How To Create a Killer Writing Portfolio for Freelancers

by Emily E. Steck

How To Create a Killer Writing Portfolio for Freelancers

How To Be A Writer is a series that is titled exactly as it sounds. In the digital age, writers are facing new issues on top of the old. As publishing continues to shift and change, not only are writers forced to change as well, they’re establishing themselves entirely differently, making breaking into the scene even more challenging. In this series, we offer up tips, tricks and general commentary on the journey (or slog) that is being a writer.

Let’s cut to the chase: you’ve been told over and over and over again that you need a writing portfolio (you do). Now you need to examine what you want from it. Writers create portfolios for three reasons:

  1. To get more work. Because money.
  2. To sell work. Freelancers for hire sometimes like to sell a story on spec, and then work with the editor/brand/publisher/agent to modify and tweak the article.
  3. To build an online presence (to get more work). This is where your personal brand comes into play.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to create a specific portfolio, here’s an in-depth guide to creating a killer writing portfolio.

Choosing Your Writing Portfolio Pieces

Here comes the agonizing part: what do I include in my writing portfolio? How many pieces do I include? A portfolio is how you become a writer and agonizing over it earns you your writer’s stripes.

Your portfolio needs to represent what you want and your personal brand. For example, if you’re marketing yourself as a finance writer who can explain complicated ideas in a fun, engaging way looking to do more of the same, you’ll want to include your best pieces; ones that reflect your unique voice and ones that are straightforward.

The number one myth of creating a portfolio is that you have to include everything you’ve ever written. The reality: not in the slightest. The truth is, you should only include the very best of your recent work (no older than two years) in your portfolio. The best portfolios are lean, focused and represent your specialty/field as a writer.

This is where newbies fall into a trap, as they want to show some evidence that they can write (and write well) and/or have been published. But that article you published for the college newspaper that took you 15 minutes to write? Don’t bother unless it’s good. 

I too have fallen into this trap where I put everything in my portfolio, racking up a few hundred pieces no sane person would ever take the time to read. Because the top pieces in your portfolio are what people read most. Shake off the urge to dump everything in your portfolio.

Pro tip: Compile a simple spreadsheet of your published works, whether they be articles, listicles, ebooks, documents, etc. Make sure to include links to the articles, titles, publication dates and other relevant information for your own personal records.

All that said, you still need to choose what to include of your published works, which can be quite challenging for newbies or generalists (that is, writers who are willing to write about anything). In this case, go for quality and range of writing pieces, including (but definitely not limited to):

  • A blog post on a topic you are passionate about
  • A piece of writing for a community group, club, campus publication
  • A press release, newswire and/or other promotional material
  • An essay dissecting a controversial topic*
  • A profile on an interesting person or place
  • A shortform piece of breaking news
  • A longform reporting piece
  • A research paper
  • An editorial and/or op-ed
  • A personal essay
  • Multimedia storytelling (including Quietly content!)
  • Collaborative writing of some kind

The types of pieces you include should also reflect the work you are going for (obviously). An academic would want to concern herself with including research papers, academic essays and analysis while a journalist would focus on reporting, breaking news and editorial pieces. Same with bloggers, content marketers, etc.

Typically, the number of pieces to include varies. Some prefer to keep it lean (8-10 pieces) while others prefer to have plenty of options (upwards of 30 and beyond). This should be no problem as you’re sure to add even better pieces to your portfolio the longer you stay in this crazy profession.

Pro tip (for generalists or newbies): Categorize your content and make different portfolios for each vertical you write in, such as a portfolio for science writing and a portfolio for entertainment writing. (This is where multiple portfolios can come in handy, but more on that later).

Biography

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies i.e. we just don’t know how to write about ourselves. But here’s a friendly reminder: the purpose of the biography portion of your portfolio/site is to sell yourself without selling your soul to the devil. Okay, that’s dramatic, but your biography should sell why they need to hire you all the while keeping your integrity. Besides, a good biography here is practice for when you cold pitch editors.

The musts to include:

  • Professional pen name.
  • Job title. Are you selling yourself as a “Freelance Writer” “Journalist” or “Content Marketing Specialist”? Decide on a BS-less title.
  • A short description that summarizes what you do and how you do it. Don’t be afraid to use either first or third person for this part (I am a writer vs. Emily E. Steck) and make sure this part really flaunts your writer’s voice. But not if that voice is boring—be creative! Sell your soul a little bit! But don’t use exclamation points!
  • Social media links. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn—whatever is incorporated within your personal brand and that you’re comfortable sharing with potential employers.
  • Experience. Some biographies are longer than others, just as some careers are longer than others. If you’ve been doing this for 10+ years, take the time to rewrite your accomplishments and drop some #humblebrags.

The must-nots:

  • A pampering of buzzwords. Speak English, not resume-speak.
  • Age. No one cares how old you are. Literally—no one. You can add, however, how many years you’ve been writing.
  • Bad grammar/spelling errors. Cuz that won’t impress them!
  • A lack of confidence. Remember: they’re trying to hire you. You want them to hire you, and people don’t want to hire someone they feel isn’t up for the task. Steer clear of self-deprecation, even if it’s a core part of your personality.
  • TMI. Professional > personal.
  • Cliche. “I was just born to be a writer!” No, you weren’t! Stay far from cliches about writing and your origin story as one.

Design & Hosting Sites

The fun part! Some writers will dive in head first to creating and designing their own websites; others will stick to portfolio-based sites. And some people (like myself) will do both. To each her own.

If you’re going the self-made route, register a domain name that works with your personal brand. There are plenty of options to choose from to manage and host your site; WordPress.org and Blue Host work fine for me, but do some research to know what fits with your budget (as it costs money). Keep things as simple as possible when it comes to the design. Use crisp, clear and professional fonts, eye-friendly colors, clean copy and a responsive design so you can satisfy the overlords at Google.

For writers choosing to use a portfolio site, you are in luck. Most of them are free and design-ready; you can even purchase a domain name for some. Here are seven great free and freemium ones you can use.


7 Great Free Portfolio Sites for Writers

By Emily E. Steck

  • Quietly

    By Emily E. Steck

    Quietly offers a portfolio features for writers, where you can easily upload PDFs or scrape links to compile your content. You can add a biography section, social media links and interests as a writer. 

  • Contently

    By Emily E. Steck

    Contently tracks how many stories, words, shares and followers you have based on your portfolio. It's easy to upload new stories, but difficult to rearrange the order once you've added more than 30 or so. 

  • Clippings.Me

    By Emily E. Steck

    Create a beautiful portfolio to showcase your work as a journalist, blogger or writer. You can customize the look and feel and add multimedia works to your portfolio. You can also track how often your work is shared and who's visited. 

  • Pinterest

    By Emily E. Steck

    An often overlooked choice, Pinterest is a great way to gather your content in one place and to organize your verticals into different boards. Plus, there's a greater chance for content discovery.

  • Journo Portfolio

    By Emily E. Steck

    Journalists dig this very simple site to display recent articles, biography and social links all in one place. Choosing from multiple themes, you can upload 12 articles for free. Plus, it's easy to upload CVs and other pages.

  • LinkedIn

    By Emily E. Steck

    LinkedIn allows for a section where you can add professional content to your profile page as well as publications you've written for. It's a great way for you to fill out your professional page with professional work, though it probably isn't the best for a standalone portfolio. 

  • Pressfolios

    By Emily E. Steck

    With Pressfolios, you can easily build and manage an online portfolio of clips; you can add up to 12 stories a month for the free version or upgrade for unlimited plus your own URL. It's designed with journalists in mind, but other writers are welcome to give it a shot. It's great to use if you'd like to organize by section.

Final Pro Tip: Create portfolios with more than one site, especially if you have more than one niche. The chance of finding you and your work is higher, although you’ll have a bit more work to do…

I’m Almost Finished with This Post, But You’re Never Finished with Your Portfolio

The end’s not here—it’s never near. As a writer, one of your main responsibilities is to update your portfolio/website often and frequently. After starting from scratch you may have to start from scratch again and again until you find the site that works for you at that specific moment in time. You’ll need to update your portfolio often because your goals and objectives will change.

Sharing is caring and if you really care about your livelihood, you’ll advertise yourself ad nauseam. Mention your portfolio on social media, post to appropriate job boards, have it on your business card. Show off your hard work! Tinker with any of these tips and resources I’ve outlined and get to work. Signora, writers!

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Image Credit: Aleks Dorohovich via Unsplash

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