How to Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career
So you want to be a freelance writer, huh? I understand — it’s hard not to sip the freelancer Kool-Aid and dream of a profitable career filled with a steady stream of new clients and writing gigs. But if you’re anything like me, figuring out how to build a writing portfolio is the toughest part of launching a freelance writing business. You know you need to carve out a little space on the internet for yourself, but how do you even begin to distill all that you’re about in a few pages? Come to think of it, what are you about?
If you want to position yourself as the most qualified candidate, you need to learn how to make a writing portfolio that speaks for you. Lean on what you know. For example, I was a certified resume writer with a knack for words and mentorship — surely that had to count for something, right? I made and website and forged ahead with blind naiveté. What started as a resume writing business launched into a freelance writing career focused on professional development and finance.
Below, I’ll leverage everything I learned during my journey to explain what to include in your writing portfolio, so you can use it as your best “hire me right now” lead generator.
What is a writing portfolio?
Your digital writing portfolio is the most vital instrument in your marketing toolbox. Almost every call for freelance writers will include an ask for writing samples or links to your portfolio.
A writing portfolio is exactly what it sounds like: a limited collection of your best writing works that prospective clients can access at any time. Think of a portfolio as your writing resume — a link or attachment you add to every freelance job ad or call for pitches.
Your writing portfolio should house your best work within your preferred niche (if you have one) and links to published pieces you can show clients.
What an effective portfolio should look like
Of course, effective portfolios include standout articles or work you’re most proud of. But they should also include other elements if you have any hopes of transforming your portfolio into an “I must hire this person right now” super converter.
If you’ve got a few clients under your belt, showcase your strongest pieces that demonstrate the genres, writing styles, and types of content you do best. A diverse portfolio is a strong portfolio. Then, as you grow your business and diversify, you can sub in pieces that match your new targets.
Your clips must reflect your focus. If you want to attract copywriting leads for tech clients, then the long-form blog articles you wrote for a lifestyle brand won’t do much to prove your skills. Similarly, if you want to ghost-edit nonfiction novels, then your time spent as a curriculum writer won’t showcase the right skills or attract the right audience.
✅ Putting your best foot forward
Above all, building a writing portfolio requires a lot of thought about how you portray yourself. Every writing pro has a distinct style for their prose. What will yours be?
Your highlighted pieces should support these attributes without veering too far from standard professional norms. Find a happy medium here. Present your content in a polished manner and with a dash of flair. (More on this below).
Why do you need a writing portfolio?
Engage with any freelancer community on Twitter, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that you need a writing portfolio to launch — and hopefully grow — your business (you really do).
Writers create portfolios for a few reasons:
- ✍️ To get more work
- 📰 To sell pieces they’ve already written to publishers (and potentially get more work)
- 🎓 To establish credibility in a niche or subject area (to get more work)
- 🌐 To build an online presence or personal brand (to help them, again, get more work).
Are you starting to see a trend yet? Freelance writers can use a well-crafted writing portfolio to get more work (read: money). A solid portfolio will showcase your writing skills and, when done right, increase your online presence and visibility.
The idea behind a portfolio is to present your work to prospective clients, so they understand your expertise, style, and writing skills. (Even a talented writer — someone who can weave words into gold as easily as an accountant executes a VLOOKUP — needs an effective way to show and tell.)
If you're new to the freelance writing industry, creating a portfolio with little or no experience is possible. Read on, and you’ll learn how to get published clips and build a great one, so you can launch a successful writing career.
Soon, you’ll earn enough money as a self-employed freelancer to start worrying about taxes on your writing income — and how to bring them down. It’s a good problem to have, since it means your writing business is taking off! That’s where write-offs come in. You take anything you spend on building and growing your business — including web hosting fees for your portfolio — and use it to lower your tax bill..
Hint: Keeper Tax makes writing off common freelance writing expenses easy. If you want to know more about what counts, check out our round-up of tax deductions for writers. Better yet, try the app, and you’ll be able to ask a bookkeeper what you can deduct over text.
What to put in your writing portfolio
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules for what to put in your writing portfolio, a few elements have been known to convert better than others. Ultimately, your portfolio should project confidence and competence.
Here are six key sections to get you started.
📚 Your best writing samples
Most importantly, your writing portfolio should have — you guessed it — writing samples.
Whether you’re new to the freelancing scene or a hardened veteran, prioritize quality pieces that showcase your range. Make sure to include links to the articles, titles, and names of the publications.
🗣️ A killer author bio
In this section, mention what you do and who you do it for (or would like to do it for). Keep it short and sweet by encouraging viewers to navigate elsewhere on your site via links and a menu bar.
Pro tip: A little flair and personality go a long way toward connecting with your audience. For example, my bio includes a headshot and a shoutout to my dog before I prompt them to learn more.
Speaking of menu bars, simple organization and design are critical. Like in any good resume, you must make your case quickly, putting your most relevant info in easy-to-find places.
Don’t make clients struggle to find the content that’s most relevant to their business. The most vital “pages” are your samples, bio, and contact pages.
📱 Links to your social media
Building an online presence is key to a successful writing career. Most established freelancers hang out on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Use social media to build your credibility, authority, and networking prowess. Then, make sure you link to those sites, so prospective clients can learn more about you and your brand.
📣 An enticing CTA
You wouldn’t write landing page copy or a blog article without a call to action. So why not move your clients further along in your sales process with a compelling CTA too? For writing portfolio purposes, this just means that you must let people know how to get in touch with you.
Again, make this as easy as possible — no multi-click site navigation paths.
🤝 Curated testimonials
It’s every writer's dream to stop recruiting clients and, instead, fill their calendars with referrals and recommendations from past clients.
High-value testimonials and reviews integrated into your writing portfolio are a great way to build social proof and let potential clients know you can be trusted to accomplish the task.
How to build a writing portfolio in 6 steps
If you’re in the early stages of building your career as a freelance writer, you need an online portfolio that attracts your ideal clients. The following six steps will guide you through building a writing portfolio that helps grow your business.
Step #1. Get some clips to include
Before pitching any publication, you need an arsenal of clips to prove your worth. As a freelancing newbie, you may be thinking, “How can I get published clips for my portfolio if I need clips to secure said clients?”
The easiest way to earn a byline (the section of the article that lists the author) is to guest post for other outlets. Many blogs allow guest submissions from other writers to help beef up their sites with original content — just browse their sites to see if they accept guest pitches.
Fair warning: Guest posts won’t make you rich. In fact, my first few writing samples were unpaid guest posts for a national career coaching blog. Working for free was not ideal, but these published pieces were a great way to learn how to work with editors, and they helped launch my career. The first piece I pitched was personal. I pulled from my own experiences to write about how to interview with a disability, and it remains my favorite work sample to date.
Authenticity is a superpower. This piece — the first-ever disability article published on the site — also help me land new paid opportunities elsewhere, including three more articles for this same client.
Step #2: Decide where to host it
While you can create a digital writing portfolio on almost any platform (I use Squarespace), a few platforms are better built for entry-level writing professionals.
- Muck Rack: Muck Rack is a PR software platform open to any writer, specifically journalists. It’s free, and you can track who shares your link. Plus, freelancers can use the platform to find journalists to interview for your articles.
- LinkedIn: Why not leverage LinkedIn’s international visibility to connect with prospects, clients, and other freelance writers? Larger clients often ask for your profile link. Use the summary and featured sections to highlight your best samples. You can also add a photo banner that states your key offering.
- Clippings.me: With Clippings.me, you can create a custom, themed portfolio that connects to Twitter — no coding necessary. Choose from templated options built for bloggers, copywriters, aspiring writers, and journalists. The free version allows you to display up to 10 clips on your profile.
Step #3: Craft the perfect author bio
In this section, create a brief explanation of who you are and what type of writing services you offer. But show some restraint. Your author bio should really function more like an author blurb.
If you need to provide additional information, link to a more comprehensive resume or portfolio page or add an FAQ section with links to your samples, rates, process, contact page, and more.
Another bonus: A composed, yet thoughtful author bio can serve as its own writing sample, showcasing your style, prose, and voice.
Step #4: Choose the right pieces to include
Once you’ve earned a few bylines, or amassed a sizeable collection of samples, include enough in your portfolio to give people an idea of your writing talent and technical expertise.
B picky with your samples. Prospective employers aren’t interested in skimming every single piece you’ve ever done. Aim for 10 to 15 samples overall.
Step #5: Ask your clients for testimonials
It’s unlikely you’ll have an arsenal of recommendations at your disposal in the beginning. You’ll need to get comfortable with requesting them after a project to boost your portfolio's value. Build this into your process.
When you start a project, ask your client if they’d be willing to write a review upon completion. Not only does this prove your understanding of conversion strategies, but you’ll also build a string of reviews faster.
Step #6: Watch out for common mistakes
A hiring manager might forgive a few typos on a resume for a sales representative, but not for a writer. Potential clients will review your writing portfolio with a critical eye, because it's the most obvious indicator of your skills. Things like grammatical errors are more substantial misses in the writing industry. (Ditto for incorrect contact information — they won’t hire someone they can’t reach.)
Additionally, consider your site design. Avoid overdone sites and, instead, opt for a streamlined and sleek website that's easy to load. Busy clients will move on if they have to wait for a page to load, or if they can’t find the information they want fast.
Give your portfolio a once-over every now and again. Actually, give it multiple scans to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. Ask a friend (or hire an editor) to check for spelling errors and test your site’s functionality.
Step #6: Keep adding to your portfolio
Just like career coaches advise that job seekers refresh their resume every quarter, you should also polish your writing portfolio regularly.
If you have published samples, check your links often — at least once a month. Also, replace older samples as you create new ones. Google loves fresh content, so it’s in your best interest to do what you can to reap the rewards of a continually optimized site.
Writing portfolio examples to inspire you
If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few really good examples of writing portfolios to help stir your creative juices. Go on, be inspired.
For a best-in-class custom site
Marijana Kay (Marijanakay.com)
Freelance writer Marijana Kay does everything right in her writing portfolio. Her value proposition is clear, her site navigation is intuitive, and her CTA begs to be clicked.
For showing off undeniable results
Terry Schilling (terryschillingwrites.com)
When you click through to copywriter Terry Schilling’s website, you land on a pretty convincing page of high-performing samples. Terry makes it clear that hiring him will produce results, which is what every client wants from a freelancer.
For a smorgasbord of samples
Rosemary Egbo (https://rosemaryegbo.contently.com)
Long-form content writer Rosemary Egbo Contently’s writing portfolio presents options to the max. Upon arrival, visitors see her main offering, experience, and social profiles before scrolling down to view snapshots of her work. She gets bonus points for prioritizing site navigation, allowing clients to filter samples as needed.
For a short bio that tells a story
Lauren Hamer (capableandbeyond.com)
“About me” sections can be the most visited part of your site. Dog references aside, I created a page that tells leads everything they’d want to know. My bio is short and personal, but it also directs them to other important information, such as my rates and what it’s like to work with me. Lastly, my social links are also in plain sight, should they want to connect elsewhere.
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