How To Get Your First Writing Sample

Whether you’re just getting started as a freelance writer or you’re ready to start offering a new writing service, you need a portfolio of your work. But how do you get a writing sample when you don’t have any gigs yet?

Why do you need a writing sample?

As freelance writers, we need to be able to demonstrate our skills, which we do with a writing sample. And for a portfolio, you actually need three or four good samples.

It’s one thing to be hired because you already have a body of work, a reputation, or someone willing to vouch for you. You have stuff that you could show prospects, but they don’t feel the need to see it.

It’s another thing entirely to try to find work when you’re completely unproven. That’s the position I don’t want you to be in. I want you to be equipped to show samples and demonstrate your abilities, whether or not you are asked to do so.

What kinds of writing samples do you need?

In my course, Clips Camp, I recommend that you have a variety of different types of posts in your portfolio. I have a handy little rubric in there–you evaluate your writing pieces across 16 different dimensions that you’ll want to be able to show your clients.

If you already have some work, you compare what you have with what you still need. Then you use that to decide what new pieces you’re going to add. If you don’t have any work, you know what things you need to write.

There are lessons in Clips Camp that talk about the different types of posts and how to write them. There are outline templates that you can use. I try to make it as easy as possible for you to pull together some sample blog posts, which is where I recommend that new freelancers get started.

Work you’ve already written

If you’re ready to get started right now, you can use something you’ve already written and shape it into a real portfolio piece. Here’s a quick list of some ideas:

  • School paper
  • Facebook post (that was lengthy and impassioned, not one sentence!)
  • Book or product review
  • Blog post from your personal blog

Write pro bono

Another way to get work for your portfolio is to write for free.

When I was trying to break into writing case studies, I decided to get experience by going to nonprofits in town. I went to my church’s outreach committee, found the local nonprofits that our outreach committee supported, and reached out to each one of those. There were maybe five of them.

I emailed each one: “I’m Ashley, a writer. I was wondering if y’all would be interested in me doing a case study for you pro bono. I’m looking to increase my portfolio. This is what a case study is and how you might be able to use it. Would you be interested?”

It made sense for me to get real experience and it was a gift to them as a tool they could use to further advance their reach.

So reach out to organizations that might benefit from this and do one or maybe two pro bono. I don’t know that I would do more than two. Even if you’re getting paid beginner rates, after you have two under your belt, you should be able to charge pretty decently.

Tips for pro bono work

Put solid boundaries around any free work that you do, with a fairly low, hard cap. Don’t put yourself on the hook for tons of unpaid work. That’s going to get in the way of your ability to find paid work.

Start charging as soon as it’s reasonable. It doesn’t take more than two, maybe three instances of writing samples for you to be able charge for blog posts, social media posts, etc. You might just need 1 white paper or case study. See my post “When Should You Write For Free?” for more details.

The bigger the project, the fewer you will need, but you do have to do them. You have to make it happen before you can go out and get hired.

Clips Camp

If you need help getting great writing samples for your portfolio, be sure and check out Clips Camp.

It’s my three-week course for new and advanced new freelance writers who want to get started with high-paid client work. If you’re on Upwork or Fiverr and miserable, if you haven’t even done anything to get started and you don’t know what the first step is, then Clips Camp is for you.

I teach you how to put together a solid portfolio of writing samples that position you as the kind of awesome writer that awesome clients want to hire. If you want in on that or you just want more information, go to clipscamp.com.

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