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How To Get A Writing Job: Building Your Writing Portfolio Without Experience

Updated on November 27, 2012

Get your first writing contract: Introduction

This article will cover everything you need to know to get that first elusive freelance writing job.

Getting your foot on the ladder is the most difficult part about starting a freelance writing career.

However, as long as you have good quality writing skills to back up the advice I'm about to give, by the end of this article you will have no problem securing that first writing job.

Struggling to get your first real writing job?

If you are new to the world of freelance writing, you've probably noticed the following:

  • Nobody seems to want to hire you without experience
  • Nobody gives your proposal/bid a second glance unless you have samples
  • Your writing portfolio is looking rather bare

The truth is no matter how good at writing you are, it's always going to be a struggle convincing those first few clients to hire you.

I've spoken to writers who have had more skill with writing than the majority of people out there passing off as 'professionals' and winning writing job after writing job. However without visible samples and experience, getting hired by your first few clients is an absolute nightmare.

This is what a client looks for when viewing your profile/website:

  1. How well your website is set out
  2. Samples which are directly related to the kind of job he/she is looking to have done
  3. Feedback from previous clients/work history
  4. Other samples from jobs not related to the kind of job he/she is looking to have done


Getting A Writing Job: Layout of site/profile

This is something everyone can get right.

It doesn't matter if you've been in freelance writing for 1 day or 1 decade. This first point, whilst is not usually the concrete decision factor for your potential client, is the deciding point as to whether they will continue to browse. Here are a few tips for making your profile or webpage enticing:

  1. Make it look pretty. If it is a profile for an online job platform, you're pretty limited here as you can't change the actual graphic design of the profile, but if it's a website then make sure it draws the reader in, looks organised and reflects the kind of professional you are
  2. Keep to the point. Don't rabbit on about yourself and how you've spent the last 10 years working on that unfinished novel - potential clients do not want to hear it. The unfortunate fact is, they are only concerned about 1 thing: Themselves. All they want to know is whether what you do matches what they need, and how good at it you are
  3. Hit them hard. Use your best writing here. Well, all writing should be your best - of course - but if you can string words selling yourself to good effect, the potential client is a lot more likely to have confidence in your ability to write whatever their project might be
  4. Check, edit, proofread. Everybody makes typing errors and silly spelling mistakes. Everybody. I earn a full time income from freelance copy writing and I think every single piece I write has some sort of error. However, if a potential client reads your profile/website and spots just 1 small error, they are going to immediately suspect your capabilities. Make the content on your website/profile right, and potential clients will have less reason to disbelieve whatever it is you're saying

Getting A Writing Job: Empty Portfolio?

Ok, time now to move on to the most crucial component of freelance writing which prevents fresh new writers from landing their first few clients: You have nothing in your portfolio.

In my experience, around 75% of potential clients will ask you for a sample. They will want to see something you have done previously which is directly linked to what they want. And if you're just starting out, this can be a huge problem.

Not any more ;-)

Ok, let's take this situation as an example:

Having just set up a website for her new freelance writing career, Jenny begins searching for work. She has sent out a few emails and telephoned a few businesses to no avail. She logs on to a forum allowing buyers to connect with clients and her eyes light up: "Looking for an article writer. Need 500 words, excellent writing, keywords to be provided. Budget around £20-£40. Message me for details. Send previous examples."

The reason Jenny is so excited is because she knows she can write a cracking article. She knows she can integrate keywords seamlessly. She knows she can make an offer within the budget. One problem: Jenny has no samples of previous work.

In this example, the problem with getting the job is not the lack of skills or expertise, but instead it is the lack of proof. Here's what you should do before looking for freelance writing jobs if you have an empty portfolio:

  1. Write down a list of every type of writing job you feel capable of completing - eg, Website content, Cover letter writing, blog post, brochure copy, bid/proposal writing
  2. This step is time consuming but will give you a huge advantage. Write your own sample of every single item on your list. Don't worry too much about specifics - use whatever you feel like. So for example, write an example home-page for a company selling motorbikes. Go on to write a cover letter for a fictional individual looking for a job. Then write a blog post about... well, anything! Then imagine a company - any company. Soap sales perhaps? - and write a brochure for them. You get the idea. The point is, you are building a repertoire of something you don't yet have: Examples. When a potential client asks you to send an example, they aren't going to grill you on it and say "I don't think this was a real job" - and hey, even if they do it doesn't matter: The example, whether your own sample you've made up or whether paid-for writing you've written for a client, does the same job - shows your potential client what you're capable of.

Important: Writing samples off your own back is a great idea. However, if a potential client ever asks you to write a piece for free as an example, remain cautious: They are probably playing on your vulnerability and desperation to get that first writing job.

All that's left now, is to bid on writing jobs!

Ok, so now you have fine-tuned your website/profile and bulked out your portfolio with relevant work, you're ready: All you have to do is reel the clients towards you (click here to read a guide on writing the perfect writing job proposal)

It doesn't matter that you can't provide samples from previous clients: The samples you can provide are relevant.

Of course, you will still hit a few snags that come as a result of having no previous client base. But the majority of potential clients will see you are a consummate professional, and have no problem in hiring you.

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    • petertebin profile image

      petertebin 4 years ago from Maryland

      Love the piece the only thing that could have made it better is if you put a list of sites people could go to find writing jobs and gigs. Other then that its a great piece for someone looking to write!

    • writeyourwrongs profile image
      Author

      John Crowley 4 years ago from Sheffield

      Thanks for the comment - I've tried in the past to link to sites like Elance, but hubpages seems to tell me off for being overly promotional. I'll perhaps try again though at some point.

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

      I enjoyed this hub, too, John...especially your points about setting up a winning profile. On my own profiles, I naturally focused on 1, 2, and 4, but I realize that I completely missed 3!

      No client is on my profile to learn about who I am. They wnat to know what I can do for them. Duh...

      Voted up and stuff. Aloha!

    • writeyourwrongs profile image
      Author

      John Crowley 4 years ago from Sheffield

      Thanks again Chris.

      Aloha to you too!

      (Am I right in thinking that means hello and goodbye?)

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

      Aloha!

      You are correct.

      Aloha!

    • The-Quietwarrior profile image

      The-Quietwarrior 4 years ago

      Very useful and interesting. It appears you have also "paid your dues"!

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