How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career

How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career

by
Lauren Hamer, CPRW
Updated 
June 27, 2024
June 27, 2024
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Reviewed by
Tax guide
How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career
by
Lauren Hamer, CPRW
Updated 
June 27, 2024
June 27, 2024
Icon check
Reviewed by

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, bylines, 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 built a 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.

Contents

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. 

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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.  

✓ Diverse

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.

✓ Focused

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. 

✓ Consistent

Your writing samples in your portfolio may showcase work with different styles of writing for different clients. Even so, you need to maintain consistency in your tone and presentation throughout your portfolio.

✓ Putting your best foot forward

Above all, building a writing portfolio requires a lot of thought about how you portray yourself. Every successful freelance writer 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, 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:

  1. To get more work
  2. To sell pieces they’ve already written to publishers (and potentially get more work)
  3. To establish credibility in a niche or subject area (to get more work)
  4. 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 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 tax assistant what you can deduct over text. 

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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 seven 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.

Images or thumbnails

Consider breaking up large chunks of text with images, screenshots of articles, logos, or thumbnails. Use high-quality images that load properly and quickly.

User-friendly navigation

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. You also want to make sure your website design — and copy — follow SEO best practices (you want to show that skill off to a potential client, too).

Links to your social media

Building an online presence is key to a successful writing career. Most established freelancers hang out in online communities like LinkedIn and X.

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. Whether it’s through a contact form on your website or an email address, 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.

Integrating high-value testimonials and reviews into your writing portfolio is a great way to build social proof and let potential clients know you can be trusted to accomplish the task.

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How to build a writing portfolio in 8 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 when you have 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 helped me land new paid opportunities, 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. 

  1. MuckRack: MuckRack 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.
  2. LinkedInWhy 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.
  3. Clippings.me: With Clippings.me, you can create a custom, themed portfolio that connects to X — 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: Know your target audience

Identify the target audience for your writing portfolio — this can help you figure out which pieces you want to include as writing samples, and how to organize them. If you want to specialize in B2B tech content marketing, you’re talking to founders, CMOs, and heads of communications and marketing at those companies.

Step #4: 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 #5: Choose the right pieces to include

Once you’ve earned a few bylines, or amassed a sizable collection of samples, include enough in your portfolio to give people an idea of your writing talent and technical expertise. 

Choose quality over quantity. When it comes to your portfolio, less is more — instead of overwhelming your readers, showcase a small collection of high-quality writing samples. Be selective, and aim for a range of pieces that show off your strengths and genres of focus. Aim for a dozen or fewer samples overall.

Step #6: 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 #7: 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 can'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 #8: 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. 

Screenshot of freelance writer Marijana Kay's writing portfolio

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.

Screenshot of copywriter Terry Schilling's work samples on his writing portfolio

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. 

Screenshot of freelance writer Lauren Hamer's about me page on her writing portfolio

Once you’ve finished your writing portfolio, it’s time to send it to your ideal customers and land your first client. Once you do, you’re one step closer to a successful freelance writing career — and when you start closing deals with clients and growing your freelance business, you can use Keeper’s delightfully smart tax filing software to help you find write-offs and file your taxes.

FAQ

How do I build a writing portfolio?

If you’re in the early stages of your writing career, these six steps will get you on your way to building your first writing portfolio.

1. Identify Your Target Audience

Your portfolio should be tailored to whoever you’re sending it to. For instance, the writing samples you send to the editor of a literary magazine you’re trying to pitch will differ from those you send to the manager of a tech company you’re applying to write for. 

2. Write an Author Blurb

A quick introduction of yourself can help set the stage for a portfolio and provide context for your writing samples. Keep it brief and explain what kind of writing you do and any other relevant information that might make your portfolio compelling.

3. Gather Your Writing Samples

When it comes to your portfolio, prioritize quality over quantity by featuring your strongest pieces. While you want to keep your target audience in mind, it’s also okay to include a range of pieces that showcase your breadth of skills. 

4. Organize Your Writing Clips

Depending on who you’re submitting your portfolio to, you might change the way you organize your samples. A few common ways are by topic, medium, or structure. Whichever way you arrange your portfolio, ensure it’s easy to navigate.

5. Summarize Your Samples

It can be helpful to provide your samples with brief summaries that provide readers with an idea of your goals behind each piece and what they can expect from it.

6. Decide Where to Host Your Portfolio

There are many places to host your digital writing portfolio, so go with the option you’re most comfortable with. A few common sites for entry-level writers include:

How do I build a writing portfolio with no experience?

Even if you’re just getting started as a writer and haven’t been published yet, you still can — and should! — put together a writing portfolio that will help you land those first few gigs.

Here’s how:

Write Spec Content

Compile a list of places you’d like to get published by and write an article or blog post to submit to them. Make sure to review their submission guidelines first, as some outlets don’t accept spec pieces, and their guidelines will also give you a better idea of what they’re looking for — and how to increase your chances of getting published.

Write Mock Content

This is similar to spec content, except that you write pieces you’re not necessarily planning to submit anywhere. However, you should still tailor the piece to the kinds of places you’d like to write for. You can host the sample on the same site you use to host your portfolio, and it’s a good way to give people an idea of your potential writing chops.

Consider Writing For Free

At the end of the day, writing takes time and skill. So taking on unpaid writing gigs might understandably not be your first choice. However, when you’re first getting started, it can be an avenue for networking and developing your portfolio. If you do unpaid writing, ensure expectations are clear so you understand the workload and whether or not it’s something you want to take on.

How many pieces should be in a writing portfolio?

While there’s no definitive answer to how long your portfolio should be, aiming for 10-12 of your best and most relevant pieces is typically a safe bet.

Remember that the person reviewing your portfolio is probably going through a list of other portfolios as well. You want to provide enough samples that the reader understands what kind of work you’re capable of, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming.

Additional contributions by Arielle Contreras.

Lauren Hamer, CPRW

Lauren Hamer, CPRW

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Lauren is a personal finance and career development writer with a knack for mentorship. She's also a certified professional resume writer who helps job seekers land higher-paying jobs one resume at a time.

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How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career
How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career

Over 1M freelancers trust Keeper with their taxes

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career
How To Build a Writing Portfolio to Launch Your Freelance Career

Over 1M freelancers trust Keeper with their taxes

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

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