Online Writing Portfolio: 5 Ways to Design Yours to Dazzle Clients

5 Ways to Design a Dazzling Online Writing Portfolio. Makealivingwriting.com

What would you do if a prospect asked to see your writing portfolio right now?

In the perfect world, you’d point them to a link that shows off your best work. Why? Every potential client wants to see samples of your writing to find out if you’re the right fit.

You’ve got an online writing portfolio, right?

If you’re laughing nervously now because you don’t, or you have one but you know it needs help, that’s OK. I’m going to show you how to fix that.

Your writing portfolio is one of your most important marketing tools to attract and impress potential clients.

Point a prospect to your portfolio, and you want to capture their attention with an attractive and appealing design and great writing so they hire you.

If your writing portfolio is confusing or uninviting, the prospect might click away and never return. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some ways to design a dazzling online writing portfolio:

Online writing portfolio reviews

As a moderator inside the Freelance Writers Den, one of my tasks is reviewing writer websites. There’s more than one way to design your writer website and portfolio. But you need to do it right. Your writing portfolio, especially, is one of the first touch-points that can turn a prospect into a paying client.

Carol invited me to share some of the different ways you can present your online writing portfolio, along with the pros and cons of each option. Here’s a look at five different options to consider to create your own:

Off-site portfolio options

If you don’t have a writing portfolio on your website, you could technically create it somewhere else. Portfolio creation sites and content provider marketplaces are both off-site options that can help you put together samples of your best work quickly.

1. Portfolio creation sites

These are website platforms where you create a writer website of sorts. They provide a design platform that enables you to include some basic information about yourself, links to your social profiles and the ability to set up a visually-appealing portfolio. A few examples include:

Here’s one example portfolio from Clippings.me:

Pros
These type of portfolio creation sites are designed to make it easy to create a visually-appealing writing portfolio. You won’t need to worry about html code, website plugins, or know a lot about web design. If you have poor website skills and limited time to get an online writing portfolio set up, portfolio creation sites can help.

Cons
Most content creation sites offer a free version and a paid version. You only have a limited number of writing samples you can point prospects to before you have to pay a monthly fee.

Once you set up your portfolio on one of these sites, you’ll always be sending people to a site that’s not your own piece of online real-estate. And that means you’ll be helping another site build its reputation in search engines over time, rather than your own.

In some cases you can use your own domain and point it to the platforms server. But, if you do this and decide to change later, you’ll be starting from scratch.

2. Content-provider marketplace portfolios

We’ve discussed content mills, move-up mills, and content marketplaces here before. And for a long time, these sites were a poor place to find good clients. Fortunately, that’s slowly changing and some of these content-provider marketplaces do pay well. Many content-provider marketplaces want you to set up a writing portfolio on their site, and it’s free. Some examples include:

Here’s an example of a writer portfolio on Contently.

In theory, here’s how content marketplace sites work. You create a writing portfolio on their site. When a publisher or company tells the content marketplace they need a writer, the content marketplace sifts through its talent pool. Then they point their client to the best writing portfolios on their site to match their needs. And if yours rises to the top, you get an offer to work on a project.

Pros
Creating your writing portfolio on a content-provider site puts you in an active marketplace where there are publishers and companies looking for writers. Pay on these marketplaces can be quite good.

Cons
One of the biggest limitations of creating your writing portfolio on a content marketplace site is that you don’t get much room to include your own copy (It’s typically limited to a very brief bio and links to your work), so your chances of naturally attracting people through SEO is limited.

Within content-provider marketplaces, you still need to do active marketing to work the platform and get the most out of it. Many writers become contributors on these platforms, which can help boost your chances of landing clients.

However, writers report that it takes a long time to be “found”on these platforms–we’re talking one year and upwards. Therefore, your energy may be better invested generating clients through active marketing and sending them back to your own website.

In content marketplaces, there’s always going to be competition. It’s common to be competing against hundreds of other writers to land gigs.

If you do invest in your own active marketing, sending clients to a third-party site puts you at risk of losing the client to another writer if they choose to explore their options.

These marketplaces often have tougher editorial procedures and sometimes longer (and faulty) communication channels that can make writing gigs more frustrating.

3. LinkedIn portfolios

LinkedIn is another off-site option to create a writing portfolio. Even if you have a portfolio setup elsewhere, developing your LinkedIn profile can connect you with more prospects and clients. Some of my best-paid gigs have come from people who actively seek my services on LinkedIn and review my portfolio.

Within your profile, LinkedIn offers lots of options to add additional content–links to clips, thumbnails, slideshows, videos, PDFs and more. Use these to add some of your top samples to your Summary. Many writers also use the Experience Section to link to their work.

Here’s a snapshot from my LinkedIn profile:

 

Pros

Millions of companies–both big and small–are active on LinkedIn. Many use LinkedIn to search for freelance writers in a specific niche. If you’ve got relevant samples on your LinkedIn profile, you’ll have a higher chance of showing up in the search results when potential clients are looking for a freelancer. The LinkedIn Profile has become the modern-day version of the resume. Using it to show off your writing portfolio also provides social proof that makes you more appealing to prospects.

Cons

None. You really can’t go wrong by developing your LinkedIn profile and linking to sample of your work.

Portfolio options for your writer website

Your second option, and the most commonly used, is to present your portfolio on your writer website. Below, we’ll look at a range of examples, the pros and cons, and best-practice tips to build a portfolio that rocks.

4. Text-only list portfolios

The majority of portfolios I’ve seen are laid out in a long list of samples. In terms of portfolio layouts, lists can work if they are organized, neat and tidy. (While it’s not essential, adding visual elements to your writing portfolio will make you more appealing to prospects and clients.) Here’s an example of a list-style portfolio:

5. Visual writing portfolios

Here are a couple of writing portfolio examples that contain images and structured layouts. It’s not hard to notice the difference in appeal between a text-only list of writing samples and one with visual elements. Here are a few examples:

Example 1
Sean Carey first had a basic list of samples. But after having his website reviewed inside The Den, he created a more visual portfolio.

Example 2
My own portfolio uses thumbnails and has sorting buttons at the top to help clients quickly find the types of samples that might appeal to them.

Example 3
Mahesh at Enlighten Writing has organized his portfolio into sections. He also uses thumbnail images but has gone the extra mile to add the company logos over each image, which adds some additional credibility to his samples.

Example 4
In another example, we see a portfolio that only has images, with no titles or structured organization. Though it does look visually appealing, it leaves me wondering what these samples are all about. Sure, I could guess that some of them are food related but are they blog posts, sales copy, email samples?

I would edit this to make it easier for the client because they can’t determine what types of samples are included or what to expect when they click through.

Pros

Your writer website is owned by you and is the hub of your business and marketing activities. As you grow, your website and writing portfolio grows, encouraging more people to visit.

Bringing people to your site often means they will click around to learn more about you and your services.

You can add as much or as little copy to your own site as you desire, which boosts your SEO and enables people to find you directly in search engines.

Cons

You have to either get someone to design your writer website or  learn to do it yourself.

You also need to become a little tech savvy in order to add thumbnail images, tables, or a plugin to your site. However, you can easily learn these skills through YouTube videos and online research.

On-site portfolio tips

If you’re going to create a writing portfolio on your own website, here are some tips to keep in mind to present your best work to support your marketing efforts:

  • Make it easy for clients. Invest ample time to make your portfolio and writer website look neat and tidy, ensuring it is easy to navigate.
  • Use a WordPress portfolio plugin. Both Sean and I use the HUGE IT portfolio plugin, which has several layout options. If you use WordPress, you can search the plugins and find lots of portfolio plugins that offer various display options. Freelance writer Karen Smock also uses the HUGE IT portfolio plugin for WordPress and displays her print samples with visuals that enlarge when you click on them.
  • Don’t make prospects scroll a mile. Don’t post whole writing pieces onto the portfolio page so the client has to scroll and scroll and scroll to view.
  • Use thumbnail images. Create thumbnails for each clip to entice more visual appeal and to encourage visitors to click through and read your work.
  • Organize your portfolio into sections with headers to make it easy for the client to find suitable samples.
  • Use copywriting techniques. Where possible, add a title, a short description of the clip and a link to the full clip.
  • Describe your portfolio. Add some brief copy at the top of the page (1-2 sentences) to enforce your marketing message and sell your skills as a writer. This is optional but can work well.
  • Add your byline or attribution. Make sure your clips have your name as author, or add ‘ghostwriter’ to the title so there is no disconnect or confusion when the client clicks through to your samples.
  • Add hard-copy clips to your online writing portfolio. If you have magazine, newspaper or print clips – you want to include in your portfolio, create a PDF, and upload to your site or GoogleDocs. Then you’ll be able to link to them and still have your images link to the item, like Tanya Adams has done in the example below.
  • When you only have self-published samples on your blog, don’t list 20 or 30 of them. Choose 3-5 of your best clips to display. Though your own sites are still relevant, especially if you can show engagement, client samples will always be stronger.
  • Keep your portfolio up to date: Your portfolio is always a work in progress. When you get busy, it can be easy to lose track of all your published pieces. A great way to make sure you keep track, is to make a spreadsheet of titles, company/site and links for the articles, blog posts, and content you write. Then, when you’ve got time to update your portfolio, or if you do ever choose to move your portfolio, you won’t be pulling your hair out chasing down your work samples.
  • Tailor your portfolio to your niche and ideal client. When creating your website or portfolio, always keep your niche and your ideal client in mind. Ask yourself a couple of questions:
    • Will my portfolio appeal to prospects and clients?
    • Does it really look professional?
    • Is it easy to view and navigate?
    • Does it include writing samples relevant to my niche?

Your writing portfolio can help potential clients decide you’re the right fit for their content needs.

Make your writing portfolio work for you

If you haven’t set up a writing portfolio yet, or yours needs a major overhaul, now is always a good time to change that. With off-site options, you can literally set up a writing portfolio in 30 minutes or less. If you choose to create a writing portfolio on your own site (recommended), it might take a little longer. But it’s worth the effort. Your writing portfolio can be a powerful marketing tool to help you attract your ideal clients, move up, and earn more.

Need help creating your writing portfolio? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Jedha Dening is a freelance health business writer and copywriter who creates compelling B2B and B2C content and content marketing strategies for healthcare companies worldwide.

 

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38 comments on “Online Writing Portfolio: 5 Ways to Design Yours to Dazzle Clients
  1. Carrie says:

    Excellent recommendations! Thank you for putting these tips together. I especially like the visual thumbnails that enlarge and are organized on the portfolio website according to categories per content area.

  2. Thank you so much, Carol ma’am. I was looking since days to create an online portfolio in the 3 niches I specialize in (Healthcare, Finance, and Career).

    All the options mentioned are really great!
    Can you please tell me which way of creating a writing portfolio works the best for all the 3 niches?
    {I want to create a single portfolio and write some content pieces each of these niches.}

    Thanks a lot!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t think there’s one right answer — but yes, definitely pick a single approach for promoting all your writing work.

    • Carrie says:

      I suggest using the category design approach. Include three sections on your portfolio website that include content you created for each subject area. That way you can list all of your related content in the 3 different niches you specialize in on one website. When you include content you created that demonstrates your work in each niche, you demonstrate to prospective clients that you are versatile and this will most likely generate more work for you, rather than limiting yourself to only showcasing one niche.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Great idea — I’ve seen some successful writer sites that have a home that has 2-3 buttons that say, “Are you a tech manager? Click here…and so on, to direct people from each niche straight to their relevant materials. So that can work well.

  3. This is just what I needed. It has great information that I am going to use right away. Perfect timing!

  4. Very helpful article. I also use the HUGE IT portfolio plugin, and it’s really the only one that’s worked well for me. It’s versatile and user-friendly.

    I would also add that prospective clients should be able to read samples easily when they click on thumbnail images. I’ve seen some portfolio samples that don’t allow you to zoom in on them (at least not well enough), and it’s difficult to read the text.

    Some plugins (like HUGE IT) allow you to copy and paste the text of your samples into a description box, so people can read it there if your original text doesn’t render well.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Really great point — writers, the reason your clips are there is so prospects can READ them. So a fuzzy unreadable PDF or mouse-over with teeny type doesn’t get that done.

    • Jedha says:

      Plugins can do this but that’s not an ideal way to do it either. Ideally the portfolio samples will link to published works online (more social proof). But you can also create pdfs and link to those, or make those viewable, as they are easier to read and can be formatted to be more visually engaging.

  5. Felix Abur says:

    I’ve been procrastinating about setting up a professional portfolio. I think because I already have some clients (enough to pay bills), I haven’t been making it an urgent priority. But at the back of my head it’s been nagging me and I didn’t know where to start from. That’s until recently when one of my clients referred me to a prospect. And the prospect wanted to check out my portfolio and the best I could do is point them to my Upwork profile. Mind you, I haven’t used Upwork for at least 3 years so everything just looks wrong for my current crop of clients. Will be using your tips to set up my portfolio today. No more procrastination about this.

    • Jedha says:

      Ouch Felix, sending them to Upwork is definitely not ideal.

      Carol always suggests writers keep marketing — even when we’re busy or booked! It’s harder to do but in my experience clients can drop off all of a sudden and leave you scrambling to find work. Also, the more clients you have trying to hire you the more you can charge.

      Since your portfolio is part of your marketing, it should always be a priority.

  6. Fred Becker says:

    Hi Carol,

    You have a great library full of information on your site. Spent over 2 hours reading and still not even close to finishing.

    I have been in business sales for a good 30+ years, decided over a year ago to change my career and upgraded my education in copywriting.

    Studied for 2000+ hours last year, recently completed my LinkedIn. Now having a real challenge in marketing myself and getting started and finding my first clients and challenged in finding which niche I would like to specialize in, especially when there are a good 30/40+ to pick from.

    My biggest asset that I am bringing over from experience is business letters, emails, RFP’s, and a few other areas as you will see listed on my LinkedIn at Fred Becker, Freelance Writer Portland, OR.

    I feel I want to start on short assignments and not long assignments that could take several weeks or more. I am starting to approach Catalog companies in listing and describing their products.

    I also very much favor writing headlines to lure potential people into asking companies for more information by offering their email addresses and the company would then respond with a sales letter in reply.

    I even downloaded John Morrow’s “Headline Hacks.”

    As you can see, I definitely need direction and will take any of your professional advice you have on marketing myself and picking a niche.

    I recently listened to a LinkedIn seminar on how to “Better Market Yourself on LinkedIn” by John Nemo. His program sounded great but he wants a $1995 in doing so.

    I invested a lot in training last year, and need to start making income before I start investing in more large investments for training.

    Would you recommend I order one of your e-books, “40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today?”

    I also have no website at this time and need to get started with a few jobs before moving on to that project.

    I would appreciate as much advice that you can give me on getting myself more professionally marketable and getting started. Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Fred Becker
    Freelance Writer

    • Carol Tice says:

      Fred — I’m sorry to hear you spent an entire year only learning and never marketing. As you saw, that does not build a career. I think this post is going to help you see the road forward:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/avoid-overwhelm-quickly-launch-freelance-writing-career/

      I wish I could report writers are earning a living writing product descriptions, but sadly that seems to be one of the niches where rates have gone through the floor since the rise of the Internet.

      I’m as tired as you are of the world of $2000 and up online courses (have a feeling I can guess where you’ve spent thousands, on materials that are sadly out of date and overpriced).

      Which is why mine are far more affordable. (I went to a free event last week for a class that turned out to be $3,000!) AND mine come with access to all my past trainings, 300+ hours for one monthly fee. I love being the Lynda.com of affordably priced freelance writing learning!

      You can join my Freelance Writers Den community right now, as it happens, we’re open for an upcoming training on how to Close the Sale — details here: https://freelancewritersden.com/close-the-sale

      Getting the full support of 1,000+ working freelancers in the Den would be my top recommendation, Fred. We have a bootcamp on how to get UP your writer website and make it a site that actually brings you traffic (unlike 99% of writer websites out there). Every question you’ve got, we’ve got resources that answer it. Hope you’ll check it out!

      If you have no first clients, Fred, and aren’t joining the Den, I’d probably tell you to check out my Step by Step Guide ebook, which will teach you how to quickly get those first samples in a way that sets you up to earn. (I’d say ‘Start Here’ is a good complement to that one, but is more anecdotal, where Step by Step lays out a coherent program to follow.)

      We have a full 4-hour bootcamp version of Step by Step in the Den as well, BTW. Hope these resources can help you move from sitting and thinking to actually building your career!

      P.S. Not aware of any gigs just writing headlines — usually, you’ll need to write the whole post as well.

    • Carol Tice says:

      And meant to say – there are 900+ posts on here, so yeah, you’d need more than 2 hours to read it all! I did just have a post about writing proposals for RFPs, hope you saw that! Looks like a natural niche for you.

      Also wanted to say another Den bootcamp is on writing marketing emails, which also sounds like a great fit for your background. This is where our all-you-can-eat learning model really helps writers — you can join for one bootcamp, and take all the other ones that you need, too, without paying more.

      On the whole ‘picking a niche’ question, this post should help you understand how that process really works: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/figure-best-paying-freelance-writing-niche/

    • Jedha says:

      I’d recommend you join the Den Fred — best thing I ever did. It provides ALL the education, motivation and inspiration you ever need, without a hefty $2K price tag!

  7. Hi, Jedha and Carol

    I’m the founder of clippings.me – thank you so much for featuring us in this phenomenally helpful article.

    If your readers have any questions regarding portfolio platforms, I’m happy to hang out and answer them in the comments 🙂

    Thanks again!

    Nicholas

  8. Gabriel says:

    Thanks Lyn and Carol,I will see to that. Because a friend I once met on Facebook, told me, I need to have a laptop before I can do most of the things,freelance writers are doing and I cannot earn more money with using my phone.

  9. Lyn Jensen says:

    Where do the article links come from? Do you have to link them from the site they were published on? What happens if the site goes down?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great questions, Lyn. You don’t HAVE to do anything but pay taxes (today!) and die…but ideally, yes, you do link your clips to where they appear. That provides the social proof that you were in fact published on another site.

      BUT…try to take screenshots or get a PDF made of that piece too. Because sites DO disappear. I had some terrific feature articles I wrote for an AmEx site they did as an experiment and later took down. Luckily, I have preserved some of them! But wish I had them all.

  10. Gabriel says:

    I don’t have a laptop to create a portfolio. I don’t know if I can use my android phone.

  11. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Jedha,

    Great info about creating portfolios. It looks like you have multiple portfolios in a couple of places (your own site, LinkedIn, etc).

    How do you decide where to send prospects/clients? Do you keep one more updated than the other?

    I used to have a list portfolio on my site. It was functional, but I didn’t really like it. I thought setting up a visual portfolio on my own site would take too much time, so I put it off.

    Then I created a portfolio on Contently. But it bugged me every time I sent a prospect there instead of my own site.

    When I read the post “12 Essential, Free WordPress Plugins for Your Writer Website,” it included a couple of portfolio plugin recommendations that I tried out.

    Way easier to set up than I thought. Eventually found the Huge IT portfolio plugin (free version), and it’s great.

    Thanks for your insight on creating a better-looking, and more effective portfolio.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Don’t know what Jedha will say (she’s in Australia folks, so she’ll wake up and talk to us in a few hours!), but to me LinkedIn is a good place for a half-dozen of your BEST clips, that show a variety of expertise. And your website is the place for ALL your good clips. No such thing as too many on your own site.

      I send people to my writer website, which gets them OFF a platform where they might cross-compare with many other writers, and into my sole domain. People who are searching for a writer on LinkedIn will see that initial LI portfolio, and if they want to know more will hopefully go through to your writer website and see more. If they aren’t searching on LI, I want them on my site.

      But a reminder to all: If you’re not connected to someone, they can’t see your LinkedIn ‘contacts’ area — so be sure to show a phone, email, or website URL in your Summary or Header graphic, so they can do that!

      • Jedha says:

        I agree with Carol. If I’m contacting prospects directly, I send them to my writer website, although I do often include my LinkedIn profile link as well because I think it provides more social proof that I work with lots of companies worldwide.

        I don’t have my whole portfolio there, just a sprinkling of the good stuff. But I keep my LinkedIn up to date at least once a month and sometimes change the samples, too.

        LinkedIn attracts some great prospects directly, so it’s been worth the time and money I invest in a Premium account.

        To stay organized I keep a spreadsheet of all my published works, and a folder of snapshots and try to update my website portfolio every couple of months.

      • Hi Carol, thanks for this amazing info! Working on building my freelance biz and this and your recent webinar on What to Charge for Freelance Writing has me off to a great start! I need to do more with LinkedIn, too!

        • Carol Tice says:

          Glad What to Charge helped you, Terri! Hope you can join us for the full Close the Sale course — plus in the Den you know we’ve got an hour on how to win at LinkedIn, a website bootcamp, and more. 😉

  12. Carol Tice says:

    Love the details in this post, Jedha. I’ve reviewed a lot of portfolios on Contently, and here’s my beef with it — it’s easier for prospects to move on from there and browse through OTHER writers’ portfolios than it is for them to find their way back to YOUR website!

    These platforms are set up to promote…themselves, really. Not you. They want prospects to hire through them, so they get their cut.

    That’s why I recommend writers find a way to make their portfolio work on their own site. For years I just had organized links over on caroltice.com, and now I have a visual for each section, which I think vastly improves it.

    One website resource I recommend is Writers Residence — they are very affordable and have a good portfolio tool for showing off your clips in a visual way.

    I know we’re not all tech geniuses, but something like this, where it ends up being displayed on YOUR site, to me is the way to go.

  13. Firth McQuilliam says:

    Ooh, this long blog post is nicely done, Ms. Jedha Dening! It’s well organized, and the language is clear and powerful. Furthermore, the illustrative images make the post really pop. I’ve bookmarked it as a standard reference for constructing writers’ portfolios. ^_^

    P.S. I’ll add my vote for WordPress. I’ve actually been compiling an extensive list of free but superior WordPress plugins that are worth the effort. This CMS admittedly has its shortcomings and quirks, but it’s still the go-to choice for most freelance writers. ^^;

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m hearing more and more good things about SquareSpace, but personally am not going to be switching from WordPress — too many years before the mast on that!

  14. M Quinn says:

    This post is seriously perfect timing. I am in the process of rebranding and have been updating my site. Looks like I’m on the right track so far. Whew! Thank you, thank you.

  15. I never thought of using images in my portfolio, I always thought just plain text would look more professional. But it makes sense, I want to write for people who use a lot of images on there sites so I should have images on mine.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I used to think that…until I saw some of the great visual portfolios others were putting together! I think the visuals really make portfolios more appealing and make prospects more likely to leaf through them.

    • Jedha says:

      Another thing I come across a lot when reviewing websites, is it’s difficult to determine what niche writers are appealing to. Your imagery can work in your favor by giving potential clients an instant impression. And if you’re working with clients that use lots of imagery, you can try to emulate the style so it appeals directly to them.

      • Carol Tice says:

        YES! Pretty much #1 thing I see, it says, “Do you need a writer?” but makes no case about what that particular writer excels at. That makes for a weak sales pitch.