How to Build a Writing Portfolio and Get Clients

How to build a writing portfolio

(When You’ve Done Nothing and Know Nobody)

If you’ve decided you want to become a freelance writer, sooner or later you’re going to have to work out how to build a writing portfolio and get clients.

To get clients you need to be able to prove you can produce good work, and to do that you need a writing portfolio.

Because lots of would-be writers don’t know how to build a writing portfolio, this often sorts the wheat from the chaff very early on. This is when it would be oh-so-easy to retreat back to good old predictability and give up on your dream of becoming a freelance writer.

So potentially brilliant writers fall at the very first hurdle, but you – yes that’s you – are going to get back up and this time get a bit more creative about it.

What follows are the exact steps I took to create my own writing portfolio. (Get a step-by-step guide on this as well as bonus strategies with this FREE ebook.)

How to build a writing portfolio: Stop thinking like an employee

First of all, you’ve got to get into a positive but realistic mind-set. You’re basically in the same situation as when you went for your first salaried job all that time ago.

Remember? The job advert said they needed someone with experience, but this was your first job so you didn’t have any yet. Of course you would have just as soon as they gave you the damn job, etc etc – and round and round it went. It was a nightmare and you either settled for a job you didn’t particularly like or you improvised a bit.

Thankfully, the modern freelance writer happens to belong to an exclusive club where members make their own luck and control their own destiny. Unlike the frustrating position of having to be given a job in order to gain experience, people who strike out on their own only need to go out and get it.

It’s a different way of thinking and working and it’s something every new freelancer needs to get used to pretty quickly.

How to build a writing portfolio: Start small

It’s unlikely you’ll get paid much for your writing in the beginning so be prepared for this. What I’m about to share is how to build a writing portfolio so you can showcase your work and go on to earn money from your writing – not how to earn lots of money from the outset. This is not a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme after all.

You’ll likely know that there’s a website called fivesquids.co.uk (the US version is called fiverr.com). Here you can create a free listing of something you would do for a fiver (keep it clean people). For example you might create an gig stating: “I will write a 500 word blog post for your small business website.”

When I first started out I had no idea how to build a writing portfolio but I put up a post on fivesquids.co.uk and a few ‘jobs’ came straight in (which is just plain good for morale at the beginning of a freelance writer’s career). I completed the work as though I was being paid properly for it and sent it back.

But it didn’t end there – and here’s the important bit – I wrote a note with my completed work saying if they wanted me to revise or add anything I’d be only too happy to do so. Then, before I signed off, I added:

If you're happy with my work please leave positive feedback for me on the site. If you're happy for me to include my work within my portfolio please state when and where my work will be published. Please also let me know if I can help with any other work you may have coming up.

If they’re happy with your work none of the above is going to be a problem for them. OK, so you’re not getting paid what you’re worth at this stage but this exercise is not about that – forget the fiver!

You’re building a portfolio of work here so you can get clients in the future. What’s more, it’s satisfying to complete the work (you’re still writing after all) and you’re building not only a portfolio, but also potential contacts.

Of course this isn’t the only way to build a writing portfolio. It is however a simple and effective way for absolute beginners, and one that also provides you with much needed confidence and practice at your craft. You’ll soon find you’ve written about all sorts of topics for all sorts of mediums and have a good amount of work for your portfolio to showcase on your website or blog.

It’s at this stage that you can happily delete all traces of yourself from the fiver-type websites and get out of there – fast!

Onwards and upwards mon amigos.

Want more? These tips are part of a bonus eBook that makes up the Earn a Full-Time Living as a Freelance Writer Online course. Just click the link for details and access.

Image courtesy  of Alexandre Duret-Lutz via Flickr. Text added.

36 Comments

  • Jeri

    Reply Reply January 17, 2013

    I would like to get started with some freelance writing, but freelance editing seems to have come my way first. Now I’m not sure how to fit in writing a book, posting blogs, as well as hunting down other writing jobs as well!

    • Kirsty

      Reply Reply January 17, 2013

      I offer an editing service too – I think proofreading and editing comes naturally to writers so we don’t mind doing it! But writing our own stuff is the main goal for most writers. Writing a book, blog posts, commissioned work and continuously pitching for MORE work is all part of a modern writer’s life! My advice? Have fun with it and keep at it – even just a little bit per day – and watch it all snowball gradually into something you can be proud of. Good luck!

  • Ed

    Reply Reply March 8, 2013

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you can do with some more pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent
    blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

    • Kirsty

      Reply Reply March 9, 2013

      Wow thanks Ed. You should have left your email or website address so I know who you are but thanks anyway kind stranger!

  • Russell

    Reply Reply June 22, 2013

    This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!
    ! Finally I’ve found something which helped me. Cheers!

  • Monica

    Reply Reply August 14, 2013

    This made me smile because I wrote something very (almost eerily!) similar recently: http://writersresidence.com/blog/2013/03/08/writing-samples-what-if-i-havent-been-published/ So naturally I’m going to say great advice. 😉 But I meant it. New writers need all the encouragement they can get!

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply August 14, 2013

      Thanks Monica. I’ll be sure to check your post out too 🙂

  • Hayli Harding

    Reply Reply June 5, 2014

    I have been somewhat freelance writing lately. I had not been asking for reviews, which is a pretty obvious blunder to me now! I am working hard, though, and aim to get really good! Thank you for posting this. 🙂
    My website I put in doesn’t have anything yet, I just began it :/ but soon it will have a great portfolio.

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply June 5, 2014

      It sounds as though you’re on the right track Hayli. All the best with your website and thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • AJB

    Reply Reply June 24, 2014

    This is a great article for helping someone like myself get started. I’ve been writing articles on fiverr for just over half a month and I’ve got to say, I’m a little concerned about the content I’m writing and how that will look on my portfolio. It feels like the content I am writing is for scam programs such as e-books and healing websites. Will these work on a professional portfolio trying to get better paying gigs? How do you attract buyers who will give you REAL work that looks good? How long do you stay in fiverr before jumping ship?

    (I am currently building my blog, which is why I do not have a website posted)

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply June 25, 2014

      Those gigs should be enough to get started AJB. It’s a case of picking out the best of them and using these in your portfolio until you get more solid portfolio pieces to replace them with. It’s great news that you’re starting your own blog as you can use this as your portfolio too – just direct potential new clients to your best posts when you get to that stage. It differs for everyone of course but it sounds as if you might be ready to leave Fiverr behind and get out there and pitch to clients! Let me know how you get on.

  • Lyn

    Reply Reply August 26, 2014

    I’ve recently started a crowdsourced blog on apartment rental life and would like to find writers who are looking to build their portfolios to contribute. I can’t really pay yet because I’m not making money yet but I want to find people who are establishing themselves at the same time I’m establishing myself so I can pay them eventually. Do you have suggestions on where I can find those people?

    Thanks!
    Lyn
    Rentwhich

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply August 31, 2014

      Hi Lyn,
      Like any other business, I’d suggest finding a bit of a budget to pay the writers first as this is the only way to attract quality. You can find tons of new and willing writers on sites such as People Per Hour etc.

      • Alicia

        Reply Reply August 9, 2015

        Hi,Lyn, I know my response is a year late, but if you still need writers for your apt site, I am interested…I am trying to build my portfolio right now, and can use the ezexperience!

  • Rich

    Reply Reply September 12, 2014

    Hi Kirsty,

    Sorry I’m slightly late to the party, but brilliant article. Obviously there’s a lot more to building a successful freelance business, but advice (and inspiration) like this really is invaluable when you’re working alone! Although I have a beeyootiful website, and had a superb referral from a friend a couple of months back, I’m unsure where my next paid work will be coming from so it’s time to pull my finger out and get speculating!
    Any top tips/recommendations in terms of elance, guru etc.?

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply September 12, 2014

      Hi Rich! Thanks for stopping by. You could try one of the freelancing sites – some pay well and you can even find long-term clients that way – but it’s usually best to get out there and find clients you’d like to work with and pitch to them. If you are going to go for the freelancing sites to start with or to fill in gaps, I’d recommend peopleperhour.com. See more on freelancing sites here: http://www.freelancewritersonline.com/where-to-find-freelance-writing-gigs-online. All the best and let us know how you get on!

  • Ali

    Reply Reply September 24, 2014

    Hi Kirsty,

    Brief, relevant and straight to the core of the problem. Other than the article itself, can’t believe how amazing it is to go through the comments section where ideas flow back and forth. Loving it !

  • Candela

    Reply Reply January 29, 2015

    Does offering writing services on Fivesquid really work? I’ve looked, and there seem to be rather a lot of people offering articles there.

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply January 30, 2015

      Hi Candela. Thanks for your question. I can confirm that yes, this does work. Well, it worked for me and for many brand new writers I’ve heard from who also used it as a way to start a writing portfolio. A high volume of other writers being anywhere shouldn’t put you off. Who knows how they write, how dedicated they are, or why they’re on the site in the first place?

  • Abhishek suneri

    Reply Reply January 21, 2016

    Hi, This strategy of building portfolio at the same time getting paid for it is very lucrative. Thanks for the article.

  • Edwin

    Reply Reply April 13, 2016

    Hi Kirsty

    You have a great website with tons of useful info! I got your website details from a friend who knows you very well 🙂
    I have recently started out writing and completed a short story writing course. I also been writing often and updating my own online blog/diary. Wanted to be different, so started an online diary instead. Have a look when you have some time and leave a comment on my writing. I`m in the process of doing freelance work and am thinking about the fiver website to start off with. Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated.

    All the best
    Edwin

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply April 14, 2016

      Good for you Edwin! Keep writing and finding your style and magical things will happen, I’m sure. If you follow the suggestions made in the free eBook about building a portfolio of work from scratch, you’ll be off to a good start. All the best!

  • Matt

    Reply Reply June 22, 2016

    Found this blog by Google searching how to create a writer’s portfolio.

    I have been writing for a certain well-known content mill (uk version) since early 2014 and I think that the time for me to find better-paying clients and to publish work that actually has my name on it is long overdue.

    The pitiful amount of work available on this content mill plus the dearth of those kind of assignments I’m willing to spend the time researching, writing and editing leaves a lot to be desired. There was never a lot of work and the pay was always poor but it seems that this income-stream has pretty much dried up for me.

    Another thing that bothers me a great deal about this particilar mill is that they changed the way they evaluate the texts, making it easier for writers to be demoted to a lower-paying level with less work available in the general pool.

    I think that through writing for the mill, however, that I have gained some experience and skills along the way in creating certain types of online content. Furthermore I have been able to identify my strengths and weaknesses regarding what type of content I am best suited to creating.

    Sometimes I read online content and think that I could do the same if I only had the job-seeking skills.

    Anyway, I figured that I was not going to get anywhere until I started approaching potential clients. I soon realised, however, that I was unlikely to have any success unless I created an online portfolio showcasing what I was capable of doing. The problem is that although I have written hundreds of texts my name is not attached to them so it is as if I am starting my writer’s career from scratch with zero experience.

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply June 22, 2016

      Hi Matt,

      Welcome, and thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds as though your experience is rather typical of people who write for content mills. While, as you say, these can help you gain some experience and confidence with regards to your writing, it’s unlikely they’ll ever pay or fulfill you enough to make them worth sticking at in the long-term.

      For what it’s worth, I think you’re making the right decision in terms of leaving the content mill behind and starting to pitch directly to writing clients. It’s what I did in order to start making real money and write about topics I actually had an interest in. It can be tough when you have no work you can accredit to yourself, but it can be done! If you haven’t already checked it out, I wrote a free eBook that might help you with this:

      http://www.freelancewritersonline.com/free-beginners-ebook/

      Wishing you all the best, Matt. Remember, the hardest part is behind you!

  • James Ouma

    Reply Reply July 11, 2016

    Hi Kirsty Stuart,

    How are you doing? Thank you for this posting. I have been writing for awhile now and had challenges building my portfolio. Now I have a few more avenues and will continue writing. Thanks once more!

    Regards,

    James

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply July 12, 2016

      You’re very welcome James. All the best with building that portfolio!

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