How to Build a Successful Writing Portfolio

Three Methods:General AdviceWeb-Specific AdviceIf You're Just Starting Out

One of the best ways to represent your freelance writing business is to build a portfolio of your work (in both a hard copy format and as part of your Web site). A successful writing portfolio shows the quality of work you've done in the past and gives prospective clients a clear idea of what you can do for them in the future. Here are steps you can take to build a writing portfolio.

Method 1
General Advice

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    Decide which clients you want to attract. What kind of freelance writing business do you want to specialize in? A technical writer generally produces different kinds of writing (help files, user manuals) than a copywriter (sales and marketing letters, advertising copy), and a ghostwriter usually writes something still different (memoirs or works of fiction). Your writing portfolio needs to be built around the kind of writing you want to market.
    • If you write in more than 1 area, you'll need to build a separate portfolio around each type of client you want to sell your services to. If some of your sample clips can be targeted to more than 1 type of client, you can include them in each relevant portfolio.
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    Decide what kind of projects you want to work on for your clients. If you want to improve the quality of your intended client's Web copy, look through your past work for instances where you've done the same for previous clients and make them part of your portfolio. If you're negotiating to write a white paper, have examples of previous white papers you've done.
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    Define your selling point to your clients. What skills, experience or personal qualities do you offer that set you apart from other freelance writers? How did your previous clients benefit from these traits? Your portfolio can reflect these skills and qualities in several ways:
    • Through a 2- or 3-paragraph mission statement that defines your abilities and relates them to your goals for your business
    • Through a selection of clips of previous writing that highlight these traits, along with quantifiable results they achieved for past clients
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    • Through copies of relevant diplomas, certificates, licenses and letters of reference
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    Determine your best work in your specialty. How you define your "best" work is up to you. Get opinions from friends and colleagues as to what impressed them, look at any formal honors you may have received, or look at your own opinion of where you went above and beyond the call of duty. You'll want to build your portfolio as a showcase of your best work.
    • Remember to temper your admiration of your own work with an understanding of what your prospective clients' needs are. Often, your definition of your "best" work is not "best-suited" to what your client needs from you.
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    Impress with size and scope. This doesn't mean to overload your portfolio with a large number of clips, even if they all represent the skill set you're trying to sell. Instead, it means to consider whom you've worked for in the past and what you've done for them.
    • Previous work for a large, well-known client can reassure prospective clients that you can meet their needs as effectively as you did for the larger client.
    • Displaying an impressive scope of work shows that you can meet a client's immediate need and what that client might need in the future.
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    Know what to exclude. Building a successful portfolio means knowing what not to include in it. Here's a partial list of what to exclude:
    • Proprietary documents of a previous client
    • Items that are critical of your work
    • Writing that depicts you as overly critical of others
    • News clips not relevant to your work or where you and your past work are not the focus of the story
    • Affiliations (e.g., club memberships) not relevant to the work you're seeking
    • Irrelevant personal information
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    Update your portfolio regularly. Keeping your portfolio updated shows clients that you're continuing to do good work and that it keeps getting better. Not updating may make them think your best days are behind you.

Method 2
Web-Specific Advice

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    Make it easy for clients to contact you. Put your contact information on your About page as well as a separate Contact page of your portfolio Web site.
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    Make it clear you're looking for work. Your About page or separate "Hire Me" page should identify you professionally, represent you as trustworthy, display your qualifications and show off your best work as described in the General Advice section. You can include a "Hire Me" button that either links to this information from another page or to an e-mail contact application.
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    Avoid irrelevant hyperlinks. Linking to the Web sites of clients you've worked for or to your LinkedIn profile is valid; linking to your personal Web site or to your pictures on Facebook generally is not.
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    Be SEO friendly. Include keywords that people looking for your services are likely to use, such as the type of writing you specialize in and where you're located. If you write copy in Denver, use "Denver copywriter" or "Denver copywriter" as keywords.
    • Place keywords in your Web page title bars and in the page text in a natural, readable way. Overuse of keywords in text will turn clients off, and many search engines will now reject sites with overused keywords.
    • If you have keywords that people are likely to misspell (e.g., "writter" for "writer"), you may want to include those misspellings as keywords - just not as keywords that are visible on the text of any of your Web pages.

Method 3
If You're Just Starting Out

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    Start building your portfolio while you're working for someone else. Use your free time to make contacts, design your Web site and take on smaller projects. When you start freelancing full-time, you'll have a collection of work to select from to put in your portfolio.
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    Partner with someone starting a related service business. If you're starting out as a copywriter, for example, find someone starting a graphic design or photography business and work on joint projects with them.
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    Look for pro bono projects. You won't make money, but you will create something to show later to someone who has it to spend on you. The best places to look are non-profit organizations (charities) and startup businesses.
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    Write for local publications. Many local publications, particularly those published on a weekly or monthly basis, depend heavily on freelance content. If you have an area of expertise or interest that they can use, pitch them a story idea.
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    Create your own samples. If you think you can write better copy than what a prospective client has now, create an example to show him. You can use the actual company or several made-up similar companies in your sample copy.


  • If you're about to graduate or have recently graduated from college, you may also want to include a copy of your transcript.
  • Be sure to include the source of any newspaper or magazine clippings, as well as contact information for any references you include so your client can verify the information is genuine.

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Categories: Writing