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Building Your Freelance Writing Portfolio From Scratch

Freelance Writing Portfolio made from scratch

If you wish to build your freelance writing portfolio from scratch, you first must create the universe.

Creating a portfolio ex nihilo, or “out of nothing,” is a hurdle every freelance writer faces at the beginning of their career. How do you fill a portfolio with professional writing samples if you lack professional experience? And how do you gain professional experience without professional writing samples?

building your writing portfolio

Fortunately, building your writing portfolio from scratch doesn’t have to be such a Catch 22, as there are plenty of portfolio-building opportunities that require little to no prior experience. Sure, these opportunities aren’t exactly glamorous, but your goal isn’t to dazzle a potential client with New York Times clippings, it’s to demonstrate your writing abilities and prove your value.

To start building your writing portfolio, follow these strategies.

Dig Through Your Past Work

If you’re trying to be a freelance writer, there’s a good chance you’ve already done some writing. so grab a shovel and get digging. Whether it’s from last month, last year, or last decade, there’s bound to be something worth revisiting.

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Past writing samples can include, but are certainly not limited to:

Once you’ve excavated your eligible samples, cherry pick the very best pieces. Your portfolio should be comprehensive, but it should also be curated.

Go Pro Bono

While past writings can make great portfolio lining, you want the meat of your freelance writing portfolio to contain more recent – and more relevant – writing material. Finding unpaid opportunities is one way to accomplish this.

Unlike most paid writing opportunities, someone hiring an unpaid writer doesn’t always have the luxury of being picky. Fortunately, the opposite holds true for you. With a broad horizon of unpaid opportunities to choose from, this is your chance to be discerning, so concentrate your efforts on pro bono opportunities that allow you to really flex your writing muscles. If you already know your writing niche, focus on niche-specific opportunities to enhance your credibility as a thought-leader in that niche. (If you haven’t chosen a niche yet, this might help).

If you’re not sure how to find pro bono gigs, here are some ideas.

building your freelance writing portfolio

Make Your Own Opportunities

You’d think that businesses would be chomping at the bit if a writer offered their services at no cost, but mankind’s capacity for flakiness knows no bounds. Sometimes, the only person you can rely on is yourself.

Here are a few ideas for the lone wolf in you.

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Low-Paid Gigs

Just like unpaid writing gigs, you should approach low-paid (and we’re talking low-paid) gigs as merely a stepping stone, nothing more. These jobs are temporary, and if you truly want to make a career out of writing, low-paid gigs are not sustainable.

Still, as a portfolio-building opportunity, they are certainly worth the effort. Here are some low-paid writing gigs that even inexperienced writers can land:

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Portfolio Builders

Hopefully you’ve now assembled a solid sampler plate of your best work. Maybe you’re keeping it in a folder on your desktop, maybe you’ve printed everything out and are storing it in an inflatable kid’s pool. Since the entire purpose of building a writing portfolio is so that you can show it to potential clients, it’s time to upload that kid’s pool to the Internet.

If you have a knack for web development, then by by all means go do your thing, but if coding isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are a number of writer-specific portfolio builders you can take advantage of. They may not be as customizable as website builders like SquareSpace and Wix, but they take care of the basics.

Below is a quick overview of three popular writer-specific portfolio builders.

Clippings.me

Pros

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Cons

Pressfolios

Pros

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Cons

Contently

Pros

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Cons

Conclusion

If you’re willing to work for free, building a writing portfolio from scratch is not only possible, it’s practical. The process will expose you to different types of writing, clients, and publishing mediums, and you’ll learn the art of the freelancer hustle while making valuable connections that can serve you down the road. Remember, unpaid and low-paid gigs are not the rule, they’re the exception, and with a rich and versatile portfolio in tow, you’ll soon be earning fair compensation.

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