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How frustrating is it to try and build a freelance portfolio when you’re just getting started as a freelancer?
As someone who’s been there and done that, I can tell you: It’s pretty dang frustrating.
You want to build a freelance portfolio that showcases your best work to snag clients. Only, you don’t have any clients yet, so what are you supposed to put in your portfolio?
Total chicken-and-the-egg scenario.
I was a beginning freelancer once and I was right where you might be now.
My early clips were….let’s just say, extremely underwhelming. They included a poetry critique I wrote for a college English class and some articles I wrote on bankruptcy for a site that allowed basically anyone to post.
I didn’t have a blog or a freelance writer website. I never went to journalism school so I didn’t have a chance to build up a body of work that way.
Basically, all I had was a laptop, some decent writing skills and a desire to make money with a freelancing side hustle.
So I started writing for a low-paying content mill. (Definitely NOT the way to go if you really want to make it as a freelancer.)
I focused on trading up–to better clients and better-paying gigs. That helped me build a freelance portfolio that got me noticed by some bigger brands. My business has been growing like a weed ever since.
If you’re trying to launch a profitable freelance business, a killer portfolio can be your ace in the hole.
Why You Need to Build a Freelance Portfolio
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of building a freelance portfolio, let’s talk for a sec about why you need one.
Ideally, a great portfolio should:
- Show off your range of skills as a freelancer
- Highlight your experience and expertise
- Humble brag on the stellar clients or brands you’ve worked with
- Give prospective clients a feel for how you can help their business
(And if you’re curious, here’s a peek at my freelance portfolio.)
Think of it this way:
Say you’re thinking of trying out a brand-new restaurant. Before booking a table, you go online to check out the menu and prices to make it fits your appetite (and budget).
It’s the same with your freelance portfolio. Prospective clients use your portfolio to gauge how likely you are to fit the mold of what they want.
How to Build a Freelance Portfolio as a Beginner
There are two basic steps to build a freelance portfolio when you’re just starting out:
- Decide where you want to keep your portfolio online
- Figure out what you’re going to put in it
Sounds simple but there’s a lot more that goes into it. So let’s dissect each step by itself.
Where will you keep your freelance portfolio online?
There are soooo many options to build a freelance portfolio online. So you don’t end up overwhelmed we’ll focus on four for now:
- Start a blog or website
- Use a free online portfolio tool
- Build a portfolio with Contently
- Add samples to your LinkedIn profile
Method #1: Start a blog
There are some great reasons to start a blog to build your portfolio, especially if you’re a writer.
For one thing, starting a blog is a way to polish your writing skills. The more often you write, the more you hone your craft.
Ideally, you’d write about topics in your freelance niche but it’s not a requirement. Writing well-thought out, engaging content is more important for attracting clients.
Another reason to start a blog to build a freelance portfolio: it’s a great way to develop your freelance brand.
Jorden Roper is a great example. She runs the Creative Revolt blog and her brand and personality literally leap off the page at you.
Elna Cain has also established a solid reputation as a freelancer with her blog. Just about any time you search for something freelance-related in Google, her blog is on the first page.
You don’t have to exclusively be a writer to build a freelance portfolio with a blog either. Check out these blogs from other creative freelancers:
- Catherine Turner @ Turner Proofreading
- Tiffany @ Beautiful Dawn Designs
- Gina Horkey @ Horkey Handbook
- Kayla @ Ivory Mix
All these sites include a blog but they’re not focused exclusively on freelance writing.
So if stock photography, designing logos or creating WordPress themes is your thing, you can absolutely start a blog to show off your freelance skills.
The big question if you’re starting a blog is whether to go self-hosted with WordPress.org or set up a free WordPress.com blog.
I personally chose a self-hosted WordPress blog with Siteground. To me, self-hosted is the only way to go if you’re planning to blog as a business.
I love Siteground because the uptime is amazing, the initial site setup was easy and the hosting plans are super affordable.
A free WordPress blog is fine if you want something simple to build a freelance portfolio and you don’t have a lot of money to spend.
But IMO, you’ll look a little more professional with a self-hosted site.
Method #2: Use a free portfolio tool
A free portfolio tool is a good way to build a freelance portfolio in just a few minutes. And some of them can be super cheap.
(And hey, when you’re just starting out as a freelancer, who doesn’t like saving money?)
These tools give you a place to park your samples online without paying fees for hosting or having to maintain a blog:
Crevado is 100% free to use; there’s no trial period or anything you have to sign up for.
This one’s really best for graphic designers, illustrators, photographers and freelance artists.
Portfolio Box is another free site that’s designed for photographers, designers and artists.
Clippings.me offers free portfolio-building tools for freelance writers and journalists.
As a bonus, this site also lets you browse freelance writing job listings to find your first (or next) gig.
About.me is a simple way to create a writer page to showcase your work.
Plus, you get an email signature that you can include in pitch emails to prospective clients.
Just about any free online portfolio tool you find will also have a Pro or Premium version that includes extra features.
If you want to keep it simple (and cheap) you can stick with the free tools. But, keep in mind that if you’re going the free route, there may be a limit on how many clips or samples you can add to your portfolio.
Method #3: Create a portfolio with Contently
Technically, Contently is another free online portfolio tool. But that’s not all it is so I wanted to give it its own space.
Contently is what I use for my portfolio. In case you missed the link earlier, here it is again.
Adding clips is easy. You add a URL, give the piece a description and select the skills you used to write it. (I.e. copywriting, interviewing, SEO, etc.)
You can add any clips you want, from any publication.
Aside from being an online home for your clips, Contently is also a freelance marketplace.
Major brands (Discover Bank, Microsoft and Marriott, to name a few) use the site to connect with freelance writers and editors.
This site is part of the reason why I make six figures as a freelancer. Here’s a screenshot of my earnings from a few months back:
A lot of brands that use the site are in the financial space, but the client pool isn’t limited to just banks or insurance companies.
Getting noticed on Contently can take time — and you’ll need a solid portfolio to get added to a brand’s content team. But, the pay off can be huge if you’re willing to be patient.
Method #4: LinkedIn
LinkedIn has a ton of potential for freelancers, especially writers.
You can use the site to connect with editors, content marketing managers and prospective clients. You can also search for freelance jobs. And you can use it to build a portfolio of writing samples.
All for free.
You just set up your profile and go to your home page. You’ll see a box that looks like this:
You can share an article you’ve already written or write something from scratch and post it.
If you’re making an effort to connect with editors or content managers in your niche, they’ll see the article when it pops up in their feed.
Not only are you growing your portfolio, but you’re putting your work in front of people who could potentially turn into clients.
How to Create Samples for Your Freelance Portfolio
So now you might be thinking, yeah all that’s great but I have nothing to add to my portfolio.
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. You can still build a freelance portfolio even if you have yet to land your first real deal freelancing gig.
I’ll mention LinkedIn again because this is absolutely one of the easiest and best ways to get your work noticed by target clients in your niche.
The posts you share don’t have to be long but they should free of spelling errors, grammatically correct and above all, interesting reads. You can use a tool like Grammarly to check for spelling or grammar mistakes.
Aside from starting a blog and posting on LinkedIn, here are a few other ways to create clips for your portfolio:
Publish on Medium.com
Medium is a blogging platform with a twist. Anyone can post on it if they have a Medium account.
You can write original posts or republish existing content here. You can also link to your blog if you have one.
The great thing about using Medium to build a body of freelance writing clips is that you’ve already got a built-in audience at the ready.
If you plan to launch a blog at some point, you can start building an audience and a following on Medium first.
Guest post on other blogs/websites
Guest posting is the bees’ knees for creating samples.
This just means you write a post and someone else publishes it on their blog. Once the post is live, you can add it to your freelance portfolio and promote it on your social media channels (which is another way to get noticed by clients.)
You’ll need to spend some time researching blogs and websites that accept guest posts.
And you’ll have to get comfortable with pitching ideas to other bloggers and influencers.
Here are a few other tips for guest posting:
- Choose blogs or websites that are in your niche so you can build samples that are relevant to what your target client is looking for.
- Read the guest posting guidelines thoroughly before you pitch an idea or submit a post.
- Don’t waste your time writing something that doesn’t fit what the blog is looking for.
- Don’t be afraid to pitch bigger sites and blogging influencers.
- If your post idea is accepted, follow the guidelines for submitting it.
- And above all, turn in your very best work.
Do a few pro bono samples
If you’re serious about freelancing, you want to get paid. So why the heck would you write for free?
Ordinarily, you wouldn’t but when you’re new and you need to build a freelance portfolio, writing for free is one option to consider.
That doesn’t mean you should just write anything for free though. You have to think about what you’re getting in exchange for your time and effort.
For example, you wouldn’t want to take on a 5,000 word white paper about insurance if your niche is digital marketing. It just wouldn’t make sense.
And you also don’t want to write free samples that aren’t going to help you gain exposure as a writer or build credibility.
Bottom line, before you write something for free, size up the project carefully.
Ask yourself what you’re putting into it and what you’re getting out of it in exchange.
If writing for free could lead to a paying gig, then it may be well worth it.
But if not, you may be better off looking for another way to create samples for your portfolio.
Have You Built a Freelance Portfolio Yet?
Hopefully, the answer is yes. And if it is, drop a link in the comments and share it!
If you haven’t jumped on building a freelance portfolio yet, what’s holding you back?
Head to the comments and tell me about it, then pin and share this post if it helped you!
And if you haven’t gotten your Freelance Writer’s Toolkit yet, snatch yours up now! It’s packed with lots of good stuff to help you get your freelance career started off with a bang.