No portfolio? No problem. Follow these three easy steps to building a portfolio even with no prior copywriting experience.Jan 29, 2021
Ugh. The big freelance writing portfolio problem.
I call it the chicken or the egg problem because to get clients, you need writing samples, but you need clients first because you lack experience.
My portfolio was a massive insecurity in the beginning.
What if my writing sucks?
What if they start asking me a bunch of questions about my writing, and I look like a fool?
Worrying about portfolios is what keeps aspiring freelancers from ever starting.
- First thing’s first:
You don’t need to have work already published by clients to create an effective portfolio. You can build your portfolio from scratch with no prior experience.
Don’t let building a portfolio overwhelm you. It’s much easier than you think, I promise.
To get portfolio pieces, create them yourself.
You don’t have clients yet, so you’ll write them “on spec,” meaning you’ll write them first and then submit.
Just follow this 3 step process:
- Write on spec
- Host your work on your own site using a free clippings.me page
- Pitch clients and agree to two pieces of unpaid work
I shouldn't share this, but I will—my samples kind of sucked.
I made my own blog banner on Canva and pasted it onto a PDF, hoping it would look like a company had published it! Luckily, they focused on the writing and how I had marketed myself, so it worked!
1. Write on spec
The simplest way to write samples is to write a blog post. Browse your client's website and write about a topic that fits in with what they already cover.
Not only will this direct your writing, but you can also use your sample to pitch the company once it's written.
Have a friend or family member read it and give their honest opinion. They may not be knowledgeable in your niche, but they can tell you if it’s readable and point out errors.
2. Host your samples:
If you don’t have a client publishing your work, you can host them on a free site like Clippings.me.
You should include a link to your Clippings.me pieces in the portfolio section of your website. Then your portfolio begins to look more “real.”
3. Pitch your samples:
Once you’ve hosted your samples on your website, you can start pitching them to prospective clients! I show you screenshots of how I link to my portfolio when I reach out to clients in my free getting clients guide.
Once a company publishes your sample (for free or for pay), you’ll have your first portfolio piece! Then you can replace your Clippings.me a piece with a more compelling sample!
It takes a while to build a decent portfolio, but it doesn’t have to stop you from landing clients. Getting clients had more to do with how you market and pitch yourself. Your portfolio might be lacking, so you’ll need to emphasize the value you can provide.
The good news? Once you’ve done some work, pitching yourself comes down to mentioning what you've done and for whom. It’s like name-dropping but less cringe-inducing, and it makes clients comfortable.
Portfolio imposter syndrome
“What if they call me on my bluff?”
You may be thinking, “that's great, but what if a client asks me if I've been published and who I've worked with?”
I get this fear, and it happened to me before I had any writing experience and contacted prospective clients for the first time.
Here’s the thing: a client won’t always ask you directly about other clients you’ve worked with, especially if you take control of the conversation and focus on your professional experience.
In my opinion, it is never okay to be dishonest with a client. I just don't want you getting too much in your head about your portfolio.
By focusing on your real-life experience and presenting a writing sample in their niche, clients will give you a chance because they see you have an understanding of their audience.
Double down on your experience. Your experience is almost worth more than the writing itself!
Plus: most freelance writing engagements start with a sample project, so they’re not necessarily going out on a limb by giving you a shot. Even if your portfolio is lacking like mine was, you’ll get the opportunity to prove yourself.
“What if the pieces in my portfolio aren’t good enough?”
If for some reason, your portfolio pieces are severely flawed, you will know pretty quickly.
Here are two signs that you may need to rework your samples.
- You’ve sent over 15 cold messages, and not one person has responded.
- You’ve had four or more calls with prospective clients, and no one has moved you onto the next stage and asked you to complete a trial project.
In other words, no traction in your outreach attempts could mean there’s a problem with your samples or with your overall web presence.
Here’s the thing about your writing being “good” enough:
I used to be very insecure about being good enough for my clients until I realized that being a “good writer” is highly subjective.
I was terrified clients would recognize I was a newbie writer. I was afraid they would pick apart my flow, sentence structure, grammar, tone, etc.
But that never happened. They just wanted someone who could write decent content. What they wanted was someone who understood the subject and could write as a subject matter expert.
Think about it like this. There are a million writers out there, but not every writer is in their niche. They need you because you’re in their niche!
Keep this in mind…
I don’t want to make it seem like it’s okay to suck as a copywriter or that anyone who speaks the English language could do this job.
I hope that you’ll let yourself be a newbie and realize that newbies deserve to earn their keep, too. We can sometimes be our own harshest critic, so let go of perfection, and take action!
You’re more than capable. You got this!