How to Rock Your Freelance Portfolio When You Have No Experience

So what should you include if you’ve got nothing to show?

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Let me start by telling you this. My entire so-called “writing career” was shaped by the oddly adequate relationships I have with the people I’ve worked with.

I never had to show my portfolio to a stranger inside some cold and distant office that took three hours of insane traffic to reach for a chance to ghostwrite an op-ed for an adult magazine that nobody actually reads. I also never had to have drinks with the editors at some night club to talk about a story idea I thought had a decent chance to be featured on the front page of a newspaper.

In fact, the only time I had to show full-fledged clippings of my writing in a real binder was that time when I trained as a journalist for about a year or so.

Aside from that one time, two to three writing samples in an email to a friend’s friend (a real person) was usually enough to get the work.

But now that I’m working on building a digital presence online, I’m practically a newbie again. Constantly learning new skills, but without lines after lines in my resume to back up all my newly acquired knowledge.

It almost feels like I have zero experience.

I practically had to rebuild my work from scratch and create a digital portfolio worthy of a serious look.

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What’s a Digital Portfolio?

Your portfolio is basically just proof of the claims you make in your resume.

Before actually building that writing portfolio, you need to decide on where your works are going to live on the web.

If you’ve got a personal website, fine. Add a portfolio page and include the URL in your resume.

If you’re still exploring the possibility of starting your own freelance writer website, you’ll have the option to code your own portfolio page or use a website builder that already has a built-in portfolio feature.

Many freelance platforms now come with a CV+ portfolio format. Potential clients input their project requirements and the site’s algorithm will try to come up with the most suitable matches from the platform’s roster of remote workers.

That’s why it is very important that you fill your online portfolio with as much relevant information as possible to increase your chances of being matched.

What to Focus On

As a freelancer, a good portfolio is more important than a lifetime of experience. Clients are not going to be concerned about your career, just what you can do for them.

You can talk about yourself when they finally invite you to a party or a holiday dinner with the team.

The fact that you are new or just beginning on this path should not stop you from building a stellar portfolio. Don’t get too occupied with the fact that you have nothing to show yet. Instead, focus on these other portfolio items.

1. Must-Haves: The Basic Elements

Everything your portfolio must have to function.

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Your goal with the portfolio should be to introduce yourself, to summarize your experience and skills, and to help your audience get in touch with you.

There’s no doubt that you will be judged based on any design element you choose for your digital portfolio, so choose wisely. Utilize the tools and resources made available online to make it digital.

1. A well-crafted bio: Introduce (or reintroduce) yourself to your audience. Make sure that your introduction is memorable and interesting enough for them to act upon.

2. Social media handles: Include links to your social media accounts but present these links in a way that will make them feel like they want to engage with you. One possibility is to include a few lines about how to reach you, for example, on Twitter.

3. Resume: A ready-to-download resume is the best you can do. You need to prepare the downloadable file in PDF. But if you’re not yet comfortable with the idea of having strangers download your information online, use a different method. Add a link to request for a CV or a form they can fill from your webpage.

4. Career highlights: Instead of a full resume, a timeline of your career is also acceptable. You could include your milestones, such as “started your first full-time work,” “sold your first book,” “went on your first business trip,” etc.

5. Contact info: Don’t just tell them to contact you. Tell them when they should contact you and how you expect to be approached.

2. The Portfolio: Your ‘Big’ Works

Your works are absolutely necessary.

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Of course, your portfolio is not complete without the works you have done. But this is where writers with zero or minimal experience have close to nothing to show.

I mean, you probably could list all the links you have for all the pieces you wrote for the content mills, but they should certainly be your best work.

There’s no point in overcrowding your portfolio with links to mediocre articles. Here are some other things you should include instead:

1. ‘Spec’ clips

If you have zero work available, why not create a digital mock-up for your dream client? Select any company you would like to work with and write as if you were already working with those clients.

If you can’t think of any dream company, just think up an imaginary publication and write your best piece for them. Label these works “Spec” clips.

You can go the hardcore way and code these works into existence. Or you can use online tools to create these writings on the spec:

  • PlaceIt, Canva: Free and paid design templates to showcase your outstanding copy.
  • Carrd: Create a made-up site for your dream client and fill in the page with your writing. You’ll even be able to share the links to these pages.

If your personal website is already up and running, one way to create writings on the spec is through your blog posts. Create a few posts in the desired niche you want to be working in, and then include the links to these posts on your portfolio.

2. Explanation of your work

Most beginning writers don’t do enough of this, including yours truly. Whenever possible, you should definitely explain the work you did for a piece. Elaborate on the type of work you did for the team, the challenges of working on that piece, and how you overcame these challenges.

This is particularly useful to explain a project, such as a book project, a translation project, your collaboration with the audio/video team, etc.

The point is your work should not have to speak for itself. As the creator, you have the chance to say something about them and you need to take that opportunity whenever you can.

3. Your writing clips (if you have ‘em)

Samples of your writing are usually presented in the form of clips. You cut and paste the writing and lay them out on pieces of paper collected into a binder. When you go meet clients, you’ll show them the clippings.

But since we’re talking digital, you can forget all about the fancy binders. Your clips live on a webpage now, so here’s how you do it:

  • List out your published works. Include the name of the publication, the title of your piece, the date the piece was originally published, and a direct link to the piece.

Or show off your digital skill:

  • Create a cut-and-paste digital clip effect for your work. Many publications make their print version available for view online. So go and find your articles on the web and create screen grabs, and then using Adobe (or free editing software like Gimp) you can lay them out however you want.

Now, what if you do not have your pieces published anywhere at all? Aren’t there any reputable places online that would accept your samples?

4. If you don’t, create!

There are many reputable online publishing platforms where you can write and publish your samples. The first on your list should be your own blog or your website.

If for any reason (such as lack of confidence, false pride, reverse pride, and the likes) you are unable to publish on your own digital home, check out the publishing platforms of your favorite social media channels.

These are good places to start:

  1. LinkedIn Pulse: From your LinkedIn account, select the “write an article” option.
  2. Medium: From your Medium account, select “new story” to write your article.
  3. Facebook Notes: From your Facebook account, select “More” and choose “Notes.”

These platforms that are made for creatives also offer a place to publish your works:

  1. Ello: For artists who work with all mediums, including writing, to sell and share their artworks.
  2. Stampsy: Where you can tell a story with visual content.
  3. Goodreads: Go to the “community” tab and select “creative writing” where you can post any story you want under “my writing.”
  4. Crypto blogging platforms: Check out this list of blogging platforms that reward writers with cryptocurrencies.
  5. We Heart It: This photo-sharing social networking platform recently added an option to write articles.

Try to include only your most recent works. One rule of thumb is no older than two years. But if the pieces are outstanding and have won you awards, then you should not leave those out!

3. Nice-to-Haves: Your Contributions

Skip this part if you’ve never worked a day in your life.

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Your contributions to the industry or the company you worked for can generally be included in your career highlights and/or your resume. Evaluate what you have done and make a note for each of your job roles to include the tasks you carried out. Any achievements should also be listed.

Here are a few other items you could include:

  • Speaking engagements
  • Certifications
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations
  • Books
  • Translation works

4. Always Include These Whenever Possible.

Only include if you want a cut above the rest.

Photo by Ethan Haddox on Unsplash

These are more advanced technical work that you perform in order to manage yourself as a freelancer in your industry. They are optional but are advisable. Including these elements in your portfolio will ensure that your credentials are more effectively highlighted than the rest of the pack:

1. Your Personal Brand

Did you do a SWOT analysis for your personal brand? Did you design your own blog and prepare the copy yourself? Did you edit the translations to better suit the culture of your target market?

Present your personal brand project as you would any other commercial project. Include the tagline you worked on, your brand identity guide, your website design, the whole package.

2. Class Projects or Course Assignments

Any work assignment you completed for a course, whether online or in real life, should definitely go into your portfolio — if they are your best works. Don’t let the fact that a certain type of work was created during class discourage you.

Just be sure to lay out the work in a presentable manner, and make sure that you remove any confidential information first.

3. Proof: Social Media Work

Include screen grabs of any significant work you did for whatever project you were in charge of, whether in student groups, community roles, or volunteer work.

If possible, always provide the analytics.

4. Research

Again, any research you produce during a course assignment or a class project is perfectly valid to be included in your portfolio, especially if they are your best works. This would include any analysis, audits, or exploratory research you did for a project, including your own personal branding project.

5. Posts from Your Blog and Website

The fact that you maintain a blog or develop a website alone is not enough. You need to show that your contents are of high quality and do adhere to the standards.

5. To-Do: More Items to Include

Things you can continue to add to your portfolio.

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Continue building your digital portfolio even if you’ve already found the job of your dream. There’s always more things you can add to it. Who knows what opportunities might find you through that single portfolio page? Here are some more ideas of what to include in your portfolio:

1. Guest posts

Pitch your ideas to reputable online publications or websites that you see as a great fit for your topics of expertise.

2. Pinterest board

You should get creative and categorize your online writing samples on your Pinterest board. Not only will this help you evaluate your writing journey, but you will also be able to link to these boards when you are pitching for writing jobs.

3. Facebook page

Another option is to create a Facebook page to host all your online writings or a select few of them. You can reach more people, build an audience, and attract new opportunities along the way. If you want to help other writers build a stellar portfolio, you can also create a Facebook group for writers.

4. Dream works

If you’ve always had the desire to work on projects beyond the scope of your current niche or changing the course of your writing career, you should probably follow that passion. Write as if you are already working on that dream project or for that dream client. Whether you’re interested in game writer works, writing copy for product packaging, company profile, radio script, TV ads, greeting cards, comic storyboards, or UX writing, you can create your work samples on the spec.

5. Non-profit works

You might want to approach non-profits within your areas of interest and offer to write for them. Just because they are non-profits does not mean that you should work for free. Propose a mutually beneficial agreement where for a project they would get a discount and be featured on your blog with a testimonial. If you have a dream non-profit work in your mind, create the works on the spec and then pitch your service to the company.

6. Press kit

Show the press you mean business. Think about what qualities of yourself you would want published. A press release is necessary when you are just releasing your work — a book, or maybe a website launch. It should include your author bio, some information about your book, a sample of your work, and promotional images of yourself.

7. Translations and interpretations of your works

The final frontier. Not just to have professional, localized, beta-tested translations of your finest works, but beyond that. If you have works that have been converted across media, into videos, podcasts, presentations, or adapted into short stores, poetry, ad copies, etc., you should definitely make sure that your proudest works get in front of the audience you are trying to reach.

8. Promote it

Last but not least, you should always promote your digital portfolio. It’s so easy to do now that you have a link you can track. Add a link to the end of your email, to the profile sections of your social media accounts, anywhere you think your audience might find it.

Always Be Tweaking

Although experience is of great importance to your career, when it comes to freelance work the portfolio gets most of the attention. So don’t shy away from it. Never let your portfolio page be a dead link.

Make sure that everything is in place; check for broken links or grammar mistakes; ask for testimonials from each and every work you do. Always be tweaking and improving.

The deciding factor will probably vary, as there are so many things involved in the hiring process, but even with zero experience, you can still rock that portfolio project and land that dream work.

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