Everyone has to start somewhere, but starting out as a writer can feel especially daunting. A strong portfolio is one of the core components to securing writing work, and yet you need writing work to build a portfolio. It’s a bit of a catch-22.
So how do you build a writing portfolio with no experience? Though it takes a bit of creativity and hustle, it’s completely possible; in fact, it’s how countless writers get their start. In this article, we’ll explain how to build a writing portfolio even if you have no experience so you can start landing those coveted writing jobs you’re after.
Figure Out What Kind of Writing You Want to Do
Figuring out what kind of writing you want to do is the first step in the right direction.
There’s creative writing, technical writing, copywriting and more. If you’re not familiar with the different types of writing, spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with each one to get a feel for what you’re interested in. The Clippings.me blog is a great resource on this topic.
In addition to deciding what you’re interested in, consider your skills. Do you have a specific vocational knowledge that would set you apart as a technical writer? Do you have the knack for fact-finding that makes for an excellent news writer? Or are you more of a creative spirit? The intersection between your interests and your expertise is your writing sweet spot.
Is it Okay to Do Work for Free?
When you’re just starting to build your portfolio, you may come across opportunities to gain experience by working for free. But is this a good idea?
In general, our belief is that writers should always charge a fair market rate for their work. This not only helps set proper expectations about how much quality writing costs but helps keep writing a lucrative profession for thousands of people worldwide.
However, when you have no experience, a ‘fair market rate’ might very well be $0, with your ‘pay’ being the finished writing sample you’ll score for your portfolio. Don’t discount the value of this; a strong sample will pay you back many times over via the future work it’ll help you win.
When you’re new to writing and trying to build up experience, working in exchange for samples is a legitimate way to build your portfolio and gain references from reputable clients. Just make sure the terms and expectations are laid out ahead of time so the project doesn’t wind up being more than you bargained for.
Start Writing Samples
As the Greek philosopher Epictetus is credited with saying, “if you wish to be a writer, write.” There are no shortcuts; building your portfolio comes down to taking the initiative and starting to crank out samples.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Writing Spec Clips
Writing ‘on spec’ (or speculation) refers to writing done without a guarantee that the work will be published or paid for. There are many times when this is a bad idea (like when a publication explicitly says they don’t accept spec work). But if you’re just starting out, it can work in your favor.
Here’s how it works: you come up with a topic and do all the necessary legwork — researching the topic, conducting interviews and writing the actual piece. Then you reach out to editors and publications to see if they’re interested in publishing it. Spec writing works especially well if you have an idea for a niche topic that would be a great fit for a certain publication.
The upside of spec work is that if one outlet turns the piece down, you can just as easily move on to another one, and another. At the very least, you’ll have a quality writing sample for your portfolio. At best, you’ll get your first piece of writing published.
Pitch to Publications and Blogs
You can also land writing work by pitching ideas to publications and blogs. This works a lot like spec work, except you’re gauging their interest in the piece before you actually do any work on it.
A typical pitch includes a story idea, proposed headline, and a summary of why the idea is a good fit for that publication. Bullet points work well for this. Don’t focus so much on telling your story, but rather showing why it’s of interest to that publication’s audience and how you’d approach it.
Start with small outlets like niche websites and blogs, rather than pitching to the New York Times straight out of the gate. With a little practice and time spent refining your pitch, you can land a good number of guest posts this way.
Write Affiliate Marketing Articles
Affiliate marketing is the process of promoting a product for others to buy in exchange for a commission on resulting sales. Affiliate marketing has grown significantly in recent years, with affiliate marketing spending projected to hit $6.8 billion in the U.S. in 2020.
You can get a piece of the action and build your writing portfolio in the process by writing affiliate marketing articles. In an affiliate marketing article, the writer gives an in-depth analysis of the benefits of a certain product, preferably one they’re personally familiar with. This is a particularly good opportunity to demonstrate your skills as a persuasive writer.
In order to actually earn a commission if anyone buys what you’re recommending, you’ll need to write about a product that offers an affiliate program. You can find thousands of them simply by searching ‘product name + affiliate marketing.’
Write Mock Pieces
Finally, perhaps the easiest way to build your writing portfolio when you have no experience is to write mock pieces. Do you have a friend with an interesting story? Interview them and write a feature piece. Is there a big event going on in your town? Attend it and write a summary or review.
While it may feel a little funny to create a faux article, remember you’re writing it for good reason–to wow the people who will view your brand new writing portfolio.
Build Your Portfolio
You don’t have to have dozens of samples to build your portfolio; a handful is all you need to get started. Begin by registering for an account with Clippings.me.
Clippings.me is a free service that helps writers of all genres build beautiful, intuitive portfolios without any coding. Registering is easy and only takes a minute.
Then, there are three steps you’ll need to take to get your portfolio up and running.
Choose a Design
You’ll be prompted to select one of Clippings.me’s design templates or create your own by choosing colors and fonts. Keep it simple so your samples shine, and be mindful of how your selected design will appear on mobile devices and tablets.
Complete Your Bio
This is where you’ll add your basic information, relevant experience, and other pertinent details like the type of work you’re looking for. You can also link to outside profiles like Twitter and LinkedIn.
Now for the fun part! Add the writing samples you’ve worked on by uploading them in PDF form from your computer. You can also add media files, like JPEGs and YouTube videos if you have multimedia content, or link to outside URLs if your work is published online.
You now have a clean, professional writing portfolio you can use to land writing jobs and start collecting even more great clips.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.