The self-publishing debate: Online portfolio vs. personal blog vs. professional blog

A look at the various ways professionals can showcase their work and writing talents to attract the right kind of attention.

Active, working professionals who want to be seen and found online have a lot of options for showcasing work and expertise but little time to decide what they should have, how to build it, and how to maintain it. This post is designed to break down these options and give a reality check on what it takes.

Here is the quick rundown of my recommendations:

Keep reading if you want details and background

Do I need a personal online portfolio?Yes. In most cases you need one. Read on to learn more.
Should my blog be built within or separate from my online portfolio?> If you plan to write about professionally-relevant topics or work experiences – you can create a blog section within your online portfolio.
> If you plan to write about topics outside your profession, create a separate blog or self-publish in places like Medium and LinkedIn.
How can I work toward becoming a thought leader and make money blogging?If you want to monetize your blog, I suggest it is separate from your online portfolio to limit “muddying the waters.” You will have to enable e-Commerce and paid ad features that may not be in line with your personal brand or the core purpose of your professional portfolio.

I got my first “real” job in 1993 at C.W. Crocker Communications. I was 19 years old and not yet exposed to websites, social media, text messaging, or e-mail. Why? Because this technology was not available. This means that all young professionals had to kick it old school and search for jobs using the classified sections of newspapers or word-of-mouth, print and distribute paper resumés, call or visit with colleagues and prospective employers face-to-face, and pitch story ideas via phone or printed media kits. One could self-publish of course, but in order to distribute it, the collection would have to be printed. Our portfolios (aka “samples of work”) were in hard copy, bound folders or binders. We basically used spit, polish, glue, and x-acto knives to put it all together.

Infographic created by Rebecca Cooney in Canva

So yes, I am 46-years-old and grew up in the ’70’s and ’80’s with four TV channels (and no remote), battery-operated toys, and car-bingo as the sole entertainment on road trips. My 79-year-old parents also still have AOL accounts. But I digress. Let’s fast forward to the present day and skip the history lesson about technological developments between 1994-2020.

Welcome to the debate about the necessity of online portfolios and self-publishing using modern web-based tools. I consider it a debate because there are so many articles with varying opinions. I don’t have all of the answers, but I can help in the navigation and decision-making process for the typical professional who wants to showcase their work and also have a place to share select writing samples for various purposes.

Self-publishing debate breakdown: Some opinion and evidence-based logic on pros, cons, best practices, and the rest.

  • Professional online portfolio

    As an exercise, I Googled “do I need an online portfolio.” “Yes” is the answer from The Muse, Webflow, Capella, and CollegeInfoGeek. My answer is also “yes” if you work in an industry where you are expected to show samples of the work you produced as a way to demonstrate proof of your core competencies. So, let’s assume you fall into this category.

    Alison Doyle at The Balance Careers says “A solid, cohesive, and comprehensive portfolio establishes your distinction in a sea of candidates. It provides “evidence” to an employer of your accomplishments, skills, and abilities. It is a good way to show the scope and quality of your experience and training. A portfolio can also help demonstrate your talent and ability to produce high-quality work in your field.”

    My favorite online portfolio tools are:

    a) Wix
    b) Squarespace
    c) Weebly
    d) WordPress (#1 tool if you plan to incorporate a blog)
    e) Adobe Portfolio
    f) Tumblr
    g) flipsnack

    Online portfolio basics

    1) Collect your best work (5-10 writing or design examples, completed projects, etc.)
    2) Decide on the portfolio tool you want to use and select a template or start from scratch
    3) Keep it simple at first with the following sections such as About, Work Examples, Resume, Contact
    4) As you showcase each example, be sure to give context – title of the piece, your role in its creation, who or what it was for, goals and outcomes.

    Learn more about setting up an online portfolio:

    a) How to Make a Portfolio by Nick Schaferhoff at Website Setup (2019)
    b) 6 Steps to Creating a Knockout Online Portfolio by Mell Ravenel, Adobe 99U (n.d.)
    c) 9 Best Portfolio Website Builders by Lucy Carney, Website Builder Expert (2020)
    d) Check out flipsnack Online Portfolio Maker (n.d.)

  • Personal vs. professional blogging (not monetized)

    The definition of personal vs. professional blog has shifted over the years. By the updated definition, either one can be monetized (meaning – money can be made through sponsorship, subscription, and/or ads). For the purpose of this post, my focus is on the non-monetized personal vs. professional blogs.

    Personal blog: Think of a personal blog as a public journal or diary – an unstructured place for how-to’s, opinions, poetry, or other musings. If you want to run a personal blog, I suggest you keep it separate from your online portfolio. This could be a separate blog using tools like WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr – or you can create a space on Medium. Medium focuses on content where as a blog provides more flexibility if you want to include design features (photos, artwork, video). >> Learn more about getting started with Medium

    Professional blog: A professional (non-monetized) blog can be integrated into your online portfolio IF you plan to write about topics related to your industry. That way you keep your content in context. One of the great benefits of blogging this way is you create a space where you can write about topics relevant to your core competencies, but it is attached to you – not your business or the company you work for. You can decide on frequency and distribution, and whether or not you want to increase your readership by attaching a social media engagement strategy.

  • Thought leadership and blogging (monetized)

    If you are interested in carving a niche as a thought leader and making money by blogging, you will want to invest time and money into learning how to do it right. SmartBlogger offers a free guide for making money blogging. Making money as a blogger is an entirely different landscape where revenue is generated from online courses and workshops; books, e-books, and whitepapers; affiliate marketing; advertising; speaking engagements; consulting; and freelance services. You can also check out this Forbes article about ways to make money from your blog featuring additional ideas such as creating sponsored posts, designing contests, selling templates or merchandise.

So I am at the start of this journey. I have an online portfolio and professional blog. This summer I plan to explore creating original content on Medium for more personal writing – or writing for topics that are outside my profession. I have not yet explored the creation and management of a monetized blog. Here is my current mix:

Additional resource from called “How to Build a Website in 2021: Complete Step-by-Step Guide” by Ari Denial that contains an easy step-by-step guide on how to build your own website without any prior knowledge about web development or design. View it at

#KeepGoing #KeepGrowing

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Professional Pathways – Never Stop Learning series. Check out more posts in the Professional Pathways category.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Cooney is a Clinical Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Director of Murrow Online Programs at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She is also a Research Associate for the Center of Excellence for Natural Product-Drug Interaction Research. Rebecca has more than 26 years of professional experience. Her core areas of expertise include user experience design, integrated communication, brand strategy, and digital communications. She holds a BA in organizational communications and MS in communications and is the recipient of the 2019 Oaks Award for innovation in teaching, 2015 Scripps Howard Visiting Professor in Social Media, and 2014 Plank Center Educator Fellow awards.

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