Want to build a freelance portfolio? Focus on YOU, rather than building content for others.
When I started as a freelance writer, it was all about the paycheck. I wrote for content farms and just about anyone else who wanted to pay me for content. However, even then, I knew I had to be careful about what I sent to others as portfolio pieces.
In the early days of online content production, I could take my time with a piece on Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices) or something for Demand Media, and point to that as a profile piece. Now, though, it doesn't make sense to build a freelance portfolio in this way. Potential clients — at least the high-paying clients — aren't impressed by your piece on a content farm.
You are better off starting your own blog and showcasing your work there, as well as getting your byline on reputable sites and blogs in your niche. Add the right bricks to your freelance portfolio, and you'll end up with a collection of work that “wows” clients, and has the potential to bring you more money over time.
Build a Freelance Portfolio AND Your Own Blog
It took me years to start my own personal finance blog, even though I had been providing content to several other blogs and web sites. Part of that was due to the fact that I didn't want to mess with the backend that comes with owning your own blog (getting a business partner helped me get over that), and the other part was that I was busy with client work.
When I started, having your own blog wasn't that big a deal. But a lot has changed since I started blogging professionally almost a decade ago. Now, one of the best ways to build a freelance portfolio is to have your own blog and web site. This works for professional bloggers and freelance writers/journalists, as well as for other freelancers, like graphic designers and coders.
If you have a home on the web, you can build a freelance portfolio to show others your abilities, while at the same time making a little money on the side.
I've heard many freelancers talk about signing up for sites that focus more on paying traffic bonuses. Sites like Squidoo and Helium, as well as Yahoo! Voices, can provide you with ongoing, residual income. However, many of these types of sites don't pay you up front, and if they do, the payment is miniscule. You can do a lot of work building a great resource, only to earn peanuts. At the same time, you've built up someone else's site, providing them with traffic and possible conversions.
With today's Internet, there is no reason for the aspiring freelancer to spend so much time building up someone else's site. You can create a high-quality resource on your own blog and monetize it. If you're going to drive traffic to a web site in the hopes of earning money, you might as well drive traffic to your own blog. You have the chance to earn a little extra, and you set yourself up as an expert, since potential clients can see your work and see that you have your own home on the web.
This is especially effective with writers, graphic designers, and web developers. However, SEO experts, coders, social media community manages, and freelance PR folks can also use a web site or blog to showcase expertise, ability, and work. Good “About” and “Press” pages, as well as a “Sample” or “Client” page with links to clients and work done, can help your cause.
Build a Freelance Portfolio with Your Byline
As a writer, getting your byline out there is important. While it's good to have your own blog/web site, it's also a good idea to show potential clients that others like your work, too. You want to build a freelance portfolio that includes your byline elsewhere. (This is where a Google Plus profile can come in handy; your About portion can include links to Author pages on other sites.)
I built my freelance business by providing content to other blogs. I still provide content to a variety of blogs — most of them reputable. There are even times that I've submitted articles for free, just to get a byline on a reputable site, even though I'm not normally fond of working for “exposure.”
Consider how a byline on a particular site can boost your authority and build a freelance portfolio that is a little more impressive. It's best if you can get paid, though. One of the reasons that I like providing blog content with my byline is that I get paid up front, and it also keeps my name out there. There have been so many times that a client has come to me with these words: “I see you everywhere.”
However, you do need to be careful about how much work you do just for the byline. It works for me because I ask for money when I provide blog content with my byline attached. So, even though I'm building someone else's site, I'm compensated for it up front, and that makes it worth it. I can support my family as a professional blogger and freelance journalist while using my byline to build a freelance portfolio.
Of course, it's best to combine these two practices. Take a look at where your efforts are going. Do what you can to build your own blog/web site, as well as focus on where you can showcase your work with a solid byline. Content farms and freelance marketplaces aren't the best places can provide you with someplace to start, but they aren't the best choices if you want to build a freelance portfolio that truly impresses. To do that, you need to devote some of your writing resources to YOU.