Create a Portfolio that gets you Hired

create freelance portfolio

If you’re replying to ads on job boards, you’ve probably come across a few gigs that you would LOVE to land but you know deep down you’re not there yet.

Maybe you only have a small collection of clips or no writing samples in this niche. So you probably won’t get it, even with your best email but whelp, you’ve found a goal. You can set yourself up to get hired for that job (or one like it) in the future.

You just need to upgrade your portfolio.

What subjects are popular on job boards?

If you’re not already, familiarize yourself with the popular job boards for writers and bloggers. Look at what subjects people are paying to have written about. Find some dream jobs. Start applying and sending emails on those you have interest or experience in.

What subjects do you want to spend your time writing about?

Perusing the job boards is a great way to find the intersection of your interests and the job market. Some subjects are perennial, like health and fitness. Others are technical or editorial. The idea is to decide what topic, writing format or niche will hold your interest, long-term. Do you dream of being a DIY goddess? How about the personal-finance go-to guy? Maybe you want to specialize in grant writing.

Make sure when setting your career goals that you don’t overlook technical niches. Specializing in a particular form of writing can be just as lucrative and rewarding as writing repeatedly about a topic. For a list of specialties, check out this post on WOW! Women On Writing.

What popular blogs and publications would look good on your resume?

Once you’ve set a long-term goal for your niche, determine what publications and articles would help you get that job. Picture a feature on your website where you display the logos of publications where your work has appeared once you’ve become established in your niche.

What logos would you like to see?

What links in an email would impress editors in this niche and give you a shot at writing for them?

I have a bucket list of publications I have my eye on and my list is constantly growing as I set my sights higher. Make a bookmark folder and save these publications there.

What types of articles does the publication buy (or publish) from freelancers?

Now that you’ve discovered which publications you want to write for, you can start pitching smaller sites that cover the same subject or sending queries for the same style of writing.

But whether you have your sites set on a print magazine or you plan to guest post, finding publications willing to purchase your freelance article ideas begins with checking their writer or submission guidelines. This handy document (usually) tells you everything you need to know about proposing your article, from where to send your pitch to tips on landing the assignment.

If you’re pitching a publication that has departments, make sure you are pitching a section that accepts freelance submissions. Print publications usually make special note of which sections freelancers should target. These tend to be short, front-of-the-book features. Then, once you have some clips, set your sights higher and pitch a few magazine features.

What article ideas could you pitch that would fit these sites?

If I’m planning to pitch a blog, I spend some time scrolling through the headlines of popular and recent posts to get a feel for what they publish. There’s plenty more you should research before you write your pitch: post format, categories, image requirements for DIY and recipe submissions. But for now, just scroll and brainstorm article titles you could pitch within your subject, that also fit the publication.

The same goes for print publications. Get a copy. Check out archives on their website. Pitch them something that fits their brand and you’ll be halfway there.

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Does the site accept queries or do they want to see the finished piece?

Again, check the submission guidelines. One publication might want to see an outline while another will expect an email with multiple article ideas. Some will want to see a finished article, ready for publication.

This is referred to as on-spec and can be an asset to new writers. If you’re low on clips, writing an email highlighting your experience is going to be a stretch…but you can certainly impress that editor with a finished, polished piece.

Both queries and on-spec have their pros and cons. The benefit of the query or outline submission is that you don’t write the article before it’s accepted so you save yourself time and effort. If you write something on-spec, make sure it is as close to perfect as possible before submitting, though you may still be asked to edit which is usually a good sign that the publication is interested.

Are you willing to work for exposure?

This has become a controversial freelance question…and for good reason. Many wealthy, content-driven publications accept and publish freelance articles but pay, not in part of the profits, but in exposure.

The Huffington Post recently took an onslaught of negative press for their failure to pay writers. Do I agree with mega-publications building their content libraries at the sake of freelancers, who negate pay for the privilege of gaining an impressive clip? Yes and no.

I disagree with the common practice but you’d better believe I’ve written pro-Bono articles in an effort to build my portfolio. Obviously, it’s up to you whether you write for exposure (or clips) but if you’re planning on making a living, you’ll need paid work as well. The trick is to use the free work to get paid work.

Now what?

Write, outline, pitch, and submit your work…rinse and repeat. It won’t be long before you’re sending out emails to prospective clients, studded with impressive links to your quality portfolio and clips from around the web. Even better, your samples will directly relate to the niche you’re targeting and you’ll enjoy more replies and follow-up emails in your inbox for steady freelance—or even staff—positions.

Don’t forget to eventually send an email to that ‘dream’ publication. Let them know who you’ve been writing for and offer your content services. 🙂


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I spent years working low-paying jobs. I’ve been a cashier. A line cook. I unloaded trucks. These days I support myself and my children with my writing. It’s a new and exciting life – and I want the same for you!

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