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The ultimate guide to creating your first writing portfolio
Getting started as a freelance writer can be daunting. There are so many moving pieces to think about, such as: Who should I pitch to? What should I write about? How much should I charge? And perhaps the scariest question of all: Will anyone even pay me to write for them if I don’t have samples of my work?Alongside a great attitude and being able to meet deadlines, a quality writing portfolio is a freelance writer’s greatest asset.
Even if your pitch is phenomenal it can be tough to get commissioned by an editor unless you can provide them with samples of your work.
Of course, this can be a problem if you’re a brand new writer…
But don’t worry!
I’m going to show you how to make a writing portfolio that will wow editors and clients alike.
You’ll soon feel confident about self-publishing your first pieces, know where to collate them online, and how to turn them into a professional freelance writer portfolio.
Step 1: Self-publish some articles to build your writing portfolio
Trying to get editors to commission you without any writing samples to show can be an uphill battle.
So, what’s the solution?
Self-publish an article or two to kickstart your freelance writing career.
It’s not only a great way to showcase your writing ability, but it’s also helpful for showing editors and potential clients that you know how to write an engaging article.
Some people suggest sending a Google docs of writing samples to editors when you’re first getting started as a freelance writer.
Personally? I think this is terrible advice.
Especially when there are options for self-publishing an article online and presenting a more professional-looking body of work to editors and potential clients.
Medium.com is an online platform that’s easy to sign up for and even easier to use.
Anyone can publish an article on Medium and Voila!, you have a link to a published article to start off your freelance writer portfolio.
Setting up a very basic blog website is another great option and the one I initially chose.
My technical skills are far below average and my coding skills are non-existent, so don’t worry, this is not hard to do! I’ll include how to set up a basic blog later in this article.
When I pitched for my first guest post (more about these later) I literally had one article published on my blog.
It was well written, included beautiful images, and was written in a similar style to the blog I was pitching to.
Combined with a personalised and well-thought-out pitch that one article got me my first (nominally) paid article commission.
Where to source images for your articles
Most articles published online require at the very least a feature image.
When you’re starting out and don’t yet have a commission and are writing for your own blog or on Medium, you’ll want to source your own imagery.
It’s important to make sure these pictures are royalty-free so you don’t end up slapped with a nasty copyright fine.
If you have relevant and high-quality images of your own, go ahead and use those for your articles.
Otherwise, here are some of my favourite places to download beautiful images for free:
Unsplash is always the first place I go. With over one million amazing images from top photographers I usually find what I’m after here.
Pixabay is usually my next choice. The quality isn’t always as good as Unsplash, but they have a diverse collection and some truly stunning photos. They also have some neat illustrations and vector graphics available.
Stocksnap, ISO Republic, and Pexels are three other sites I regularly use when hunting for a great image.
Sometimes though, you’re looking for something very specific and the stock photo sites just aren’t delivering.
When in doubt, turn to Fiverr. You’ll find an abundance of amateur photographers willing to get you the shot you need.
Helpful Tip: Make sure you always compress images to improve site loading speed. I use Tiny PNG to do this.
How to set up a basic blog-based writing portfolio (in less than 10 minutes)
If you decide to go the blog route for creating writing examples, here is a quick guide to setting one up super fast. Best of all – it will cost you less than ten bucks.
1. Go to Namecheap and choose a relevant domain name.
I wanted to write about water sports and tropical destinations so I chose the domain chasingtheocean.com. A .com domain is often the best choice.
2. Get WordPress hosting from EasyWP and link your new domain name.
I recommend EasyWP because you don’t have to fluff about installing WordPress – it’s already set up for you. The first month is usually free and pretty cheap thereafter.
3. Install a theme for your website.
I highly recommend the free version of the Kadence Theme. Not only is it free, but it’s also super fast. Page load time is crucial when you have a busy editor checking out samples from your writing portfolio.
4. Personalise your site.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to add a header image or make a simple logo on Canva. But don’t spend too long on this – editors are going to be hiring you for your writing, not your design skills.
5. Publish your first article!
WordPress can seem a bit daunting for first-time users, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in unnecessary details, just go straight to publishing your first article.
What should you write about?
My suggestion is to write about topics you’re passionate about.
Our best writing usually happens when we are deeply invested in the subject matter. From there, take some time to think about the type of publications you would love to write for and tailor your sample pieces accordingly.
If you’re keen to launch your freelancing career writing opinion pieces (more about these soon) for quality publications, then publishing a few well-crafted personal stories on Medium would be ideal for you.
For the aspiring travel writer, start by sharing some of your previous travel experiences on a personal blog. Once you have a couple of samples written, pitch for guest posts on larger blogs like Matador Network.
If health and wellness is a passion of yours, then a simple personal blog is a great platform to spread your wings. Most likely you have a personal story (or a few) to share about your own wellness experiences.
Well + Good tend to pay nicely for personal essays in the wellness space.
Don’t forget to include a short personal bio at the bottom of each article and include a link to your freelance writer portfolio.
How to get your first article commissioned
After you’ve written a few pieces for yourself (e.g. on your own blog or published it on Medium), it’s time to expand your writing portfolio:
1. Write a guest post
Once you’ve self-published an article or two you can reach out to blog owners offering to write a guest post for them.
These opportunities are very easy to find.
Type into Google ‘write for us + food’ or travel, health, fashion, beauty – whatever topic you would like to write about.
It’s unlikely you’ll be paid much for these posts (if at all), but they are an easy way to diversify your writing samples.
Make sure you include a link to your writing portfolio in your personal bio at the end of each post.
2. Write articles on spec (in full)
I got my first regular paid gig by cold-emailing an editor with a writing portfolio of two samples and offering to write a trial piece for her.
For new writers, this is a great way to get your foot in the door with new publications that might not otherwise be willing to work with you.
‘On Spec’ means you get invited to write an article in full without first being commissioned to do so. However, there is no guarantee your article will be accepted upon submission.
This might seem a bit risky, but the benefits of beginning a relationship with a new editor will usually outweigh the risks.
And if your article doesn’t get accepted?
Just tailor it to suit another publication and pitch it to them instead.
The easiest way to get published (and paid) as a new writer
The easiest way to secure your first (relatively) well-paid writing gig is to pitch editors that are asking for personal essays. Many freelance writers have kick-started their careers by writing opinion pieces, also known as op-eds.
Besides the fact that original and well-written opinion pieces are always in demand, they are ideal for new writers as no research or interview skills are required.
Personal essays are merely your own lived experiences shared in a unique and evocative way.
And since publications are always looking for fresh perspectives, there’s no shortage of opportunities for pitching your ideas.
No idea what you’d write about? Personal essays can be written about almost anything.
Think tiny memoir – in 1000 words or less.
What are some of your most vivid memories? Happy, sad, or otherwise.
What is unique about you and your past or present experiences?
All of these are potential angles for your first personal essay.
The best platforms for a freelance writer portfolio
Great, so you’ve written a few fabulous sample articles.
But how can you make these pieces into a beautiful writing portfolio?
The best writer websites for creating a simple writing portfolio are Contently and Clippings.me.
Setting up a freelance writer portfolio on either of these sites is easy. All you need is a semi-professional photo of yourself and a url link to at least one published (or self-published) article.
Here is an example of my personal portfolio on Contently.
As you can see, it’s not fancy. In fact it’s about as basic as writing portfolios come, but it has gotten me hired for every article I’ve pitched so far!
The layout for a freelance writer portfolio on Clippings.me is really nice – reminiscent of a magazine blog.
For journalism portfolios, Muckrack, is going to be your go to.
Journo Portfolio is also a worthy mention for later on when it’s time to upgrade your portfolio. They provide a lot of customisation options so you can create a really beautiful portfolio page.
Your freelance writer portfolio should showcase the work that you are most proud of and should be unique to you.
Include pieces of work that are relevant to the publications you are currently pitching to and be sure to update your writing portfolio regularly as your latest articles are published.
Time to get your pitch on!
Now that you’ve got a few articles up your sleeve, you’re ready to pitch your ideas to an editor!
This free download with examples of 10 Successful Pitches was massively helpful to me when I was just getting started as a freelance writer. The insider knowledge of what makes an editor say yes to a pitch is indispensable for a new writer.
Not sure where you should pitch your ideas?
This pitching database is an invaluable and inexpensive tool that prevents you from wasting time trying to work out which editors might be interested in your story.
With submission guidelines and pay rates (where available) for over 230 different publications you can even prioritise pitching your articles to publications that will pay you well for them.
It’s never too soon to be paid well for your writing!
About the writer:
Nicola Amy Hinman is a freelance writer currently living in Whangarei, New Zealand. She loves writing about all things health and wellness, food, and travel. Passionate about the freelancer lifestyle, her greatest joy is encouraging others to take the leap and become their own boss.
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