Three types of platforms are of particular importance to Freelance writers: portfolio platforms, major publications, and social networks. Just as portfolio platforms showcase writers' work in a convenient, centralized location, major publications help them build strong reputations and gain visibility while social networks help them establish better ties with colleagues and clients.
Just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of your caliber as a freelance writer lies in the review of your work. You should therefore make your work easy to find and review.
Two common approaches freelance writers take to online portfolios are to:
- Showcase clips published across a diverse number of platforms in one centralized location
- Showcase unique content on a blog, website or open publishing platform
Most writers utilize both approaches by presenting client work in a portfolio while also publishing independently-created writing on a blog, website, or prominent digital publication.
Portfolio Platforms for Showcasing Your Public Work
Should much of your freelance writing work be public, you have the advantage of being able to assemble it in a centralized portfolio. This approach is ideal in that prospective clients will be able to not only review your work, but peruse your client history and see how previous employers have leveraged your talents.
Popular platforms for showcasing links to your written work across the web include:
- Contently: Portfolios on contently are refreshingly pared down, consisting simply of clips (titles with descriptions, sharing stats, and optional photos) displayed below your name, image, bio, and social media links
- Muck Rack: In addition to using the site to feature your clips, you may use Muck Rack present a more thorough overview of your work (types of content you cover, publications to which you contribute, and awards you have won) to keep tabs on what other journalists and writers are buzzing about
Both platforms accommodate offline clips as well (members may use either URLs or PDFs).
Portfolio Platforms for Showcasing Independent Work
Some freelance writers (such as those who write business plans, create private white papers, and create for-sale research papers) cannot publicly share the content they create for their clients. In such cases, they must showcase independently-created work.
The following options are commonly used by authors who are unable to include examples of previous client work in their portfolios:
- WordPress: Either as a platform on which you publish or with which you build a site, WordPress is an ideal choice should you want maximum control and functionality and/or have your own domain (check out the litany of free portfolio-centric themes you may apply to your site)
- Tumblr: If you want an incredibly simple, streamlined, and easy publishing experience, use Tumblr (you'll also enjoy the benefit of being on a platform many clients will consider to be "trendy")
- Blogger: Blogger offers a no-fuss experience with a slightly bigger emphasis on the written word
- HubPages: Should you like to easily monetize your content via ad revenue and include multimedia features like images, videos, maps, products, and more in your work (without understanding HTML), HubPages is a great starting point
- Squidoo: Much like HubPages, Squidoo has a wide variety of no-HTML-knowledge-needed editing and formatting tools and enables you to monetize your content
The benefit of using an ad-supported platform with original content is that you have the opportunity to passively earn ad revenue from the content you share (should it be the kind of content that drives a lot of search views). Sites like HubPages and Squidoo enable you to earn ad revenue from content that you may eventually sell. Both sites also harbor robust, supportive, and passionate communities of aspiring writers.
Though personal referrals are most freelance writers' biggest sources of new work, publicly-published work comes in as a close second. Should you publish a sizable number of high quality, well-positioned articles online, you will be likely to get inquiries from potential clients who have found and enjoy your work.
Aside from creating content that drives a lot of search traffic, you can gain visibility by publishing with major publications. You may approach this from a professional standpoint, attempting to become a paid contributor to a popular publication. You may also approach this from a marketing standpoint, offering free content to important platforms in exchange for visibility. Whether you should give something away for free is contingent on the value of a publication's audience. Ideally, you will be paid for everything you do, but this is not always feasible, especially when you are still building up a reputation and have few options.
In addition to targeting mainstream publications, look for publications that your clients are very likely to read. For example, if you specialize in articles and white papers about medical care and work for a lot of hospitals, find major trade publications targeted at hospital administrators.
Before pitching to a publication, check to see if it has procedures for submitting editorials or applying to become a contributor. Should a publication have no clear submission process, find the email address of an editor and pitch an article.
Pitch emails typically consist of:
- A short, personal introduction explaining that you hope to contribute to that editor's publication
- A proposed headline
- A three sentence synopsis
- A link to your online portfolio and resume to provide information about your qualifications
You may have to pitch to many, many publications before being accepted. The more work you already have published online, the more likely you will be to garner positive responses. Don't be afraid to leverage your personal network when looking for an in with a major publication; personal introductions can make a world of difference.
As a freelance writer, we recommend using social media to cultivate stronger relationships with clients and maintain a respectable digital identity (to demonstrate a basic understanding of web content). The platforms to which you should give the most attention are those on which:
- Your past, present, and potential clients are active
- Your clients would want to communicate with you
Understand that your clients will not want to converse with you on every platform. Pinterest may be trendy, but it is not a site people like to use to discuss freelance writing gigs and grammar.
Major Social Networks for Freelance Writers
- LinkedIn: Because many clients' and employers' freelance writer searches start here, it is important for you to maintain a robust presence on the site- be sure to leverage the site's freelance writer groups and list every new client on your profile as a separate employer to ensure that your name pops up when people search for employees of a specific company
- Facebook: Facebook offers the most bang for your buck when it comes to solidifying personal ties and relationships with clients; use the site to learn about clients' hobbies and interests and send the occasional kind note or congratulations regarding a major life event
- Twitter: Twitter is deal for quick, informal, public communication with clients and colleagues- if you see a resource that would be useful to a colleague or client, consider recommending it publicly via Twitter (to help others while bolstering your reputation for being informed and helpful)
Social networks that may be less worth your time include Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine, all of which are highly visual (if, however, you are also a freelance photographer or designer, have a ball, and check out the platforms we recommend to artists and designers).
Freelance Writer Platforms
We do not recommend working through a freelance writer platform for several reasons:
- Freelance platforms emphasize their brand, not yours; businesses tend think of work you create for them through these platforms as work garnered through that platform, not from you as a unique, valuable freelance writer
- These platforms typically compete based on price, meaning you are not likely to earn particularly good wages through them
- Freelance platforms can be very competitive; in many cases, a large number of writers are vying for a very small number of jobs
- The jobs presented through freelance platforms are not as engaging and interesting as projects you would get when working more intimately with a client
- Even though wages earned through these platforms are relatively lower than wages you would earn when working independently, these platforms still take a what little profits you do ultimately generate (be they payments from clients or ad revenue)
Though you might be drawn to the comfort they freelance writing sites provide in terms of structure and "built-in" client bases, you would do far better by creating an independent career.
Top Freelance Writer Platforms and Marketplaces
While we do not recommend working through freelance platforms, it is helpful to know who the top players are.
- oDesk: Claiming to rank #1 in annual contractor earnings, oDesk enables you to apply for various job listings (the site facilitates job posting, acceptance, and completion in a wide variety of fields, not just freelance writing)
- Mechanical Turk: Amazon's Mechanical Turk enables you to make money by completing HITs (human intelligence tasks); HITs can involve all sorts of things, but many revolve around menial writing and editing tasks
- Elance: Like Mechanical Turk, Elance hosts a number of jobs (freelance writing gigs among them), but requires that you bid for projects rather than immediately take them on and enables you to have more of a personal connection with clients
- Guru: Very similar to Elance, Guru enables you to bid for projects and provides an organized structure making client communication simple and straightforward
- Freelancer: Also facilitating many types of jobs outside the realm of writing, Freelancer enables you to browse postings and bid for jobs from a wide variety of clients
- Scripted: Before getting work through Scripted, you must be approved in at least one area of expertise (e.g. health or travel); your ability to get work depends on your Score, which is determined by initial evaluations of any expertise-related work you submit as well as your performance over time
- Demand Media Studios: Though Demand Media, you can make money writing web content for the company's various properties, which include LegalZoom, eHow, Livestrong, and USA Today; writers earn up-front payments for articles and have the potential to earn more from them over time should they yield significant ad revenue
- About.com: Writers are paid a small amount for each article contributed to the site and may earn more based on each article's performance
- Write.com: Because Write.com, a division of CrowdSource, provides professional content for websites via its network of members using Amazon's Mechanical Turk, you must be a registered Turker in order to take on jobs
- WriterAccess: Your pay rate through WriterAccess depends on your performance in an online writing test (along with subsequent reviews) and can range from $0.01 to $1.00 per word
- Helium: Similar in some ways to HubPages and Squidoo, Helium additionally enables you to earn through "exclusive assignments" commissioned by businesses and individuals through the site
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