Breaking into the competitive world of freelance work, regardless of the type of creative craft, has reached new levels of mystique given the boom of the gig economy and the solopreneur. With 34 percent of the workforce now involved in freelance work, there’s one question that’s bound to come up in freelancers’ minds: How can I beat out the competition?

Recruitment teams must sort through hundreds of portfolios to find the right match for each opportunity — competition can be stiff, to say the least. An online portfolio is a versatile application that helps determine if someone is qualified for a job, and when a creative’s body of work is missing even one crucial element, there’s a good chance they will be cast aside during the search process.

For the freelance creatives out there who are wondering exactly how to craft strong online portfolios — writers, videographers, graphic designers, and photographers — we’ve assembled some key insights into what clients are specifically looking for, including the must-haves and serious deterrents for recruiters.

What you need for a great writing portfolio

Freelance writer — content creator — journalist. Within the context of the gig economy, these creatives have a very important role: creating original content that connects with a target audience and effectively relays a brand’s purpose.

Certain elements of an online writing portfolio will set exceptional writers apart from sub par ones. When a client seeks a new contributor to craft a story for their brand, missing the mark in the portfolio will undoubtedly decrease the writer’s chances of winning the job. After all, if you can’t convey the merit of your own brand through your work, how will clients be able to trust you with theirs?

It’s worthwhile ensuring that your portfolio reflects the following:

  • Ultimate professionalism. Writing professionally requires a mind that challenges the status quo and presents concepts in unique ways. This creative trait typically plays to a writer’s favor, but it can also be a liability if taken too far. So when you are creating an online writing portfolio, remember that every element — from headshot, font, website name to social handle — should express a personal brand image and showcase a high level of professionalism. Consider yourself an extension of an enterprise-level company that requires attention to every detail.
  • Defined niche. Brands from every industry are crafting stories to engage their consumers and add value to their lives. The catch is — not everyone is qualified to write every one of these stories. Companies are getting particular about choosing their ideal storytellers. In some cases where clients don’t require an extensive writing portfolio of industry aligned samples, they instead seek out practitioners — individuals who live and breathe in a specific space.

Brands want authenticity and they want assurance that the stories they produce will truly resonate with their target audiences. For this reason, the majority of companies request subject matter experts and avoid generalists who boast an ability to cover a variety of topics, but none in great detail. They want prolific writers with authoritative bios and industry experience that goes beyond what anyone can learn through a day’s research.

Not sure if you’re a subject matter expert? Fake it ‘til you make it.

Launch a blog that explores the latest industry trends and embrace your own thought leadership. Cull your colorful portfolio to highlight articles that fall within the identified space. By sticking with one niche you’re doing yourself a favor because, unfortunately, showcasing articles that cover the latest medical technology advancements do not prove that you’re a DIY home improvement expert, regardless of your passion.

Related article: The Biggest and Best Freelance Websites in 2017

  • Representative samples. Defining your niche with a strong bio shows the client you can talk the talk, but adding a variety of samples that flesh out your areas of expertise demonstrates that you’re an experienced writer in the space. Quality and quantity go hand-in-hand — bylines featured in reputable magazines, websites and industry publications take writing portfolios to the next level. Reputable samples not only showcase the ability to write to a specific journalistic standard and topic, but they also show that a company was willing to associate your name with their brand. Treat yourself like an extension of an enterprise-level company.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a recently published TechTarget or Time Magazine article — understandably, that takes time and networking. Continue to post regularly as an expert on your own blog and others until the opportunity arises.

  • Strong and discerning social presence. Picture this: You work for a prestigious technology company and realize you need a new writer to cover the latest IoT trends for your blog. After a quick search, you come upon one particular writer’s online portfolio and are convinced that this candidate is exactly the right person for the job. Not only does the portfolio ooze professionalism, but this writer has crafted a strong bio highlighting experience in the tech industry and provided several samples from reputable publications that tie back to their area of expertise.

You’re just about to send an email to the writer, but decide to take a peek at one last thing. After clicking on the little blue bird, you’re redirected to the writer’s Twitter feed and the first thing you see is a profane tweet from 2014: “How dare they forget the f@&$ing cheese on their cheeseburger?” Guess who’s not getting that job.

This exact scenario plays out more often than you’d think. If that writer had maintained a professional Twitter handle and promoted the stellar samples that were listed in his portfolio, he may have scored the gig. A significant following and strong presence on social media isn’t a must for every client, but it’s a competitive edge that keeps writers on top of their game. Clients love to see contributors share their latest articles and engage in social conversations tied to their brand.

Pro tip: Avoid adding social handles to your online portfolio unless you plan on devoting the time to keeping them up-to-date, professional, and relevant. You won’t necessarily reach social influencer status overnight, but by engaging with others and sharing content that’s relevant to your niche, you’re adding one extra selling point to your portfolio.

  • The Pitfalls: If you think your online writing portfolio is in good shape and you don’t need to make any changes, at least take the time to check that your spelling and grammar are flawless and that all of your links work. You want to make it as easy as possible for recruiters to review your writing samples. Lastly, if you’re using a sponsored CMS platform as your portfolio, take the time to upload a great photo — gone are the days of the cartoon avatar and selfie.

Nailing the video portfolio

Some people think videography is as simple as pointing and shooting. But now, more than ever before, telling stories through video is a great unknown — and in the best way possible. It’s up to the creative to lay the groundwork for unique video content that gets brands noticed, which means a creative eye, a solid foundation, and a genuine vision for their work.

  • Style basics. As with with any profession that requires a unique skillset, creating quality video content requires a sound understanding of “the basics.” The subconscious eye of the viewer is, without a doubt, the conscious eye of the videographer — and, ultimately, the client. Reels must showcase smooth motion and clear image quality. Beyond this, professional color grading is positively noted and in many cases distinguishes high-quality video from lackluster bunk.

There is something to be said about a filmmaker who can execute. This should not come at the expense of filmic style and sensibility, but when videographers have comparable skillsets, the ability to tell a story is what will make someone stand out. With the combination of investment in the right software/plugin bundles (be sure to let recruiters know if you have this), a professional-grade camera, and clear attention to detail for on-set production, a videographer becomes a commodity for most any client.

  • Cohesive narrative. Simply put, to take video is to tell a story. The right 30-second visualization of a flower blowing in the wind can be more effective than an entire three-and-a-half hour epic film about space travel. Explaining this to a client who has trouble with creative thinking can be challenging and might start your interaction off on the wrong foot. Your reel must showcase a variety of your best work, but it’s also important to show specific examples that tell a concrete story from beginning to end.

Unless a client is extremely open minded and looking for a surreal, outside-of-the-box adventure, leave your wildest content for them to find via research and, instead, put your best, most well-rounded foot forward. Tailoring your level of experimentation to a client’s brand is a very important consideration.

  • The Pitfalls: Poor color grading may go unnoticed and not concern lower-level productions, but it sets a bad precedent. Shaky camera work also raises serious concerns if not used for stylistic purposes. Poor editing and bad timing must be avoided at all costs — particularly where sound is concerned. Many videographers underestimate the importance of this element. Watching television with grainy video is annoying, but doable. Viewing perfect picture quality with static-y, low-quality audio? Almost unbearable.

How to make graphic design portfolios that stand out

More than any other enhanced content medium, brands understand the power of eye-catching graphics. Infographics, illustrations and other effective visual components go hand-in-hand with well-written articles. Designers can be tasked with a wide variety of projects and must be able to stand out in a sea of unique styles with more than just a good drawing hand.

  • Lightning-fast turnaround. Freelance creatives are often up against well-oiled machines and it can be challenging to capture work when professional agencies with high-level animators and designers are the norm for many companies. Make sure it’s clear in your online portfolio that you work well under pressure and have a quick turnaround time. Pointing out how long a piece took you to complete will add an extra level of intrigue, especially if it was particularly short.
  • Technical capabilities. It’s vital to show you can work effectively within a number of distinct styles, via whichever animation medium you use. If your hand-drawn work is good, make sure it translates into a complex build file online. Point out in your portfolio that you can provide multiple versions of different build files to a client and accommodate them with high-quality work in as many ways as possible. Also highlight which software programs you own and are proficient in — the more the better.
  • The Pitfalls: Variety is key for a design portfolio. Too much repetition gives the sense that designers haven’t mastered different styles. Maintain that you can work within a brand’s guidelines, but express your openness to putting your own spin on something when asked. If you cannot do this, you are just like everyone else.

The picture-perfect online photography portfolio

With the popularity and accessibility of cheap, high-quality equipment for still photography, there are more professional photographers around than ever before. Standards are high and so is the competition. Making sure you are diversified, professional and artistic with your photography is arguably a bigger challenge than in any other creative medium. As they say, “a picture has the value of a thousand words, if not more.”

  • Unique angles and color grading. Much to the bewildered dismay of professional photographers (and the advantage of many budding up-and-comers), Instagram has changed the way talent is found and vetted. A producer with a good eye will take note of interesting viewpoints and color grading. It’s pretty easy to shoot from a trendy, but overdone perspective and throw an Insta-filter onto an image — but using your own style of color grading and setting up unique, sensible angles for your shots will do wonders to set you apart.

Clients take notice when a photographer couples a distinctive style with a consistent look in multiple lighting settings and locations. Your photography portfolio, as with any image you can lay claim to, should show the world from your eyes — unless otherwise agreed upon.

  • Versatility. With many wonderful wedding photographers out there, the bliss of matrimony can be captured in an unforgettable and truly beautiful way. But not every situation should be shot with the mentality of a wedding ceremony. Plus, you can’t show your ability to handle other jobs without a versatile creative portfolio. Showcasing a wide variety of photos, including product shots, portraits, architecture, studio freestyles and anything else that makes you unforgettable is fundamental to your portfolio’s success and will open you up to a much wider swath of gigs.
  • The Pitfalls: Make sure your portfolio is easily navigable so certain shots lead to more specific types of photography in line with what you’re presenting. If you must have watermarks on your photography, then make them clean, small and subtle, rather than the massive, gaudy logos we often see. Those handwriting fonts (seriously, what gives?) will distract your audience from what you’re trying to showcase.

Your online portfolio is your talent showcase

Regardless of your creative path, there are constants that every effective online portfolio should boast. If you truly have the talent clients are seeking and you showcase it in a professional manner, there’s a good chance your portfolio will serve as a gateway to many new opportunities. If you’re still concerned that your online portfolio isn’t up to par, consider asking a third party (or a brutally honest friend) to critically review it before publishing.

Convincing yourself that everything looks great is easy, but pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone challenges your thinking and buffs out overlooked flaws.

Editor’s Note: This article was a collaboration between four members of Skyword’s Creative and Community Management Team: Lauren DiZazzoMolly BerryTom Sanford, and Colin Eldridge.

The Skyword Community Management & Creative Desk

The Skyword Community Management & Creative Desk

Skyword’s Creative and Community Management teams work closely with a wide variety of freelancers, including writers, designers, videographers, and photographers from around the world. Using the Skyword Platform, the teams engage freelancers, connecting them with the top-tier brands to create breakthrough stories.