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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

How to Build Your Writing and Publishing Portfolio Locally

As a writer, building your portfolio is essentially the same as building a brand for your business. Except in this case, your business is yourself, and your portfolio shows prospective clients how and what you write.

If you think like a business owner—and let's face it, we all can use a little business acumen in our creatively-focused endeavors—you'll have less of a struggle turning writing into a full-time profession, rather than a side hustle. Especially if you have your sights set on being a freelance journalist, copywriter, or content marketer, your professional portfolio will open doors into more industries than you realize. The more styles of writing you try, the more opportunities you'll create for yourself to use your talent well beyond a savvy for plot twists and character arcs.

A professional portfolio can open more doors.
A professional portfolio can open more doors for you as a freelance writer. Photo by Mikayla Mallek on Unsplash.

Why build a portfolio in the first place?

Your writer's ego might first object with a "Wait, can't I just send a magazine a sample of my writing and be done with it?" The answer to that is—sure, you can try that and see how far it gets you. However, in today's publishing climate, the need for writers is a lot broader than magazines or local newspapers, so you'll be limiting your options for writing if you limit yourself to these.

In fact, industries across the board are beginning to recognize that their audiences and target customers are online, they're mobile, and they want to read useful, enjoyable, shareable content. And that's where it gets a little tricky.

Employees in-house can be given the responsibility of updating social media or posting pictures of the company picnic on the blog, but turning those efforts into something that builds a brand and engages and audience—well, that's a different story altogether.

A local blog

Creating a local blog and drawing an audience to it is without a doubt one of the easiest ways to build your portfolio and reputation as a writer. Sometimes, this can be as simple as finding a hobby you love (writing, perhaps?) and offering weekly tips or best practices you've learned along the way. At other times, it can be more specifically focused on your city or region—maybe its unique history or origin—and maintained as a way to show your writing style and scope.

Not sure what to write about? Try some of these ideas:

  • A particular spot's haunted history
  • Top-10 best local places to take a date for free
  • The reason I call [city name] "home"
  • Best local places to enjoy the fall colors
  • Top-10 places to take kids in the area
  • Best scenic overlooks within an hour drive
  • Great local vintage or antique finds

City or county focused

Most incorporated cities of any considerable size will have a city publication, and these are often tied in with the Chamber of Commerce. Since it is the Chamber of Commerce's purpose to work toward the betterment of an area's business community, they often present networking and publishing opportunities for local writers across a variety of topics. You'll likely be writing about a local business and its history, or it could be an article covering an event that was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce or a local organization. Other potential topics include city plans for growth, library programs, youth sports programs, or anything offered by the city to its residents such as animal services or family-friendly events. You also might write about hometown heroes or people who have grown up in the area and have gone on to do newsworthy things.

Alternative news sources

Larger metropolitan areas will often have one or several alternative news sources providing opportunities for publishing. In these types of publications, some potential article topics include interviews with local politicians, entrepreneurs, or business owners about their vision for the city and its future. You could also write about upcoming events or cover events as they occur, since local news sources want to be able to provide their readers with good coverage of what's happening in the area. One thing to keep in mind is that these types of alternative news sources will likely be leaning in one political direction or another, so understanding that on the front-end before submitting article suggestions is always wise. If you submit an article that leans to the wrong side of the publication's preferred slant and they aren't interested in publishing it, chalk it up to a lesson learned about the hard truths of a struggling industry. Local lifestyle magazines Local lifestyle magazines are magazines that feature everything from local homes and organizations to features on innovative artists, builders, and entrepreneurs from the area. Some potential article topics could be local artists supporting a nonprofit, or events that occur that raise money for charities or other needs within the community. You could also write about:

  • School groups who have raised money for a cause
  • Advice from local healthcare providers on staying well
  • The history of a local home or the family who lives in it
  • Philanthropic organizations who make a difference in the area
  • Artists, musicians or performances that are locally scheduled

Tips to keep in mind when writing for local publications

Writing for a local publication is no different than writing for a larger publication in that you should write in a way that will appeal to your audience. Your audience in this case is your own community, so if you're involved in what's going on around you, this should be easy.

Also remember that you'll need to be able to maintain an open line of communication with the managing editor of the publication, the photographer(s) assigned to the piece, and anyone else in-office working with you to get the piece from its planning stages, to draft, to final publication run.

Also, as with larger publications, your attention to deadlines will be important in maintaining professional relationships with these publications. Often, several publications within an area are owned by one publisher, so building a reputation (or losing one) is easily accomplished if you stay on task, turn in the assignment on time and error-free, and be willing to adapt to changes the editor might want to make.


Depending on the publication's editor, you may or may not be given an editorial style sheet with information about how articles should be formatted when submitted. If you're not given anything, you can use the following format (which is standard across publications):

HED: [This is the headline of your article]
DEK: [This is the sub-headline of your article
BY: [Your name]
WC: [Word count of the article]

Organize your portfolio

There really is no better portfolio than an author website created with links to your previously published work. You can create a simple, easy-to-navigate website that will look great across mobile devices with a site that offers templates. With hosting plans and easy website building tools, sites like SquareSpace provide authors with a personal author website and the perfect online portfolio that can be set up within a few hours. You can also use this site to provide contact information, headshots, extended bylines, or anything else a publication might need to run the article.

SquareSpace offers multiple online portfolio templates.
Sites like SquareSpace offer multiple templates authors can use for an online portfolio.

If you'd rather not pay for your personal web address and author site, this article from Writer's Digest provides a step-by-step guide to getting set up for free on WordPress. There will be limitations to the features provided with the free account (such as, you'll have to use a web address provided by them instead of your own), but at least you'll have an online space to direct others who wish to view your published work.

Show different types of coverage

If you've covered an event such as a ballgame or fundraiser kickoff, be sure to include a PDF (and/or link) of the printed article. If you've written a spotlight feature on a hometown hero or an interview piece on an up-and-coming entrepreneur, include those as well. Showing the ability to adapt your writing skills based on the type of assignment given goes a long way in helping you get more future writing projects.

Keep references handy

Keep references on-hand for editors and other creatives you've worked with and for across various creative and publishing projects. This is especially helpful in an area where creatives know each other and work together often. As I mentioned earlier concerning publishers running multiple media outlets, having a good name and reputation as a dependable, captivating writer goes a long way in helping solidify your success as a local creative.

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