A portfolio can be a very important part of any freelance writer's career. Whether it's the writing samples they publish on Upwork, the samples they post on their own personal websites, or a collection of samples they keep around to send to prospective clients, the portfolio is representative of their work. It's what a potential client can look at and evaluate for skill, style, depth, tone, expertise, and all the other details that go into choosing whether or not to hire the writer.
So, let's approach the topic from both sides and help bring everyone together in a unified vision of what a portfolio should include and how to build one effectively.
First of all, it can be worthwhile to know what everyone is referring to when they talk about a portfolio. Generally, there are three types of portfolio a writer might have.
The first is similar to a physical portfolio, which is where the word came from in the first place. A portfolio, in this instance, is a set of examples of your work that you bring to places you need to show it off, like interviews, trade shows, or conferences. Artists have it rough here, needing to haul around paintings, sculptures, or other physical items; writers, meanwhile, can simply bring documents.
In the digital age, these portfolios are generally just documents. They can be .txt files, .doc files, .pdf files, or even a set of links to Google Docs. When a writer approaches a client, or a client approaches a writer, these files or links can be exchanged.
The second type of portfolio is one hosted on a website, usually a platform engineered for it, like Upwork. The concept is more or less the same; it's a set of work the writer has done, presented publicly as a showcase of what they can do. Some writers also maintain blogs on sites like WordPress.com or Medium.com as ways to showcase their work.
The benefit of these kinds of portfolios is that it's usually a clearly visible option for clients looking for writers. The client doesn't need to approach the writer and get their samples only to find they aren't what they need; instead, the samples are there, front and center, for the client to evaluate before the writer even knows they're being looked at. Whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective.
The third kind of portfolio is the kind mentioned by Jorden Makelle, a business site. It's less of a portfolio of a creative individual and more of a business services page with examples in the form of content. This kind of portfolio is the most effective for building a writing career independently and free from overview and control by content mills and freelance platforms, but it does also require more "hustle" and more self-promotion.
I'm not going to offer tangible judgment here; all three of them work fine, depending on your purpose.
Truthfully, all three are relatively easy to create and operate in conjunction with one another. It's a gradual and natural evolution to go from one to the next, though the jump to making your own business site can be a larger leap than the others. It's well worth it, though.
As a writer, what should your portfolio include? As a client, what should you look for in a writer's portfolio? These two questions have the same answer.
The more a writer offers, the more this can spiral out of scope. If you cover ten industries, should you have ten different blog posts, one for each industry? Should you have 2-3 per industry? If you offer social posts, ad copy, and landing pages for those as well, how many should you have?
Don't overthink it. Distill things down to representative styles; a B2B company, a B2C company, low-price, high-volume products versus high-price, low-volume products, social posts for different platforms, and so on. You want representative samples, not comprehensive examples.
What should writing samples include? This is where things can get tricky and a little abstract.
If possible, a portfolio should also include reviews and testimonials from past clients. Sites like Upwork handle this through endorsements, and private sites can have feedback posted to them, but writers handling portfolios of files on their own are left without this information. If you're in this situation, consider building up testimonials and reviews from past clients in any way you can.
As a client, these are the kinds of data points you want to be looking for in a writer's portfolio. You know your business, and you know what you need out of a writer; does the writer's portfolio demonstrate that they can handle what you throw at them? Can they write in your style, about your topic, and for your purposes?
As a writer, those are the questions a client will be asking when they look at your portfolio. Thus, your portfolio needs to answer them to the best of your ability. Again, though, you don't need your portfolio to be specifically tailored to every possible combination of industry, purpose, and content. You just need a representative sample showing your flexibility and specialties.
If you're a new writer or you're a client looking to help a writer get their start, you have to get a portfolio up and running.
Truthfully, the "collection of files in a dropbox" method is skippable. If you're looking to build a new portfolio from the ground up, there's no reason to go with the least convenient option.
Your main choice is between a distributed portfolio across sites like Upwork, Freelancer, and Medium, or a custom website you make for yourself. So, what are the pros and cons of each?
Given the option, the second choice is the best for long-term success, but the first is the easiest.
If you want to go with a custom site, you need:
Above all, don't spend a ton of time stressing about every detail. It's more important to get a portfolio live and visible than it is to get every detail perfect.
How can a client help with this? Above all else, be willing to leave feedback and testimonials.
Alternatively, you can skip a lot of the hassle, tedium, and boring work by just going to a good job board and finding the people you need. Clients can find talented writers looking for work by posting their jobs, and writers can browse to find projects that match their talents.
Luckily, I know just the place, and it's just one click away. All you need to do as a client is post a job. And writers? Just browse and find something you like, apply for it, and you're good to go. A few writing samples can go a long way when there's a good job board hooking up clients and writers, after all. If you ever have any questions about it, please let me know!
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