How to Create a Freelance Writing Portfolio with Zero Experience

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Here’s the skinny: you want to become a freelance writer, but you have absolutely no experience. Because you have no experience, you have no clips for your portfolio. Because you have no portfolio, you have no clue where to start.

I know how that feels because I have been in your shoes. That’s why I created this quick, actionable guide explaining exactly how I created a freelance writing portfolio that made me seem pretty legit. I got my first few gigs, and from there it took off.

1. Learn the lingo. Freelancers call their writing samples clips.” Using the right industry word will make you sound like you know what you’re talking about from the get go. I will bold other industry terms in this guide.

2. Write 3 different “spec” clips. When writers produce a piece without first securing a paying publication, it is called writing on spec.” But you can create spec pieces with the express purpose of starting your portfolio. Just be sure to label them as Spec pieces. I just put “Spec Clip” in the margin upper corner.

When you write a spec piece, create a hypothetical client, and write what you would really write if they were a real client. I wrote 3 pieces:

— -Copy for a tech landing page — I made up an app for an airport valet service.

— -Website copy for a hypothetical new, downtown co-working space

— -A sample client marketing letter from an education attorney to her mailing list.

I made real landing pages on Carrd.co for the first two items. Carrd.co is an awesome place to make easy, mock-up webpages with no tech skills. Once I made the sites, I had links (carrd.co gives a free domain with carrd.co in the URL), and I also made the screenshots into PDF files. This way I would be covered no matter how the potential employer wanted to see the goods.

3. Pitch blogs and publications. Think about your expertise. Everyone is an expert about something. It could be anything from caring for a baby with eczema to how to draw the perfect Adele cat eye with liquid eyeliner to tax law. We all know how to talk about something. Take 10 minutes and make a list of everything you know a lot about.

Got your list? Good. Now you can find an outlet who prints content about your area of expertise.

I started with publications I read. I reached out to a niche magazine called Sojourners, and I pitched an article about something that had been on my mind. Nothing “freelance” related, just my real opinion, written from the heart.

The editor I reached out to accepted the pitch, and after they ran it (for free) on their website, she asked if I would like to contribute regularly. Um, yes! I went on to write a lot for their website, and I’ve been in their print magazine several times (paid!).

Writing for Sojourners gave me a lot of professional looking clips. I was able to take screenshots to use for my clips, and I created links for them on Google docs.

You don’t have to start with a magazine. Here is a list of places you can send your first pitch:

— Websites and blogs who are looking for contributors. Google “blogs who accept guests posts” or “write for us.” One example of a website I can think of that looks for free contributors is MindBodyGreen, spiritual, green living lifestyle site. Think about the sites you frequent and your expertise, and make a list of websites to pitch.

— Local magazines — many cities have a current events website or magazine.

— Local small town or suburban newspaper (covering community events works well).

— The hipster papers you see in coffee shops

— Your child’s preschool or school website may need content about fundraising or current events.

— Your college alumni magazine or newspaper

There are a lot of writers in this industry with strong feelings about writers working for free. They feel that by giving away content work, that you contribute to the epidemic of websites who want quality content without paying a reasonable rate.

However, before you have a portfolio, it’s a different story. While you’re involved in this portfolio building process, find a group of seasoned writers to encourage you along the way. They will be sure to give you a nudge if you’ve been working for free too long.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until you have the perfect idea or the perfect pitch. Just take action.

The most experienced, successful writers I know hear “no” more than they hear “yes.” Rejection is literally normal in the business, so don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from taking action.

If you have any questions, drop me a note. I’m happy to help if I can.

Thanks for reading Writers Guild — A Smedian publication

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