Can You Build Your Freelance Writing Portfolio and Pad Your Wallet at the Same Time?

For beginning freelance writers, the whole concept of getting a portfolio sounds like the old chicken and egg question. You need a portfolio to get a paying gig — but you need a paying gig to build a portfolio. Right?

Nah.

At least on that second part. You do need a portfolio, of course — but the pieces you put in it don’t necessarily need to be paid gigs. Spend the next few minutes reading, and not only will you know how to add exactly the pieces a prospective client is most likely to want to read in your portfolio, but you’ll also see how you can start making money from your writing before you even land your first client.

Articles: The Gateway Gig for Freelance Writers

Your portfolio’s got to start somewhere. My advice is to start with articles. Here’s why: Articles are the quickest way for prospective clients to get enough of a feel for your mad writing skillz that they sell themselves on hiring you. Engage them, keep them glued to the screen until the end, make them want to take action, and you’ll have them practically drooling over the possibility of making you their new content marketing secret weapon.

What Should I Write About?

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The goal is not so much to show how much you know about any particular subject — it’s more about showing that you can make any subject fascinating enough to hold a reader’s attention. If you can make even a mundane topic gripping enough to get readers nodding their heads and chomping at the bit to take action, your prospective clients will see that you’ve got the goods.

What’s more important than the topic is having an understanding of what your prospective clients are looking for, why they need articles in the first place. My guess is that 9 out of 10 clients who order articles are using them as guest blog posts or in niche publications — a very effective, relatively inexpensive way to draw traffic to their websites. They want to see that you can hold readers’ attention and compel them to take action.

So, Just Slap Some Articles Together?

[grabs your lapels] YOU’RE SITTING ON A GOLD MINE HERE! DON’T BLOW IT!

Show off your Jedi mind tricks, your ability to hypnotize your readers, to make them long for more.

Remember that online, we all have the attention span of a squirrel. Every line you write must hook your readers to make them stay with you. After all, they’ve got notifications popping up (for real or just in their own noisy brains) nudging them to see what else is going on.

Your article is up against that cute video of the baby tasting bacon for the first time — or the Tasty recipe video for cinnamon roll cupcakes. Think you can compete against that?

Use a conversational style, short paragraphs, and subheads that propel readers through the article. Write like you’re talking to a friend. Provoke your reader’s curiosity. MAKE those readers keep reading.

OK, But What KIND of Articles?

Sheesh. You want all the beans spilled, don’t you? Alright — some kinds of articles… suck. Other kinds are scientifically proven to rock. That’s the kind you want to write. Neil Patel (love that guy!) has a great article out detailing 8 article styles that always win:

  1. Data-packed articles (people love to geek out!)
  2. List articles (completely irresistible)
  3. Reports (typically a bit longer, a bonus if you include an infographic)
  4. LONG articles (seems that if you hit the 2K word milestone and you’ll have Google drooling, too)
  5. Argument-style articles (nothing like poking a hornet’s nest and getting people riled up to spur engagement)
  6. Response articles (tied into someone else’s content)
  7. Research articles (time-consuming but worth it if you can create an article so jam-packed with factual goodness that it gets referenced)
  8. How-To articles (show a step-by-step process for doing something your readers want to do, and they’ll hang on your every word)

Wait. You Said Something about Padding My Wallet?

So, while you’re at this article-writing thing, why not earn some money while, too? There’s an entire realm of Internet marketing called affiliate marketing.

I did NOT just hear you boo and hiss!

Yes, affiliate marketing earned a bad rep for a while. It can be the sleaziest thing going — or you can do it well, with complete integrity, helping people find products that solve their problems. Nothing beats the honest recommendation of someone you trust, right? Who better to spread the word about an excellent product than people who actually use it? And who better to do affiliate marketing well than YOU?

Write a few excellent affiliate articles and you’ll have the start of a sweet portfolio — and the beginning trickle of a passive(ish) income stream.

Basically, you pick a product or website that has an affiliate program in place, join the program, and get your unique affiliate link. Write a killer article, include your affiliate link, and publish. Before long, if you did it right, people will read, click, and buy — and you’ll get a commission.

Why Affiliate Marketing Doesn’t Have to Suck

Done right, affiliate marketing helps everyone involved. Buyers benefit because they can find out about products and services they need and want, and get the benefit of hearing about your experience before they make a decision. Sellers benefit because their very best salespeople — their own happy customers — spread the word for them (and they’re happy to give a financial reward to those customers). Affiliates — and especially writers — benefit because they get paid to do what they love to do… write, teach, share information, and spread the word about products that will help others.

Just do this — and everything you do — with integrity and transparency. By law, you have to disclose the fact that when readers buy through your link, you’ll make a few bucks. I usually phrase it like this: Just a heads up, when you buy through my affiliate link, [the company] will send me a small commission… enough to keep me in bacon.

C’mon, Those Articles Aren’t Going to Write Themselves!

So now you know what to do to build your portfolio while simultaneously creating a sweet little sideline source of income. Find products you love that also have affiliate programs (Amazon, Clickbank, and JVZoo are just a few places to look), write and publish articles (don’t forget to include your affiliate link), and add these masterpieces to your portfolio.


Did you know that if you’re a student in the Working Writer, Happy Writer course, you could start earning 50% affiliate commissions right now?