Here’s a question I get a lot:
How do I create a freelance writing portfolio when I’m just starting out and don’t have any samples?
It’s something I wondered when I started out too.
Now, I had some samples.
They were pretty shitty.
Not my best work – at all.
The place I worked at full-time didn’t prioritize good content much, and it showed in the writing work I did there.
So, I knew I needed to get it together and create some samples that would help me win high-paying clients.
I made it happen, and you can too – even if you’re starting with nada.
Today’s post is going to teach you how.
But BEFORE we get started, I want to make something clear:
Your freelance writing portfolio and your freelance writer website are NOT the same thing.
Your freelance writer website is, well, your website.
Your freelance writing portfolio is just one page on that website – it’s where you showcase your work.
This is important because having a professional business website (as opposed to a one-page portfolio site) helps you build credibility.
Your freelance writer website is the first impression you make on clients, and if you do it right, it should let clients know that you know your shit.
(If you’re wondering how to create a freelance writer website that sells, read this post – it’s a suuuuper in-depth guide with lots of screenshots and details! Then, you can come back here and learn how to create a kickass portfolio page and showcase your best samples.)
*steps off soap box*
Let’s start by talking about the #1 thing you must do before you try to create a client-winning freelance writing portfolio/samples:
KNOW your niche and your target client!
Look – I know it can be scary to pick a niche (aka the kind of writing you specialize in).
You might be afraid that going too specific with it will make it harder for you to find work.
But the truth is, writers who specialize in one area get paid more. And they’re more sought out by high-paying clients.
You work on the marketing team at a law firm. Your boss just told you to find a writer to help write blog posts for the law firm website.
Which of the following writers are you going to hire?
- Writer A, who has all kinds of different samples and no clear niche on their freelance writer website
- Writer B, whose freelance writer website headline says she specializes in writing blog posts for law firms (and she has the samples to back it up)
…It’s a no-brainer, right?
You’re going to pick Writer B because of her expertise. You trust her to get the job done right.
That’s what it comes down to – trust.
High-paying, quality clients need to trust you before they’ll hire you.
And you can build trust by showcasing your niche expertise.
So, pick a profitable freelance writing niche before you start your biz and create your writing samples. (For help picking a niche, read this!)
Then, AFTER you have your niche, figure out who your target client is.
For example, if you write technology whitepapers, your target clients are going to be tech businesses.
Once you know WHAT your niche is and WHO you’re trying to attract, you can…
Get in the mindset to tailor your portfolio to your niche.
Think about it.
You wouldn’t create a bunch of writing samples with website content about lawn care if you were trying to specialize in writing whitepapers about technology, right?
Because those samples wouldn’t be relevant to the clients you wanted to attract.
Always remember this:
It’s much more important to have relevant writing samples than it is to have a lot of writing samples.
Again, it’s all about building trust by establishing your expertise in a way that lets clients know you can get the job done right.
Let’s do this thaaaaaang.
How to Create a Client-attracting Freelance Writing Portfolio + Samples (Even If You’re a Newbie With No Experience!)
Self-publish niche blog posts.
Here are a couple examples of posts I self-published when I started out as a IT/Tech copywriter:
I originally posted these as blog posts on my freelance writer website. But these screenshots are from LinkedIn Publisher, which I used to re-publish my posts + get more visibility (AFTER adding my target clients on LinkedIn).
I definitely suggest re-publishing/marketing your niche posts too! Especially on LinkedIn, because chances are, a TON of your target clients are hanging out there.
Medium can also be a great platform for re-publishing your content, so check that out too!
The key word here is RELEVANT.
Ideally, you want to publish a guest post somewhere your target clients are going to see it. And you want the post to help establish your niche expertise.
Here’s an example of a guest post I wrote when B2B blogging was my niche:
You can see how it relates directly to my niche. Plus, it’s on a blog with a good-sized following, so I knew lots of my target clients were going to see it.
Aaaaand that’s why guest posting is one of the BEST ways to create writing samples as a newbie with no experience.
Let’s be honest – when you self-publish, you probably aren’t going to get a ton of readers.
But when you guest post, you get to take advantage of someone else’s audience, which is especially effective if their audience is full of YOUR target clients.
Those readers might just see your work and want to hire you!
Create your own niche writing samples.
For example, if you want to write whitepapers, you could just sit down and write a whitepaper for a made-up company.
You get the picture.
Whatever you write for your sample pieces should be specifically relevant to the target clients you’re trying to attract.
Then, you can upload them to your site and BOOM – just like that, you’ve got a niche writing sample.
Now, keep this in mind:
Ideally, you should have some bylined samples and/or client samples on your site.
Seriously – even if it’s just one bylined guest blog post and the rest are PDFs you uploaded to your site.
That one bylined piece (or client piece) will help you build credibility and position yourself as a serious business owner to potential clients.
What about writing for free?
Now, this is a pretty controversial topic.
And most of the time, I’m going to say:
HELL NO you shouldn’t work for free! And if someone asks you to, you should probably kick them in the shin them like the dummy they are and walk away.
But you know what?
When you’re starting out with no experience and no samples, working for free to build up your freelance writing portfolio can be a good thing.
That being said, you HAVE to be strategic about it.
Think about the return you’re going to get on your investment (time) when you write for free.
Let me give you an example.
Not long after I started freelance writing full-time, I pitched a guest post idea to ProBlogger.
They accepted it, and I was all like:
Holy shit! I’m going to be on ProBlogger. YASSSSS.
I wasn’t getting paid to write for them.
But you bet your ass that I spent WEEKS tweaking that post and making sure it was one of my best pieces of work at the time.
Because being published on ProBlogger could add to my credibility – a LOT – if I put time and effort into the piece.
In other words, I was going to get a good return on my investment.
Say you want to specialize in healthcare copywriting.
Should you write for a B2C eCommerce website for free?
Probably not – you’re not going to see any long-term or short-term benefits from doing that.
On the other hand, if you have a friend who runs a healthcare firm, you might offer to write ONE small thing for them for free in exchange for a testimonial.
Then, you’d get a pretty good return on your time investment in the form of:
- A badass niche writing sample to help you establish yourself as a healthcare writer
- A testimonial to serve as social proof on your website
I did this once when I started out – it was for a friend who needed a one-page document written up. He gave me a testimonial for the work, which I was able to use on my freelance writer website.
(Important to note here: this friend was NOT some asshole trying to take advantage of me and get as much free work out of me as he could. He understood it was a one-time thing and wasn’t acting crazy about revisions or throwing insane deadlines/requirements at me. If you work for someone for free, you want to come to a similar agreement with someone you trust!)
Whatever you do, DON’T let working for free become a long-term strategy.
Set boundaries for these kinds of projects, and only do them if you absolutely have to + they will help your freelance writing business.
How to Set up Your Portfolio Page on Your Freelance Writer Website
Alright. Once you’ve got some samples together, you’ll want to put them up on your website.
Let’s talk about some strategies for a client-winning portfolio page.
Put your niche on the page somewhere.
For example, I have this on my portfolio page:
This really drives home the fact that B2B/marketing blog posts are my specialty.
I KNOW MY SHIT when it comes to those topics, and after seeing my website, a potential client has no doubt in their mind about that.
That’s what you want too – your potential clients to understand exactly what you specialize in. Stating your niche on your portfolio page will help make that happen.
Don’t overwhelm the reader with a shit-ton of samples.
I’m not going to tell you exactly how many samples to put in your freelance writing portfolio. There is no one definitive “correct” number.
What I will say is this:
You don’t need a long ass list of samples. (No client is going to go down the list and read all 50 of your samples anyway!)
What you need is samples that are there to establish your niche expertise and attract your SPECIFIC target clients. Only put your best work in your portfolio, because that’s what you want potential clients to see.
Here’s my portfolio:
Yep. I’ve written tons of articles online, but I only show 6 of them here.
And every one of them is there for a REASON – to show off my expertise in writing B2B/marketing blog posts.
Stop worrying about variety so much.
Because chances are, you don’t need all kinds of different writing samples. You just need samples that are relevant to your target clients.
(Geez – how many times am I going to say the word “relevant” in this post!? A lot, apparently. But only because it’s CRITICAL and I want you to succeed, ya know?)
Now, if you DO want to show variety, you can do it in a way that still aligns with your niche.
For example, my portfolio pieces are all B2B/marketing blog posts, but they vary in length, tone, etc.
So, they still all position my expertise while showing that I can write different kinds of posts about my niche topic.
Put some social proof + a way to contact you on the page.
This is a good way to build credibility and make it easy for a client to reach out to you the second they get done reading a piece they like.
As far as social proof, I have a testimonial and a little logo section that shows companies I’ve worked with on my portfolio page:
Then at the bottom of the page, I have a form that clients can fill out to get in touch with me.
You always want it to be SUPER easy for clients to contact you – regardless of what page of your site they’re on!
Remember, your freelance writing portfolio is just one piece of your marketing plan.
Yes – it’s a critical piece, but it can’t be the only piece.
Slapping some writing samples up online doesn’t mean you’re going to wake up with 1,000 emails from high-paying clients who can’t wait to hire you.
(Although that’d be pretty freakin’ cool, AMIRITE!?)
So get active on social media.
Market your niche expertise online.
Optimize your freelance writer website so it converts visitors to clients. This will help:
Figure out where your target clients are hanging out, and build a presence there.
And stay far away from content mills and bidding sites. Because you can do better.
Do you have any questions about creating a freelance writing portfolio and/or samples? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below!