How to Create a Writing Portfolio that Wins Clients Over
For a writer — be it a ghostwriter, freelance writer, or a journalist — a good writing portfolio is the culmination of a lot of things. It represents the result of your hard work, your pride and joy, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s how you convince clients to give you more writing jobs.
So how can you create a writing portfolio that will wow clients into working with you? This post will walk you through everything you need to know, from collecting samples to web design, so that you can build a portfolio that demonstrates your competence and talents.
1. Identify your audience
The first step to writing a portfolio is to understand who you’re targeting. All portfolios in general serve to display your work, your abilities, and your credentials to your potential client. You have to make sure that your portfolio displays what said clients want to know.
If you’re at the beginning of their freelance writing career, you need to do some research on this audience. Say you want to contribute articles to ezines like Buzzfeed or Vox — search up their staff members and follow them on social media — especially Twitter! Editors call for pitches there every now and then, and they’ll leave some details about what they’re looking for so that you know exactly what kind of work might strike the right chord.
In case you’re still unsure what niche to focus on, here are the broad categories of writing working one can get:
- Copywriting and content marketing;
- Book ghostwriting jobs;
- Writing articles and columns;
- Technical writing.
Try to home in on one type of writing as soon as you can and develop a deep understanding of your audience in that niche.
2. Select relevant writing samples
With your audience in mind, it’s time to pick your samples. What do you put in a writing portfolio? Only include the best and most relevant works (10-30 pieces should suffice), especially if you’ve done quite a bit of writing before. Don’t include your sci-fi short stories in a portfolio for technical writing for tech companies — the clients probably aren’t interested in your creative writing skills.
If you don’t have a lot of experience yet and want to make the most of whatever you already have, you can present all of your writing records into separate categories.
Divide your samples into sections
Here's what you may want to do to as you start selecting your writing samples:
- Collect all of your work in a spreadsheet. You can even keep this and update it throughout your career.
- Divide them according to their nature, e.g. blog content, articles, technical writing…
- Categorize your work per topic, e.g. politics, food, movies…
This way, you’ll get an idea of how best your writing samples can be grouped together on the actual portfolio. For some, a topical division (i.e. “Food & Drink”, “Travel”) might be more suitable, while others find it more beneficial to categorize by types of writing. Reedsy’s ghostwriter Lori DeBoer separates her content by type: Science & Technical Writing, News & Magazine Articles, Essays, and Short Stories.
Organizing your portfolio this way makes it easy for clients to find the writing samples that interest them, so you can apply to a more diverse range of gigs.
3. Pick a place to host your portfolio
At this point, you have to decide where to display this collection of work. You get two broad options when it comes to this: you can build a website, or you can choose a portfolio host.
Creating your own website
This option gives you more creative control over the presentation of your writing portfolio, which makes it a great choice if you want to concentrate on brand image. (Hint: it's perfect for content and copywriters who specialize in marketing!) And while it might sound daunting to design a website, platforms like Squarespace, Wix, and Wordpress make it fairly easy by providing templates and click-and-drag features that anyone can master.
Another plus point of creating your own portfolio is that it always looks more professional than if you were using a host, especially if you buy a custom domain. A URL like yourname.wordpress.com and yourname.wix.com feels more informal and casual, so don’t hesitate to loosen your purse strings a little and pay for your own domain.
Choosing a portfolio site
If you don’t want to spend too much time on designing your portfolio, you can turn to some trusted portfolio hosts. Think of these sites as LinkedIn accounts that are made specifically for writers. All you need to do is create an account and fill in the information fields that they ask of you, including links to your published work.
Some popular options include:
- MuckRack, a popular platform for journalists and PR professionals;
- Contently, a useful site for content writers;
- Journo Portfolio, a newer website for every kind of freelance writer;
- Clippings.me, which provides a clean cut design for all kinds of writers.
The good news? All of these portfolio sites have a free account option. But the bad news is that a free account will often limit the number of articles you can display (to around 10). If you want to display more work than that, you’ll have to pay for a bigger plan.
4. Nail the design and organization of information
You’ve got all the components and tools that you need — now it’s time for the assembly! Putting things together will be relatively simple when you’re using a host site. All you have to do is type in your details, add in the links, and perhaps upload some photos.
When designing your own website, you can select a ready made theme and start creating your pages. (Of course, if you’d like to dabble in HTML and customize your site, you can put in some time and be more creative.) Ideally, you want to have at least three main components: a landing page for a brief introduction, a portfolio page that showcases your work, and a contact page which provides your email address or a contact form.
When in doubt, go simple
Simplicity and concision is the name of the game here. Do include a header image (if available) and a tagline to describe the work for the client. However, you don’t want to overcrowd your portfolio with long excerpts or excessive images. The clients are here to view your work, they’re already eager to click through to your samples!
If you’re designing your own website, choose a simple theme and color scheme to avoid straining the eye. You also want to minimize the amount of scrolling or clicking (e.g. to the next page on your list of articles) so as to keep viewers from feeling fatigued.
NYT software engineer and part-time writer Nozlee Samadzadeh lets her works speak for themselves with this minimalist design. (To mix things up, She’s recently switched it to dark mode.)
Save space for a little bio
When making a writing portfolio on a hosting platform, don’t skip the bio section. This is your chance to give a teaser to your voice, introduce your profession, and name your best credentials. You might even consider making a video introduction to put a face to the writing. Nothing projects confidence and a collaborative spirit quite like a video!
Add a call to action (CTA)
This point is crucial for website builders. In marketing lingo, CTA is short for “call to action,” meaning something that prompts viewers to act immediately on your marketing message. In a portfolio for writers, the CTA is usually a “Contact me” button.
Note that portfolio hosts will usually include a section for contact details at the top of your portfolio page, but this “Contact me” component is not a given when you’re creating a site from scratch. Remember to add it to your portfolio somewhere visible, like a banner at the top or bottom of your site. Alice Sullivan, a ghostwriter at Reedsy, has a CTA for both the beginning and end of her portfolio.
Add social proof
Another thing to include in your writer website are testimonials or customer reviews. Ask for reviews from your clients and feature the best quotes on your portfolio. If you’ve written for well-known companies or individuals, definitely get a review from them and show it to the world. Nothing works better than referrals and word of mouth.
5. Update your writing portfolio regularly
And voila! Upon completing step 4, you’re basically done everything needed to make your writing portfolio. But as you develop your career and write more, you will have new samples and articles that better represent your skills and work style. Naturally, you’ll want to switch out the old articles for newer, better ones so that your portfolio is up-to-date and fresh for clients. You may even want to maintain a constant schedule of blog posts on the site, if you want to strengthen your online presence.
On top of that, online links often change — some articles might be removed altogether. You don’t want your clients to find dead or incorrect links on your portfolio, so go through and check them every couple of months.
Other than that, just remember to share your portfolio on social profiles and LinkedIn, and you’re golden. Building an online writing portfolio may seem like a bothersome task, but just follow these five easy steps, you’ll have a quality profile that potential clients can’t overlook.