How to Develop a Writing Portfolio

writing portfolio

A writing portfolio is the lifeblood of any freelance writer. It’s like having a sales rep 24/7 that closes deals on autopilot. 🤑

Fortunately, the process of developing a writing portfolio is easy. What’s not so easy, is creating one in a way that “wows” your prospects. 😮

If you want to get a close look at how I’ve created a simple portfolio that has helped me to generate thousands of dollars per month, this guide is for you.

What’s more, you will learn how to promote your content on your own website so you can build a personal brand in the process.

Let’s dive right into it.

Warning: This article is 4,506 words long. Click here to download to get the article’s summarized version with the exact steps to open a writing portfolio.

Step #1: Make a List of All Your Written Work

Before you can develop your writing portfolio, you need to have a list of all the pieces you’ve written, regardless of whether they are articles, landing pages, press releases, or ebooks. Even if they’re old or unrelated to your current writing focus, add them. The prioritization comes later.

When I first got started, I had less than a dozen pieces under my name which were more than a year old and weren’t that good. Some were even written in my personal site or in Medium, the open blogging platform.

I will be honest: I wasn’t proud of my work. It didn’t feel like an amazing portfolio, but it was one nonetheless. I knew that I had a few golden nuggets in there that would help me a lot, like a Shopify piece I had written.

CONTENTLY OLD PIECES

What’s more, I knew there was a lot of potential in me. I knew that with the few pieces I had written, I could develop a high-quality portfolio that would close all the sales for me.

If you are in this same position, worry not. Many new freelance writers start with nothing — no contacts and no experience — so if you’ve written a few pieces, you’re much more prepared to succeed than you think.

Lift your shoulders, put on a broad smile, and prepare to open your portfolio, where the fun begins.

smiling guy

Note

What If I Haven’t Written Anything Yet?

If you haven’t written anything yet and you’re trying to get into the freelancing world, then you need to start somewhere.

In my guide on becoming a freelance writer, I explain with detail how to do that, so check it out.

Step #2: Open Your Contently Account

Search for writing portfolio websites, and you will find many options, like Quietly and Clippings.me. But from all these options, the best-looking and easiest to use is Contently.

The interface focuses exclusively on your content; no bullshit. It’s the portfolio website I’ve used since I started, and it’s the one I trust, so we’ll go with Contently.

Here’s how you open your account:

First, go to Contently and click on “Freelance with Contently.”

contently register

Then, add the personal info requested, like name and email, and verify the latter to finish the registration process.

signup contently

That’s all you’ve got to do to open your Contently account. It’s that simple.

Now you’ve opened your account, you want to make your profile shine.

Take a look at my profile:

writing profile

While there’s not a lot of space in there, I still added all the relevant social profiles, a (good?) profile picture, a link to my site, and a small piece of content that highlights my value proposition.

It’s easy to add your images, website, and social profiles, so I won’t explain how to do that. The part I want you to nail is your value proposition.

First, your title. In here, I want you to explain two things:

  1. What you do
  2. For whom

In my case, my title says “SaaS content marketing consultant.

That is, I’m a consultant (not a freelancer, which isn’t as valuable) who helps SaaS businesses (my audience) with content marketing (which is more valuable than writing alone).

Such description isn’t a wonderful piece of copy, but I can assure you most writers won’t put time into this, which is like trying to start a marathon by shooting yourself in the foot.

FALLING RACE
This is what happens when you forget to add a good profile in your writing portfolio. Source

Make sure to add specificity and clarity in your title. Tell your prospects what you do and who you serve.

While this is a topic for another post, in the simplest terms, you could explain that you offer:

  • Writing services
  • Freelance writing services
  • Writing consulting
  • Content consulting
  • Content writing services

You can also throw an adjective in there, like “high-quality” or “authoritative,” but I believe that’s redundant. If you want to tell your prospects your content is high-quality, then just show them that content and they will figure it out on their own.

Your description is an extension of the title; a clarification if you will. In my case, I wrote:

I work with SaaS companies to increase their traffic and leads through content marketing. Learn more about my services: http://contentfiesta.com/content-marketing-services/.

There’s no need to overcomplicate this and try to sound like a sales rep. The only thing I added in there that I think adds more power to it is the outcome I work on — in my case, to increase traffic and leads.

You can also rephrase your title idea as a question, something like:

Do you want more traffic and leads? Then I can help you with my content marketing services.

Finally, I added a link to my services page. If you don’t have a website yet, don’t worry as you will take care of that in step #4. For the time being, I recommend you add a call-to-action in there so you can take the conversation further.

After you’ve set up your writing profile, it’s time to add your pieces to your newly opened portfolio.

Tip

Show Your Content Everywhere

Besides Contently, you want to have a mini-portfolio in anywhere you can, including your Twitter feed (which you populate by sharing your posts), and most importantly, your LinkedIn profile and your website — something you will see in step #4.

Don’t forget that your content’s promotion doesn’t stop in the portfolio; you need to keep it everywhere you go. There’s no better marketer than yourself.

Step #3: Add Your Pieces

With your newly created portfolio, take all the pieces you defined in step #1 and add them to it.

Fortunately, Contently makes this process simple to execute.

Let’s say I wanted to add the piece I wrote on Nike marketing strategy for Foundr in my Contently portfolio.

The first thing to do is to click on the “Edit or add projects” button.

ADD PORTFOLIO PIECE

Then, click on the “+” button in the top right and click on “Import from a single URL.”

ADD WRITING PIECE

Add the link in the bar and click on “Get Details.”

ADD WRITING PORTFOLIO

Many freelance writers would simply scroll down and click on the “Save” button and leave it as it is.

It may be a bit of an OCD-thing that I have, or it may be that I care too much about these details, but I prefer to make the article shine as much as possible. When you’re first getting started, these small details can make a bit of a difference.

For that reason, you’re going to make sure the title looks good. Sometimes, Contently doesn’t fetch the data properly and makes it look bad, so make sure it looks just like the name of the article is named.

In my example, Contently imported the title correctly, so I will move on to the next point, the format.

Contently adds a large variety of content formats which uses for its writing platform. This doesn’t matter too much, but since I’m doing this already, I select the “article” category. Choose the one that best describes the piece of content you’re adding.

WRITING PORTFOLIO CONTENTLY

Next, you have the second most important part of the piece: the description. In here, Contently takes some data from the post, often the introduction, and adds it as the main filler. More often than not, the content it takes is too long and looks awful, which ruins the look of the piece.

Here’s how the description of the piece I added would look if I kept it intact as Contently imported it:

WRITING PORTFOLIO BAD PIECE

Not to fancy, is it? For that reason, I like writing one or two paragraphs to explain what the piece is about. In most cases, I take the intro and rewrite it slightly, or cut the unnecessary parts and leave it as it is, but looking tighter and clearer than the original one.

Since Contently took the first ~200 words of the piece, which don’t describe it properly, I went to the article itself, and copied and pasted the last part of the intro into the “Description“ box.

WRITING PIECE INTRO

Finally, you’ve got to select the topics, skills, and images to show.

The former two categories are for Contently’s platform, so unless you plan to use them to generate leads, they won’t matter much. As I said with the format category above, I still prefer to choose the correct category.

PORTFOLIO CONTENTLY

Regarding the images, I like showing one in there as it makes my content stand out. If the post has a professionally-made graphic, like in this example, then select it. If Contently didn’t fetch any images (or any good ones), you can add it manually.

In this case, Contently found five random pictures that didn’t look good. Since Foundr’s graphic designer, Giuliano, had developed a beautiful featured image for this post, I added it manually.

Conversely, if there aren’t any good images or graphics in the post, you can skip this step. I still recommend that you add an image to your posts; when you’re getting started this will make your portfolio stand out.

When you’re done, click on the “Save” button in the bottom left.

PORTFOLIO WRITING PIECES

Now you can see how well this piece looks in my portfolio:

PORTFOLIO PIECE

If you check my writing portfolio, you can see how well organized I made it look, putting my best and most important pieces at the top, all with images, summaries, and attractive headlines.

Remember to add all the pieces you’ve written, even the ones you don’t like. If you have the volume, then you can select the best ones, but if you don’t, add anything you can. You want to look like you have experience, not like you’re an amateur who decided to try this “freelance writing thing.”

What’s more, take the time to make each post look great. In my case, it took me a few hours to add all my original pieces, but I believe it helped me stand out from the crowd.

Step #4: Develop a Website

Your Contently portfolio is like a ramp that helps you build the momentum to start your freelance career; it does the trick of showing your content for some time.

But you don’t want to have a freelance business; you want a brand that represents you.

You want to position yourself as the ultimate writer in the mind of your prospect. You want them to think of you whenever they need content; the type of content that drives the results they want and need.

To that extent, you need a website. A website takes the main benefit of a writing portfolio — which, as I said in the intro, works like a sales rep 24/7 — but adds more substantial business elements to it.

Your website will help you develop a brand around you and your services; it will help you connect with your audience and show your skills in more profound ways than a portfolio ever can.

Whenever someone checks your portfolio, they’re like a shopper buying clothes at Gap; they pick what’s both cheap and appealing.

When they check your website, they are like the Apple fanboys who wait for hours to get their hands on the latest Apple launch; they trust you and want to work only with you.

apple fanboys
Source

Caption: This is how your visitors behave when they’re in your site.

There are countless tutorials on developing a website, most of which are more interested in selling you the hosting and WordPress theme that brings the most affiliate commissions to them than anything else.

In our case, I will show you what I’ve done to build this website, and what I’d do if I had to start all over again so you can build yours with no BS.

Note

None of the recommendations below are affiliate links. I’m just recommending what I’ve used and liked. 😃

There are three elements you need in place to develop your website:

  1. A domain
  2. A hosting
  3. A WordPress theme

Domain

Your domain will represent your brand, like contentfiesta.com represents Content Fiesta. I’ve explained already how to find your site’s name in my freelance writing guide, so I won’t write about how to do this again.

Let’s keep this simple and choose your personal name. That’s what I originally did, and for years ivankreimer.com was my main domain. Eventually, I redirected my entire site to contentfiesta.com (much to my dismay).

Go to GoDaddy, put your name, and get a .com TLD.

WRITING DOMAIN

Hosting

Then, you need hosting. As I already said in a previous article, there’s too much information on the best blog hosting, most of which is focused on making affiliate income, disregarding the true quality of the hosting company.

All I can tell you is that my favorite hosting companies I’ve used and recommend are:

  • Bluehost, which is good enough for when you get started.
  • Mediatemple, which is even better once you grow your site.
  • Flywheel, my current hosting, and my favorite of all. For $15 p/month you get a lot: free SSL (i.e., encrypted domain), a good amount of traffic volume, free cloning, great customer service, and much more.

For your current needs, they’re all quite the same, so just pick one and move on.

All of these companies offer 1-click WordPress installation, which is the content management system you will use in your site.

Once you’ve redirected your domain to your hosting (which takes 5 minutes), install WordPress to your domain, and then move to the WordPress theme.

WordPress theme

Once again, there are tons of options you can choose from. My favorite ones I’ve used are Studiopress, whose designs are beautiful and easy to use, and Themeforest, where you can find all sorts of themes.

To keep things simple, go with Studiopress, buy the framework and a professionally-looking theme, like Authority Pro or Digital Pro (which I used before in this site), and install it in your WordPress account (which I also explained in my freelancing guide).

Note

There are many more things I could write about developing your site, like developing a content strategy for your site, or how to design your theme.

For the time being, all I want you to do is create a website where you can show your skills and have a personal portfolio page where you extend your Contently portfolio.

Create a portfolio page

While you’ve already created a Contently portfolio, it’s a good idea you also create a portfolio page in your new site.

If your website is your shop, then you want to have your goodies lined up in the front door, so your customers can see them as they walk down the street, don’t you?

The are two ways you can go around creating your portfolio page. You can:

  1. Add a link to your Contently portfolio in your top menu; or
  2. Create a brand-new portfolio page

Add a link to your Contently portfolio

Let’s start with the first one. In your WordPress menu to your left, hover the “Appearance” button and click on “Menu.”

MENU IMAGE

If you already have a menu, scroll down a bit where I explain how to add the link to your existing menu.

If you don’t have a menu yet, click on the “create a new menu” button.

create new menu

Give the menu a name, like “top header” or something of that sort, and click on “Create Menu.”

create menu

Whether you created a new menu or not, to add a link to it, you need to go to the left sidebar, click on “Custom Links,” add your portfolio link, and give it a name like “My Writing Portfolio.”

Click on “Add to Menu” and that will add your portfolio to your menu.

CUSTOM LINK MENU

In my case, I nested the portfolio link within my “Content Marketing Services” page.

menu page

Here’s how it looks like:

PORTFOLIO MENU

Create a brand-new portfolio page

To create a portfolio page, hover the “Pages” link in the sidebar and click on “Add New.”

ADD NEW PAGE

Name it “Portfolio” and publish it.

portfolio page

In here, add all your pieces (or your most favorite ones) and give them a basic explanation, just like you did in Grammarly.

Here’s a good example from Pawel Grabowski, who has an extensive portfolio page where he explains his best pieces:

portfolio example

If you want to make your writing portfolio even better, you can not only share your pieces but also add more flare to it.

For example, you can explain what you tried to do with each piece you published, or the results you got for your client, or more.

It’s your site, so you can be as creative as you want.

Finally, add this new page to your menu. Instead of adding a link, however, you will add a new page.

In the left sidebar, find your portfolio page, select it, and click on “Add to Menu.”

add portfolio page

Note

There are many portfolio plugins you can use, but since I’ve not used any of them, I can’t tell whether they’re good or not. Test them at your own risk.

You’re almost done creating your page. Before we move on to the last (and most exciting) part, let’s take a look at your “About” page, an elemental part of your brand.

Step #5: Write Your “About” Page

The about page is a key part of your site where you present yourself to the world; it’s a story-driven, value-focused business card. In it, you take your prospects from thinking “who’s this?” to “how can I work with him/her/them?

Any high-converting about page has six elements that characterize them. When you set it up, remember to add each of these elements so you can increase its persuasive power.

Your unique value proposition

First and foremost, your about page needs to talk about your unique value proposition — that is, the value you bring to your prospect.

Since you are getting started, it’s best that you focus on a simple sentence that sums up your service’s value. Most freelance writers I know, often focus on any of the following value proposition:

  • I bring traffic to your software company
  • I deliver leads to your business
  • My content generates trust
  • My content gets clicks, shares, and conversions
  • I will generate revenue through my content

Your value proposition needs to be unique to you. After all, it’s called a unique value proposition.

For example, in my about page, I ask my reader:

unique value proposition

I know my content can deliver traffic because that’s what I like doing, and that’s what I’ve done for my previous clients.

If you’re not sure about your value proposition, ask yourself:

  • What do I like to do the most?
  • How would I like to help my clients?
  • What results have my content driven?
  • What are my unique skills I bring to the table?
  • What are the most painful needs my clients have that I can help them with?

Your mission and values

In the business world, there’s a lot said about developing a mission statement. Most of it is bullshit.

How many times have you seen a company saying that their mission is to “satisfy our customers” and then get ignored whenever you contact them for support?

Because mission and values are personal, you can’t “develop” them out of thin air. And since this is your personal business, they shouldn’t be separated from you either.

I like thinking that your mission and values are an extension of your identity.

For example, I love writing, and I’m extremely proud of the content I write. For that reason, it’s my mission to make the best content there’s in any subject I write. I didn’t decide on this; it just came out of me.

My values are dedication, truthfulness, and attention to detail.

I say this because all my content shows that I dedicated a lot of time into it, that I care about the truth of the subject, and that I put effort into making sure it looks good in the smallest details.

I recommend that you write a sentence or two about your mission and values, but at the end of the day, it’s more important that you show both of them through your actions and results than through your words.

Here’s a great example from Aaron Wrixon, who does a fantastic job of explaining his company’s values:

WRITING PORTFOLIO ABOUT PAGE

Your story

The reason why any prospect would check your site is to get to know you. If they wanted a cheap writer, they’d have gone to Upwork or Problogger. In your site, they want to learn about you.

Sharing a brief personal story will help create an emotional connection with them. This can simply explain how you got to become a writer, the experience you have, and the purpose that drives you to work as a writer.

Once again, here’s a good example from Aaron Wrixon, who explains who he is:

WRITING PORTFOLIO STORY

Social proof

Your visitors will want to check if you are for real. Social proof elements like any past clients with whom you’ve worked, awards you’ve won, badges that show your expertise, professional licenses or educational diplomas, and press mentions that you got will help you add a third dimension to your about page.

In my case, I mention both the clients with whom I’ve worked and the sites I’ve been published, both of which work great to prove myself to my reader.

In my site, I give two rounds of social proof: one at the beginning, where I show the companies I worked for (you can check that in the image I showed above), and one where I show the sites I’ve written for.

writing portfolio social proof

Case studies

A more powerful way to show your worth is to use case studies. They are where the rubber meets the road; you’re showing what you can do.

Earlier you saw that having a USP and mission matters, but your case studies make them tangible and real. It’s one thing to say your content drives traffic; it’s another to show the traffic you’ve gotten.

If you have any results you can share, then do it, like I have in my Campaign Monitor case study.

A beautiful writing portfolio page

One great about page I found that shows all of these elements in place is the one from Jeff Goins:

ABOUT PAGE GOINS

As you can see, in a few sentences, he shows every element (except case studies, which he doesn’t need) that makes his about page highly relevant for anyone interested in getting to know him.

Your about page doesn’t have to be complicated. Add these six elements I showed in here in a few sentences, and it will be above the competition.

Step ∞: Continue Developing Your Portfolio

The process of developing your writing portfolio isn’t static; you need to continuously add new pieces to make it better every week. Your goal is, as Cal Newport puts it in his phenomenal book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore It.”

Your writing portfolio will grow over two axes:

  • The topics you like to write about
  • The sites you’d like to write on

First, you need to know the topics that you can write nonstop for at least a year. When you’re getting started, you need to get yourself known, so the more you publish — as a guest post, for a client, or in your site — the better.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I the most experienced at?
  • What do I love reading about?
  • What am I willing to learn more of?
  • What topics interest me?
  • What topics interest me?

In my experience, this isn’t a black-and-white answer, where I defined I wanted to write about content marketing. Instead, it was something that I knew in my gut and just let myself get carried by it.

On the other hand, you need to have a shortlist of sites you’d like to publish on. In my case, I literally researched a large volume of sites that accepted guest posts and contributions. I had over 100 sites that I’d like to write on, from BigCommerce and Foundr (two sites I ended up writing in!) to FastCompany and Wired (where I haven’t written…yet).

writing sites

I could share that list with you, but this isn’t relevant for everyone. Your industry and niche will have its unique list of sites where you can publish on.

For that reason, I recommend you implement the advice I laid out in my guest blogging guide.

Let’s quickly go over this so you can develop your list of sites to publish.

How to find +100 sites to write on

The first step is the most entertaining: make a list of all the dream sites you’d like to write on.

Put a timer for 20 minutes and brainstorm any site you’d like to write on, regardless of its size of the chances you have to get published on it. If you want to write at Vogue or Harvard Business Review, go for it.

After you’ve done this, let’s take the SEO-friendly way (i.e., the nerdiest 🤓).

Make a list of 20 keywords around your industry and use them with each of the following search footprints:

  • “add guest post”
  • “become a contributor”
  • “become a guest blogger”
  • “become a guest writer”
  • “become an author”
  • “contribute to our site”
  • “guest post by”
  • “guest post guidelines”
  • “now accepting guest posts”
  • “submission guidelines”
  • “this guest post is from”
  • “this guest post was written”
  • “this is a guest article”
  • “this is a guest post by”
  • “want to write for”
  • “write for us”
  • inurl:guest-posts
  • inurl:write-for-us

Ideally, you should add the sites that you know that accept guest posts. Most of the footprints above focus on that, so you should be fine, but double check.

This entire process will take at least 2 hours, but should probably take 10 hours, since this is the foundation on which you will build your writing profession.

With this list, you need to follow the advice I laid in my freelance writing guide, which includes:

  1. Pitch the sites
  2. Write the piece
  3. Write the bio
  4. Send the piece
  5. Promote it to your audience

The key behind every successful freelance writer is to continue growing their portfolio, improving their skills, and becoming an authority in their industry.

Here’s what you need to do next

Now you’ve seen what it takes to build a writing portfolio, it’s time you get started.

If you already haven’t taken any action yet, then pick up the following checklist, which takes all the steps mentioned in this guide, and get started working.

Click here to download to get the article’s summarized version with the exact steps to open a writing portfolio.
How to Develop a Writing Portfolio
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