As a new freelance writer, you need writing samples to find work. If you have no writing experience, though, you don’t have the writing samples to get your first writing experience. It can seem like a vicious circle. It’s frustrating. And it’s a big problem for new writers.
In this post, I’ll describe three surprising steps to bolster your writing portfolio and get those writing samples you need. This post is part of my series on What Is the Worst Problem Freelance Writers Face?
If you’re starting out as a freelance writer, here are the three steps that can help.
Step 1. Revisit Blogging
Much of the current advice is that writers don’t need blogs. And while it’s true that you can become a writer without a blog, having a blog can give your writing career a boost when you are starting out. Especially if you are interested in paid blogging.
When I started my freelance blogging career, I had years of technical writing experience. But it was this blog that landed me my first paid blogging gig. So, don’t let anyone tell you that having a blog is not important for writers.
Here are four guidelines to make sure your blog counts:
- Make your posts professional. Avoid the kind of blog post that mimics a personal diary. Instead, write every blog post as though you are writing for a client. Be sure to format your post for the web.
- Pay attention to your blog’s format. A sloppy or outdated theme makes your posts look bad, even if they are well-written. It may be worth it to invest in a professional WordPress theme.
- Write about what you know. Too many writers (myself included) think that their writing blog has to be about writing. It doesn’t. If gardening, or pets, or whatever, are what you know about, write about those things.
- Share your content. If no one can find your blog, no one will see what you’ve written. Share your content by linking to it with your LinkedIn profile, your social accounts, and include it with your resume.
One thing I’ve noticed about many of the writers who’ve dropped blogs and who say that blogging is not necessary for a new writer–they’ve already established themselves. They already have a strong professional portfolio. In other words, they do not need the boost a blog can provide.
Step 2. Work for Free, Carefully
I always hate to tell a writer to work without pay because that’s not what professionals do. Professionals get paid for their work. And sadly, there are some publications that take advantage of writers who are willing to work without pay or for practically nothing. Avoid those.
Instead, if you have a family member who is just starting a business or are involved with a charity, those can be a good opportunities to build your portfolio. Ask if they need writing services, but be careful. A surprising number of people confuse web design services with writing services. Unless you do both, be clear about you are offering.
Also, make it clear that your offer to work for no cost is limited. You don’t want to become their full-time unpaid writer. Put a value on what you are doing. For example, you can offer to write a fund-raising letter or a blog piece for a charity. Your offer could state something like:
“This service normally costs $xxx.00, but because I am starting my writing career I can offer this service for free on a one-time basis. I will be using this piece in my portfolio.”
Better yet, don’t start by offering to work for free. Instead offer to work for a discount.
Step 3. Consider Schoolwork
If you took journalism, business writing, or communications courses in school, consider yourself lucky. Such courses often have writing assignments that can be added to your portfolio.
My work on my high school and college newspapers led to my first corporate marketing position, which in turn led to technical writing opportunities.
Bonus Tip–Networking Pays Off
One final point, don’t assume that you won’t get paid work without any writing samples. All it takes to get your first paid writing gig is for someone to give you a chance. So, keep applying and sending pitches.
Don’t overlook writing forums and other small groups. The connections you make there can make all the difference in your freelance writing career.
Writing experience and a strong portfolio are important for writers. Not having experience or a portfolio are problems that new freelance writers face. But fortunately, it is a problem that can be overcome.
To learn more about getting started as a freelance writer, review the eBook I wrote with Carol Tice, The Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success.