How to Get Writing Samples for Your Portfolio When You’re a Total Newbie

Writing Portfolio

If you want to become a freelance writer, and to make decent money from it, you need to prove to people that you’re, well, going to be able to do this. You’ll need to prove that you’re not only a competent writer, but that you’re also capable of working to deadlines, working to spec, and generally being a professional.

It’s easy enough to build a freelance writing website. And it’s easy enough to throw up some writing samples on it. Easy enough to start your own blog, to get on social media and to write a coherent sentence. But the thing is, you can do all of those things without showing that you can write professionally. And that’s what freelance writing is: writing professionally. Writing your own blog is a very different thing to writing for a client. But it’s hard to get clients without — annoyingly — already having clients.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible. In fact, I’ve taught tons of people how to make money from freelance writing without any experience. But getting decent clients who’ll pay you good money is a lot harder than picking up a contract with an SEO company who you’ll write basic 500-word articles for.

So how do you do it? How do you bridge that gap between having no proper samples for your portfolio and getting paid handsomely to write?

You may not like what I’m about to tell you. Because I’m about to tell you to write for free. (Something you probably never thought you’d hear me say.)

But that doesn’t mean writing a free ‘trial’ piece for anybody who asks. Fuck no. Don’t do that! Anyone who asks you to do that is an asshole. And you don’t want to work with assholes. What I’m talking about is guest posting. If you don’t know what that is, let me fill you in: guest posting is submitting an idea for a blog post to another blog, and, if the person who deals with guest posts likes your idea, they will ask you to write it up for them and then publish it on their blog with a byline and a link back to your site. And voila: you have a decent published piece for your portfolio. Admittedly, you probably didn’t get paid for it, but it will pay for itself by boosting your reputation and credibility.

Now, obviously this is ideal for people who want to become freelance bloggers. But even if you want to become another type of freelance writer, such as a copywriter, it’s still a good way to get some samples up on your portfolio that weren’t originally published on your own site. (In the future I’ll talk about other approaches you can take if blogging isn’t your bag.)

Here’s a quick overview of how to get a guest post published:

  1. Find a site in your chosen niche that accepts guest post pitches (Google is your friend).
  2. Follow the site’s guest posting instructions to the letter. THE. LETTER.
  3. Put together a relevant pitch.
  4. Send it to the relevant person (this will be laid out in the guidelines).
  5. Wait for a response. DO NOT PESTER. If you don’t hear anything for a couple of weeks, it’s probably fine to follow up with a gentle ‘Did you get my email?’, but bear in mind that the people dealing with the pitches probably get a lot of them, not to mention have a load of other shit they need to be getting on with too.
  6. If you get accepted, yay! Write the piece ASAP and send it in.
  7. If you get rejected, don’t worry. That just means you’ve got a ready-prepared pitch to send to someone else, and you can always try again with a different pitch for the original publication.

The key ingredient here is step number 2: follow the damn guidelines!

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