Freelance Writing – Building Your Portfolio

Remember the #sigmawriteset juice

How to Display Your Portfolio:

Even though my writer website is my home base for my business, that doesn’t mean I can’t have multiple online portfolios.

The goal is to have an online presence, right? And what better way to do that than to have your portfolio displayed in different ways. Elna has listed five ways I can display my portfolio. After looking through them, I believe using Contently, Blog posts, and LinkedIn.

Contently

Contently is a platform for freelance writers to display their portfolios. I can upload documents or link my work from any website around the web and Contently pulls up the titles, descriptions, and images of my online work.

There are some key benefits to using Contently to display my portfolio:

  • The platform is intuitive
  • Easy to update
  • It’s free to sign up and use
  • I can catch the eye of the Contently team and be hired to write for their clients or for them

Blog posts

Elna is a big proponent of having a blog to attract clients. It’s the best way to practice my writing skill and understand how to write for an online audience. Thankfully, I already do that with my personal blog and submitting posts on Reddit.

It also makes for a great portfolio.

IMPORTANT: Elna states, “What I do want to say is that if you position your blog to show how credible you are in your niche, you should have no problem finding work.”

LinkedIn

When I fill out my profile on LinkedIn, I’m asked to fill out a form detailing my prior work experience. I can use this to my advantage to display my portfolio.

This is just another way to promote my services and to show everyone how great I am as a writer!

IMPORTANT: All in all, my portfolio doesn’t have to stay in one place. In a matter of fact, it’s best if I diversify and spread my content on other platforms to maximize my presence online.

Ways to Create Samples for Your Portfolio:

Security quality writing samples is crucial to succeeding as a freelance writer. The only problem is:

I’m new to freelance writing and I have nothing to show for it!

The easiest and best way is for prospects to see my quality work and make a decision to hire you based on my writing first hand. When I go pitch to job ads, the person who’s looking over my application will want to see samples of my writing.

They are looking to see if I write well on topics they need content for and I can show this with creating clips – writing pieces – for my portfolio. My portfolio displays my best work and it’s what’s going to help me land my first freelance writing client.

So, how do I get samples of my writing?

There are a few ways Elna lists:

Find Existing Writing Samples

To quickly create my portfolio, I can gather existing writing samples I have done in the past. This might be pieces that have been published before or it might be marketing material for a previous job like a newsletter or product review I’ve written.

While these samples should be samples related to my niche, it really doesn’t have to be in the beginning. The point is to take action and show anything of my writing potential. While Elna did end up creating her own samples, she could have looked at old blog posts she had written about ABA therapy and used those samples as her writing ability.

IMPORTANT: Look through this blog and see if I wrote a self-help article in the past. If I did, use it. If I didn’t, skip this step.

UPDATE: Found a few, but they exclusively focused on pickup and wouldn’t be palatable for a wider audience. But they were good.

Create Your Own Samples

An easy way is to write up my own pieces for my portfolio.

When creating my own samples, it’s important to write them as if they are pieces for an online audience. Elna deep dives into this further, but for now she says: make my sample pieces engaging and useful.

What kind of samples should I create? It depends on what type of writing services I want to do. For example, if I want to be a copywriter, then providing a newsletter or sales copy for a fictional product would be a nice sample to showcase.

IMPORTANT: If, on the other hand, you want to be a blog writer – like Elna – then making a list-type blog post would be a great sample to show a prospective client.

IMPORTANT: Since my starting my freelance writing journey, exclusively focus on blog posts for now.

IMPORTANT: Submit four relevant samples. I will have a blog post based on:

  • Cybersecurity (a list of top products to buy if you want a secure computer)
  • A programming topic (which online learning program should you buy to land your first software engineering job – ie. udacity, udemy, etc)
  • Why Programmers should consider TRT (list all benefits of TRT and how it applies to programmers)
  • Tech gadget (Why You Need A Pomodoro Timer For Optimal Productivity)

Here are a few ways to present your sample:

  1. Google Docs: I can draft up a piece on Google Docs and create a shareable link to add to my portfolio page. Just click on “share” and Google automatically provides a shareable link. Just make sure it’s for “viewing only.”
  2. LinkedIn: LinkedIn has a publishing platform and it’s a great way to easily create a portfolio piece with a link. Just click on, “publish a post” on your homepage and start writing.
  3. Medium: Medium is a blogging platform where I can write freely. I can create samples here and have it automatically published online.

Guest Post

Elna has mentioned in detail how my brand, website and social media presence contributes to my writer platform. Another integral part of my success is guest posting.

For those who don’t know what it is, it’s basically having my writing on someone else’s site. In return for giving away my writing – for free – I can place my author bio. This is what will help bring traffic to my site and land clients.

Guest posting is also a great marketing strategy. It gives me a much bigger platform on which to showcase my work – especially if I land a guest post on a popular site with a lot of traffic. When I have a guest post on a popular site, I can reach exponentially more people than I ever could on my new blog.

IMPORTANT: Elna reeeeeally stresses out guest posting. Look into it.

Become a Regular Contributor

Another way to build my portfolio is to become a regular contributor to a blog or site. This has the added benefit of reaching a new audience but also of becoming a paid gig – should I establish a great working relationship and perceived value (writer platform!).

While I might think I have to be an experienced freelance writer to write for popular sites, I really don’t. Brand new freelance writers can write for Huffington Post.

Writing regularly on a blog gives me the added bonus of an author page. Having a link to my author page is great to have in my pitch as it provides numerous samples of my writing.

IMPORTANT: Make sure to check the lesson on how I can get published immediately on big brands in this module.

Get Paid to Guest Post

I can actually get paid to guest post while building my portfolio. There are hundreds of sites that will pay me to write a guest post. The advantages to these types of samples are:

  • I can earn cash in your first month
  • I can use these gigs to help you build a solid portfolio
  • It gives you experience with paid writing in terms of pitching an idea, working with an editor and submitting my invoice
  • It could eventually lead to a paid writing job

IMPORTANT: Early on in my freelance writing career – preferably after submitting my own four sample pieces and finishing up my freelance writing website – I will seek out major tech companies and request to submit a guest post for them.

How Many Samples Should I Create?

As Elna stated in the introduction, she made three samples of her writing in various niches. While she still landed writing jobs with these samples, she was on the quest to create more relevant samples for the writing projects she was interested in.

So, is there a right number to how many samples I need before you start pitching? Yes. Most job ads will require a minimum of three samples as proof you know the niche and that I am a freelance writer.

What happens if I choose multiple niches? Do I have to create three samples for each of my niches? Elna would say no, but if I find I am having a hard time landing a project with my samples in different niches, it might be best to create more samples in one or two core niches to start off.

My goal is to streamline my niches and only have one profitable niche. In the beginning though, it’s okay to have multiple niches.

IMPORTANT: Finish this module before I start writing my blog posts.

Sourcing Your First Writing Sample:

When I first start out as a tech freelance blogger, what will I write about? What Elna suggests is to first, of course, find out what industry you’re writing for. In my case, it’s software or IT freelance writing. After that, go Google software companies list. This can range from health, software-as-a-product (SaaP) or software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, adult, you name it. And check if they have a blog.

From there, look at the topics the post about to see what the software industry likes to talk about on their blog.

I can use these blogs to get ideas of what my four sample blog posts will be about. For example, Elna found a blog post entitled, “5 Ways to Make Your Emails More Persuasive”. What does that mean? The overall topic this blog post is talking about is lead generation – getting more customers.

In response, Elna could write a general blog post about, for example, “The Top 3 Lead Generation Tactics for B2B Companies”. After that, she can write another one about emails. For example, “3 B2B Email Marketing Campaigns That Convert”.

All of these ideas can be drummed up by simply Googling blog posts from a website within my niche.

In list form, this would be:

Blog Post Name: 5 Ways to Make Your Emails More Persuasive

Ideas Generated From Name:

  • The Top 3 Lead Generation Tactics for B2B Companies
  • 3 B2B Email Marketing Campaigns That Convert

IMPORTANT: Go email John Sonmez of Simple Programmer and see if I can guest post for him on either Simple Programmer or Bulldog Mindset.

IMPORTANT: Check out the Good Men Project. Elna recommended the website on her course as a popular blog website to write for.

Formatting Your Blog Post or Article:

Writing for the web comes with some rules I may not be aware of. Elna wasn’t aware when she first started – so I might not as well.

So, to help me look like a professional from day one, Elna will share some rules she learned from her freelance writing career.

Keep Paragraphs Short

The average online reader has a very short attention span. They don’t have time to read a blog post – so many readers just end up skimming it. To keep a reader’s attention high and focused on my writing, keep my paragraphs short.

IMPORTANT: Elna personally tries to write no more than three sentences per paragraph. And sometimes she only writes one-paragraph sentences – for an added emphasis.

This makes online reading easy to digest and encourages people to actually read my post or article!

Include Bullet Lists or Numbered Lists

Remember when Elna mentioned the average reader has a very short attention span?

Well, another way to keep my attention on my writing is to add bulleted lists or numbered lists. This helps break up my content and visually creates an easy to follow “path” to read. It also presents information in an easier format. Listing items in a sentence can seem cumbersome and hard to read, making it more likely for someone to glide over that sentence.

But when I position my items in a list, the readers will pay more attention. Note, when I write my bullet list, decide beforehand if I will end each point with a period or not and be consistent throughout my post.

Use Headers and Subheads

A great way to make my article or post easier to read is by using headers and subheads. It breaks up my post even more and makes it more digestible to read.

Make Your Writing Easy to Read

All of the points I’ve mentioned make my post easy to read. And a final way is to avoid using big words. Using “big” words can make my writing less engaging because people might need a dictionary to read your post.

Fun fact: Most Americans read at an 8th grade level. Certain bloggers, like Neil Patel, even write at a 4th grade level! So, just think about using the obvious word for the term. For example, say “buy” instead of “purchase.”

IMPORTANT: It’s a good idea to write my posts and articles using simple language. Write like I talk (generally, not literally).

Other Miscellaneous Rules

There are a ton more rules for writing in general, but here are some more important ones to remember when I write for an online audience:

  • Generally speaking, avoid meta-comments such as, “In this post, we’re going to look at…” It can appear amateurish, but for some long-form posts or articles it makes sense to tell the reader what they will reading.
  • Be consistent. I mentioned it briefly already, but if you’re going to capitalize PDF, always capitalize PDF. If you’re going to use an em dash instead of an en dash, always use an em dash.
  • Watch my “that” count. Note: Thank god I do this already.  “That” is one of the words that’s most overused and can be cut out. Generally, use “that” if my sentence doesn’t make sense without it. Use my judgment, though – sometimes an extra “that” resolves ambiguity or helps the flow of the sentence.
  • Bold words for emphasis, don’t italicize them. Note: I do this already, too.
  • Use contractions in my writing. Words like “don’t,” “couldn’t,” or “wouldn’t,” make my writing more conversational and casual. This is a good thing. It shows I’m a natural English writer and speaker (or as good as), which is a strong selling point in world where people can get cheap content for $2 a pop.
  • Don’t write in the first person narrative – “I” or “we” (generally speaking). Instead, opt for the second narrative – “you” because that’s like you’re talking directly to the audience. Sometimes, the client will ask me to share my experience. Note: Lol, I’ve been writing in first person narrative for this course so I know that it applies directly to ME. Outside of my personal blog, I’ll be writing in second person narrative.
  • When I state a fact or statistic in my post or article, always provide a link back to the source. It’s good blogging practice to always source my information.
  • When placing a link in your text, it should be done in the text. For example, Elna’s other site is FreelancerFAQs (She wouldn’t do this: Her other site is http://freelancerfaqs.com/)
  • Punctuation should always be inside a quote. In American English, don’t write, “Is she here yet”? Jane asked. Instead, write, “Is she here yet?” Jane asked.
  • Go ahead and break those grammar rules! End my sentences with a preposition, start a sentence with “and,” and forget about spelling out numbers. Unless my client specifies a style guide for me to follow, most clients appreciate a conversational manner. Note: My favorite! Fun!

How To Land Your First Guest Post:

Remember how Elna told me a couple lessons back the power guest posting has for my freelance writing career? It’s a great platform to use to grow my client list and my audience. And, you’ll reach more people and get my name out there.

So, how do I land a guest post spot? It’s a little trickier than I may think.

While some blogs are easy to pitch to – sometimes I’ll get a chance if I just ask them on Twitter or Facebook – others require more “hoops” to jump through. Elna will talk about her experience with guest posting and then we’ll delve into the different types of blogs I can guest post on – and some rules to follow when I want to guest post.

IMPORTANT: Make it my “job” to land a few guest post spots. Trust me, if I work hard to secure great guest posts, this can help me land my first paid gig.

Popular Blogs Vs. Niche Blogs

There are essentially two types of blogs I can post on:

  • High authority blogs which are popular and have alot of traffic
  • Niche-style blogs which aren’t as popular, but have a dedicated and loyal audience

And there are popular blogs and niche blogs that pay writers for a blog post. Make sure to review the lesson about getting my samples to find sites that pay.

By far the best way to start freelance writing is to land a paid guest post. This gives me more confidence as a writer and I get paid too!

Popular Blogs

Blogs like the Huffington Post, Kissmetrics, or Scary Mommy, are difficult to guest post on. For Elna, she waited over a year to pitch to the Huffington Post. She felt she needed to establish herself as a legit freelance writer with expertise in a niche.

Typically these high-profiled sites look to see:

  • If you are an expert in your niche
  • If you have the credentials to back up your expertise
  • That you have a strong social media following
  • You’ve established a relationship with the blog or blog owner (i.e. comments and shares)

But, I can still land a guest post on high-authority sites even if I don’t fit all of the above criteria. For example, if I have a background in a popular or lucrative subject (finance) and pitch to the Huffington Post, it’s not unheard of landing a guest post there.

Popular blogs, whether they are in my niche or not, are great to have in my portfolio. They also help get my name across social media as these blogs usually have high social media activity and lots of engagement in their comments.

Niche Blogs

It’s probably easier for someone who is absolutely new to freelance writing to guest post on a smaller niche blog. These blogs aren’t as popular but can help build my credibility in a certain niche and it’s another post to put in my portfolio. Elna has a strong background in the special education field. She taught children with autism for over ten years.

Naturally, when she began freelance writing, she sought out blogs that focused on autism. 

Where to Source Blogs for Guest Posting

The easiest way to find if a blog accepts a guest post is to Google it. Here are some common terms I can use:

“guest post” “(niche) ex: health blog”

“write for us” “(niche)”

“guest contributor” “(niche)”

If I want to guest post on a blog, but aren’t sure if they accept guest posts, the easiest thing to do is to contact them and just ask.

Guest Posting Rules

Once I’ve found a few popular sites and smaller niche blogs to pitch to, there are some ground rules to follow. This will make it easier for me to land my first guest post.

  1. Read the guidelines – Each site has their own specific rules for guest posting. Some require the entire draft to be emailed while others just want the headline.
  2. Read the blog I want to guest post on – It’s important to become familiar with the type of content the blog publishes. I might learn the blog is more conservative than I originally thought. Or, they have a particular stance on a certain issue (abortion).
  3. Don’t change your guest post – When I get accepted for a guest post, don’t give them a different post from the one I pitched. This is an easy way to have my guest post rejected.
  4. Don’t pitch the same guest post idea – To land a guest post, I typically have to pitch to multiple sites to increase your chances. Just be careful not to pitch the same guest post idea. It’s okay to have a central theme. For example, if my theme is Pinterest, I can guest post these ideas: How to Start Using Pinterest as a Marketer, The Best Automation Tools for Pinterest Marketing, Why Pinterest Group Boards Aren’t What They Used to Be for Increasing Blog Traffic.
  5. When I pitch, mention I am a reader of their blog – I might have a better chance if I mention I like a particular blog post on their blog.

Never Pay for a Guest Post

In the last few years Elna has been noticing that some blogs are asking for payment to guest post on their website. Usually these websites are high authority sites or “big brand” sites that have clout, and influence, and they can justify asking for payment. Typically, though, the reason they ask for payment is that they want high quality writers. Don’t fall for this trap!

Drafting Your Author Bio:

Here’s my opportunity to stand out! My author bio – often displayed with my guest posts and on my client work (if it’s not a ghostwritten piece) – provides information on what I do and prompts people to check out what else I have to offer.

My author bio, also known as my byline, is one of the most important pieces in my freelance writing arsenal.

Without an author bio to direct people back to my site where they can learn more about me, it’ll be extremely hard to land any kind of paid work.

It’s the best way to attract prospective clients. This is the main reason I guest post in the first place – to market my freelance writing business. My author bio will change depending on where it’s displayed. Usually I’ll only get two or three links in my author bio. Elna suggests I link back to my website (or portfolio) and either a social media account or an email incentive (like a free email course, checklist or printable).

Elna’s Author Bio

To get an idea of how to draft my author bio, we can use Elna’s bio as an example to go by. As it stands, here is her current author bio for new clients:

Elna is a B2B professional writer. She uses her expert knowledge, skills and personal experience in digital marketing to craft content that makes people take action. She writes for OptinMonster, Blogging Wizard, Pagewiz and more. Her specialty is email marketing with interests in social media marketing and inbound marketing.

Here is a current author bio for a lifestyle brand. Their readers are millennials moms.

Elna is a professional writer who lives in beautiful Northern Ontario with her husband and twins. Once she was able to get uninterrupted sleep, coffee and a few minutes to herself, she started a mom blog and began writing for clients. When she’s not working on her latest project, you can find her outdoors with her twins who are still wondering why the Sleeping Giant never wakes up.

Here is another author bio that includes her opt-in freebie (i.e. email course)

Elna Cain is a freelance writer for hire who offers ghostwriting, copywriting and blogging services. She works closely with B2C and B2B businesses providing digital marketing content that gains social media attention and increases their search engine visibility. Check out her new free email course for bloggers and writers, Get Paid To Write Online.

And here is a non-promotional author bio. Try to avoid these if I can, but if the client is paying me, they have the final say on what my author bio can and cannot contain:

Elna Cain is a professional writer living in Canada. She works closely with B2C and B2B businesses and has a background in marketing and psychology.

Important Information to Include in Your Author Bio

  1. You’re For Hire! – Elna often fails to see this one element in other people’s bios. It’s a good idea to include in my author bio that I’m available for hire (if the client allows it).

    This comes in handy when a prospective client sees my author bio. They can quickly see that I am taking on new work.
  2. What I Specialize In – In Elna’s author bio, she make it clear what she specializes in.

    Whether it’s ghostwriting or email marketing, depending on where her author bio will be displayed, she’ll either hype up her B2B content or a specific niche like personal development.

    This shows prospective clients what fields I am knowledgeable about and gives me credibility in those niches.
  3. A Link to Your Hire Me Page – The great thing about my author bio is I can link to my freelance writing website. Elna thinks it’s best if I linked to my Hire Me page. Make it easy for a prospect to learn more about me. What if I don’t have a writer website?

    The next best thing is to link to my social media profiles or to my portfolio page (on Contently or on LinkedIn for example).
  4. Something Unique About You – To make my author bio stand out, add a little personality to it by writing something that’s unique about me.

    In Elna’s author bio, her unique trait is:

    When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her twin toddlers dishing out the latest parent fail.

    It humanizes Elna a bit and lets clients know she’s a mother who values work-life balance. This also paints a picture in the reader’s mind hopefully making it (and her) more memorable.
  5. An Incentive – While my author bio will help you snag clients, it can also help you generate traffic to my blog (if you have a blog on your website – which I strongly recommend). Note: I don’t.

That’s it! Module: Building Your Portfolio is now finished! Let’s get planning & get to work

My Game Plan After Going Through The Portfolio Module:

Okie doke. With this module out of the way, let’s plan out how I’m going to present my portfolio & set up a blog ‘to-do’ list here.

First and foremost, I need to have four relevant samples on my blog. Let’s look at my work-in-progress ideas.

  • Best Websites to Practice QA automation with Selenium
  • Why Tosca is such an awesome tool if you’re a QA automation engineer
  • A programming topic (which online learning program should you buy to land your first software engineering job – ie. udacity, udemy, etc)
  • Why Programmers should consider TRT (list all benefits of TRT and how it applies to programmers)
  • Tech gadget (Why You Need A Pomodoro Timer For Optimal Productivity)

This is great to show off samples before I approach John Sonmez or the editors at Good Men Project. If I had to choose the most useful topic out of my four ideas, I’d definitely say, “Why Programmers Need A Pomodoro Timer For Optimal Productivity,” or “Which Online Learning Program Should Aspiring Programmers Use?”

Tomorrow, 03/18/22, I will start working on “Why Programmers Need A Pomodoro Timer For Optimal Productivity,” before continuing further. This will include research, maybe starting off the blog post itself, etc. Whatever I need to “head in the direction of” for my blog post.

Once I’m done with the blog itself, post it on Medium before deleting this specific paragraph. After that, work on “Which Online Learning Program Should Aspiring Programmers Use?”

Note: I’ve been debating on pre-writing my pitch idea: “Why Every Programmer Should Get Their Testosterone Checked,” but I’ll ask on Reddit and see what they say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.