You’re all ready to create an amazing Upwork portfolio, but you think you don’t have any experience. No worries — it’s actually really easy to create a truly great portfolio, even without any professional experience, and it won’t take a long time to do.
Here’s the thing. If you wait until you have work to build up your portfolio, you’ll be stuck in the chicken and the egg conundrum, which is no fun for anyone. Your portfolio is an important part of your Upwork profile, and filling it with samples makes it more likely you'll get high-paying freelance writing work.
Fortunately, there's an easy way to create a stellar Upwork portfolio that will actually get you the work you want to do — even if you don't have experience.
The secret? To create a handful of sample articles in the specific niche you want to work in.
It might sound a little bit crazy, but creating a few highly targeted sample articles is actually a super smart way to build out your portfolio quickly — and land high-paying freelance writing work at the same time. Who doesn’t love that?
Create a Sample Article for Your Upwork Portfolio
The most important thing to remember when you’re creating samples for your Upwork portfolio is that you’re creating samples. That means you don't actually have to create the entire article. You can write a portion of an article, and share that excerpt.
Once you’re ready to dive in and create your sample article, the very first step is to take a look at the actual jobs being offered on Upwork in your niche.
Yep, part of the key to creating relevant samples — that is, the kind of samples that will actually get you the high-paying freelance jobs you want — is to first carefully review the work real clients need done.
You’re going to create a similar sample, but you are NOT going to write the article that the client is looking for.
Go through the available jobs in your niche and find those that most appeal to you. For example, let’s say your niche is animals — mostly pets, but you’re flexible.
You see that a client is looking for writers to create blog posts for his dog blog — he specifies that writers should be able to research pet products and topics.
Great! You can create a sample about cats. It shows that you get animals, but it’s not something the client can use without paying you.
If the client needs a post on How to Use Microsoft Word, you could create a sample about How to Use Google Docs. Or How to Use Excel. Or how to use any other software program in the world that is not Microsoft Word.
Look for a job that you are actually interested in applying for, and figure out a related sample that demonstrates that you can do the job in question, but DO NOT write EXACTLY what the client wants and submit that as a “sample.” That’s free work, and YOU DO NOT WORK FOR FREE.
The idea is to create highly relevant sample material to include in your portfolio that is based on what clients actually want to pay for.
NO free work, because free work is BAD BAD BAD.
If a client looking to hire someone to write an article about muffins, you could write a sample article about cake.
If a client wants someone to write up lists of 27 national parks to visit, you could write a list of 3 hiking trails.
Create something similar enough to the work needed that the client understands that you can do a great job, but do not create something the client can take and use as is.
Is that part clear? Good.
Plan Your Portfolio Sample Before You Write
Now that you know what kind of sample you’re going to create, it’s time to plan it out.
Remember, this is a sample. You’re not getting paid for it. That means that you do not want to put in hours and hours writing this article.
In fact, your planning should take no more than 5 minutes. All you want to do is come up with with a sample title, and 2-3 bullet points for information you will cover in the sample article.
For our pet example, you want to show you can research pet products and topics. So you might decide on 5 Toys Your Cat Will Love or 3 Ways to Know Your Cat is Sick or What to Do With Your Cat When You Go On Vacation.
This is also when you’ll whether you’re going to write a complete, short article, or if you’re going to share (and therefore create) just an excerpt.
You want to aim for about 400-500 words. So if the client is looking for an 800-1000-word piece (or longer), focus on creating a really great excerpt. If the client is looking for a shorter piece, create a complete article.
Typically, a longer article will be more in-depth, so if you’re creating an excerpt, you want to show that you can provide that depth. For example, a 400-word article on How to Use Microsoft Word is going to be limited to: Double click the icon, create a new document, save it, rename it, use bold and italics.
A 4000-word article on How to Use Microsoft Word will go into much greater detail — you could have 400 words just on how to copy and paste formatting choices across and between documents.
Take the time to come up with 2-3 bullet points that you’ll cover in your piece, and then get ready to write.
Keep Your Focus With a Timer
It’s very easy to spend hours — days, even — perfecting and polishing your sample work. But it’s a sample, and no one is paying you for it, so you’re better off spending just a single hour on it.
Yes, you want your sample to reflect the quality of work you can provide, but you CANNOT spend hours and hours on this piece because you are not getting paid.
You already have a title and your bullet points.
Now set a timer for five minutes, and try to come up with 4-5 sentences that sum up what you are going to write.
For example, if you’re writing about cat toys, you might jot down:
Intro: benefits of providing toys for your cat: exercise, cat won’t destroy furniture or other things, improved quality of life.
For each toy — price, where it can be purchased, what it is, why is it worth buying?
Conclusion: suggestion to rotate toys every so often so cat doesn’t get bored.
(It may be very obvious to you that I just wrote these notes in under three minutes and that I know nothing about cats. I’m just trying to show you that you don’t want to spend hours and hours on this project.)
Once you’ve plotted out your path, set your timer for 30 minutes, and write a rough draft of your article.
When the timer beeps, finish the sentence you’re writing, jot down notes if you think you might forget what you wanted to say next, and then take a look at what you have.
Is it good enough to serve as a sample?
If you know that you can polish up the piece — maybe it needs another few sentences and some rearranging — within 15-30 minutes, great. Set the timer again and get it done.
If you feel like you need several more hours to work on it, STOP. You’re doing it wrong. This project should NOT take you more than an hour.
Finalize Your Portfolio Sample
Once you’ve finished writing, set the piece aside for a bit — maybe even for a whole day — and then come back and proofread it. You’re not going for a Pulitzer here — you’re looking to correct obvious typos and mistakes.
Do not agonize over word choice or debate the merits of the em dash v. ellipses. (EM DASH EVERY TIME.)
Make your document a little bit pretty — use a normal, readable font, for example, and bold the article title if you so choose. Save it as a PDF, or take a screenshot. (Here’s how to take screenshots on a Mac and on Windows).
Now you need to create a title for that will identify the sample in your portfolio so that potential clients know what they’re looking at. You could use a straightforward title the way many Upwork freelancers do, such as Sample Article or Article about Cat Toys, but don’t do that.
You’re a writer, right? So give your portfolio piece a great, enticing title. Use the article title itself — 5 Toys Your Cat Will Love — because it’s way more interesting than Sample Article. If you have an alternate title for your piece, feel free to use it, as long as it’s not Sample Article.
Upwork also gives you space to write a description. Use this space to impress potential clients with your knowledge of your niche. For example:
This blog post details 5 important things you should do when your cat is sick, including [this totally surprising one that most people overlook].
Once you’ve completed all your preparation, follow the video instructions below to upload your sample to your Upwork portfolio.
Adding items to your Upwork portfolio gives you increased visibility in front of clients and makes it more likely that you'll be invited to apply for high-paying freelance writing jobs.
Have you created any samples for your portfolio yet? What's the biggest challenge you're facing?