Money - Jobs
By: - at April 21, 2013

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 others.

Handing in Writing Portfolio

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
Organizing Writing SamplesI recommend that you have three portfolios:

  1. A collection of your original samples that you keep in a safe place.
  2. A physical portfolio that you can take to clients, and..
  3. 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 different sizes.

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 client testimonials.

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
ProofreadingIf 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 project.

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 word-processing application.

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
Portfolio OnlineA 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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