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If you’ve done any research into becoming a freelance writer (and if you’re reading this article, you probably have), you’ll no doubt have heard about how important it is to have a writing portfolio. Writing portfolios are the backbone of any successful freelance writer’s web presence. It’s the showcase you’ll use to attract new clients, showing off exactly what you’re capable of producing for them.
Of course, this is all easier said than done: making a compelling writing profile is a lot more nuanced than just slapping a collection of links together and calling it a day. Your writing portfolio will represent your brand as a writer — as such, it should be treated with all the professional care you’ll use on your client’s jobs.
Let’s see how it’s done.
Step 1: Define your niche
It can be tempting to take a very broad approach when you’re pitching yourself as a writer, especially when you’re first starting out. After all, “I can write anything you need!” sounds like a great selling point in theory.
But in reality, clients want writers who are experts in their field. Remember the old adage, Jack of all trades, master of none? That’s just as true in writing as in any other career. After all, which sounds like the better writer for the job: the one whose portfolio is scattered over a wide range of subjects and disciplines? Or the writer who’s specialized in exactly the sort of content the client is seeking — with a number of stellar samples that demonstrate that they know exactly what the audience responds to?
That’s why you’re much better off defining your niche and becoming a master of one, instead of a generalist. Your client’s needs likely won’t be general. They’ll be specific — and they’ll want you to be, too.
There’s also a practical benefit to specializing: You’re much more likely to land writing jobs that excite you if you demonstrate that you can do that sort of writing well. Always write the kind of content you want to be hired for in the future, lest you end up accidentally settling into a niche that makes you miserable, just because those were the easiest jobs to land as a beginner.
Step 2: Get some work published
We can hear you already: “Wait, how are we supposed to get work published for our portfolio if we need a writing portfolio to land writing gigs?”
The truth is, it’s not as much of a catch-22 as it sounds. And that’s due to two words: guest posts. While they’re not likely to be paid work, guest posts are an invaluable way to get your name out there, beef up your writing portfolio (and your brand), and let you show off your writing chops.
To get started guest posting, first find some sites relevant to your niche. Google will help here: type in something that a reader looking for your content might search for, and check out the top five results. Do their blogs look like the sort of publication you’d like to write for? Search for pitch guidelines, see if they’ve hosted guest posts before (you can Google the site name with “submission guidelines” or “guest post” to help find this), and then craft a pitch of your own.
It’s possible you’ll get more rejections than acceptances. That’s okay! Keep searching, keep trying, and eventually you’ll get your foot in the door. And if you want to expand your routes, you can always:
● Keep an eye for writing gigs on Twitter and LinkedIn
● Find short-term work on sites such as Elance or Upwork
● Talk to local business owners
● Reach out to an organization in your field
Whatever you do, don’t include posts you’ve written for your own blog in your writing portfolio. While having a blog may well help you as a freelance writer in other ways, clients want to see work that has been pitched, approved, and edited by someone else. A writing portfolio is about demonstrating you can work with others, as much as showing off your skills.
Step 3: Gather and organize your samples
Now that you have a few writing samples under your belt, it’s time to gift-wrap them with a bow on top.
You have nearly limitless choices when it comes to hosting your portfolio — everything from self-hosting on your own website to using a service like Wordpress. However, where you host your portfolio isn’t nearly as important as what you include. (In fact, you could even put a portfolio on each of those sites, increasing your exposure to different audiences.)
So, how do you choose which pieces to highlight?
As you may have guessed, a lot of the decision should be based around emphasizing your brand. Which of your writing samples best shows not just the strength of your writing, but the depth of your knowledge? Try to include a variety — while the subject matter can and should follow your niche, having five posts that all essentially say the same thing isn’t going to impress anyone. Show your potential clients the variety you can find within your area of expertise! Demonstrate your creative writing skills with unique spins on your niche. And, of course, if you’ve landed a spot on a prominent website within your field, be sure to milk that byline for all its worth.
Remember, it’s not purely about the number of samples you include. A beginner with only three strong pieces to show is going to look better than someone who has dozens of mediocre posts to their name.
Step 4: Make it easy to hire you
Having the most dazzling writing portfolio on the planet won’t do any good if your potential clients can’t get in touch with you! Before you finalize your portfolio, make sure you have a clear explanation of the type of services you provide, and what potential clients can expect from you. Consider such questions as:
● What are your specialties?
● What are the areas you’ve written in before?
● What are some of the biggest-name clients and brands you’ve worked with before?
Yes, a lot of this will simply be a summary of what your samples already demonstrate. But if a client is skimming (and let’s be honest, most of them are), you don’t want them to pass you by because they didn’t look at the titles of your samples closely enough. Reiterating your strengths, in categorized bullet-list format, is a great way to drive home why you are the best choice for the job and bring them one step closer to accepting your freelance proposal.
Don’t forget social proof and your bio. And of course, don’t hide that “Contact me” button — your call to action! Whether you use email forms or encourage people to reach out on social media, make it clear what the best and easiest way to reach you is. The last thing you want to be, as a freelancer, is a recluse.
Step 5: Keep your portfolio updated
Lastly, remember to treat your writing portfolio like a living document. Sure, if you’ve followed these steps it will look great now, but how will clients feel a year or two down the road, when they’re looking to hire someone and all your samples are outdated? Are they going to be drawn to the portfolio that’s full of topical posts that haven’t been hot since 2018, or are they going to like the ones that have a mix of fresh and evergreen subjects that they know will resonate with their audience?
More than just recent subject matter, an up-to-date writing portfolio shows that you care about putting your best work forward. You’re not just going to coast off past success, but will keep striving to produce excellent work that drives the results your clients are after.
Building and maintaining a writing portfolio can be a little slow at first, but once you get the ball rolling, it becomes much easier. Each new success that your portfolio gets you provides one more sample to include — which means in many ways, a rock-solid portfolio builds itself!