7 Steps To Building Your Writing Portfolio
It always seems like an inescapable loop when it comes to securing jobs. Everyone wants someone with experience, but you need a job to get experience. So how do you break the loop when it comes to freelance writing and show that you’ve got what it takes to get the job done? The answer is by building a great writing portfolio that showcases all the wonderful skills you’ve got!
Running your own blog and writing guest posts are excellent ways to start building a portfolio. You might not get paid for these pieces of work, but they are great building blocks to begin your career with. Choose your niches, sit down and write some quality content, and follow our 7 steps to building the perfect writing portfolio.
We absolutely love freelance writing. It’s a wonderful career where you can indulge in your passions whilst making a great living. When you’re starting out though, freelance writing can be a scary proposition. You’re starting out on your own with only yourself to rely on. You’ve got so many questions running through your head, not least, “where do I start?”
Well, building yourself a writing portfolio is certainly one of the best places to start your freelance writing career, and we’ve got 7 top tips to bear in mind when you start on this path. If you can build a strong writing portfolio and most importantly, get people reading it, then you’ve got an excellent shot at making this gig work.
Always remember that when it comes to freelance writing, marketing is as much a part of your job as writing. This means that it’s not enough to simply make a great writing portfolio, you’ve got to actually get people to it and get them reading it.
So, without further ado, here’s our guide to creating the perfect portfolio and getting those all-important potential clients reading your work.
1. Choose Your Niche
There’s one place we recommend everyone starts when it comes to how to build a writing portfolio and that is choosing your niches. You want to be a professional writer and that means specializing. Not only is this going to help you out with the quality of your work, but it’s also going to make marketing yourself much easier.
Make a list of the things your passionate about, and narrow it down to a few niche subjects that you think you would enjoy writing about. You don’t need to be supremely knowledgeable about these subjects, but you will find your life is much easier if you have an interest in them.
Lawrence and I were very lucky when it came to choosing our niche because we had one stand-out subject. We’ve both spent the majority of our lives playing tennis to a high level, so we had a professional level of knowledge on the subject.
You may not have a subject that jumps out at you in the same way, so we’ve put together our 7 point guide on how to choose a niche and start ahead of the competition!
This step is really simple. Pick a few niches and commit to them, if you find you’re not suited to them, then you can move your focus to another subject, but it’s important to find a few niche subjects to build your portfolio around.
I speak from experience when it comes to this step because I once got a gig writing regular posts on a subject I found so boring that I could simply fall asleep while writing. I can’t promise you that you’ll never get bored writing about your chosen niches, but I can promise you if you’re passionate about them you’re life is going to be much easier.
2. Think About the Medium
Before you start thinking about building your writing portfolio it’s important to think about how you’re going to showcase it. There’s no point writing a great portfolio if nobody ever sees it, so you want to find the best way to present your hard work.
In our opinion, there’s no better way to do this than by creating your own website. This way might take a little bit more effort up front than some other mediums, but the rewards are far greater.
The main reason we recommend having your own personal website is it gives you complete control over how you present yourself and your writing portfolio. Not only does it look more professional than other methods, but it also has a personal touch that allows you to distinguish yourself from the competition.
Once you have your website set up as your cornerstone, you can easily use your other marketing platforms (social media, jobs boards, email marketing) to point people to your website.
Remember that you want to market yourself as a niche writer and build your website around that. Prospective clients want to know that you’re an expert in whatever subject they’re looking to hire for so really use your website to showcase this.
If you get this step sorted out at the beginning of your career then it can be a great source of income for years to come. It doesn’t take a huge amount of technical knowledge, you just need to buy a domain and set it up on WordPress. There’s tons of technical support if you do get stuck, and really, the effort is totally worth the reward.
3. Start Blogging
In a recent article, we said that one of the hardest things to do in freelance writing is to actually start writing. It might seem like an easy step to overcome, but in reality, it’s not an easy one to take. Until you actually start writing, a freelance writing career can seem like a bit of a dream, but when you take that first step it all of a sudden becomes real.
There is nothing to fear about writing your first pieces of work though. Once you’ve set up your own website you have the perfect forum to write your first articles with absolutely no pressure. Take as much time as you like because there’s nobody pressurizing you to meet a deadline. Make your first article something you’re proud of and give yourself that little confidence boost you needed!
As you can tell, we loved writing a blog so much that we made this one! The great thing about keeping a blog is that you can do everything at your own pace and best of all, all this work contributes towards your writing portfolio.
You might be thinking “that’s all well and good but I need to make some money” and you would be right. In the short term, you’re not going to see any money for these articles. What you’re doing though is building the foundations that will earn you your money in the future. If you build a great writing portfolio and learn how to market yourself effectively, your website and your blog, are going to be one of your big money makers.
There are lots of ways to start building a writing portfolio, but blogging is one of our favorite because there’s no pressure, but it’s still very fruitful. Writing for your own website gives you a great opportunity to practice your skills whilst still building for your future.
4. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is another excellent way to start building your writing portfolio whilst easing you into the industry. Not many of these opportunities will be paid, but they represent a wonderful opportunity to get your work read by a big audience and pad our your portfolio.
Thanks to the internet, there are literally thousands of opportunities out there for guest blogs, so there should be nothing stopping you. Here’s how to find all the guest blogging opportunities you could possibly want!
All you need to do is type into google your niche + write for us, and you will find plenty of opportunities for guest posts. Every website will have slightly different guidelines for your posts, but they’re generally pretty straight forward and can put your work in front of a large audience.
Here are the guidelines for the first website on our search. They’re all pretty straight forward and mean you have a good opportunity to test your skills.
If you were to get one of your articles posted on a website such as Journal of the Civil War Era this would be an excellent addition to your writing portfolio (assuming your niche is American History!)
Most guest posts allow you to write an author bio at the end of the article which gives a little background info about the author. The best thing here is you get to put your website! So not only have you got your name out there in your niche, had your article read by thousands of potential clients, but you’ve also got some exposure for your website.
Once your article has been posted you can then use your website to link to the original article and include it in your writing portfolio. These guest posts can really make your portfolio stand out and impress potential clients so look to take every opportunity you can to do some guest blogging!
5. Start Pitching
If you’ve gone through steps 1,2,3, and 4, then it’s likely that you’ve built up a decent body of work and it’s time to start doing some pitching! If you ask us, this is one of the most fun parts of being a freelance writer because it calls on you to use some creativity.
No matter what your niche is, there’s someone out there who’s running a website about it. This means there’s plenty of opportunities to pitch for work. Now, you might think that cold pitching random website owners isn’t your idea of fun, but, it’s actually a great way to pick up work and you can make a big difference to someone’s website.
We love leveraging our SEO skills in a cold pitch to earn new freelance writing jobs, but every writer is going to have different skills that they can use to get great new gigs.
(If you’re looking at boosting your SEO skills then take a look at Larry’s Guide to SEO in Freelance Writing)
Whatever expert skills you’ve got you should use them to show website owners how you can make a difference to their website. We’ve detailed our favorite pitch in Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners – 7 Ways To Win Work, so check it out and see how you can fill in your skills to get great writing jobs.
At this point, you are moving on to getting paid work, so make sure everything you do is professional. Treat your pitches with the same care that you do your writing and really show potential clients what they’re going to get.
Like any cold pitch, you’re going to go through a fair few rejections, but that’s just part of this job. Eventually, you’re going to get a positive result and you can turn this into a long-term, recurring job.
Once you’ve built up a good body of work you will have the opportunity to be a bit more selective about what you show in your writing portfolio. While you obviously want to keep all of your blog articles live, you don’t necessarily need to link to every article you’ve written in your portfolio.
This is why we would recommend a portfolio page that is separate to your blog, this way you can keep adjusting what you show in your portfolio. With your writing portfolio, you really want to show the very best highlights of your writing. Imagine what you would want to see if you were looking for someone to write for your website and tailor your portfolio as such.
How large you make your portfolio is up to you, but remember there is such a thing as too much choice. We tend to keep our portfolio to around 12 articles, showcasing the variety of our writing, but we really try to focus on the great feedback we’ve had from our work.
If we’ve had particularly good feedback from an article, or lots of comments, or ranked highly on Google, then we will tend to put those in our writing portfolio. Clients look for good writing, but they also want to know that your writing can engage their audience. By including feedback and comments from your articles you show prospective clients that you’ve got the whole package.
Make sure to keep updating your writing portfolio as you want to show that your knowledge of your subject is up to date. You may have a great article from five years ago and it’s fine to put that in your portfolio, but if every piece in your portfolio is from five years ago it’s going to lead your potential client to ask some questions. Namely, “what has he been doing for the past five years?”
Your writing portfolio needs to showcase your great writing, but it also needs to show how you can engage your audience. Focus on articles that have received great feedback and make sure you have some recent articles in there.
7. Show More Than Just Your Writing
As we alluded to in the last paragraph, you want to try and show that your articles are more than just well written. You have to try and show that people engage with your content and that clients find you a pleasure to work with.
In our recent article, “Marketing Yourself as a Freelance Writer,” collecting testimonials came in at number three on our list of things you need to do! You’ll find that your clients are more than happy to give you some feedback on your work, so incorporate it into your writing portfolio.
Your writing says a lot about you, but it can’t possibly tell the whole story. As someone who runs my own website, I’d much rather work with a good writer who’s a pleasure to work with than a great writer who’s a pain in the butt to work with. If you can show that you’re a great writer who’s a pleasure to work with then you’ve got the winning ticket!
When you’re building your writing portfolio make sure that you have a wide focus. Of course, great quality writing is essential for your portfolio, but it’s not the be all and end all. Imagine what you would want from a freelance writer if you were a prospective client and market yourself accordingly.
It can be a vicious circle trying to build a writing portfolio. On the one hand you need a portfolio to get some work, on the other, you need some work to build a portfolio. You can break that circle though by following our 7 Step Guide For How to Build a Writing Portfolio.
- Choose Your Niche
- Think About the Medium
- Start Blogging
- Take Advantage of Guest Blogging
- Start Pitching
- Show More Than Just Your Writing
If you follow these 7 steps then you have great potential to build a writing portfolio that can earn you lucrative jobs for years to come. Sure, it takes a good amount of work in the short-term, but in the long run, you’re going to benefit enormously.
Your website, and consequently, your writing portfolio is something that will grow with you throughout your career, you just have to take a little bit of time now to get it set up. If you can build a body of work that you’re proud of and successfully get people viewing it, then you’ve got a great shot at making your freelance writing career a success.