Ask Sarah: Portfolio vs Resume

In this week's Ask Sarah, I'm going to talk about your portfolio and resume: two integral pieces of being a freelance writer.

In my opinion, one of the most crucial aspects of freelancing is promotion. What good is being an expert in your field and/or being a great writer if you have no way of demonstrating this other than submitting Word documents as samples whenever you pitch an editor or apply for a content writing gig?  Where and how you choose to showcase your clips is a personal choice, however, in my opinion (um once again, ha ha), I believe your best bet is to have a website with a portfolio.

In last week's episode of Ask Sarah, Valerie asked me about creating a portfolio. Valerie has been going back and forth trying to decide whether she should have a website. For a variety of reasons I think it's imperative all freelancers have websites. These are the first reasons that come to mind why a portfolio is needed.

  • Brand recognition
  • A place for all your stuff
  • It communicates to clients and editors you take yourself seriously
  • What if you're not home, someone wants a clip and they can't wait till you get home to send one?

You can read the rest of what I said to Valerie here.

The first question comes from Christa, who's been freelancing for ten years. I’m working on my portfolio (belatedly.) In your opinion, what are the most critical elements of a portfolio? Is it more important to show range (like you, I’ve written on a wide variety of topics) or specialization? Should I have more than one portfolio for different types of work?

This is an excellent question and one I personally struggled with as I was deciding what to add to my portfolio. Ultimately I decided to show a range of work, versus specialization.

I know of no human being—regardless of profession—who is such a specialist that they don't have both interest and talent in another area or several other areas. Although I'm a fan of moving toward specializations—versus being jacks and jills of all writing trades—I don't see the purpose in being such a specialist as to rule out the possibility of writing about other topics.

When I first started writing and I needed to work out that writing muscle, I wrote about everything under the sun. I had no other way of knowing what made me happy as a writer. Over time I narrowed my list of genres to just a few:

  • Politics
  • Gender and race advocacy
  • Health and medical
  • Medical cannabis
  • The environment
  • STEM and STEAM
  • Addiction and mental health

This isn't to say I no longer write about other topics for clients who need content for their websites or books ghostwritten. What it means is that when I pitch a publication or look for content work, I look within those categories. Ideally there's some crossover. For example, I just completed a piece about racial disparities in diagnosis and treatment of cancer for the woman of color.

If I write outside those topics, I am unlikely to add them to my portfolio because it's not what I'd like to be known for.

If you find yourself lacking for pieces to add to your portfolio because you've narrowed your list too much, expand it until you have more writing samples in the genres you want to be known for.

As far as how many portfolios you should have, I would say just one. Two if you want to distinguish between your ghostwritten work and your bylined work, which I'm also toying with doing.

This is what my portfolio looks like.

The next question comes from Lauren who asks: How important is a resume for a freelance writer? 

Another excellent question. My answer is, extremely important. Whether you do a chronology resume (dates, company names, etc.) or a one-page, 30-second elevator speech about you, giving editors and prospective clients a leave behind is crucial.

My acceptance rate with publications jumped 75% once I started adding my resume with my pitches. I opted for a one-page, 30-second elevator speech that gives a clear picture of who I am, what I have written, what genres I like to write, my headshot, with links to my LinkedIn page, my website, my email address and my portfolio.

As far as how the resume should look, might I recommend a graphic resume, something that pops the moment the recipient opens their email? The downside to our profession is that our words sometimes fail to grab the attention of someone quite the way a graphic designer's samples do.

This is what my resume looks like:

I may or may not add a chronology style resume as a second page. I haven't decided.

What are your thoughts on my suggestions?


Do you have a question about freelancing? Ask Sarah.