5 Ways to Get Writing Samples When You’re Just Starting Out
One of the most vexing issues facing new freelance writers is what I call the “clips Catch-22.” ‘Clips’ are your work samples. When you’re starting out, you don’t have any. But every editor and prospective client will ask you for them. How are you supposed to get clips when no one will hire you because you have no clips??
If you have (or are) experiencing this, please know you’re not alone. All of us went through a similar situation when we were starting out. Some writers overcome this obstacle by writing for free — a method I don’t advocate.
Here are five ways you can get clips and get paid (in some form or another):
1. Donate your writing skills to a charity
OK, the ‘payment’ here comes in the form of feeling good about helping a worthy organization, but at least you’ll have work samples without sacrificing your writerly integrity. This tried-and-true method involves locating a charity in need of written materials — usually marketing brochures, pamphlets, a newsletter, whatever. You offer to write for them for free. Try to negotiate for a byline or recognition on the masthead so you can prove you really wrote what you say you did. In exchange for your largesse, you get some great clips to show to editors.
If you want to take this beyond the basics, try to find a charity in or near the niche you plan to target. You want to write about pediatric oncology? Find a non-profit hospital or organization in this specialty and see if you can write some things for them. You get the idea.
You don’t need to tell prospective clients or editors you wrote for free. Just showcase your great freelance work samples and reap the reward of assignments.
2. Barter your writing skills for something of equal value
Similar to technique #1, this method involves writing for any type of company, not only non-profits. But instead of giving your writing talent away, gratis, you negotiate for products or services of equal value.
Let’s say you love BOTOX™. (I do.) Find a dermatologist or plastic surgeon who could use some help with web content. Offer your services at X value in exchange for an equal value of botulinum toxin injections. You might be surprised how many healthcare professionals will go for a barter like that.
Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to healthcare. If you plan to position yourself as a marketing writer, you can approach any company in need of materials and barter your services. You get paid ‘in kind’ and walk away with some stellar work examples.
3. Offer to take on overflow or subcontracted work
Networking with other writers can be key to your success as a freelance nurse writer. Why? Because we all need to refer or subcontract work to others from time to time. We may be too busy to take on another project, or an opportunity that comes in through the website may not be a good fit. In those cases (and many others), it’s useful to be part of a small group of trusted associates you can refer work to.
Get to know other freelancers and then offer to take on those jobs that may not be a good fit for them. You’ll have to demonstrate reliability (no flaking on deadlines!) and some writing chops (keep your email correspondence professional!) before a successful freelancer will trust you with a referral. But if you can cultivate a genuine relationship with other freelancers, you might be able to score some nice, paid work samples this way.
Note: please don’t ask me for overflow work. I already have plenty of friends to refer editors to. Sorry!
4. Hang a shingle on LinkedIn
Because I’m primarily a marketing writer, I get quite a bit of work through LinkedIn. It’s work I don’t even have to work for; it comes to me.
If you’re looking for clips, try revamping your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new career as a freelance writer. Post links to any clips you have mustered. Join and participate in groups. Use the search function to find titles like “editor” or “CMO.” Then drop a polite request to connect.
There are a lot of strategies for how to find freelance work on LinkedIn. Read up on them.
5. Troll Craigslist
You can waste countless hours trying to sift through the Craigslist ads for a viable freelance opportunity. Some of them are laughable concerning pay. But occasionally you’ll find a gem. And some of the opportunities on Craigslist don’t require much, if any, experience. If you have nothing better to do on a weekday evening, go ahead and give it a shot.
ONE THING TWO THINGS you should not do to get clips
I’m just going to spell this out: Do not get clips by registering with eLance, oDesk, Guru or any similar freelance “marketplaces” that require bidding. DO. NOT. DO. IT. These sorts of “services” only serve to drive down the value of freelance writing. Besides, you’ll be competing with writers in foreign countries who can afford to work for pennies. It’s a waste of your time.
Also do not work for any ‘content mill,’ such as Demand Media. A content mill is an organization that buys a high volume of work from you at a paltry rate. As you’re seeking out your first freelance opportunities, avoid any that pay in “exposure” or list rates in “cents per word.”
So there you have it: five ways to get clips when you don’t have any, plus two strategies to avoid.
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Wishing you well!
Image via Ian Mackenzie