To get freelance writing contracts, you need to show prospective clients what you can do. But as a new freelance writer with no articles (often called “clips”) to show potential clients, it’s going to be really hard to firm up any contracts. That’s why we build a portfolio.
Writing portfolios simply display your work in a way that’s easy for your prospective client to view your work. They link directly to your published pieces so that someone who wants to work with you can check out your writing.
It is incredibly important that you start to build your portfolio right now if you’re hoping to create a side hustle or career as a writer, so let’s walk through how to get bylines and build a portfolio, even if you’ve never published a piece before. Here’s what we’re going to talk about:
How to get bylines as a beginner
Having bylines is incredibly important as a freelance writer.
You need something to display on your portfolio and you need to be able to prove that you can write to prospective clients. So, needless to say, if you want to be a freelance writer, you need to be able to create and show samples.
But getting samples is a catch-22. Most places won’t hire you without them, which means that you can’t get more samples without samples.
Luckily, there are a few ways that you can create samples without having to be hired by someone to create them.
Start a blog
If you’re a brand new freelancer, you’re going to want to start a blog.
I know that most people say you don’t need a blog, but you’ll regret it a year down the road if you never start one. Seriously, I did.
Blogs have so much great potential for you and your business. Not only can you practice your writing, but you can pursue affiliate opportunities, partnerships, advertising, and even sell your own products. Plus, this is a great place for you test out new ideas or branch out into new topics—if you start out in personal finance writing and decide you want to become a travel writer, you can start on your own blog!
You can start a blog today for cheap. I recommend using Siteground (it’s basically Bluehost but a bit faster) which allows you to host for $6.99 USD per month and WordPress, which is the best blogging platform I’ve found so far.
Once you have a blog up and running, it’s yours to do with what you want. Whether you want to publish once a month or once a day, you have somewhere that your audience can head to and read your stuff.
Not sure what to write about? Let’s talk about how to pick a great blog topic.
Write on Medium
Medium is an excellent place to publish your own content because you legitimately have the potential of making money.
I publish one or two pieces on Medium a month to my profile or my Part Time Podcaster publication and I make around $40 or $50 per month. If I published more, I would probably make more but I’m a quality over quantity kinda gal.
You’ll want to be a member of Medium to get the full effect, but it’s only $5 USD per month to join. And, in my opinion, it’s well worth the price.
On Medium, you write a blog post, edit it yourself and hit the publish button. To make money, you’ll want to publish your article under their partner program and share it with your audience.
If your article is something you feel is really good, you can even seek a publication to add it to. That way you can potentially expand your audience.
If there’s a niche area that you’re interested in writing in and there is a blog or two that you love reading, it never hurts to reach out to them and ask if they’re interested in having a guest post.
While many guest posts are unpaid (though you can find paid ones, but you’ll likely need clips for them), the benefit to contributing is that they’re operating in the current niche that you’re interested in. You often also get a link-back to your own website, which can help you build some street cred.
When you’re reaching out to ask to write on someone’s blog, make sure that you pitch a specific piece. Don’t just ask if you can write something. Pitches can be short and sweet, just share with them what you want to write about, include a draft title and a sentence or two explaining the topic and tell them why you think their audience would be interested.
Most blogs will allow guest posts, all you have to do is ask. If you’re super nervous about asking, you’re always willing to reach out to me if you’re looking to write in one of the areas I have a blog in.
- Hello, Taee (the blog you’re reading this on) publishes plus size lifestyle and fashion content.
- The Lady Dicks publish travel, ghost stories, weird history and occasionally true crime.
If you’re itching to write in one of these areas, you can reach out to me.
Write pro bono samples
Writing pro bono or free samples is another way that you can get samples for future paying clients. But this is a method that you have to be careful with because that old saying give an inch, take a mile really does apply.
I personally steer away from doing free work for friends and family because it can get out of hand real fast. When you’re doing unpaid work, you need to make sure that you have clear boundaries set out and this can be hard to set if you’re dealing with someone that you have a close personal relationship with.
I recommend that new writers reach out to non-profits or local businesses that don’t have the cash for the extra work and might appreciate a free piece of content, so long as they’re OK with you using it in your portfolio. This can not only make your work more professional, but avoids future free-work traps.
However, if you’d rather work with friends and family for the first few clips that’s totally OK. It will likely benefit you if you clearly set out the terms. You’ll do this piece, but only this piece. Not this one and their next 10 blog posts because you did such a good job and they don’t have money to pay.
Note that you never have to do free work if you’re not comfortable with it. The first two options that I included don’t involve you doing free work for anyone else. In fact, my personal policy is if I’m going to be doing free work, it’ll be for me. That way I can populate my own blogs and potentially make cash in the future.
Where to set up a freelance writing portfolio
Once you have a few clips ready to display so you can find yourself your first paying client, you need to find somewhere to show them off. There are a ton of choices out there, but these three are my personal favourites:
Display clips on your own blog
Publishing content to your own blog is probably the best way to display your portfolio. There are a lot of ways that you can display your published works, but the only place that you’ll truly own everything on the platform is your own website.
You can use your blog as a money-making blog, somewhere that you can sell your own services and products, and still display your clips. It’s a multi-purpose platform that I truly believe every freelance writer should have.
When it comes to actually displaying the content, you can get fancy with a plug-in on a platform like WordPress that will set everything up the way you want it. Or you can go the much easier route of simply having a text-based page where people can click through to the source—this is my preferred method.
The best part about having everything on your own website is that you can have your own money making content, like blog posts with affiliate links in them, right beside your portfolio. That way clients can see your work in action, and your audience can think of you if they’re looking for someone to hire.
Just make sure that you have a contact page set up so people can easily reach out to you.
Set up a contently portfolio
There are a ton of free tools out there to display your writing work, but my favourite is Contently. I even have my own Contently profile where I display some of my published clips for potential clients to view.
I like the way that clips are displayed on Contently, but more importantly it’s really easy to use. You simply add a new project, throw in the published link and they pull everything from the header and image to the first few words into your profile.
Contently doesn’t cost anything to use. Plus, they have their own clients that occasionally they reach out to writers to create for them. Though, I admit, I haven’t done any writing for Contently myself.
The biggest downside to Contently is that there isn’t a place that clients can contact you from the platform. They’ll have to link through to another source.
Put them on your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn just isn’t a tool for those that work in the business world to connect with others, there’s a ton of potential for freelancers. The best part is, it doesn’t cost a dime to use them.
You can not only display a profile that says that you’re a freelance writer for hire, but you can also write blog posts right on the platform and even display your published clips using the “featured” section on your profile.
This is a great way to not only connect with clients, but also show them your work.
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