Once you’ve decided to dip your toe into the freelance writing waters, you may be overwhelmed by all the advice that veteran freelancers offer. They may tell you to start a huge website, start a Facebook group, blog every day, participate in multiple online forums, and much more.
While there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, one of the next things you need after you create your website is a beautiful writing portfolio to showcase your work. (If you still need to build your first website,
Bluehost is awesome, and you can get hosting for less than $2.95 a month!) You should do this first because most potential clients look at your portfolio first to determine if they’ll hire you.
Your portfolio is a vital part of your marketing strategy and shows off your skills and writing style. Essentially, it’s your audition and you want this client to think you’re the best freelancer for their project.
But how do you build your portfolio when you’re a newbie with no completed writing projects to show clients?
Before we get into the different ways to create a sensational writing portfolio, here are a few aspects to consider when creating your portfolio.
- Creating portfolio samples
- Where to display portfolio examples
Portfolio vs. Website
Now I want to make something clear here. When I mention creating a portfolio, I am talking about adding it to your business website. I’m following in the footsteps of Jorden Makelle, the founder of Creative Revolt. She’s an amazing woman, and after getting fired from her shitty office job (as she describes it sometimes), she jumped into the freelance writing scene and dominated it.
I like the way she describes the portfolio you need as a freelance writer. You need a professional website to market your business properly. You can’t expect to attract a lot of clients that pay well without a website. I’m talking about adding the portfolio as a page on your website and not an online portfolio website that probably comes to mind first.
A portfolio is more associated with writers trying to get jobs where they work as full-time employees versus a freelance writer. As a freelance writer, you’re starting your own business, and that’s how you need to present yourself.
So, when I say portfolio, I’m not referring to the online portfolio sites. The best portfolio is a link on your main menu that leads to a webpage with your samples. While we’re talking about your website, here are the pages you should include on your business site:
- Home page
- Hire me/work with me
- Rates and Services
That’s where your writing portfolio goes. When you build your website on any platform, you’ll be asked what kind of website you want to create, and you should select business, not portfolio. There’s a big difference.
What Should You Include in Your Portfolio?
Many people think you need to include everything you’ve ever written in your portfolio. I assure you clients aren’t going to read all of that. Really, you should only keep your best most recent writing projects in your portfolio. Fewer focused pieces in your chosen niche create attractive portfolios for potential clients to browse.
You should also create a spreadsheet or document with all your published works to refer to. Make sure you include titles, links, dates published, and other pertinent information. It helps you pick and rotate portfolio pieces easily.
A spreadsheet also gives you one central place to track your work and show where you may have gaps in your strategy and other resources you should write.
Offer Your Services Pro Bono
One way to gain pieces for your portfolio is to do a free writing project for a non-profit or business in your chosen niche. In return, they give a testimony and/or permission to add that piece to your portfolio. You could reach out to the company by email and mention how you can help. Explain that you’d like to offer your writing pro bono in exchange for a testimonial and a clip in your portfolio.
It’s important that you’re specific when offering free help. If you’re a freelance blogger, don’t volunteer to handle every aspect of their blog for a year for free. Instead, offer a smaller deal. Maybe you could write one short blog post a week for a month.
By setting a specific time frame and benefit, you give the project a definitive end date and make it obvious that you’ve fulfilled your duties. You never know, they may become an ongoing client once they see how well you write.
Publish Blog Posts on Your Own Website
For freelance writing newbies, this is one of the best strategies to provide writing samples for prospects. It builds your credibility and the trust of your readers and possible clients. Posting articles on your own site also positions you as an expert in your niche.
It also helps you decide if you like the niche you pick. You may end up re-evaluating that decision, which can be a good thing. You want to enjoy freelance writing and not feel dread every time you sit down at your computer to finish a writing project. Otherwise, it feels the same as the 9-5 job that you’re trying to escape.
Create Writing Samples
Another great way to build your portfolio is to create samples. If you want to specialize in specific projects such as white papers or case studies, create a fictional example to show you know how to write them, just don’t claim it as a legitimate project. Clients just want to know if you can write and if your style is something they’re looking for.
If you want to be a copywriter for small, women-owned businesses, then create a few short articles that would appeal to these clients. If you’d like to be a freelance travel blogger, then start a travel blog or write guest posts for popular travel and adventure blogs.
Making samples to use for your portfolio can be helpful if you have a clear idea of whom you want to work with. You don’t have to tell potential clients that your portfolio projects are just samples. Most clients won’t care about that detail.
They just want to know you have the skills to help them. Just don’t pass a sample off as a published piece or something a specific company paid for.
Partner with Other Freelancers
When working on your portfolio, reach out to another freelancer where your skills could create a great combination. If you offer copywriting skills, then reach out to a freelancer who sells web design services. It might be that some of their customers are looking for copywriting referrals. You can give a discount to clients you meet through the web designer if you want to.
When you have clients that are looking for web design services, you can direct them to the freelancer that you’ve partnered with. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
You can find other freelancers in Facebook groups. I’ve also seen people in Facebook groups ask for writers or sometimes pass on other entrepreneurs who need a good writer. If you’re active in these groups, other freelancers may tag you when opportunities come up. Opportunities may also present for a free or reduced-priced class to upgrade your skills.
Networking really helps you find partners and clients if done right. These groups also give you a place to ask questions from more experienced writers and ways to increase your skills.
I understand that creating your portfolio can feel intimidating. Trust me; I was there. I was scared to make samples and then when I did work for people, I was afraid to ask for testimonials. Just keep in mind that every successful freelancer was once a beginner without a portfolio, too. They didn’t give up and neither should you.
I learned this is the best way to create samples for your portfolio, but unfortunately, I didn’t discover it until much later in the game. Elna Cain gave me this idea, and it’s brilliant because guest posting gets you a bio so clients can see you’re published on other websites.
If your writing is good enough to be on other websites, then it’s good enough to be on theirs! Eventually, you can get paid to write for online magazines and other publications, and that further establishes your expertise.
Guest posting also gives you backlinks to your blog and website, so you increase your domain authority, and it helps Google rank you higher. It’s a critical SEO strategy, but that’s another whole post for another day.
So, I suggest you start this as soon as possible. It’s every bit as important as looking for clients because it sets you up as an authority in your niche as well.
Try typing in your niche + guest post, and you’ll find plenty of guest posting opportunities. I also found this list of guest posting sites, which is an excellent resource to help you find more guest posting opportunities.