the end I went for something pretty simple using just my name. But here are a few of my early drafts...!
I got the rocket inspiration from a fabulous illustrator I discovered online - Good Stuff No Nonsense. I fell in love with her awesome, hand drawn icons and downloaded several sets. Then, while I still had my month's subscription to Illustrator, I also created my website icons for my new website's homepage.
But before I got to the website...
I branded my blog post graphics
One of the most important parts of branding is not just the grunt work choosing pretty colours and fonts. It's the ongoing marketing of your brand. And blog posts are a big part of that. Every time I write a post, I have to share it on social media, pushing my business out to the world so that my readers and potential clients start to associate my brand with my line of work.
I put together these blog graphics fairly easily using the free online graphics software, Canva. Luckily, I hadn't been writing my new blog for too long at this point so I only needed to edit 15 or so posts with the new graphics.
By this point, I needed to show off all my awesome new branding, so...
I gave all my social media platforms a branding makeover
My virtual assistant, Emma, did up some new social media headers for my Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts. I also rewrote my spiel on all those platforms to reflect my new focus. And I re-shared all of my blog posts with their new graphics.
If you look at any of my social media accounts, such as Twitter below, you'll see a similar version of this...
Finally, with all the background work pretty much done, I moved onto the main event...
I completely redesigned my website
I used Squarespace's Avenue template for many years. I love its simple yet powerful homepage and it suited my writer's portfolio style perfectly.
But one of the fun things about being a web designer is redesigning your own site! So after a very looong deliberation, I decided to switch to the Hayden template. Like my old site, I wanted a clean, minimal look (which Squarespace is so good at) but with a clear business focus, a call to action (CTA) in the main navigation, and a blog sidebar.
I was pretty happy with the result. Looking good, isn't it?
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I changed around my site navigation
The purpose of the site navigation (that menu at the top of the site) is to steer readers in the directions you'd like them to go. With the Hayden template, I could put a CTA for my Newsletter page in the main menu, customised in my branded yellow.
In my portfolio site, I'd had 7 menu items at the top - About, Articles, Corporate, Web Design, Blog Praise and Contact. None of them were had drop down menus and they all led to separate pages.
Honestly, it was too many pages and options for the reader. So, it was great that Hayden allows for a secondary menu in the footer. Now I just have 5 items in the top menu and another 5 at the bottom. I can still keep pages on my homepage that are important but don't detract from my main game.
Other ways that I changed to a business focus on my new website
I rewrote the About page - several times, I am a writer after all! I wanted to demonstrate how my life experiences and knowledge of setting up my own freelance business make me well suited to helping other small businesses. It's always the hardest page to write!
I added FAQs into my Contact page show I could show a bit of my work process. I also bought a business email address that I could use expressly for my site. It's hello at lilanigoonesena dot com.
I put my social media buttons in the footer, the Contact page and the blog sidebar to make it really easy for people to find and connect with me online. Connecting your social media accounts to your blog and regularly updating them is also really great for your site's SEO.
Also in my blog, I added a Sumo Me share column along the side of every one of my blog posts (the yellow bar just on your left) which makes it really easy for readers to share my content. And at the end of each post, I wrote a short "About the author" spiel, so readers can a) read a bit more about me, b) easier click between my pages, c) because it's great for SEO.
I added several subscriber opt in buttons throughout my site, particularly on the homepage. There are 9 in total on the website; some are attached to freebies such as my business planner, while others link directly to my subscriber page. They are all designed to organically build my subscriber base, which is really important for small businesses if they plan to offer sales products sometime down the track.
On my Corporate writing page I listed the exact services that I offer and underneath a display of logos of the businesses I've worked with. People are always drawn to colour and graphics so it's an easy way for readers to see some of the names and industries I've worked in. I also have my articles linked with dates in chronological order.
My web design page has a similar layout with services and screen grabs of past client sites. I also created visuals of my web packages so that potential clients can clearly see what I offer and what they can expect when working with me.
I also updated my testimonials page to clearly show my past and current clients and their experiences working with me. Referrals are a big part of my work and I both appreciate and am proud of every client I've worked with.
Finally, I tested out my new website through a handful of trusted and critical friends and colleagues. I really needed some objective opinions and I got some great insights into a few aspects of the site functionality and content that I hadn't thought about.
Altogether, rebranding my site from portfolio to business was a tremendous labour of love but I enjoyed it immensely. While my website is the main focus of my business, it's also an evolving tool. I'm always thinking of ways to improve it, change things, add new stuff and take out old. Just while I've been writing this post, I've been thinking "Ooh, I could do this..." - there's always more ideas of things I'd like to tinker with!
Have you recently made the switch to a new business site? Or are you thinking about it?
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She loves helping freelancers and small businesses get online with web design and content, blogging and her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun.