How to create freelance writing samples your potential clients will love

Strong freelance writing examples are the only way your potential freelance writing clients can know you have what it takes.
First published on:
April 16, 2024
Last updated on:
April 16, 2024

Would you go to a hairdresser that isn’t able to produce a single photograph of a haircut they’ve done so far?

I know I wouldn’t. And I know many companies you want to write for look for proof you can write well—your writing samples.

If you aren’t 100% happy with your current writing examples, you don’t have enough of them, or even if you want to find clients in a niche that’s new to you, this guide will teach you exactly how to build the writing samples potential clients will love.

First things first: To grow your freelance writing business, you *need* writing samples

For someone to want to hire you, they need to feel confident about investing their time and money into you.

Not just rationally think it, but really feel it. Hiring a wrong writer (or making a wrong hire in general) can create expensive, lasting issues for a company, and if they fear you’re a wrong writer to hire, they’ll hesitate to make the jump (and likely underpay you).

To make them feel great about hiring you, your writing samples need to convince them you’re capable of delivering the work they’re looking for. They need to see you as a reliable writer.

To really internalize it, try putting yourself in your client’s shoes. Let’s say you’re a financial consultant and want to hire a writer for your blog.

A writer sends you a great-looking pitch, but no writing examples. You hire them based on the statements they made in their pitch, but once you receive their draft for the first assignment, you realize their knowledge of investment portfolios only scratches the surface, and they aren’t, in fact, able to write well about finance topics.

That’s painful, time-consuming, and expensive—and you still don’t have a writer.

Your writing samples are like insurance for your clients. They help you start a conversation in the first place, and they’re what allows you to close the deal.

The only three ways to earn freelance writing samples

Look at any writing portfolio you can find, and the writing samples in it will come from one of these three places:

  1. Past clients
  2. Guest posts
  3. Self-publishing

Of course, past client work is only useful if you want more of that type of work. But if your existing client writing samples are about accounting software, but you want to win clients in health technology, you’ll want to tap into the other two potential places for your freelance writing samples.

We’ll cover both guest posts and self-publishing later in this guide.

What makes a good freelance writing sample?

Before we get into the exact steps to build your freelance writing examples, here’s what makes an excellent one stand stands out:

A specific category and topic. Want to speak to sales managers in medium-sized businesses? Your writing example should focus on their biggest goals and issues—for example, hiring high-performing sales reps on a budget. In this case, you’d want to avoid a vague route like a “why you need sales” blog post; the target audience already knows this.

It’s worth making it explicit: the topic for your writing sample should focus on your ideal client’s target audience, not your ideal client. That’s how you can produce a writing sample that proves your writing chops to the right people.

A solid structure. A strong narrative is essential no matter the industry you’re targeting. Make sure you have an intro that creates curiosity, several subheadings where each naturally leads into the next one, and a conclusion that solidifies the learnings from your post.

Spotless grammar and punctuation. Non-negotiable and self-explanatory. There’s no room for grammar mistakes or misspellings—I highly recommend using a tool like ProWritingAid to make sure your writing is perfect.

The right tone and style. Some companies prefer a serious, technical tone in their content, while others take a more casual route. Authoritative, direct, quirky, persuasive—those are some of many routes they can take.

This often depends on the industry, but it’s not a given—I’ve worked with clients in super technical fields that preferred a friendly tone that prioritized clarity. Once you have a couple of ideal clients in mind, you’ll be able to analyze their content to get an idea of their ideal tone and style.

Relevant data. Lean on original research to support the points you’re making. For example, “Ecommerce is growing faster than ever” is not a good enough statement on its own—you need tangible data like dollar amounts and growth percentages to confirm that’s really true.

Of course, don’t use data just for the sake of it; make sure it’s adding value to your claims. Also make sure the data you’re quoting is recent and from the original source—you’ll love the Data vault for this.

Real-life examples. Talking about TikTok marketing? Show examples of strategies you’re describing. Your sample is about cart abandonment emails? Add screenshots of emails done right.

It’s worth bookmarking libraries of examples like Really Good Emails, SaaS pages, Commerce Cream, and others to make this easier in the long run.

A call-to-action. This isn’t mandatory and it might even come across as weird since you’re writing as a hypothetical company rather than with a goal to really point to a specific resource or product. But you can get creative and choose a resource like an interesting video or an ebook you found related to this topic and make it your call-to-action (CTA) as you wrap up your writing sample.

3 steps for publishing a strong freelance writing sample

Follow these steps to build a freelance writing example that wows potential clients (and rinse and repeat to create a full portfolio that will attract more of your ideal clients in the long run).

1. Define your niche and focus

To niche or not to niche is one of the biggest questions freelance writers struggle with, usually because going for a niche often makes freelancers afraid they’ll limit their options for potential clients.

My take—one that served my freelance writing career really well since 2016—is that niching down is worth it. The key to making it work? Knowing that your selected niche isn’t a forever choice.

Get bored of your niche? Change it.

Realize you’d prefer a different niche? Change it.

Don’t like the research process? Change it.

You get the gist. The goal right now is to pick something you can see yourself researching and writing about for the next six months. Choosing a niche exposes you to its news stories, original research, experts, and a specific way of thinking, all of which will help you navigate it and see how much you like it.

The best niche for you, then, is an industry you find interesting and that already leans on content marketing.

“Venture-funded finance automation platforms with 200+ employees” is the level of specificity you don’t need here. You’re looking for a general direction to position yourself in, like:

  • Marketing software
  • Financial services
  • HR software
  • Health and wellness service providers
  • Ecommerce brands

Defined your own? You’re ready for the next step.

2. Analyze article style for that niche

Next up is understanding what the companies in your niche are already doing with their blog content. This way, you can emulate the style, format, and approach with your writing examples.

The best way to do this is to pick 3-5 publications and/or companies in your niche and browse through a couple of articles from each. You’re looking for clues like:

  • What’s the length of an average article?
  • What’s the style of headlines? Does it use title case or sentence case? Are there numbers in the headline? Is there a common formula the publication uses for headlines?
  • What’s the article structure? How many sections are there? Are paragraphs long or short? Are there bulleted lists?
  • How many internal and external links can you find?
  • Are there examples and/or product references?
  • Are there sections that stand out, like recommended reading, call-out boxes, buttons, tables?
  • Is any data mentioned, like percentages or graphs?
  • Are there any images? If so, how many? Are they stock photos, original illustrations, screenshots, something else?

For example, if you chose the accounting software niche, you could look at how Wave Apps structures its content. It uses sentence case in headlines and subheadings, no images, and clear sections with easy-to-follow bullet point lists. The articles link to helpful external links, as well as an internal link for a relevant service Wave offers.

On the other hand, if you look at Toggl’s blog for the project management niche, you’ll find plenty of images, tables, call-out sections, recommended reading CTAs, internal links to relevant blog posts, and product references. This is paired with short paragraphs—two or three lines max.

Of course, different companies will do things differently, even if they’re within the same niche. That’s why it’s important to analyze at least three companies you like within your niche, and find the style that best fits a happy medium and appeals to people who are in charge of hiring writers like you.

3.1 If you want to guest post: find and pitch publications in that niche

Want to land a guest writing spot in a niche publication? Your biggest chance comes from pitching those that already openly look for guest writers. You can find them by:

  1. Running a Google search for: [topic] “write for us”
  2. Working through lists of publications that accept guest posts

For example, if you want to build a writing portfolio in financial software, you’d Google fintech “write for us” (include the quotation marks).

Whatever your niche—marketing, HR, health, interior design, renewable energy—this will surface dozens or even hundreds of guest writing opportunities.

The alternative is to search for lists of publications that accept guest posts, which you can also narrow down by niche. For example, you can run a Google search for guest posting sites and find results that cover a broad range of options:

Or you can get more specific and search for, say, guest posting sites health and find niche-specific options:

From here, your job is to read through and follow guest posting application guidelines, such as:

  • Is there a form to fill out, or do you need to send an email to a specified address?
  • Should you pitch topics, or send a complete draft?
  • What’s the writing style, word count, and tone? Is there an editorial guide that you need to follow?
  • What about including links? Both in general, as well as your own?
  • Are there topics and categories you should choose from?
  • Do you need to provide your headshot and bio right away?

Here’s the thing: there are hundreds of writers that want the same thing as you do. These publications are busy and probably overwhelmed with emails and form submissions.

But they’re also hungry for good content—and good content is scarce. These lists and “write for us” pages attract everyone under the sun that ever considered becoming a writer.

This is why it’s worth spending some extra time researching your niche, understanding your target publication’s guidelines, finding topics they haven’t yet covered, and crafting a clear pitch that follows instructions and is easy to grasp and respond to.

Your portfolio will benefit from it.

3.2 If you want to self-publish: brainstorm topics and execute them

Self-publishing can work as a great addition to guest posting, and even as its alternative.

The key is to write your self-published writing sample as if you were writing a blog post for a client. Apply the same standards here, because that’s what your potential clients will be looking for when checking out your samples.

Pay special attention to:

  • Your headline: write a clear, specific headline that obviously targets your client’s target audience. Use a tool like Headline Studio to test at least 5-10 versions and find the strongest one.
  • Your writing quality: ensure your content is written well and error-free with tools like Hemingway and ProWritingAid.
  • Matching your article research from step 2:
    • Add external links to support your claims or provide further context
    • Mention industry examples
    • Follow the right structure with sections, paragraph length, bullet points
    • Add weight by quoting original data (help yourself with a database like the Data vault)
    • Feature images you find (remember to credit the source) or create yourself (with a tool like Canva)
  • Making your article attractive by:
    • Writing an introduction that captures attention and teases the value of the article
    • Wrapping up the article with a strong conclusion that emphasizes main takeaways and encourages taking action

You can help yourself by briefing yourself just like a client would brief you. Who are you writing for? What’s the message your article should convey? In how many words?

From there, sketch an outline and write your draft from there.

What to do with your freelance writing samples

Once your writing samples are published, don’t let them collect dust. You’ve created them to do a specific job for you! Here’s how to put them to work:

Link to your freelance writing sample in an email pitch. A strong writing example is one of your best bets when pitching a potential client because it proves you have exactly what it takes to deliver the work they need. It might just be what takes your pitch from rejected (or ignored) to successful.

You can use a simple sentence in your pitch to share your writing sample, right after you’ve introduced yourself and pitched your services. For example:

“Here’s a sample of my writing on [topic 1], [topic 2], and [topic 3].” Add your links to each of the topics, and state the publication name if it’s a guest post for an industry publication.

List your writing sample in your portfolio. This is a big one because potential clients that stumble upon you on social media or elsewhere will likely go straight to your portfolio page if they’re looking for someone like you. Have a page on your website or use a service like Authory to build your portfolio, and include your fresh writing samples there.

Pin your samples to your social media profiles. Places like LinkedIn and Twitter make it easy to pin any type of post to the top of your profile, so use it. It’s the first thing someone visiting your profile will see—including potential clients.

Share one writing sample per week on your social media platforms. This is what I call an inbound, ‘passive’ client-winning method. It depends on chance—aka someone seeing your post at the right time—but the more regularly you do it, the bigger your shot of reaching a person that is looking for a writer just like you.

That’s it—you’re ready to write and share your next freelance writing example and win the freelance work you deserve. Start doing your research today so you can start seeing results in the matter of weeks! 💪

Credit for featured photo to Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash