When I decided to start writing I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I didn’t have any experience, I hadn’t written anything other than school papers in nearly a decade, and I didn’t have any professional network let alone connections in the industry. I was a three-time college dropout and had spent the last ten years as a telemarketer (I am SOO sorry you guys!)
What I’m trying to get across is that on paper becoming a writer isn’t something anyone would have expected from me. It looked like I was going to spend the rest of my life in dead-end jobs, stuck in middle management hell. But, a few years ago I finally pulled my head out of my rear end started working towards my dream. I’m telling you all of this because if I can make money writing then anyone can.
If you’re at the beginning of your writing career than you probably know that you need a portfolio to get a job, but you need a job to build your portfolio. It’s a nasty catch-22 that stops mosts would-be freelance writers before they even start. Well, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Here are the best ways I found to build a portfolio when you’re just starting out.
Talk To Friends And Family
When I first started on the path to freelance writing the first thing I did was tell everyone I knew what I was doing. Like I said before though, I had absolutely no one in my circle of friends or coworkers that were in the writing industry. But after a mass text and message to everyone in my phone and social media lists, I got lucky.
The wife of a friend of a friend was a hula-hoop instructor and she was starting a website. On that website she had a blog and needed writers, there wasn’t any pay but I did something very similar to hula called spinning poi, so the job was fun and easy for me. I wrote an article on how to make a pair of poi and that was the first entry in my portfolio.
When you are just starting out talk to everyone you know and see if there is any writing work they could use help in. Do you have anyone in, or just outside, your network that could use your writing help? See if anyone is starting a website, needs help with a holiday newsletter, needs an ad written for a business they are starting. Be creative though, the person may not even be aware that they need a writer. Find someone that could use your help and offer to write them something for free.
Guest Post on a Site
I’m not talking about pitching to a well-known site like MakeALivingWriting.com, or TheWriteLife.com and hoping they pick up your article. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if you’re reading an article about trying to get your first writing job with absolutely no experience or portfolio chances are the quality of your work isn’t up to their standards.
But, there are some sites that will let anyone post without an interview or portfolio. You don’t get paid (sometimes you do if you get enough page view, but it’s rare) but it looks better than just putting a blank word document in your portfolio, and sometimes the sites even have editors that will give you tips and pointers. I’ve found these sites pretty easily by searching for “desired niche + write for us” in Google. Once you post the article you’ve got yourself an edited piece on a good looking website, and that’s much better than a plain document.
Work With Charities and Non-Profits
Do you believe in karma? Well, I don’t but it can’t hurt to put some of the good kind out into the world right? Why not do a good deed and go around to local charities, churches, and/or non-profits and lend them a hand with your writing services. See if they need any help with a newsletter, set of e-mails, flyers, or any other writing. You get some experience writing and something to put in your portfolio while helping out a good cause.
There is another benefit you may encounter while working for charities. You see, a lot of wealthy people like to pay back some of their good fortunes. You could get your writing in front of some influential people and if your writing is good enough you might earn your first job from it. At the very least it could set you up for a warm pitch later now that you are in the same social circles. It’s almost like doing good deeds earns you good deeds in return. Whoa! Maybe karma does exist?
Be Active in the Comments Section of Websites
This is probably the least helpful option on the list, but it is an option if you get on the right site. One of my first large-scale written pieces, that went in my earliest portfolio, was a review of a guest house in Puerto Rico on TripAdvisor. I didn’t originally plan on it being a portfolio piece, I was just trying to help people plan their vacations, but it ended up being really well received by the community and getting a lot of comments. It showed off my writing talent really well and it might have even got me a few of my first writing jobs. If you already have something like this hiding in the annals of the internet you might want to think about using it to flesh out your portfolio.
Start a Blog
Hey, if you can’t get anyone else to let you write for them, write for yourself. It’s actually a pretty good idea to start a blog when you first start freelancing anyway. Don’t just write about anything though, pick a niche and write exclusively about that niche. This will show future clients that you have the ability to write a large amount of content on one subject, keeping it fresh and filled with new ideas on a regular basis. Really take your time and make it look as sleek and professional as you can, many jobs you apply for as a writer will expect you to upload directly to their sites and this is your chance to show them that you know how to manage a blog.
There are so many different avenues to choose from when building a blog now. You could pay for one and get one pretty cheap on sites like Bluehost or Hostgator. You could use a free site like WordPress.com or Wix that give you the option to upgrade to a paid version and not have the website name in your URL after your site starts to take off. You could even use a site like Tumblr which is like a mix between a personal blog and social media. There are just so many options that if you are serious about a writing career there is no excuse to not have a blog.
*I’m not getting paid for any of those links. I have only ever used WordPress and Wix both of which seem pretty solid to me.*
The industry isn’t the exclusive club it used to be. There are so many ways to get your foot in the door now. With social media and free sites being the way they are just about everyone is a writer in some capacity now. It’s the ones that keep pursuing their writing seriously that will get to make a career out of it.
How did you get your first writing job? Tell me in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.