What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Last year, with the help of two sample writing assignments (and a great interview), I convinced a Fortune 60 company to hire me to write the bulk of its digital content. A big career change from the last 14 years of my professional life — and an exciting one.
While happy in my role, big companies sometimes make big changes. There's even a word for it: pivoting. An online writing portfolio seemed like a good professional step and would allow me to explore other creative opportunities.
As a new writer, I haven’t had to make a portfolio before. LinkedIn functions well as an online résumé, but beyond the sites I created as a hobbyist photographer, I didn’t know one single thing about building an online presence for my writing.
Before I started building, I asked a seasoned writer pal for perspective. She assured me "very few people are actually going to read everything on your site. They just want a broad sense of your talents, enough to get your foot in the door to come talk to them."
So how to put together a collection of work that meets those needs? Two steps:
- Decide you want to make a portfolio
- Create it. BOOM.
Okay, there are a few more steps in between:
First I went on a search binge to find all of the online portfolios I could — writers, designers, photographers, jewelry makers. I looked critically at what made each one good. I created a Pinterest board so that I could revisit how the pages were organized if I got stuck at the building phase. The elements that I appreciated in all of the portfolios that inspired me were:
- Clean: uncluttered design (easy to achieve with all the platforms listed below); easy to read and click around. Clearly organized depending on the type of content.
- Short + Descriptive: the portfolios I liked best were concise and enticing (when sharing written work it’s important that they aren’t stuck on explanatory paragraphs — you want the reader to click on the work).
- Bio Page: not always a separate page, but at the very least, a section that made the artist/writer/photographer approachable and relatable. Always with links to social channels and a picture.
After the portfolio stalking, I began piecing together the work I’m most proud of — arguably the hardest part. Depending on your experiences and the variety in your work, I can’t put a number on what’s "too much" or "not enough." My favorite sites kept it between 10 to 20 pieces. If most of your work is printed and you’re unable to get the original from a designer, set aside some time to scan your work.
Find a Platform
The type of written content you're sharing will help you figure out what site is best to showcase your work. This step brought me the most dread — my HTML experience was downright rusty, and I’ve read that popular online portfolio sites are geared toward designers. But once I started exploring, I realized that there are plenty of sites out there with easy-to-use tools to create a visually appealing portfolio. Here are a couple of popular sites — most have a free version:
- Cargo Collective (I used this for my photog hobby)
- Clippings.me (very journalism-forward)
- Contently.net (pictured below)
Otherwise known as the fun part. This step (which I'm in right now!) feels like a digital show-and-tell. Organize your samples based on what you’re showing off and what kind of work you’d like to continue doing/see yourself doing. A few options:
- Medium: social, mobile, video, newsletter, print, etc.
- Chronological Order: (most recent first)
- By the numbers: what’s popular? This could be by views, comments, likes, shares.
Most of the sites listed in the platforms step are set up so that you can include an image along with a short description and what role(s) you played.
Once you’ve made your final tweaks, you’re ready to promote yourself — include a link to your online portfolio on résumés, cover letters, business cards, and social media.
What I Learned
Save everything! I recently created a dedicated email account to send all the stuff I’m proud of when it’s finished. There are things that may never get published or find an audience that are still quite usable.
Cautionary tale: In a past life, I managed an online publication. My role was in strategy, but we all wore a few different hats. I occasionally wrote articles, interviewed vendors, and produced videos when we needed more content. During the sample gathering phase, I noticed the website is gone. Unfortunately the YouTube page is still up. But the written content will be much harder to dig up.
Protect your work. Agency work can be tricky — I've composed and sent tweets for giant brands (that I wish I'd screencapped). If your work is password protected, it won't be searchable, but you'll be safe to share more sensitive projects with interested parties.
Your portfolio doesn't need to be perfect. But it does need to be a reflection of you and your talents. Keep it simple and keep it updated as you become more awesomely versatile.
Good luck. And share your tips for creating great online portfolios in the comments.