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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 freelance 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 for your freelance writing business, 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 quickly and easily with options like building your own website with tools like Squarespace (try it free) or even hosting your portfolio on a variety of third-party sites.
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 someone who has been a moderator for the Freelance Writers Den, one of my tasks was 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 freelance writer portfolio:
Portfolio options for your writer website
Your best option, and the most commonly used, is to present your portfolio directly on your writer website, as opposed to hosting it on an outside website.
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.
Below, we’ll look at a range of examples, the pros and cons, and best-practice tips to build a portfolio that rocks.
1. 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:
2. 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:
Sean Carey first had a basic list of samples. But after having his website reviewed inside The Den, he created a more visual portfolio.
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.
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.
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.
- Consider an all-in-one website solution. If you have no design skills whatsoever, you can still launch a writing portfolio on your own website with Squarespace (try it free). Squarespace has tons of portfolio design templates to choose from and makes it easy to get your website launched quickly, even if you aren’t all that tech savvy.
- Use a WordPress portfolio plugin. Prefer going the WordPress website route? 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.
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.
3. 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:
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.
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.
4. 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.
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.
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.
5. 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:
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.
None. You really can’t go wrong by developing your LinkedIn profile and linking to sample of your work.
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.