February 5, 2023

A new beginning of sorts (or: How I learned to stop worrying and love my website)

Written by Ian Winick

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I’ve never had much luck with websites.

Back in the days when fax machines ruled the Earth, I set up my stall as a freelance translator. Having spent the best part of three years working as a project manager in the English department of a translation agency here in Cologne, I’d had my fill of making silk purses out of sows’ ears. I knew I could do better. And probably make more money too.

I also liked the idea of being my own boss. And of having the freedom to plan my working day to suit my early-riser routine. The freedom to take an hour or two to play tennis or go to the gym after a morning’s word-taming. Or, as a jaded French colleague warned me, the freedom to decide each day whose slave you wanted to be.

Back then, the idea of a website seemed like a fun optional extra rather than a necessity. Word-of-mouth was – and, I’m happy to say, still is – what drives my business, but at the same time I felt in my trailblazer’s heart that it was important to have an online calling card, especially one with a distinct personality stamped all over it. Which, judging by how the website copy reads now, seems to have been ‘pretentious wanker’.

So I enlisted a friend of a friend to design the website, wrote the copy in a tea-fuelled frenzy and had a trusted German and French colleague translate it into their respective languages. And there it stood, gathering digital dust for many years. It may have sent work my way or it may have given people nose-bleeds. I think I’m happier not knowing.

It was only when the Royal Archaeological Institute began showing an interest in my website that it occurred to me that it might be time for a new one. Enter Steffen*, a dashing freelance website designer who had a couple of impressive-looking specimens in his portfolio with CTAs in all the right places. And at a price that fit well within my modest freelance budget.

(*Not his real name, which is spelt slightly differently)

As I never thought to look under the bonnet, I was perfectly happy with how the website had turned out. It looked modern, the copy was a lot more me and it gave a much better picture of the services I was providing at the time. In hindsight, it might have been a mistake to greet visitors to the website by immediately thrusting a giant, fiery-cheeked photo of myself in their faces. This time around, I have included a low-key, black-and-white portrait photo in the About Me section. Which means that the vibe is more “I am a professional you can trust” rather than “This man might steal your dinner”.

Unfortunately, when I wanted to have a few changes made a couple of months later, I found that the dashing Steffen had disappeared off the face of the Earth. So I left the website to its own devices until the structural weaknesses – and lack of maintenance – came to a head in the form of a crippling ‘critical error’.

This, as it turned out, was not going to be a quick fix. And since I had already planned to write some shiny new copy about the SEO content writing that was now accounting for more and more of my working week, I decided to invest in a new website. The previous one was only two years old, but the kindest thing to do was take it outside and shoot it.

Third time’s the charm, though, and I struck gold with a great web designer, Sidney Sacchi, who has an eye for elegant, uncluttered design and is refreshingly easy to work with. Syd’s services are excellent value for money and I have no doubt that freelancers everywhere will soon be beating a path to his door. Hat tip to Rose Newell for sharing her talented friends with me!

Speaking of talented friends, the illustrations on my blog and website are the handiwork of one Ayal Pinkus, a Dutchman with a ridiculous number of creative strings to his bow. I met Ayal last year when we both took part in one of Chris Head’s online comedy sketch-writing courses and bonded – as we all did – over a shared love of finely crafted comedy.

(I had always wanted to do a course in sketch-writing, mainly to see if I had what it takes to write sketches. Spoiler: it appears that I do, and absolutely love it, but it takes an awful lot of time and practice to take these skills to the next level and my weekly schedule is already bursting at the seams. Still, part of me really enjoyed the discipline of having to submit a new sketch assignment every week and this may well be why I find the idea of writing this blog so appealing. Feel free to remind me of this in a few months’ time.)

Anyway, back to Ayal. Not only did he come up with off-beat comedy sketches in effortless English, but also liked to embellish his scripts with pen-and-ink illustrations. At the time, I made a mental note to give him a call a few years down the line when I was planning a new website. Or, as it turned out, a few months down the line.

When I floated the idea of collaborating on my new website, Ayal was on board right away. By a happy coincidence (or unconscious planning on my part), the copy that I had written offered plenty of low-hanging fruit – colourful imagery that was positively ripe for illustration.

After an hour’s brainstorming via Zoom, we spent a week or so emailing ideas back and forth, taking each other’s ideas and running with them – sometimes falling and skinning our knees and sometimes ending up in very strange places. And from that point on, the website became enormous fun. A marketing tool, certainly, but also a creative labour of love and a fitting mothership for this blog.

Human and robot enjoying the same SEO book

I love all the illustrations that Ayal inked up for the website, but my favourite has to be ‘SEO content for humans’ (above). The idea we wanted to convey was that SEO-optimised copy should also be reader-friendly. And so we have a human reader and his robot pal enjoying the same book – 'SEO and Juliet' – one with a steaming cuppa and the other with a nice drop of oil. We weren’t sure if anyone would get the cookies reference but it’s probably only a matter of time before someone points it out rather clumsily and spoils it for everyone …

So there you have it. A new website, a new blog and – after 20 years as a freelancer – a new beginning of sorts!

10 comments on “A new beginning of sorts (or: How I learned to stop worrying and love my website)”

  1. Ian, the reason I was drawn to you in the first place is your mixture of fun and intelligence (feel free to take a screenshot to remind me I said that).
    What I like about this piece is your generosity, down-to-Earth manner, self-deprecation and obvious way with words (I’m not saying it’s a good way. Joke.).
    A blinding debut at your third attempt.

  2. Great website, Ian! Laid-back AND professional, both at once. And I very much enjoyed this blog post.
    Of course I'm already aware from your activity on Twitter that you're an excellent translator; now I realise you're a gifted copywriter as well.

  3. An understated design, professional look and lovely sense of humour - putting every client's mind at ease knowing their project is in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing and who they can talk to. That was my first impression when I just had a look at your new webpage and blog. Well done, Ian. Really well done.

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