Still attaching work to the bottom of your email? It’s time to update your portfolio

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I’ve been a freelance journalist for many years, but I haven’t been proactive enough when it comes to addressing the “business” side of my work. I’m determined to change that, which is why I’ve been thinking a lot about portfolios lately – and how to go about making one.

I feel ready to level up when it comes to the professional side of my business, but portfolios are important across the board, whether you’re a journalist or another type of freelance creative. They’re useful if you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or if you’re looking to showcase a range of work to apply for jobs in-house.

There’s a lot of information out there when it comes to portfolios (and it isn’t always super-straightforward). Here’s what you need to know.

Where can I make a portfolio?

Your portfolio or website is a one-stop shop that allows you to showcase all of your clips or projects in one place. There are lots of options depending on your budget, the style you’re after and your time limits.

  • You can make a portfolio using UnderPinned’s virtual premium office tools, which give you unlimited portfolio template options so you can experiment with what works best for you before committing to a design while also being able to download them as PDFs for your client.
  • You can choose to use a professional graphic designer to create something more bespoke or a one-of-a-kind logo. For this type of website, you’d typically make a sizable one-off payment that’s several hundred pounds (or more), rather than pay a small monthly maintenance fee.
  • There are also various free tools that typically offer single-page portfolios with your latest clips (e.g. Contently, Muck Rack, Linktree). If you do choose one of these free sites, be sure to check them regularly, even if you’re not updating. Sonia Weiser, a freelance writer whose Opportunities of the Week newsletter collates calls for pitches twice-weekly, explains they can occasionally include clips that aren’t yours or put your least-favourite ones near the top.

Think of your portfolio as the first impression you’ll make on potential employers and editors. Even if you don’t have tons to showcase yet, it’s worth spending some time putting something together.

“The website/portfolio is definitely the deciding factor when it comes to even considering a freelance creative to come in to interview and talk next steps – if someone doesn’t have a portfolio, it’s almost impossible to see if they’d be a good fit,” explains Mara Dettmann, strategist and editor at BBH London

And no, it doesn’t need to be fancy. A portfolio that’s simple, clear and easy-to-navigate will do the job.

“Most of it does come down to the work itself, regardless of whether the original media was print, digital, or something else altogether, but it needs to be presented well (a simple site with tiles that click through for more info is fine),” she says.

When should I make my portfolio?

A portfolio is a useful tool at every stage of the freelance game, and for those just starting out in their careers, it shows a level of professionalism and commitment. For more seasoned creatives, it can be the tool that helps you make the jump to freelance life.

“Moving from staff to freelance was the first time I felt a need to have a showcase of my work. When you are on staff, the job you are doing is enough to show your skill set and experience. It’s also incredibly useful when applying for jobs because no one wants to receive an application with ten cuts attached to the email,” notes Alex Lloyd, a freelance editor and writer.

While creating a basic portfolio/website doesn’t really have to be a massive time commitment, expense or faff, once you fall down the portfolio rabbit hole and see all of the different styles available, it can feel like an all-consuming endeavour. While all the freelancers I chat with have their links in one easy-to-access place, they’ve put off the sleek and shiny website upgrade for various reasons, like lack of time.

“I try to tell myself that it’s a good thing I haven’t finished my portfolio because it means I’ve got plenty of work coming in,” says Lloyd, who updates her links on Muck Rack and LinkedIn.

Freelance writer Lauren Crosby Medlicott also uses Muck Rack for now, because she doesn’t “have lots of spare money or time floating around – both of which I need to set up a good looking website.” Same with Siân Bradley, another freelance journalist who previously had a Squarespace portfolio that didn’t feel user-friendly enough.

“I started designing another then just stopped because I was busy and also unsure how important it is to have a fancy one? I flit between thinking it is and then thinking the main importance is having your stories in one easy-to-read place,” Bradley writes in an email.

Which brings up another important point: you can still find freelance work if your portfolio isn’t perfect. Also, assuming you haven’t committed to a bespoke website design at vast expense, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to making a portfolio so if you don’t like your initial one, you won’t be stuck with it forever. You can change host sites and templates to reflect your evolving freelance career.

What do I need to put in a portfolio?

OK, it’s time to make a portfolio. Now what?

Weiser considers her website homepage a “highlight reel.” She also has a second page showcasing more clips.

“It’s almost like a dating profile in that way. Post the clips that would make you most attractive to editors and/or the ones you’re most proud of. Organise them by subject matter or publication, especially if you’re not constantly churning out material. The thing to remember is that you don’t have to have EVERYTHING on your site,” notes Weiser.

Quality over quantity is something Lloyd also mentions. Curating your own links will save a lot of time and hassle.

If you’re just starting out and low on links, Lloyd suggests including some testimonials from editors or interviewees you’ve worked with, “to show you are building a solid reputation.”

Be sure to get PDFs or photos of print work to include, too. I’d also advise getting PDFs of your fave digital pieces since websites are rebooted all the time (I learned this the hard way!).

Jenny Stallard, freelance journalist and business coach behind Freelance Feels, says freelancers should think of a portfolio as an “online CV.”

She recommends including a mix of images (e.g. articles/work that shows off your skills) and words, a headshot and links to your social sites, too.

Check out other portfolios online to get a sense of what you like, and what you want to put in yours. Once it’s done, you should update it whenever a new piece of work you’d like to showcase comes out.

And when you do have a portfolio you like, share it. Be sure to include a link to it in your email signature, as well as your social media profiles.

Other benefits of creating a portfolio

In the saturated sea of freelancers, your portfolio is ultimately another opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

“When I receive a pitch from someone new to me, I always want to check out their reputation, experience and writing. There are so many people in the freelance market and you need to be able to feel confident in commissioning them,” says Lloyd.

It’s also a chance to take some pride in our work and accomplishments, something we don’t do nearly enough as freelancers.

As Stallard says: “There is a power in creating a portfolio, it’s an exercise in seeing how far you’ve come while you’re working out where to go next.”

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“I once shared information with a freelancer group about a company who routinely paid my invoices late,” she recalls. “They found out and ghosted me out of the blue, which put a big dent in my earnings that year. But I’m glad I did it, because other freelancers wouldn’t have known to avoid working with them.” Let’s all try to be a bit more like Jessica