4 Secrets to Create a Killer Freelance Portfolio on Upwork (no experience required!)

You want to start freelancing on Upwork. You’ve heard of the many perks like working from home, creating your own hours, becoming your own boss, and escaping the 9-5 grind.

The only downside? You don’t have any experience to show.

Whether you are a writer, photographer, graphic designer, or blogger, your portfolio is the biggest tool you have. As a newbie freelancer, your initial Upwork portfolio is even more important since you probably don’t have any real references to vouch for your skills.

Let me tell you a little secret… you don’t need experience to create a killer Upwork portfolio! Here are 4 ideas you can use to start creating content for your freelance portfolio now:

  1. Design Mock Samples

Mock samples are small pieces of work tailored to your niche. Your first portfolio should contain a variety of mock samples on various subjects in your niche. There are a few ways you can go about creating your first mock samples:

Create an Imaginary Client

Imagine your ideal client. They could stem from real life influencers, brands, and blogs you dream of working with. What kind of work would you be doing? What kind of content would they want? Write down your brainstorm.

Now do some research to verify your ideas. Go to your dream brand or blog’s website and dig around for their most popular content. Posts with lots of social media shares and comments are your best bet. You can also use online tools to figure out what content make websites tick:

Buzzsumo: Enter in the domain name of the website you are researching to see what blog posts receive the highest social media shares. Use this data to create mock samples around the most engaging posts. For example, if you want to eventually write for Travel and Leisure, enter in their domain name, and voila! You see their most popular content relates to obscure jobs around the world that pay. Create mock content similar to their popular content.

Create a freelance portfolio with no experience

Popsters: A great tool for analyzing Instagram media. Popsters is ideal for photographers or Instagram influencers who want to create mock visual content to build photography experience. You can search popular feature accounts and see what pictures get the most likes and engagement. The results even dive deep into what days and times, text length, and hashtags have the highest engagement rate. You could also use Popsters for other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest. Follow my example below to use Popsters:

Create a Freelance Portfolio with No Experience
Create A Freelance Portfolio with No Experience

Take A Course

Work on your skills by going back to school. School requires you to complete projects and homework for passing grades. You can use these projects as your first samples. You may already have some now!

If going back to school does not fit in your schedule, then consider enrolling in an online course through your local city college or sites like:

Online Courses are great ways to build your freelance Upwork portfolio without experience. Not only do you complete tons of projects, you also receive certifications to strengthen your credibility.

There are things to consider when choosing what online course is going to give you the best bang for your buck though:

  • Skills: You want courses that fill in knowledge gaps

  • Credibility: You want courses with great reviews and testimonials

  • Platforms: You want advanced teaching methods to enhance learning

  • Cost: You want your course to fit in your budget

  • Flexibility: You want your course to work around your schedule

Make sure to consider these factors to pick the best course for you.

Mock samples are a surefire way to quickly build your portfolio, but you could also use reviews and critiques to start creating content today.

2. Write Reviews and Critiques

Review and critique other freelancers, web pages, blogs, and photography in your niche. Critiquing is great because it gives you credibility and shows you know your stuff. You can review literally anything in your niche that intrigues you.

Critiquing is an art form and requires a delicate balance of positive and negative feedback. There are some general guidelines to critiquing work:

Create a freelancer portfolio with no experience
  1. Intro: Brief opening to who and what you are critiquing

  2. Positive Feedback: What you like about the work

  3. Constructive Feedback: What you believe could improve

  4. More Positive Feedback: Always end on a positive note

  5. Conclusion: Brief statement summarizing the overall work

We call the structure a, “feedback sandwich.” Always start with something you enjoy about the work, which generally builds trust and connection with the audience. Then offer your negative feedback in the form of constructive criticism. For example, its much better to say, “The web page could improve their image quality” versus saying “The image quality on the site was poor.” Finally, end on a positive note to leave a positive impression in your viewer’s minds.

You can make review videos via screen recording products like Camtasia, write blog posts, make instagram stories, or shoot videos. Try making a few reviews and uploading them to a blog!

3. Start Your Own Blog

Blog content is a great way to create samples and establish expertise in your field. A blog is a a versatile tool and there are various reasons why you should have one:

  • Builds Your Brand

  • Markets Your Content

  • Acts as Portfolio

  • Establishes Expertise

Read my detailed explanation on why you should have a blog for your freelancer business .

You blog should be directly related to your niche and should tailor to your audience. Blog content does not always have to be writing. Blogging can also include videos, image galleries, and infographics.

If you are not quite sure how to start a blog we have you covered! Head over to 4 Easy Steps to Start Your Blog Today!

4. Guest Post on Other Blogs

Writing posts for other blogs is a solid strategy to increase traffic your website, build your brand, and improve SEO. For guest posting to work you need the right strategy implemented.

You can’t start guest posting with the attitude you’ll write a post and immediately leverage the blog’s followers. The issue with this strategy is you don’t really care about the blog or its following. You are being selfish - all you are looking for is gain, which will get you nowhere fast.

The solution - provide significant value.

Let me quickly break down a guide to guest posting the right way:

Find Quality Blogs In Your Niche

Finding quality blogs in your niche is much easier than you think. All you need to do is Google [your niche] + [search phrase].

Search phrases you can use are:

  • “Guest Post”

  • “Blog Post Contributor”

  • “How to Contribute to our Blog”

  • “Write for us”

  • “Contribution Guidelines”

  • “Contributing Writer”

  • “Contributing Photographer”

  • “Contributing Videographer”

Go to Google and enter in your phrase and see what pops up:

Create a Freelance Portfolio with No Experience

The first six search results were all for blogs that are accepting guest posts! But you shouldn’t try to guest post for all of them. You need to write only for the best ones.

Filter Out The Best Blogs

Not all blogs are created equal. Ideally, you want to guest posts for blogs that you love, are a strong presence on Google, and have a dedicated following.

How do you narrow down the blogs on your search results? There are a few ways. Let me show you:

1.Comments and Social Shares: You will want to go to each individual blog and look at their posts. Blogs with at least 5 comments and 15 social shares are a good place to start.

Create a Freelance Portfolio with No Experience

2. Search Engine Tools: You can use Moz to check the domain authority and number of backlinks to the site. You are looking for blogs with a domain authority score over 25 and more than 100 back links.

Create a freelance portfolio with no experience

Create a spread sheet with all the blogs you have found, then weed them out with the provided methods. Your final result will be a strong list of blogs you can post to.

The next step is to create rapport with these blogs.

Build Rapport With Bloggers

Once you have your list of blogs you don’t want to immediately pitch to them. Blogs that do accept guest posts receive hundreds of inquires a day and are accepting less and less writers for their site.

Why?

Bloggers are tired of receiving generic pitches that promise outstanding content that never deliver. Don’t be one of these writers!

A smarter approach is to genuinely take interest in the blog’s content. If you are finding blogs in a niche that you are passionate about, this should not be a problem. Take these few steps to get to know the blogger and build a connection:

  • Sign up for their newsletter

  • Read and comment on their posts

  • Follow them on social media

  • Engage with conversation starters not just “great work!”

  • Compliment their work

Spotting fakers that comment and engage for ulterior motives is so easy. Don’t be a faker! These days people are starving for connection, so be a genuine human being and offer a real interaction.

Engage and connect for at least two weeks before you decide to pitch your guest post.

Pitch a Guest Post They Can’t Refuse

Remember your strategy is to provide value to the blog you are guest posting for. What’s the point for a blogger to agree to your post if your post generates less traffic and engagement than their own?

You need to provide real substance on a topic their readers want to consume and share. Similar to the strategy to create samples, you can use Buzzsumo to search their most shared content on social media. You could design posts similar to their most engaging content, or write content that fills in the gaps.

Create Freelance Portfolio with No Experience

According to my example above, their top posts relate to bucket list items, food, and destinations. I could create similar travel content that could fill gaps for their readers.

The next step is to write catchy head lines to include in your pitch:

  • “5 Bizarre Street Foods in Thailand (Number 3 will gross you out)!”

  • “The Most Stunning Riverside Views in Bangkok that Won’t Break Your Bank”

  • “10 Views that Will Put Mexico on Your Bucket List”

  • “The Number One Place to Visit in Costa Rica”

Create a brief description that ties the purpose and value of your articles together. Neil Patel suggests remembering the 5 W’s when writing pitches:

  • Who: Globetrotters

  • What: Travel Guides

  • When: Before Travels

  • Where: Global Destinations

  • Why: To make trips more exciting and memorable.

For my articles my description would sound something like:

I want to create a series of travel guides geared to inspire globetrotters to explore the world. My resources will help your travel bugs plan out their site seeing and adventures before they get on a plane. I hope the guides will help make their travels more exciting and memorable.

Once you have your headlines and description it’s time to put it all together in a pitch. Neil Patel has a pitch template that we use to land guest posts today:

Subject: you should blog about [insert your guest blog post topic]

[insert their first name],

As an avid reader of [insert their site name], I would love to read about [insert guest blog post topic], and I think your readers would as well.

Your content on [insert existing post from their website #1, insert existing post from their website #2, and insert existing post from their website #3] is great, but I think you can tie it all together by blogging on [insert guest blog post topic].

I know you are probably busy and won’t blog on it, so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.;-) How about I write it for you? Don’t worry, I’m a great blogger and have had my posts featured on [insert previous guest post URL #1] and [insert previous guest post URL #2].

Let me know if you are interested. I already know your blogging style, plus I understand what your readers love as I am one of them.;-)

Look forward to hearing from you,

[insert your name]

Rewrite and rephrase this template to make it your own, edit, edit, edit, and send! The next step is to sit back and wait for a response.

But what if you don’t receive a response?

Follow Up

Most people do not devote enough time to following up. They send the email, wait a few days, don’t get a response then give up. Following up is a crucial tactic to land more guest post gigs because following up shows you actually care about the blog and post.

Statistically following up has been proven to generate more leads. Out of 2,220 sales reps, those that followed up within an hour are 7x more likely to have meaningful connections. By no means should you follow up in an hour but you should definitely reach out to the blogger in 3-5 days if you do not get a response.

Do not be afraid of following up more than once either. I followed up on review and testimonial requests from clients who kindly agreed to write one but never followed through. I followed up with one client 5 times before he took action! People are busy, put off tasks, and just forget. Your email reminders will help them follow through because you demonstrate genuine care.

In Conclusion…

Building a portfolio does not need to be difficult or take years of experience.

The biggest mistake you can make is to put off creating your first Upwork portfolio because you believe you’re unqualified.

You know more now than you every have, so start putting some of your knowledge down in mock samples, a blog, and reviews today!

I leave you with a final motivational tip,

Just Do It!


Do you have any concerns or questions about creating a freelance portfolio on Upwork despite having no prior experience?