Brand new freelance writers ask us over and over again: I don’t have a portfolio, so how do I get started?
The good news is that you don’t need a portfolio (I’ll address this in a minute).
However, this leads to the second question that is very common: Can I use unpublished work in my portfolio?
Whenever we hold a Q&A session, we almost always get this question. It’s on a lot of new writers’ minds, and so I wanted to answer it conclusively in this video.
While having a large portfolio and lots of experience is great, you don’t need any of that to get started. You can get published without any prior experience––you just need to find the right publications.
Typically, you’ll want to look at small- to medium-sized blogs. There’s a certain sweet spot to look for. You want to find blogs that don’t require previous experience, and ideally, you should get paid for your work. (If you’re still working for free, watch this.)
If you’re struggling to get started, don’t worry––we’re here to help!
Here are 3 tips for getting published without any experience at all.
1. Refine your search.
When most writers start out, they don’t exactly know where to look, so they end up looking all over the place.
However, it’s much better to take a targeted approach. This will save you a lot of time and effort, and you’ll have a higher chance of getting published.
First, consider your niche. Try to find blogs that are directly in your niche to start with.
Second, don’t consider the top tier of publications. I’m talking about publications like the New York Times and Better Homes & Gardens. (I’m not saying that you can’t ever get published at this level, but when you’re starting out, these kinds of places are simply out of your reach.)
Third, make use of keywords and search operators. (I go over these in the webinar linked at the bottom of this post.)
2. Browse blog lists.
Many writing-based sites will compile tens and sometimes even hundreds of blogs into one big list. This makes it much cleaner and easier to find the right blog for you. Many of these lists are even organized by industry, so you can easily find blogs in your niche.
Freedom With Writing has hundreds of blog lists, and it’s a wonderful place to start your blog hunt. Our members also have access to a database of over 1,200 publishers.
Also – if you sign up for Thursday’s webinar, we’ll be sending you a very relevant bonus after the webinar. (Yes, you’ll have to wait a bit!)
Sign Up Here.
3. Don’t make a big deal out of your lack of experience.
When you pitch your ideas, it might be tempting to include a note explaining your lack of publication, but don’t do it!
As I mentioned earlier, many editors don’t mind if you don’t have experience. If you draw attention to it, you’ll only be needlessly emphasizing your shortcomings.
Instead, lead with a fantastic pitch. If your pitch is compelling, it’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
So don’t be discouraged! You don’t need years of experience to get published.
One last thing: Pitching is mostly a numbers game. You have to do it over and over to get good at it. Even great writers can get rejected nine times out of ten. The more you pitch, the better off you’ll be, so get out there and start pitching!
I’m going to go into a lot of detail about all of this in Thursday’s webinar. If you want to keep learning, be sure to sign up for it here.
A while back, I had the pleasure of interviewing freelance developer Ryan Waggoner for our No B.S. Course on Freelance Writing. We talked about several topics, but what he said about hourly rates has stuck with me the most.
He pointed out that there’s a severe problem with charging by the hour. As it turns out, hourly rates are bad in many ways.
Here’s a quick summary of why you shouldn’t charge hourly:
In the video, I only covered two reasons why hourly rates aren’t ideal, but there are many more reasons.
Here’s an overview of the main problems with hourly rates:
1. Hourly rates punish efficiency and productivity.
Since hourly rates are based on time, you’ll get paid according to the amount of time you spend on a job. In other words, the longer you spend on a job, the more you’ll get paid.
This is a huge problem because it punishes efficiency and productivity. If Writer A and Writer B do the same job but Writer B takes longer, they’ll get paid more just because they took longer to do it.
If you’re an efficient writer, you’ll earn less money. How ridiculous is that?
2. Hourly rates don’t mesh well with the average freelance writer’s workflow.
Hourly rates require you to log your hours, and this can create some major friction.
First, there’s the problem of simply having to keep track of your hours. While freelance writing should definitely be structured, the beauty of freelancing is that you can be the master of your own schedule. Hourly rates diminish that by forcing you to work under a more typical structure.
Second, writing is exhausting. Even if you do it for a living, writing is mentally tiring. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can grind out for hours at a time. In other words, you probably don’t naturally operate on an hourly basis.
Third, calculating hourly rates is somewhat pointless. You could fudge all the numbers, and the client would never know! Even if you’re truthful and transparent, there’s no real way to tell. In this way, hourly rates are fundamentally flawed.
It’s much better to use a per project rate. This rate type is super easy for clients to process, and it means you’ll get paid what you deserve, regardless of how much time you take on a job.
If you’re currently charging by the hour, you should definitely consider changing over to a per project rate. If you’re a new writer, check out our video on setting a starting rate.
Your Turn: Do you charge hourly? If so, are you going to change that?
Building a professional network is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a freelance writer, but it can often be intimidating and sometimes tricky.
Here’s one technique you can use to easily add to add to your network. If you’re regularly getting clients, then you’ll be able to put this tactic to good use.
Here’s an example of what this technique looks like in practice. Imagine you’ve written a wrapup/goodbye email to your client. You can add something like this either at the end or as a postscript:
Also, if you happen to know anyone who’s in need of some writing, would you mind passing along my name? I’m always looking to work on exciting new projects, so I’d really appreciate it.
This might sound too simple, but it can really work wonders. Even if your client doesn’t have anyone specific in mind, you’ll likely be the first person on their mind when they hear the word “writer.”
It’s also important to understand the impact of word of mouth. People trust those in their networks and are likely to hire others based on a simple recommendation from a trusted source. Believe it or not, it’s much easier to get a job via a recommendation from a former client than from a brand new client you’ve never worked with before.
Next time you’re winding down a project, give this technique a try. It’s harmless, takes seconds, and could end up getting you a wealth of new work.
Your turn: Have you ever used this technique? How has word of mouth benefited you as a freelancer?
If you’ve taken on clients as a freelance writer, you know that it’s not always a smooth experience. Sometimes, you run into clients that are difficult to deal with.
Often, you can catch this early on, but you need to know what to look for. Here are the 3 red flags to watch out for:
There’s a lot more to these red flags than you might think. Each one tells you a lot about a prospective client.
Here’s an in-depth look at each warning sign:
1. The client is vague and unclear.
As I mentioned in the video, lack of clarity means communication issues, and that means it’s harder for you to do your job. But it can also result in client dissatisfaction, and they might even blame you for it (even though you don’t deserve it).
Why? Because most times, clients think they’re giving you sufficient information, but a lot of what they should actually say just stays in their heads. If you don’t make it clear that you’re not on the same page, the client could end up being disappointed and pointing the finger at you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more detail!
2. The client asks a ton of questions.
While this is an obvious sign of micromanagement, it’s also a sign of communication problems. Clients who ask you a lot of questions will expect a lot of answers, sometimes more than you can give. Sometimes, they’ll expect way too much. If you don’t answer their every question immediately, they’ll stop trusting you, which is very manipulative behavior. This is a serious red flag that shouldn’t be overlooked.
3. The client won’t pay you upfront.
More than anything, this signals a lack of trust. Of course, you should have a contract ready for your clients to sign (and we provide an example in our No B.S. Course on Freelance Writing), but if your client still isn’t willing to pay upfront, that’s a huge warning sign that they have reservations about you, and that’s not the best way to start a working relationship.
Remember, you’re a seller of a product––you’re selling the client your writing services. Can you imagine going into a bookstore, buying a book, and telling the person behind the counter that you’ll pay half now and half once you’ve read the book? It’s the same concept, but many clients don’t think of it this way.
Your turn: What red flags have you seen from troublesome clients and/or prospects?
Just as you don’t want anyone to steal your work, you don’t want to steal anyone else’s work. Even if you’re already taking precautions against plagiarizing anyone, you might have wondered if you’re doing enough.
I answer this question in Episode 10 of Freelance FAQ. Check it out:
In short, unless you’re copying large portions of text without citing, you’ll be fine. In most cases, all you need to do is include a link to your source.
Specifically, the typical convention here is to hyperlink the relevant text. For example, if I wanted to reference our blog post on getting paid as a freelance writer, it would look something like this. It’s really that simple!
Of course, you’ll want to check the editorial guidelines of the publication or client you’re writing for. Virtually everyone uses this style, but it does still depend on the publication. It never hurts to go through the writer’s guidelines and check out other posts as well.
Your turn: Have you ever written for a publication or client who required extensive citations?
We get a lot of questions from writers asking how they can protect their work from being plagiarized.
Technically, nothing’s stopping people from simply copying and pasting your work and trying to pass it off as their own.
But is this really something you need to worry about? Check out our latest FAQ video for the answer:
You might be thinking, “But what about work that doesn’t have my name on it? Is that safe?” This is a great question because there are many cases in which you won’t get a byline. A good example is writing website copy for a small business.
In situations like that, plagiarism is still very uncommon. And since most non-bylined work is done for someone else, if a writer or business rips that off, then it’s your client who will suffer, not you.
All in all, plagiarism just isn’t a real threat anymore. Of course, it’s good to take all the precautions you can, but the idea of someone stealing your work doesn’t need to keep you up at night.
Your turn: Has your freelance writing work ever been plagiarized? How did you find out and what did you do?
If you’re interested in ghostwriting, you may have wondered whether it’s possible to use ghostwritten work in your portfolio. It seems like the answer is obviously no, but this isn’t always the case.
In this FAQ episode, I talk about using ghostwriting in your portfolio and answer some tough questions on the topic. Check it out here:
As a thank you for visiting our blog and supporting us, I’ll let you in on a secret.
There’s another big consideration when it comes to using ghostwriting work in your portfolio, and it’s often a deal breaker.
If you’ve watched some of our other videos, you may have heard me talk about social proof. As a writer, you need social proof, and that usually comes in the form of being published on reputable, trustworthy sites. Just like a restaurant wants lots of good reviews, you want lots of good bylines.
When you ghostwrite, your work isn’t published under your own name, which means you don’t get explicit credit for the work. And even if you can use it in your portfolio, ghostwritten work can often have far less social proof than a bylined article.
Also, if no name is on a piece of writing, then anyone could have written it. On the other hand, if your name is credited, then it’s undoubtedly your work.
This doesn’t mean that ghostwriting is worthless––it can be extremely lucrative. However, if you want to build a portfolio, you’ll need to think critically before including any ghostwritten work.
Your turn: Do you have any ghostwritten work in your portfolio? Why or why not?
I’ve gotten a few questions about ghostwriting, and I decided to make that this week’s Freelance FAQ topic.
In today’s video, I cover the benefits of ghostwriting. Check it out:
As I mention in the video, ghostwriting isn’t for everyone. But it’s a very lucrative career path, and you can end up getting a lot of experience.
The majority of my writing work over the last few years has been ghostwriting, and I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge and skills from that experience. I’ve been published in some of the top publications in the world, and while it’s not under my name, I now know what it takes to get there.
Of course, writing under someone else’s name might be a deal breaker. If you’re looking to build authority in your niche, then ghostwriting is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you’re not out to build authority and just want to get more writing jobs, ghostwriting has a lot to offer.
Your turn: What questions do you have about ghostwriting?