Freelance writer portfolio: The best examples and how to build one

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June 9, 2021
5 minute read

As a freelance writer, your portfolio is one of the most critical factors in landing new clients. It shows who you are, and what you’re capable of doing. But if you don’t do it right, you could just as easily turn potential clients off from working with you.

In this guide, we’re covering everything you need to know about freelance writing portfolios, whether you're a beginner or advanced freelancer.

What is a freelance writer portfolio?

In the traditional sense of the word, a freelance writer portfolio is a collection of your past work that you can show to potential clients.

In the modern sense of the word, portfolios do three things:

1. Introduce you and your work

Your online portfolio (along with a cover letter) is one of the first things a potential client sees when they are considering working with you. Because of that, it’s one of the best ways to introduce who you are, the type of work you do, and explain what someone will see in your freelance writing portfolio.

2. Demonstrate your expertise

Share examples that make it clear you know what you’re doing. You can post any example that you feel best demonstrates a specific type of expertise. For example: experience with a certain type of writing, a certain topic, or with a certain publication.

3. Begin the sales process

The best portfolios encourage potential clients to reach out. They make it easy to contact you and highlight the best possible examples of your work—the stuff that makes customers excited at the prospect of working with you.

The two kinds of freelance writer portfolios

Freelance writers will often have two different kinds of portfolios, both used in different times and for different purposes: the general portfolio and the specific portfolio.

1. The general portfolio

This kind of online portfolio acts as your CV, showcasing as much of your work as you can possibly fit in. You might also categorize or tag the content based on what it is: the topic, the outlet, the style of article, or the type of writing.

This is an internal document. Use this kind of portfolio to capture all your work that you can pull from later, but you don’t often send this to a client.

2. The specific portfolio

In contrast to the general portfolio, a specific portfolio is an external document that’s aimed at helping you sell more as a freelance writer. It’s where you showcase your best work or specific examples tailored to a pitch you’re making. That way you can show the most relevant work samples to help you close a deal.

Why do freelance writers need a portfolio?

Portfolios can do a lot more for freelancers than just sharing some work samples. Here are four key reasons why every freelance writer needs a portfolio:

1. Personal branding: Your online portfolio—and how you build it—says a lot about you as a freelancer. It demonstrates not only your visual style, but also your organizational process and what you feel are your best work samples.

2. Demonstrating topical expertise: Portfolios offer definitive proof that you know how to write about a topic (because you actually wrote about it). You might still get questions about how much editing went into the piece, but the portfolio provides a foundation.

3. Showcasing your range as a writer: If you’re great at different kinds of writing—nonfiction, fiction, long form, interviews, research, etc.—you can showcase that in portfolio navigation.

4. Avoiding the need to share references: Many clients will want to know that you can deliver the work they want. In the absence of a portfolio, they may ask for references, which is time-consuming and uncomfortable for you to find a previous client, ask if they will serve as a reference, then make the introduction and hope for the best.

What makes a good freelance writer portfolio?

The strongest portfolios have four key elements:

Introduction: Every portfolio should introduce who you are, what kind of work you do, and any other relevant information (such as awards or accolades).

Categorization: Good portfolios make it easy to see your range of work, whether that’s topical or type of content.

Good flow: Your portfolio is part of your overall sales experience, so a visually-appealing flow that’s easy to skim or click through is critical.

Comprehensive but not overly long: You need to include enough samples to prove that you’re good at your job, but not so many that you confuse or inundate a potential customer.

Amazing examples of freelance writer portfolio sites

Need some inspiration for your portfolio? Here are 10 online writing portfolio examples that you can steal ideas from.

Shayna Conde

Shayna Conde is a freelance writer that focuses on storytelling around diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

Portfolio style: Shayna built a minimalist portfolio that showcases her as a person. It’s part of her personal website, so you can learn more about her on other pages—but this portfolio page is succinct and easy to share with potential clients.

Why the portfolio stands out: Her portfolio stands out because it’s curated. She doesn’t just throw out every article she’s ever written. Instead, she’s hand-picked the writing samples that encapsulate her writing style and range, so potential clients know exactly what she might produce for them.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you have one key focus that you want all potential clients to know about.

Hank Herman

Hank Herman is a humorist writer that has written multiple books, articles, and even teaches seminars on writing.

Portfolio style: Hank’s portfolio is also part of his personal site, but the design is very focused on being brand-relevant. It’s sleek for its own sake, and feels very custom to Hank and his personality.

Why the portfolio stands out: His portfolio is a great reflection of his personality. It’s lighthearted, comprehensive, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. This gives potential clients a bit of a chuckle when they first land on the page—which is precisely what Hank can deliver for his clients.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you have a style of freelancing that’s highly influenced by your personality—especially if that personality trait is difficult to showcase when you’re not face-to-face with someone.

Charlane Oliver

Charlane Oliver is a writer and designer that uses Pinterest as her portfolio base.

Portfolio style: Charlane went for a visual-first focus, but using Pinterest as the platform evokes a sense comfort and ease (since a lot of people know what Pinterest looks like).

Why the portfolio stands out: Using Pinterest for her freelance writing portfolio, she’s able to combine the visuals from her design eye with easy click-through to read the text. This helps a great deal with visual style. Despite Pinterest having a very well-known visual style, Charlane is able to make it her own and showcase the writing samples she wants to.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you have visual-first freelance work that is highly complex, so the simple template of a Pinterest board makes it easier for potential customers to digest everything.

Scott Broker

Scott Broker is an American writer who has won multiple awards for fiction and creative writing.

Portfolio style: Scott went for a minimalist site that focuses on who he is as a writer: his identity, his accolades, and his explorations.

Why the portfolio stands out: His portfolio is highly identity-focused, which is critical for Scott’s work as a fiction writer. He demonstrates not only his credibility on his landing page, but also offers numerous examples of his award-winning writing samples under the “Publications” tab of his personal site and portfolio.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: For freelance work that is exploratory in nature, or when you use awards and certifications as a key part of your pitches (for example: journalism).

Espirian

John Espirian is a technical content writer that specializes in B2B blogs, copy, and web writing.

Portfolio style: This website and portfolio feels very much like an agency, which is sleek, copy-focused, and features a clean design.

Why the portfolio stands out: John created a site that is purpose-built for his intended audience. When B2B companies look for technical copywriters, they want to feel like the writer knows their pains and goals. By designing his website to look like a B2B website, John directly demonstrates he knows what he’s talking about.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you are producing content for a specific type of business.

Anita Chauhan

Anita Chauhan is a marketer and content writer with a niche helping startups.

Portfolio style: This freelance writing portfolio site has serious “tech” vibes, where Anita’s website feels almost like a startup’s website.

Why the portfolio stands out: By having different categories that apply to startup marketing—content marketing, writing, lead gen, newsletters, etc.—Anita demonstrates she knows the different content challenges that her ideal clients might have. Further, it’s a super clean way to demonstrate her range as a writer, since she has examples of each type of writing within the portfolio.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you offer a wide range of writing services.

Neville Medhora

Neville Medhora is an American copywriter in the sales niche who posts his numerous blog posts and other work samples.

Portfolio style: Unlike many freelancers that use Wordpress or Squarespace, Neville used a template in Google Docs to create a journalism portfolio site with different sections. By including the left side navigation, he makes it easy for people to look at whichever section they’d like to see.

Why the portfolio stands out: Most people expect a flashy website, so a Google Doc automatically stands out. And because he formatted it well, people don’t get lost in the document.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you don’t have technical skills but know you’re good at writing.

Elaine Bleakney

Elaine Bleakney is a freelance writer who uses video and visuals as part of her niche storytelling.

Portfolio style: She picked a simple, clean freelance writer website theme, yet created enticement with a video at the top of the page (instead of immediately diving into links).

Why the portfolio stands out: Its visual elements and clean design make it simple to navigate.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you want to communicate simplistic elegance as part of your writing style.

Laura Sutton

Laura Sutton is a B2B copywriter and content marketer.

Portfolio style: Laura chose a shareable PDF that feels almost like an agency pitch deck rather than a freelancer sharing a portfolio.

Why the portfolio stands out: As a B2B copywriter, Laura regularly works with companies that might otherwise consider using an agency. By creating her portfolio to emulate what an agency might send in a pitch, Laura stands out as more professional and up to the task when compared to other freelancers that might only send personal websites.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you want to create a freelance writing portfolio that looks like a piece of content you might produce for your clients.

Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is a Nigerian creator, artist, and writer that focuses on the freelance writing niche of the Black experience. Their work (and art) engages with what it means to inhabit certain identities.

Portfolio style: This freelance writer website is very visual on the main page, but minimalistic navigation on the left side. It makes it easy to send the whole site to a potential customer, highlighting one specific URL page so you can show them exactly what they want to see.

Why the portfolio stands out: Their freelance writing portfolio focuses on demonstrating this balance of art and writing—meaning it shows range very well. Akwaeke has written and created multiple different works, and having an easy menu on the side of the page is a great way for potential clients to click into what they want to see, but also know that Akwaeke is capable of more.

When to take inspiration from this portfolio: When you have either a visual component to your freelance work or you take one thing (for example, writing) and apply it across multiple disciplines (like Emezi who writes books, TV, essays, and video scripts).

How to build a portfolio as a freelance writer

If you want to build your freelance writing business, you need a good portfolio. Here’s how to build both a general and a specific portfolio:

Building a general freelance writing portfolio

Step 1: Write down all the types of writing you do in a Google Doc or Sheet.

Step 2: Collect links from all your published work to date—for yourself, for clients, or volunteer work—and paste them in the document or sheet in a list. Add information about:

  • Who the writing was for
  • What the writing was about (topic)
  • What type of writing you did (article, longform, interview, etc.)

Step 3: Find your best 2-3 examples for each type of writing you want to highlight (based on topic, structure, or client), and put those links at the top of your portfolio.

(Optional) Step 4: Create a visual portfolio. Because you don’t have to general out a general portfolio, you don’t need to spend time designing one. This is especially true if you’ve had ongoing clients and written hundreds of pieces of content for them over multiple years.

Building a pitch-specific freelance writing portfolio

Step 1: Ask what kinds of examples your prospective client would like to see.

  • A specific type of writing
  • A specific topic
  • Highlighting your style or personality as a writer

Step 2: Refer back to your general freelance writing portfolio, pulling 3-5 examples that you feel best capture what your prospective client wants to see.

Step 3: You have three options

  1. Create a sub-page or category in your portfolio website dedicated to that pitch.
  2. Create a portfolio with multiple categories, and send a link to the one category the potential client asked you to highlight.
  3. Post relevant links via email directly to the content samples, bypassing a portfolio for that pitch or including it as an addendum.

Freelance writing portfolio building tools you can use as a freelance writer

There are many tools that help freelance writers host their portfolios. Here are a few to consider:

Clippings.me

Pros: Clippings.me is easy and quick to use. Reports also say that customer service is really friendly.

Cons: The free version has limited features. For example, you can’t use a spam-protected contact form in the free version.

Price: The premium plan is $9.99 per month.

Link: https://www.clippings.me/

Pressfolios

Pros: The page design is sleek and you can organize stories by section. You also get a full backup included in your plan.

Cons: There is no free plan, only a free 14 day trial.

Price: Lite is $9.99 and Pro is $14.99 per month.

Link: https://pressfolios.com/

Journo portfolio

Pros: You can pick from multiple different themes to build a custom design—almost like Wordpress for freelance writer portfolios.

Cons: No networking component—it’s just a hosting site and nothing else.

Price: There’s a free plan, a $5 monthly (Plus), and a $10 monthly (Pro) plan.

Link: https://www.journoportfolio.com/

LinkedIn

Pros: It’s one of the biggest social media networks in the world, so you get discoverability built in (especially with LinkedIn’s “Open To Work” feature).

Cons: There’s very limited customizability and it’s hard to know where to put your work—in your profile, as posts, or as articles.

Price: Free

Link: https://www.linkedin.com/

Pinterest

Pros: Visual and easy to use, so you can focus on content creation instead of platform set up.

Cons: Millions of people post different types of content on Pinterest, so your portfolio could get lost in all the images.

Price: Free

Link: https://www.pinterest.ca/

Twitter

Pros: Twitter is an easy platform to gain followers on, which means you can actually bring freelance work to you while you display your work via your feed.

Cons: Like all social media platforms, you have no control over your Twitter account's look and feel.

Price: Free

Link: http://twitter.com/

Muck Rack

Pros: Muck Rack is professional-looking and highly regarded in the journalism industry.

Cons: No way to customize the look and feel.

Price: Free for having a portfolio page account.

Link: https://muckrack.com/

Your personal blog or writer website

Pros: You get total customization and control over the look and feel with your writer website in a way you can't get with any other platform or social media. You can also connect it to tools like Google Analytics to track visitors and improve your site over time through data.

Cons: You have to build it yourself—which means learning how to use builders like Wordpress themes or Webflow—or pay someone to do it for you.

Price: Varies.

Portfolio pitfalls to avoid

When building your portfolio website, here are some pitfalls to make sure you avoid:

General portfolio pitfalls

Working for free just for a portfolio sample: Outside of nonprofits and volunteer work, never work for free just to get a work sample. You can create a sample for yourself, but for-profit businesses should pay for your labor and writing service. If you want to build your brand, you could try guest blogging and guest posting on other websites. That way you get your blog posts on someone else's domain name, you get feedback from their editor that you can use to improve your craft, and you can share your expertise and skills in different freelance writing niches.

Sharing too much or too little: If you’ve written hundreds of pieces of content, keep those links somewhere private. Only post about 10-25 samples in a public portfolio. If you keep writing a lot, curate your work over time to only highlight your best work.

Not having permission to post client samples: One of the worst things you can do is post client work on your website without their knowledge or permission. You can include this permission in your contracts to save you the hassle of asking, but you should always be transparent with your clients.

Obsessing over the portfolio: This is just one piece of your overall sales and marketing plan as a freelancer. Don’t obsess over it to the point where you don’t spend time on other things that matter.

Pitch-specific portfolio pitfalls

Sharing irrelevant samples: Only share the types of content that a prospective client asked for. Don’t bombard them.

Not customizing your pitches: You may have a lot of examples of longform articles. You should always curate and customize, hand picking the best samples that make sense for any given pitch.

Not having any welcome text: Don’t just send links. Whether in an email or through a portfolio page, have a quick introduction to you. This makes it easy for other people to know who you are if your prospect shares your email or writer website link with colleagues.

Your portfolio is the foundation you stand on

As a freelancer, being able to prove you can do the work you say you can is critical. A portfolio does that and so much more: With a good writer website, you can express your personality and style on top of your writing ability. It’s the perfect place for prospective clients to get a sense of who you are, what you can do, and get excited about the thought of working with you.

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