Tips for Building Your Freelance Writing Portfolio
One of the most important things you can show your potential clients is your
portfolio. A portfolio is an organized collection of samples of your work. A
well-prepared portfolio showcases your accomplishments, skills and abilities.
While employers typically won't want to read that 500-page user manual that you
wrote a year ago, they will want to see it (or portions of it) so they know you
can do the work. They also may want to compare your writing to the work of
What to Put in Your Portfolio
When you're building your portfolio, first you have to select examples of your
work that you're very proud of. After you've made your initial selection, go
through the samples you've picked again and choose those that best demonstrate
your abilities. For example, you may have written a letter to the editor that
you're really proud of, but does that letter demonstrate your ability to write a
proposal or user manual? If the work doesn't showcase the abilities to do the
work your clients want, be sure you know why you want to include it. You don't
have to include only technical documents in your portfolio. If, for example,
you've had articles published in magazines, include some samples of this type of
writing to show your versatility. Just be sure to remember that you're building
a portfolio to convince someone to hire you. If the letter to the editor is
about a controversial subject, you may alienate a potential employer no matter
how well-written the letter is.
Since many people are visually oriented and won't want to read a lot of
technical material, choose works that are visually appealing that may also
contain graphics. s
Be selective about what you include in your portfolio. Use only your very
best work. And remember, a portfolio is a work in progress. Review it at least
once a year to update it and remove materials that no longer fit.
As you are selecting the work that you want in your portfolio, write a note
about why you're choosing it. Write why you believe it is a superior example of
your work, what qualities it demonstrates about you, or what you learned by
writing the piece. This will help you remember key points about each sample when
you're showing your portfolio to potential clients.
Whenever possible, include samples that show more than one aspect of your
ability. This will enable you to use fewer samples in your portfolio and
demonstrate the scope of your abilities. For example, let's say you have two
writing samples that you especially like. One is all text and the other has
several graphics that you designed in addition to writing the text. Choose one
that shows both your writing visual design abilities.
Organizing Your Writing Samples
I recommend that you have three portfolios:
- A collection of your original samples that you keep in a safe place.
- A physical portfolio that you can take to clients, and..
- An online portfolio of your documents that you've scanned and uploaded
to your website.
I also recommend that you keep samples of all work that you do, even if you
don't think you'll use it in your portfolio. You never know when something
you've written can help you get a job.
To organize your originals, you can use expandable folders to group different
types of documents. These are good because you can easily store samples of
When it comes time to put together a portfolio that you can show a client,
make copies of your original writing samples and purchase a three-ring binder.
This type of binder is a good option because you can flip through the pages
easily. If you use a three-ring binder, use plastic sheet protectors to encase
your writing samples. This helps keep your samples from getting worn and torn.
I think it's wise to keep at least your original and two additional copies of
your writing samples. Protect your originals and try to use your copies (online
or physical) in your presentations so the originals don't become damaged.
Putting Your Portfolio Together
When you're putting your portfolio together, think in terms of how you will
present it to potential clients. A standard portfolio is often just a collection
of writing samples. While this will show clients your work, you also can go
further and make your portfolio a presentation that shows clients bits and
pieces of work that you've done in the past. You can reduce the size of some
pages of work that you're really proud of, and then write the benefits this
document provided for the customer or a client testimonial alongside of the
image. By doing this, your portfolio becomes more of a sales presentation.
Some people put their resumes in their portfolio. Again, this is acceptable,
but if possible include a profile of your company. A profile differs from a
resume in that profiles are more graphically oriented, more specific about the
individual projects, less specific about times you worked on them, and include
One of the benefits of using a profile instead of a resume is that you can
easily tailor your profile to your client. In a resume you typically list
projects chronologically. If you change the order of the projects for certain
clients, it could look very strange.
Your profile might include the following:
- A title page that has the name of your company and your logo.
- A page that describes your services and summarizes your experience.
After you've done work for several clients, you also might include a list of
companies you've worked for.
- Examples of your work.
Done properly and tastefully, a profile is a professional way of highlighting
your capabilities. Writers with a lot of samples can use this and writers with
very few samples can use it equally well. Think of it as being more of a
presentation of your abilities than a portfolio.
If you worked on a project with other people, you still can include it in
your portfolio. Write a description of what you contributed to the project,
including what skills you brought to the table and how you dealt with project
challenges. If you received special recognition for your contribution to the
project, be sure to include that in your comments. If you don't have any
comments from your clients about your work, ask for them. Make sure that you
obtain permission from people to use their comments in your portfolio.
Proofreading Your Portfolio
If there is one error or typo in your writing, you can be sure that at least one
potential client will notice it. To prevent this from happening and also to make
sure that your portfolio is as organized as you want it to be, put your physical
portfolio aside for a few days, and then review it again. Try to view it as
though you are seeing it for the first time. What is your overall impression of
your portfolio? What do you think of the choices you've made in putting it
together? Does anything (positive or negative) stand out?
Next, read every page in your portfolio. If there are any errors or typos,
make corrections if possible.
Finally, ask one or more people to review your portfolio and give you
comments about it. If possible, find readers who work in the same fields that
you are targeting with your business.
How to Present Your Portfolio
Remember those notes that you made when you were selecting the writing samples
to include in your portfolio? These come in handy when you are preparing your
presentation with your portfolio. First, as with any presentation, prepare a
script or make notes about what you want to say. You should point out what is
unique or important about each sample in your portfolio.
If possible, rehearse your presentation in front of your family or friends.
This will help you build confidence and make your presentation go more smoothly.
Try to engage your audience from the beginning of your presentation so you
can be assured of providing them with the information they really need.
During your presentation and at its conclusion, encourage your audience to
ask questions and give people time to look at your writing samples.
Some clients may ask if they can keep your portfolio so they can look it over
in more detail. Many writers are reluctant to leave their portfolios with
clients because the client might remove some of the samples, or it might be
accidentally lost or damaged. At the same time, clients may need more time to
review your work, especially when theyíre talking with more than one freelancer
for a project.
Personally I never leave my physical portfolio with clients. I used to do so,
but then I was bidding on a job with an out-of-state client. In our telephone
interview, I thought they sounded pretty disorganized and when I hung up the
phone, I thought that even if they chose me for the project, I wasn't sure I'd
want to work with them. The next day, they called and asked me to send them my
portfolio, saying that I was one of three freelancers in the running for the
In the end, I decided to send them my portfolio. At the time, I was in the
process of moving, and hadn't yet copied some of the originals I would
ordinarily send to this particular company. So I foolishly decided to send them
my portfolio with originals instead of copies. When I sent it to them, I
included a letter thanking them for requesting my materials and also return
postage. Two weeks later, I called my contact at the company. He told me that
the project had been put on hold. When I asked him about my portfolio, he said
he wasn't sure where it was, but would track it down for me. It took six months
and talking to three other people to get my portfolio returned to me. Thatís the
only time that something like this has ever happened to me, but when youíre
facing the possibility of losing some original samples of your work, you donít
forget the experience!
When clients want to keep your portfolio for a while, you could ask them if
you can make copies of your writing samples and drop them off later. This also
would provide you with a good opportunity to attach a letter thanking the client
for the meeting and encouraging him or her to contact you.
Building a Portfolio When You're First Starting Out
If you've never worked as a technical writer before, a good way to get some
writing samples for your portfolio is to do some free work for a nonprofit.
Call some churches or schools in your neighborhood and tell them that you're
trying to get some writing samples. Ask them if they'd allow you to come to
their facility and write a short procedures manual for some specific tasks. If
they're agreeable to the idea, ask them what they would like for you to
document. Offer some ideas, such as writing a procedure guide for setting up the
dining room for a church supper, or how to write a lesson plan using a
One caveat here: Unless you're willing to volunteer your time, make sure that
the person you're writing the manual for understands that this will be a short,
focused manual. You're not volunteering to document all of the tasks and
procedures performed in the organization. Ideally, you should be able to talk to
your subject matter experts one day, write the manual the next day, and give it
to the person you talked to on the third day.
You might, however, decide that you don't mind working as a volunteer
technical writer for an organization that means a lot to you. In addition to the
personal gratification you'll feel at helping out your favorite charity or
organization, you'll gain some great new samples for your portfolio.
Putting Your Portfolio Online
A business website gives you professional credibility, and is yet another way to
reach potential customers. Scanning some samples of your work and adding them to
your website is easy and a great way to show your work.
If you have the files for your work on your computer, you won't even need to
scan them. Simply save your samples as Portable Document Format (PDF) files so
the formatting won't change, and then add them to your website. If you have
Adobe Acrobat or an application that has Adobe Acrobat's distiller as a
component (such as Adobe FrameMaker), you will be able to convert your files to
PDF on your computer.
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