How To
8 min read

How To Create A Writing Portfolio That Sets You Apart

Tiffany Ellis

August 3, 2022

What is a writing portfolio?

A writing portfolio is a collection of writing samples designed to give potential customers or clients an idea of what you’re capable of. Whether applying for a regular job as a writer or going solo as a self-employed freelance writer, a quality writing portfolio will mean the difference between getting the work you want and doing it without it. 

Other scenarios where a writing portfolio may be necessary include applying for college courses. 

What makes a strong writing portfolio?

If you have a writing portfolio, there’s no sense in having a weak one. Take the time to put together a strong portfolio in the beginning, and it will serve you faithfully for years to come. 

Creating a strong portfolio is simple if you follow the general guidelines below.

Include a biography

Your biography included in your portfolio is to sell yourself to your potential clients. But, if you’re overselling yourself, you’ll lose them, so you want to be as real as possible about what they should expect from you. 

In your biography, you want to include the following:

  • The name you publish under, even if it’s not your real name
  • What you consider yourself to be, whether it’s a journalist, blogger, freelancer, etc
  • How many years of experience you have in various fields of writing
  • Links to any online presence you have
  • Education

Diversity of content samples across niches and genres

Your portfolio should contain various content samples, not just across different niches but across different written products. To get the most out of your portfolio and the most work consistently, you’ll want to be able to show that you’re capable of various types of writing. 

You should include as many of the following as possible:

  • A blog post on something you’re well versed in
  • An editorial
  • A press release
  • A sales email
  • An essay breaking down a complicated or controversial subject
  • A sample of creative writing (leave out the fanfiction, though)
  • … and more

There are so many types of content that it’s impossible to list them all here. Long story short is this: the more variety of samples you have, the more likely you are to be able to find and keep work. 

Being able to write in various tones

Even though many of your clients will want you to be able to write in a professional and friendly tone, others may want to be more specific about the tone of their content. You should be able to match what they’re looking for in your portfolio if you want a shot at getting hired. Don’t worry; here is a basic list of different tones you may be asked to write in.

  • Professional
  • Friendly
  • Optimistic
  • Authoritative
  • Dry
  • Lighthearted
  • Inspirational
  • Humorous

This list isn’t comprehensive, but you get the idea.  

Feature content directly related to the clients you want to serve

If your primary written products are blog posts, you’ll want to feature plenty of published blog posts in your portfolio. Any blog posts you’ve written should have your author name and bio in them as proof that they were written by you. 

If you have examples of content you’ve ghostwritten for others, you need to ensure that you have permission from the person you wrote it for to use it in your portfolio. Most clients won’t balk at this, but the ones that do likely have a reputation they need to protect, so don’t pressure them about it. If you’re being approached by someone to ghostwrite content for them, you don’t want them to get the idea that you’ll breach confidentiality just to get another client. 

Connections to well-known companies and properties, whether online or offline

Have you written for a person or company that is well known? If you’ve been featured in popular publications such as Forbes, BusinessInsider, or even small businesses, this is something you want to mention. When you can legitimately associate yourself with high-end companies, that can be what pushes your potential clients into becoming actual clients. 

Testimonials from clients

You want to include testimonials from prior clients in your portfolio. This is also a great place to list any of your prior clients that consented to being used as a contactable reference.

When you include testimonials, however, you want to focus on those that can show that you produced tangible results for your clients. Instead of including testimonials that talk about how easy you are to work with or that you’re proficient at what you do, ask past clients for testimonials that feature the actual results of your work. Did your sales page bring new customers, and if so, how many? Did your blog posts bring in new traffic, and if so, how much? 

These types of testimonials will make the difference between being hired and not. 

What shouldn’t be in my portfolio?

We’ve talked a bit about what should be in your portfolio, but let’s talk briefly about what shouldn’t be there and why. 

Bad spelling or grammatical errors

It should be obvious, but you want to be meticulous about spelling and grammatical errors in a writing portfolio. The last thing you want is for a potential client to point out a mistake like that. You’re the professional; go over every bit of your portfolio to ensure you don’t allow someone to say you got something wrong. 

Self-deprecation or criticism

When someone goes over your portfolio, you want them to feel that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re confident in your abilities. Even if you sometimes doubt yourself, it’s never a good idea to let it be known. People are searching for someone they can work with, not babysit. If you don’t seem confident in your portfolio, the odds are high that you’ll be passed over for someone else. 

Personal information

Don’t give out too much personal information about yourself. Your clients are interested in your professional capabilities, not your pets, kids, spouse, or political leanings. 

Your writing origin story

Your portfolio is for showcasing examples of what your work looks like most recently, not how you started your writing career or even early samples of your writing. As long as the content of your portfolio is consistent with what your prospective client is looking for, you’re more likely to get the job. 

Fanfiction

Fanfiction is fan-created writing works, whether short stories or long stories set in a world created by someone else. Some of the most popular fanfiction communities online are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Final Fantasy, and many other mainstream creative properties. 

You may be a very prolific fanfiction writer in your chosen fandom, but it’s not likely something you want to include in your portfolio. Why not? 

Well, people who are real fans of different movies, games, books, etc, may or may not appreciate your take on things. Your readers on your chosen fanfiction publishing site may love your work, but your potential client may not. It’s better to choose some original work you’ve done than something that can be as controversial and often negatively perceived as fanfiction. 

Create your writing portfolio website

One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself early in your writing career is to build your website. We don’t mean simply setting up an account on someone else’s website and using that, even though we’ll discuss the benefits of doing that later in this article. 

What we mean here is purchasing a domain name from somewhere such as Namecheap and setting up your website. Ideally, you want to use WordPress for this, as it’s been in existence and open source since 2003. It’s cheap and easy to set up, and the only recurring cost you should have is a monthly fee for hosting and a yearly fee for your domain name.

Your website can be a single page that provides a basic biography of yourself, content samples, links to published content on the web, and your contact information. If you want to get fancier with it, you can include a page with your resume or curriculum vitae, a separate contact page, and anything else you think may be relevant. 

A website is a critical professional asset you can totally control. It makes you look like a true professional, much like quality business cards back in the 80s and 90s. 

Create more than one portfolio

If you’ve been writing for a long time already, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have separate portfolios for the different types of work that you have the most examples of. Blog posts, news articles, and anything else that you have significant experience in could reasonably have its own portfolio. 

Update your website regularly

When you create great content for your clients, you want to ensure you update your portfolio with that content, particularly if it’s a better example of your capabilities. This shows clients that you’re active and that your work is in demand.

Look for guest post opportunities

Guest posting on popular sites is a great way to build credibility and reputation. Whether you primarily write about medicine, technology, or any other niche, finding websites that fit what you’re experienced in and writing content for them should be on your to-do list. 

Have a large online presence

In addition to creating your website, you want a presence online on as many different writing-related platforms as possible. When you do this, it increases the chances of a potential client seeing your work. It’s the equivalent of covering more ground if you were doing door-to-door sales, but in this instance, it’s the clients coming to you. 

Write your author bio

One of the best ways to become an authority in your niche is to have a great author bio that can be placed at the bottom of every piece you write online. 

Your author bio should be short, sweet, and to the point. It should include information about who you are, your location, and what you typically write about. Write it in the third person, and if there are any significant writing achievements, include those.  

LinkedIn

A LinkedIn account is one of the most important assets that a person can have today, other than a personal website. It can serve as an online introduction to you on a network that includes professionals from around the globe and is a great place to make contacts and be approached for work. 

LinkedIn also has a job board where you can actively search for jobs in the niches you’re the most interested in. You can directly message recruiters and hiring managers for work if you have a premium LinkedIn account. The lowest level premium account is $29.99 and is a great place to start.

LinkedIn also provides the ability to post on their platform. It’s the equivalent of having an extremely powerful website concerning ranking power, and there are untold formats and content ideas to post content on LinkedIn.  

Contently

Contently is exactly what it sounds like: a content marketing platform. You can use it to host your portfolio, take on clients, and even get paid. They also accept graphic artists, illustrators, designers, and more. 

Upwork

Upwork is a freelancing platform similar to contently, but it also has freelancers from many different industries. Whether you’re a web developer, a content creator, an administrator, or anything in between, Upwork can host your profile, let you bid on jobs, take assignments, and get paid all through their system. It’s one of the most popular online freelancing platforms, and having a profile there boosts your visibility. 

Medium

Medium is a high authority website on which you can write content for exposure. There are a few different benefits to publishing on Medium, including:

  • Access to metrics on each piece you publish
  • Connecting with your current audience
  • Gaining exposure to a larger audience
  • Being able to create your publication
  • Being able to syndicate your content from other platforms to Medium

Like having your website, a LinkedIn profile, and an account on Upwork, Medium is another high-value platform to be on in general. 

Clippings.me

Clippings.me is another online portfolio account that you can create and gain exposure with. It’s free to sign up, but they do have a premium version for $9.99/mo. If you’re a journalist, a blogger, or a writer, this is a great account to have, as well. 

Pressfolios

Pressfolios is a great place for people published on many sites to backup copies of their content and stores them on a portfolio page. They currently have a 14-day trial, then a monthly cost of $14.99. If you aren’t ready to build your website, this is a decent alternative to doing that initially. 

Conclusion

When creating a writing portfolio online, you’re not limited to showcasing your work on only one location. It’s best to start with a personal website you own and control, then branch out into other online presences such as LinkedIn, Upwork, and more. Your portfolio will be critical throughout your writing career in building your reputation as an authority in your niche and attaining clients now and into the future. 

How to create a writing portfolio is part of an ongoing series of tutorials on how to write anything. Topics cover a plethora of writing styles and tasks specific to particular writing goals but are not limited to:

Screenplay writing: a step-by-step guide

Getting started with freelance writing

A guide to writing a research proposal

A guide to requesting recommendation letters

How to write a customer case study

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