How to build a writer’s portfolio

Look professional, build your SEO skills, and even monetise

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Reddit is currently FULL of people looking to make a quick buck online.

You wouldn't believe the number of people hoping to make a full-time income in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, it doesn't usually work like that.

Let’s be honest. There are no surefire ways to make money online, especially if you don’t have at least some money to invest.

Freelance writing can be an awesome way to make money, and if you’re persistent, you can make money pretty quickly.

I am not persistent.

I hate cold emailing.

I have limited tech skills.

It’s unlikely that I’m alone in this.

Writers, on the whole, tend to like writing.

Marketing and self-promotion fills my belly with that dull ache that always accompanies doing something that I don’t want to do. The dentist. That big presentation. Answer the phone.

It cripples me, and makes me incredibly anxious. So I had to find a way to avoid it as much as possible.

This is not a quick road to success. I started a good few years ago and can confirm that if you want to do this by yourself, with a small budget, you will require buckets of patience.

A portfolio can take many forms — you can send a link to a Google doc, a Medium post, even attach a Word document.

If you have no budget, then I totally recommend doing any of those things. Just get four or so articles written down.

The problem with this approach is that you risk being automatically rejected from those really big publishers that only hire freelancers with websites.

You can probably see where this is going.

Yep:

I know it’s a ballache, but oh my GOD there are so many benefits to having a website, which I will list below.

At the very least, it looks like you know how to create a website.

I’m on about my fifth website.

I can create one in a day, easy. Logo, theme, everything. And I have very little idea about coding etc.

For those of you that have no clue about making a Wordpress.org site, I highly recommend following along with a video online or bugging your hosting company until they do it for you.

Obviously not as inexpensive as sending a link to a Google doc, but inexpensive nonetheless.

Your first year’s hosting plus a domain name shouldn’t set you back more than £100.

The great thing about having your own website is that you can monetise it in the future, and make your hosting money back.

If you send a potential client to your website, they may find an article that they like that you maybe wouldn't have sent them.

There’s no limit to the number of articles you can have on your site (within reason, anyway).

It sounds like writing a lot of articles is time-consuming, and it is. But if you don’t enjoy writing articles, are you sure freelance writing is for you?

Write product reviews, interviews, FAQs, listicles, infographics ANYTHING that a potential client may find useful. Make your site easy to navigate, and they may spend a while clicking around.

Ok, technically, you’re writing for free, in the beginning at least.

All of the freelance writing gurus advise against writing for free, but it’s different writing articles for someone else and not receiving compensation, to writing articles that stay on your site, and could earn you money in the future.

I would highly recommend picking a niche, both for your own website and for your freelance writing business.

These niches should NOT be the same. Otherwise, you’ll end up competing with your clients, SEO-wise.

Instead, pick two adjacent topics. That way, your articles are still relevant to your business, but not in direct competition.

How you do this depends on your niche, and for some niches, it’s pretty easy: if you want to write about dogs, start a hamster website.

If you specialise in writing emails, make your website all about email marketing, and give loads of example of good practice, and the theories behind them.

Show your clients exactly what value you can provide for them.

You could also write a small, specific niche in your industry, but write about the wider niche for clients.

You know the best way to secure freelance writing jobs? Back up your claims. Anyone with a basic understanding of SEO can put ‘SEO expert’ on their resume.

Not everyone can say ‘my article for x keyword ranks on the first page of Google, and my site for x niche gets 30k pageviews a month.’

In fact, there are very few people out there with those skills. Not because they’re hard to learn, but because the process is time-consuming. Do you have the time?

Social media marketing is expensive and everchanging. If you can write articles for your clients that can be found on search, that’s a major benefit for them.

As I mentioned in practically every article I’ve written, on-page SEO driven traffic takes time to build.

A good 8 months.

When I first started out, that was too long. I was impatient. Instead, I pitched every job I could find and sent my share of cold emails.

I hated it because I felt like a fraud — I had no experience as a freelance writer after all.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skills, but because I didn’t have anything with which to back up my claims. Imposter syndrome at its finest.

There’s nothing to stop you applying for freelance writing jobs whilst also maintaining a website.

Creating SEO-driven websites isn’t like traditional blogging. You don’t need to write an article every week if you don’t have time.

(It will grow faster if you have more content though.)

Once you’re successful with your website, you’ll be able to monetise it.

If you can get your traffic up to 30K page views a month, you’ll be able to stick some ads on there and make some passive income. Not a lot (yet), but enough to call it an income stream.

Let me warn you: after the first three months of no views, this’ll feel impossible.

But once traffic starts to build, it increases quickly: my stats went from 30 views a day to 1500 views a day in a matter of weeks.

Should you decide that freelancing isn’t for you, or you need to take some time off, there’s still the potential to make some money from your website.

Ok, so they were the advantages of building a niche site as a portfolio, but there are, of course, some disadvantages:

It can be hard to spend money when you don’t really have it to spare, and I don’t want to convince you to do so if it would put you in a financially precarious position.

As I said, you can build a decent website for under £100.

The only money I’ve ever spent on my website (the successful one — I’ve spent loads on things like Tailwind, which you DO NOT need) was on hosting and a domain name.

Those are the only expenses incurred. I may have to pay for my email provider once I hit 1000 subscribers, but by the time you reach that many you should be able to pay for that with the money your website is making.

If you don’t have the money, maybe stick to creating a free portfolio (Google docs is absolutely fine). But if you have the £100 to spare, it’s a great investment.

Realistically, is this something you’re going to stick at?

I don’t stick to things. I give up incredibly easily/forget what I’m meant to be doing.

But I’ve stuck with writing, albeit in the form of starting and abandoning a succession of blogs, and half-assed attempts at freelancing before FINALLY learning how to grow a website.

Which then gave me a way greater success rate at landing freelance clients.

If it were, everyone would be doing it.

Building traffic to websites requires a lot of upfront writing without any return.

And by a lot, I mean…a lot.

Don’t expect a lot of traffic if you only have 20 posts. Whilst you do only have 20 posts, think of your website exclusively as your freelance writer portfolio. Don’t look at your traffic. Concentrate on pitching and applying to job board postings.

I recommend that you split your time: assign one day a week to writing articles for your website and spend the rest of your time pitching.

This was an outcome of learning about SEO that I hadn’t anticipated.

Some clients expect the world without having a clue about SEO.

They want a 1000 word article to rank no. 1 on Google when the competition is 8000-word novellas

They want authentic review articles but expect you to curate Amazon reviews not, you know, actually review the product.

Let me tell you this for free: product review articles are ten a penny. If you want to stand out, you NEED to have USED the product. Preferably for a decent amount of time.

Provide real value to your viewers, and show that your potential clients. It’s the whole building trust thing, that Google is SUPER keen on.

I know it’s a lot of work.

I know traditional writer websites shouldn’t be a blog with a ‘hire me’ page, but freelance writing is extremely competitive.

We need to stand out from the crowd and diversify our income, and a niche website can do both.

You’ll learn about Wordpress, SEO, keyword research, affiliate marketing, and a host of other skills you didn’t know you had. These are all skills that are of value to clients, and not all freelancers have them.

When you’ve created a website, it’s easier to apply for jobs that maybe you wouldn't have had the confidence to do before.

Now you have the experience, even if you haven't had a single decent client yet. So what if you’ve never written for Forbes? You can still prove you can drive traffic.

This is not a way to fast-track your way to writing for a living.

It’s a long, slow process, but it’s a thousand times more fun (and potentially more lucrative) than fighting everyone else on Upwork.

Writer, blogger. Rabbit parent to one. Plant parent to many. Occasional runner, jigsaw puzzle enthusiast.

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