The why of a writing portfolio – Do you have one?

After recently updating one of my online portfolios, I figured it might be good to have a quick overview of what they are and why they’re essential to any freelancer (applicable not just to writers but designers, developers, artists, and many other careers).

Let’s run a quick mental exercise. Let’s say you want to hire someone to paint your house. The painter arrives, takes a glance at your house, and quotes you a few thousand smackers to get the job done. Are you just going to sign the contract right there, hand over the cash, cross your fingers, and hope for the best?

I sure hope not! What most folks would do is try to get a feel for whether this particular painter is actually worth the cost. You might ask him, for example, “Have you painted any houses in the neighborhood?” The intent being that you’d drive by and take a look to make sure the guy didn’t slap a yellow smiley face sticker on the garage door and call it a job well done.

However, this guy answers, “No. You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m the best painter available.”

So…you call over another painter. He quotes you the same price, but when you ask for examples of his work, he whips out a binder full of amazing photos of houses he’s painted over the past ten years. Better yet, he gives you a  business card with a website that has even more of his work displayed, including virtual tours of interiors he’s painted as well.

Now let’s turn the situation around. You’re a [FILL IN THE BLANK]. I choose [WRITER], for obvious reasons. I get in touch with a client who needs copy for his new business website. Maybe some emails and a brochure. Oftentimes, this person will be getting dozens of other writers applying for this gig. How do I not only prove that I can get the work done, but also show him the variety of styles and formats that I’ve already done for many other satisfied clients just like him? If he’s afraid that hiring me would be a waste of time and money, how do I prove him wrong?

My portfolio(s) of course. I’ve got two, one on this site and the other on my oDesk profile. I try to keep them somewhat similar in the samples they display, the format is just a bit different.

These then, and the individual samples they contain, act as my proof. They’re a major bargaining chip in getting the work I need to sustain my freelancing career. Without them, I’d be at a serious disadvantage in just applying for a job, much less making myself stand out from the crowd.

A portfolio also acts as a history of career highlights. It can show off my favorite clients and the projects that turned out looking the best. And it can be a huge time-saver on both ends. The more accessible my portfolio is, the easier it is for potential clients to scan it and decide whether I’d work best for them.

Lastly, one of the most critical reasons to have a portfolio (especially an online one) is that many clients these days expect you to have one and might auto-reject your applications otherwise! If you can’t quickly link them to examples of your work, then they’re going to wonder whether you’re professional enough for them. And, let’s be honest, in these times, the ease of building an online portfolio leaves no excuse for lacking such a critical component of your writing career.

Do you have a portfolio? How do you set one up? What should it include? We’re going to look at those questions more in-depth over the next few posts, plus point out some resources and tools to help the process along.

4 comments on “The why of a writing portfolio – Do you have one?

  1. Stacy S. Jensen on said:

    Hmm. This made me think. Most of my writing work is either for publications no longer online or with newspapers that probably don’t have my work up.

  2. JRVogt on said:

    Do you have any copies of either the original documents you submitted? Those can certainly be used, referencing whichever publication they were printed in. Sometimes cached versions of old websites can be found through search engines, depending on how long ago they went offline. And many newspapers have microfilm archives you could sort through and print your articles from (sometimes these have even been scanned online). Just some options on how to track down work that isn’t as accessible anymore.

  3. Michelle Saint-Germain on said:

    Great idea on the portfolio. Thanks for sharing this idea.

  4. How to Build A Business Using Freelancers on said:

    Well this is really a great help for the people who wanted to do some outsourced work and they dont know how and from where to find a contract and you really made it very easy for those people.

    How to Build A Business Using Freelancers

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