Fun fact: getting clients as a new freelance writer can be a catch-22.
Having an amazing freelance writer portfolio can help you land gigs. But you need some gigs to create the writing samples that go into your portfolio.
It’s frustrating, right?
I was a beginning freelancer once so I know what it’s like. My early clips were….let’s just say, extremely underwhelming.
They included a poetry critique I wrote for a college English class and some articles I wrote on bankruptcy for a site that allowed basically anyone to post.
I didn’t have a blog or a freelance writer website. I never went to journalism school so I didn’t have a chance to build up a body of work that way.
All I had was a laptop, some decent writing skills and a desire to make money with a freelancing side hustle.
So I started writing for a low-paying content mill. (Definitely NOT the way to go if you really want to make it as a freelancer.)
I focused on trading up to better clients and better-paying gigs. That helped me create a freelance writer portfolio that got me noticed by some bigger brands. My business has been growing like a weed ever since.
And that’s what you want too, right? So I’m sharing my best tips for creating a writing portfolio that helps you bag high-quality clients.
Why Your Freelance Writer Portfolio Matters
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of building a freelance portfolio, let’s talk for a sec about why you need one.
Ideally, a great portfolio should:
- Show off your range of skills as a freelance writer.
- Highlight your experience and expertise in your writing niche.
- Humblebrag on the stellar clients or brands you’ve worked with.
- Give prospective clients a feel for how you can help their business.
(And if you’re curious, here’s a peek at my freelance portfolio.)
Why do those things matter? Think of it this way.
Say you’re thinking of trying out a brand-new restaurant. Before booking a table, you go online to check out the menu and prices to make it fits your appetite (and budget).
It’s the same with your freelance writing portfolio. Prospective clients use your samples to gauge how likely you are to fit the mold of what they want.
And you don’t need a ton of samples if you’re just starting out. Even two or three well-written pieces of content can be enough to help you gain some traction with your business.
How to Build a Freelance Writer Portfolio as a Beginner
So, there are two basic steps to build a freelance portfolio when you’re a new writer:
- Decide where you want to keep your portfolio online.
- Figure out what you’re going to put in it.
Sounds simple but there’s a little more that goes into it. So let’s dissect each step by itself.
Where will you keep your freelance portfolio online?
The good news is, there are plenty of options. But I don’t want you to be overwhelmed we’ll focus on four for now:
- Start a blog or freelance writer website.
- Use a free online portfolio tool.
- Build a portfolio with Contently.
- Tweak your LinkedIn profile.
Method #1: Start a blog
It seems like everybody has a blog these days. And there are some great reasons to start a blog to build your freelance writing portfolio.
For one thing, a blog can be a great place to polish your writing skills. The more you write, the more you hone your craft.
Ideally, you’d write about topics in your freelance niche. This can help you gain expert status as a freelance writer.
Regardless of what you write about, writing engaging, well-written content is key for attracting clients.
Here’s another reason to start a blog to build a freelance portfolio: it’s a great way to develop your writing brand.
You can let your personality shine through in your writing on your blog. Aside from excellent writing skills, clients also look for writers that have a unique voice and style.
The big question if you’re starting a blog is whether to go self-hosted with WordPress.org or set up a free WordPress.com blog. This post from iThemes explains the difference in detail but the TL;DR version is that you want a self-hosted WordPress blog.
A few tips on starting a blog to create your freelance writer portfolio:
- Pick a domain name that’s unique but also easy to remember and reflective of your freelance writing services or brand. If all else fails, your first and last name are fine.
- Consider investing a few bucks in a premium theme. I love the theme options from Bluchic and HelloYou Designs.
- Download the free Grammarly browser extension tool. This free proofreading tool can help ensure that your posts are free of spelling and grammar errors.
- Create a blogging schedule for maintaining your blog and posting. One post a week is fine and if you can do more, that’s great. But aim for consistency over volume.
- Write longer posts (1,500 words+) that target your niche. This way, you can learn about your topic and get on the fast-track to becoming an expert.
Check out this “how to start blogging” tutorial I wrote for more tips!
Method #2: Use a free portfolio tool
If you don’t have the time or money to invest in starting a blog, you could always try a free portfolio tool for housing your writing samples.
(And hey, when you’re just starting out as a freelancer, who doesn’t like saving money?)
These tools give you a place to park your samples online without paying fees for hosting or having to maintain a blog:
Journo Portfolio is made for journalists, bloggers, authors and freelance writers.
With this platform, you can set up a free account with 10 writing samples. There are also two paid account options you can try if you want to add more than 10 clips.
Portfolio themes are customizable and you can write and publish new clips directly through the platform. You can also easily upload files from a URL or PDF.
Themes are mobile-responsive and you can add links to your social media profiles. You can also add a contact page so clients have a way to get in touch.
Clippings.me offers free portfolio-building tools for freelance writers and journalists.
Portfolios are SEO-friendly and you can easily customize the look and feel. You can build out your portfolio with PDFs, URL links or go multimedia with video or sound clips.
Domain names are also customizable and you can track visits to your portfolio through Google Analytics.
As a bonus, this site also lets you browse freelance writing job listings to find your first (or next) gig.
About.me is a simple way to create a freelance writer portfolio to showcase your work.
You can sign up with Facebook or Google and ad a bio, social media links and links to your writing samples. If you have a blog or writer website, you can also include a direct link to that.
Plus, you get an email signature that you can include in pitch emails to prospective clients. That’s included with the free plan. If you want to upgrade to premium and unlock more features, you’ll pay $8/month.
All of these tools can be a simple (and cheap) way to get your portfolio started. But, keep in mind that if you’re going the free route, there may be a limit on how many clips or samples you can add to your portfolio.
Method #3: Create a portfolio with Contently
Technically, Contently is another free online portfolio tool. But that’s not all it is so I wanted to give it its own space.
Contently is what I use for my portfolio. In case you missed the link earlier, here it is again.
Adding clips is easy. You add a URL, give the piece a description and select the skills you used to write it. (I.e. copywriting, interviewing, SEO, etc.)
You can add any clips you want, from any publication.
Aside from being an online home for your clips, Contently is also a freelance writing marketplace.
Major brands (Discover Bank, Microsoft and Marriott, to name a few) use the site to connect with freelance writers and editors.
This site is part of the reason why I make six figures as a freelancer. Here’s a screenshot of what I’ve earned through the platform since I started writing there in 2016:
A lot of brands that use the site are in the financial space, but the client pool isn’t limited to just banks or insurance companies.
Getting noticed on Contently can take time — and you’ll need a solid portfolio to get added to a brand’s content team. But, the pay off can be huge if you’re willing to be patient.
Method #4: LinkedIn
LinkedIn has a ton of potential for freelancers, especially writers.
You can use the site to connect with editors, content marketing managers and prospective clients. You can also search for freelance jobs. And you can use it to build a portfolio of writing samples.
All for free.
You just set up your profile and go to your home page. You’ll see a box that looks like this:
You can share an article you’ve already written or write something from scratch and post it.
If you’re making an effort to connect with editors or content managers in your niche, they’ll see the article when it pops up in their feed.
Not only are you growing your freelance writer portfolio, but you’re putting your work in front of people who could potentially turn into clients.
How to Create Samples for Your Freelance Portfolio
So now you might be thinking, yeah, that’s great but I have nothing to add to my portfolio.
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. You can still build a freelance writer portfolio even if you have yet to land your first real deal freelancing gig.
I’ll mention LinkedIn again because this is absolutely one of the easiest and best ways to get your work noticed by target clients in your niche.
The posts you share don’t have to be long but they should free of spelling errors, grammatically correct and above all, interesting reads. You can use Grammarly to check for spelling or grammar mistakes.
Aside from starting a blog and posting on LinkedIn, here are a few other ways to create clips for your portfolio:
Publish on Medium.com
Medium is a blogging platform with a twist. Anyone can post on it if they have a Medium account.
You can write original posts or republish existing content here. You can also link to your blog if you have one.
The great thing about using Medium to build a body of freelance writing clips is that you’ve already got a built-in audience at the ready.
If you plan to launch a blog at some point, you can start building an audience and a following on Medium first.
Guest post on other blogs/websites
Guest posting is the bees’ knees for creating samples.
This just means you write a post and someone else publishes it on their blog. Once the post is live, you can add it to your freelance portfolio and promote it on your social media channels (which is another way to get noticed by clients.)
You’ll need to spend some time researching blogs and websites that accept guest posts.
And you’ll have to get comfortable with pitching ideas to other bloggers and influencers.
Here are a few other tips for guest posting:
- Choose blogs or websites that are in your niche so you can build samples that are relevant to what your target client is looking for.
- Read the guest posting guidelines thoroughly before you pitch an idea or submit a post.
- Don’t waste your time writing something that doesn’t fit what the blog is looking for.
- Don’t be afraid to pitch bigger sites and blogging influencers.
- If your post idea is accepted, follow the guidelines for submitting it.
- And above all, turn in your very best work.
If you’re looking for some places to get started with guest posting, check out these options:
- 150+ Sites to Guest Post to in 2019
- List of 50+ Quality Blogs That Accept Guest Posts
- List of 700+ Guest Posting Sites for 2019
Also, be sure to check out this definitive guide to guest blogging from Neil Patel.
Do a few pro bono samples
If you’re serious about freelancing, you want to get paid. So why the heck would you write for free?
Ordinarily, you wouldn’t but when you’re new and you need to build a freelance writer portfolio quickly, writing for free is one option to consider.
That doesn’t mean you should just write anything for free though. You have to think about what you’re getting in exchange for your time and effort.
For example, you wouldn’t want to take on a 5,000 word white paper about insurance if your niche is digital marketing. It just wouldn’t make sense.
And you also don’t want to write free samples that aren’t going to help you gain exposure as a writer or build credibility.
Bottom line, before you write something for free, size up the project carefully.
Ask yourself what you’re putting into it and what you’re getting out of it in exchange.
If writing for free could lead to a paying gig, then it may be well worth it.
But if not, you may be better off looking for another way to create samples for your portfolio.
Have You Created Your Freelance Writer Portfolio Yet?
Hopefully, the answer is yes. And if it is, drop a link in the comments and share it!
If you haven’t jumped on building a freelance writing portfolio yet, what’s holding you back?
Head to the comments and tell me about it, then pin and share this post if it helped you!