Picture this scenario: Editor X receives two nearly identical pitches—one from Writer A and one from Writer B. Writer A uses snappier language and a more appealing tone but doesn’t reference any previous publications. Writer B, meanwhile, concludes her pitch with a link to an online portfolio of her work. With one click of the mouse, Editor X can read through her best stories and find out where they were published. She likes what she sees. To whom does she respond? Writer B, of course.
Your ability to represent yourself online—and be readily found—is a crucial part of establishing yourself as a writer and building your credibility. As you seek work, you need a portfolio that is digital in format, easy to navigate, and professional. In most cases, it is your published clips or commissioned projects that should come to the fore, rather than you as the writer—though a headshot of yourself (not a selfie), an About section, and a link to your resume or LinkedIn profile can all be appropriate.
Steps to building a successful portfolio:
- Know your niche. The first thing you want to consider when building a portfolio is how to tailor it to your particular industry. If you want to pursue a career in copywriting for an ad agency, your portfolio will look different from one intended for the nonprofit sector.Check out the websites and online portfolios of a few writers you admire in your industry to see how they represent themselves before building your own. If you have multiple specialties as a writer, you may want to build separate pages or even separate sites for each topic area or genre.
- Choose your work wisely. Don’t pile everything you’ve ever written into your portfolio. Instead, be selective. Put forward only work you want an editor’s attention drawn to. This may mean you begin with only 3-5 pieces in your portfolio, which is fine.If there is a new category of work you want to pursue, consider creating sample content to represent how you would handle an assignment. Want to break into PR? Draft a press release for a new business in your neighborhood. As long as the sample is highly professional—and you make clear that it is not a commissioned or published work—then it’s fair game to include.
- Select a professional platform. There are endless options available for creating a portfolio that is highly professional in appearance and affordable—or even free! Some of the most respected sites include Contently, Squarespace, Clippings.me, Pressfolios, and Issuu. Take a look at their sample sites and portfolios to get an idea of the aesthetic and organizational possibilities before you begin. Remember to keep your design simple and uncluttered. If you can, customize the domain name to your own name or your business name.
- Get feedback. Once you’ve built your portfolio, consider sending it to a couple trusted colleagues, classmates, or mentors for their review. Ask them what sort of impression your portfolio conveys. Once you’ve made any needed adjustments, you can begin linking to your portfolio each time you correspond with an editor or client. You can even consider including it in your email signature or adding it to your LinkedIn profile.
- Keep it fresh. Finally, as you acquire more writing samples and published clips, update your portfolio. Don’t neglect to keep your portfolio updated with new content and weed out the old. Your online portfolio should evolve as the trajectory of your professional writing evolves, and it should keep helping you win new business.