After a few months of research, indecision, and excitement, you’re finally ready. You’re going to launch your writer website and start pitching clients. But, there’s one massive problem chewing away at every fiber of your determination: you don’t have a portfolio. How can you get work when clients expect to see examples of your amazing wordcraft skills, when you have yet to obtain any clients? Take a deep breath, and stop shaking in your writerly boots. It’s actually a lot easier than you think.
1. Use Old and/or Academic Writing – You’re a writer, aren’t you? That means you’ve written some things that, if you’re anything like me, you’ve preserved solely in the name of the almighty beauty of your words. Check your college laptop or that navy blue bin where you store your old notebooks – you know, the one buried in your closet, under your shoe collection. Find your best work. Do you have essays from university courses that are well-written and engaging? Bonus points if your topic is controversial – a divisive piece gets people talking, and will help you connect more quickly with your ideal clients. You will attract clients either with the same views, or who appreciate your willingness to broach controversial material. Either way, you win. Flip through notebooks to find things you’ve written that you can use for your portfolio. Maybe you just jotted down your thoughts about an issue that is near and dear to you – go ahead and develop it! With everything you find, make sure to reread, rewrite, and reread again. Make sure your ideas have been completely developed and conveyed in your finished piece.
2. Talk To Your Network – You know people. Friends, family, current and past work colleagues, the walking billboard who dances around town in clownwear advertising for local businesses. What are they working on? Chances are, someone you know either runs a small business or can hook you up with someone who does. You can write the copy for their website, do brochures or print ads for them, create or manage their blog – the possibilities are endless! Can’t find anyone you know in the business realm? No problem. Offer to write a dating profile for a single friend, or update your aunt’s resume. As for the walking billboard? See if you can sit down with him over coffee and get the scoop on the man behind the face paint. Write it up for a local newspaper. And since he’s already connected with at least a handful of local businesses, who knows, maybe he can recommend you to his clientele.
3. Aim For Easy Targets – Maybe you’ve spent the last few years managing employees at the office, or you have a passion for fixing up cars. Take an inventory of your immediate experience and knowledge base. It’s a good bet there are markets for the things you already know about. Pitch articles to human resources trade magazines if you’ve been handling employees, or reach out to the auto mechanic publications with an article on how to know when it’s time to replace your tools. Whatever you’ve done, or or have a reasonably solid background in, is one of the simplest and best ways to quickly land some work. The fact that you already have a good grasp of these topics means you won’t have to do too much research and can apply what you already know! So make a list of the things you have a good deal of experience in or knowledge of, then focus that into topics you could write into articles. Finally, find the publications or blogs that would find your material useful, and get pitching!
4. Create Work For Your Ideal Client or Market – When you think about your writing career, I bet there are a few very specific topics and blogs or magazines you imagine writing for. So do it! Write up that piece on the best conditions for finding morels and the best recipes you’ve found for them. Or put together that article about the concerns of trilobyte collectors when faced with trying to obtain legitimate specimens. Create the perfect ad campaign for your favorite clothing line. Get it down, and then pitch it out. Even if it’s not accepted, you have a great piece in the exact market you’re aspiring to.
Once you’ve gone through all your previous writing, reached out for assignments, and created a piece or two on spec, you should have at least a few writing samples that you can use in your portfolio. And starting out, you shouldn’t need too much. As long as your sample work is well-written, you’ll be able to grab more gigs, and before long you’ll be developing a larger and more impressive range of clips for your portfolio.
So think about it. What writing have you already done or can easily do to use as your first portfolio pieces?
Kerry Congdon is a freelance writer for hire who has spent most of her life lost in the Pine Barrens. When she isn’t writing about obscure historical oddities or beauty and fashion, she pretends to be extremely crafty. You can see more of her work atwww.kerrycongdon.com