Building Your Writing Portfolio

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

Freelance writing is a perfect way to build your writing portfolio. With a well built portfolio, you can eventually charge more for your freelance services or land a staff writing job. To build your portfolio, you'll first need to start writing.

Sample Works

You can create sample work at anytime for anything. No client necessary. Create a fake product and write a brochure about it. Research a newsworthy topic and write an article about it. Invent a company and write ads for them.

Never suggest that your sample work was made for an actual client (that would be a lie), but you don't have to come right out and announce, "All of this is fake!" If a potential client asks about the clients for your sample work, be honest and tell them,  "These particular items are sample materials." Then, immediately switch to an actual project for a real client and say, "This [article, brochure, etc.] here was for [actual client], and they were very satisfied because...."

If you are creating a portfolio for fiction writing, you will likely have lots of sample works already sitting around.

Class Assignments

If you take an academic class, there is a good chance that you'll eventually end up having to write a paper of some sort. Keep your project (especially if it got a good grade) and reprint it into a professional format. Lab reports for science classes will demonstrate how you can handle technical projects. Reports for social studies classes demonstrate how you can write about past and current events. Book reports demonstrate how you are able to review products (in this case the product is a book). Short stories for creative writing classes show that you are able to think creatively as well.

Contest Entries

There's a contest for everything. Some require entry fees while others are free. Some contests offer major prizes for winners while others do little more than pat you on the back, but both can help your career. Winning a contest can give you a nice award to list on your resume and the title of award winning writer. Such prestige will often allow you to get a toe in the door, and sometimes even your whole foot. Even if you don't win, being a finalist, semi-finalist, etc. can put you ahead of the competition. If you don't reach any finalist status or receive any special recognition, you can still use your contest entry in your portfolio, and if the contest has strict qualification for entry, you can even proudly state that being accepted into the competition was an accomplishment in itself.

Pro Bono Works

Pro bono means for the public's good, which is a very professional way to say free of charge. Find some non-profit organizations, schools, etc., and offer to do some projects for them for free. These clients are almost always happy with your work because they don't have to pay for it. You can help a good cause and build your portfolio at the same time. Plus, many such organizations are happy to give you letters of recommendations or testimonials, and they will usually allow you to use them as a referral because it increases publicity for their organization.

There is typically no need to tell that you did the work pro bono.

Discount Work

Determine how much you would like to charge for each type of project (hourly, flat fee, etc.) then offer big discounts to select clients, such as small companies, home based businesses, organizations on a tight budget, non-profit organizations, etc. in return for using the work in your portfolio. They get quality professional work and you get a paid project for your portfolio.

Regular Work

Eventually, you will land a normal paying job. Just like all other projects, you can typically use this work in your portfolio unless contracts with your clients do not allow you to disclose that you worked on the project (typical of some ghost writing contracts).

The nicest thing about this kind of work is that you may actually make enough from it to sustain yourself financially, and knowing your work is worth that kind of money gives you quite an ego boost too.