How to Build a Freelance Writing Portfolio
When you’re looking for freelance writing opportunities, most potential clients will ask to see at least one writing sample before deciding to work with you. For newer freelancers, this can be a huge obstacle. After all, how do you build a freelance writing portfolio before you’ve actually gotten any writing assignments?
Luckily, you have a few different options when it comes to putting together a portfolio of writing samples. Here are 6 different ways you can assemble a freelance writing portfolio without a lot of experience.
1. Do some work for free.
While I’m a huge advocate for writers knowing their worth and getting paid for the work they do, when you’re brand-new to the freelance world, it’s not always a bad idea to do a little work for free. A business or website is much more likely to take a chance on publishing your work if they don’t have anything to lose by doing so.
A great way to do this is to pitch your services to small or local businesses that are looking to expand their online presence. You can offer to write blog posts or web content for them in exchange for being able to use that work in your portfolio later on.
If you’re having a hard time finding anyone in need of free blog posts or web content, feel free to take the lead! Conduct some research and write a few articles in your chosen niche to have on hand. You don’t have to pitch them to anyone; you just need to make sure they’re well-written and properly edited.
While some potential clients will ask for links to published writing samples, many just want to see an example of your work to evaluate your skill level and writing voice before they hire you. You can find plenty of freelance work just by showing you’re capable of producing quality writing.
2. Take some low-paying gigs to get your feet wet.
An alternative to working for free is to accept a few low-paying gigs in order to fill out your portfolio. Fiverr is a great place to look for these types of jobs. Fiverr is an online marketplace where “sellers” offer all kinds of services at varying prices and levels of experience. It’s great for newer writers because it provides some security in terms of ensuring you get paid and don't risk getting scammed or stiffed.
That being said, Fiverr may not be the greatest place to stay for long. When the platform originated, gigs were literally all just $5 USD (hence the name “Fiverr”) and most sellers offer their services at pretty low rates and most of the jobs you'll likely find there are pretty entry-level, low-paying, and in high demand. Fiverr Pro might lead to more work at better rates, but Fiverr Pro success stories like this one are, in my experience, exceptions to the rule and not the norm.
You can also check websites like Craigslist or job boards like All Freelance Writing, ProBlogger, and BloggingPro for low-paying or beginner-level writing work. As you apply for gigs and start communicating with potential clients, use your best judgment and try to target reputable people.
Remember that if something sounds fishy or seems too good to be true, it probably is. Protect yourself by doing the smart thing and walk away if something doesn’t feel right.
3. Write for an agency.
Another option is to find an opportunity to write for a digital marketing agency. Many agencies specifically hire newer writers because they want to keep their prices low and less experienced writers can be paid a cheaper rate.
While you won’t make as much money writing for an agency as if you were pitching clients on your own, it’s a great way to gain a lot of writing experience in a hurry. Agencies usually have clients across a variety of industries, so you can work on your research skills while putting together a diverse portfolio. In the meantime, you’ll be getting paid consistently for your work.
4. Guest post on other blogs and publications.
Finally, you might want to look into guest posting on other blogs or online publications, especially if you have a blog for your freelance writing business that you’d like to advertise. Guest blogging not only gives you examples of published works to add to your portfolio, but also allows you an opportunity to link back to your own website and get your name out there.
Seek out bloggers in a niche you feel comfortable writing about, then send a personalized email asking if they’d be interested in a collaboration. Mention why you feel that your writing would be a good fit for their website, and include some ideas for what you’d like to write about.
In the case of online publications, look on business-targeted websites (for example, Business Insider or Entrepreneur Magazine) for instructions on how to pitch to the company’s editorial team and follow the instructions to a “T.”
With both of these options, the more you can show you did your research, the more likely a blogger or editor will be to give you a chance.
5. Use content from your personal blog or public writing account.
Using your personal blog content is a great way to showcase your work! Why? Because it's one of the places your unique writing voice and perspective will shine.
On your personal blog (or Medium profile or Tumblr, etc.), if you have one, you're likely not writing for anybody else. You don't need to try to match someone else's voice and you're probably expressing your own opinions and experiences. All of these things make you YOU and demonstrate your best writing skills. These are things that business owners, hiring managers, and editors are always looking for.
The one drawback to this option is that you're obviously not making any money for your work. But don't let that deter you from continuing to post regularly on your blog or writing profile. This is an invaluable place to let your personality do the talking and separate you from other writers vying for the same gigs.
PRO TIP: Medium is actually a great place to be found and possibly get some online attention. Check out this HubSpot article on how to use Medium effectively and possibly score yourself some exposure.
6. Write samples on your own freelance writing website.
You've got your own freelance writing website, right? Perfect. You have some amazing real estate you can put to good use.
While I don't advocate for putting personal stories on your professional website, generally speaking, I do think it's a great place to demonstrate what you can do. You should definitely have a portfolio page on your website with links to articles you've written. You can take it one step further and include a “kind of” blog, too.
Use a section of your website to write some sample articles on topics or niches that interest you. Better yet, write about writing. Here are a few ideas:
- Write about the differences between copywriting and content writing.
- Write about the types of writing you specialize in, such as social media posts, email newsletters, blog articles, or white papers, and how businesses can utilize them or why they need to be killing it with these content types.
- Write about copywriting or content-specific things you're learning or know about to demonstrate your knowledge, such as SEO, email marketing, Instagram best practices, scheduling tools for social media or email, and so on.
- Write a round-up listicle of things you find important to the success of your budding business – tools, habits, organization, anything you can think of!
- Do some research, find an article that interests you, and write on the same topic with your unique spin.
Not only will these pieces give a clear indication of your understanding of the things you're writing about, but they're also great practice. Writing more makes you a better writer.
While working to build a freelance writing portfolio might be a bit of an investment up-front, it’s worthwhile to spend some time assembling work you can be proud of. Not only will these writing samples help you gain experience as a writer, but they’ll also help you land higher-paying writing gigs as you grow in your career.