Referrals and recommendations will always reign supreme as the best sources of new freelance writing work. But not every content writer is lucky enough to have a steady stream of referral work month to month. In that case, you need your freelance writer portfolio to win over potential clients. And while there are plenty of important elements, the freelance writing samples are your chance to really shine.
But choosing your best writing samples isn’t easy. Which ones will truly showcase your best work and help you win clients?
We’ve got three tips to help you sift through all that past work to choose samples that will stand out the most.
1. Match Your Writing Samples to Specific Goals
The first filter when choosing writing samples is whether or not you’re proud of the work.
If you don’t feel good about the article, don’t include it in your samples—no matter what it covers.
The second filter? Whether or not it’s relevant to your specific niche. Even if you classify more as a generalist, there will be certain topics you spend more time writing about than others. Think about the clients you want to go after and make sure your writing samples are relevant to them.
But those two filters are the baseline. You don’t want potential clients to just see that you can write well about their specific topics. They want to know that you’re able to achieve their specific goals.
Choosing writing samples that prove that point is easier said than done. Jimmy Daly of Superpath explains the importance of getting it right when applying for a content marketing role. And the idea here holds true for freelancers looking to attract new clients, too:
“But here’s the thing about writing samples—every piece of writing you produce is highly contextual to your job and your company. Even a basic SEO post is written to fill a very specific need that your current company demands. The person reviewing your application doesn’t have that context. They don’t know if you came up with the idea on your own, or were told to write the piece by a boss. They don’t know if your first draft was a disaster that was saved by a great editor, or if you worked alone.”
Even if you’re able to offer some context within your portfolio, you should expect that the samples will have to speak for themselves.
Choose articles that aren’t only relevant but that show exactly what kind of results you can deliver:
- SEO: If your portfolio promises that you have the SEO chops to achieve Page 1 rankings with content, include samples that prove that. While the client won’t see the SERP when you link the article, they’ll see that you’re fully capable of meeting on-page SEO expectations. (Pro tip: Jimmy Daly says to avoid samples of “The Ultimate Guide to X” simply because of an oversaturation of that kind of content.)
- Thought Leadership: The easiest way to prove you can handle thought leadership work is to use bylines as samples. Ghostwriting content for clients is great. But for thought leadership, ghostwritten content makes it tough for potential clients to see that you came up with the original ideas.
- Conversions: So much content writing work revolves around top-of-funnel content. But clients want to see that you can drive conversions in the later stages of their funnels. Include samples of case studies, data sheets, and even blog posts that show you can achieve product mastery and write content that helps buyers make purchase decisions.
2. Use Client Brand Names to Your Advantage
Remember that the person reviewing your writing portfolio isn’t just a marketer, editor, or content manager—they’re also a reader like any other.
That means your samples will never exist in a vacuum. Things that are completely out of your control, like website design, page load speed, and imagery, could all sway the potential client’s opinion of your work. Your writing is ultimately the most important factor, but you need to account for these variables.
One way you can do that is by choosing samples from your most high-profile clients. Logos are a major factor for brands when building social proof around their products. You can achieve the same goal with your writing samples.
When potential clients see the high-profile brands you’ve worked for, they’ll be more likely to see you as a content writing authority. That slight perception shift could be enough to make the difference between winning a loyal client and having them move on to a different writer.
This shouldn’t be your primary focus when choosing writing samples, though. You still need to choose work you’re proud of—work that’s well-written and relevant to your target clients.
But if you can supplement those two points by linking to your article on a great brand’s website, you’ll be in a great position to win new work.
3. Stay Flexible with Your Writing Samples
The main point here is that not everything you write will be worth including as a freelance writing sample in your portfolio. By staying highly selective, you ensure that potential clients are met with the most impactful samples possible when they check out your portfolio.
But there’s a mistake that many writers make with samples—they take a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
It doesn’t matter how great you are at writing for clients. If there’s one thing all freelance writers seem to have in common, it’s a healthy disdain for writing about themselves. It’s an uncomfortable process, for sure.
However, the best freelancers make sure their samples are as relevant as possible. Part of that means updating your portfolio with relatively recent work.
You don’t want prospective clients to look at your portfolio only to find a handful of work that’s 3, 4, or 5+ years old. Even if the work is great, outdated samples might give prospects a negative impression of you as a freelancer.
And it’s not just that prospective clients will want to see your recent work. Have you ever gone back and looked at your work from years ago? You’re sure to spot areas where you’ve improved since then. Don’t you want potential clients to see the best you have to offer?
Try to keep your writing samples as recent as the last year or two unless there’s a particularly impressive project that you want to highlight from the past.
What Do Your Freelance Writing Samples Say About You?
Your headshot, bio, testimonials, and experience will all help form a potential client’s opinion about you as a freelancer. But freelance writing samples speak volumes that other elements of your portfolio simply can’t match.
Don’t take your choices lightly. Put yourself in the client’s shoes and think about what those writing samples say about your work. Do they make it seem like you can meet the ideal client’s needs? Do they prove that you’re worth the rates you’re asking for?
I know it’s tough to promote yourself. But dig deep and identify the writing samples that will work best.
It’ll pay off in the long run.