Everyone starts somewhere, but in an industry that’s always looking for 3–5 years’ experience, how do you present yourself as a credible writer when you’re just starting out?
New writers are often penalized in hiring decisions. Companies don’t want to take a risk on a newbie. Are you giving out the common red-flag signs that reveal you’re inexperienced?
Let’s look at eight ways you can cover up how new you are to writing, whether you’re looking for a permanent position or freelance work.
Here’s how it’s done.
1: Learn Copywriting Terminology
Professional writing can be off-putting because of the array of industry terminology writers use. To make it even harder, different types of writing come with their own dictionaries. Not knowing your meta tags from your markdown will set alarm bells ringing.
Google search for glossaries of terms you need to get familiar with for the type of writing you plan to specialize in. Revise common terms and test yourself to make sure you know what they mean. Remember, you’ll find some variations depending on the country you’re working in.
Using industry terminology accurately in meetings and emails gives the impression that you’re a seasoned hand rather than a novice. But only use technical words if you’re sure you know their meaning.
2: What to Say (and Stay Quiet About)
They say a lady never tells her age, and a new writer should never reveal how green they are. If you’ve not been directly asked, why highlight your lack of experience? Saying, “I’ve recently focused on writing white papers,” sounds much more experienced than revealing, “I’ve just started.”
That isn’t to suggest you should lie if asked directly about your level of experience. Be honest. Being caught out could cost you clients. Just shift the conversation away from you and make it about them. What do they need and how can you help them achieve it? What makes you a good fit for their company?
When you first start, it’s easy to downplay what you do. It can feel uncomfortable saying you’re a writer when you’ve not really written anything yet. However, to attract clients, you need to present yourself as a professional, be it in person, through email, or on social media. Now is not the time for modesty. You are not a "new writer" or a "beginner writer." Don’t refer to this as your side hustle or hobby. Show potential employers you believe in yourself.
3: Decide on Your Writing Niche
Trying to learn everything at once is hard. Whilst you might expand what you offer in the future, start with one specific area of writing. Being as specialized as possible will make you attractive to your ideal client.
You could choose:
- A particular genre, such as travel, Software as a Service (SaaS), or technology
- The type of writing, like blog posts, product descriptions, or sales emails
- Specific areas, such as investigative journalism, search engine optimisation (SEO), or copywriting
Read everything you can about your chosen field. Keep up to date with the news and latest thinking by following hashtags and groups on social media. Follow other people who write in your niche and become an expert worth hiring.
4: Build a Writing Portfolio
Often, new writers struggle because they have no evidence to show they can write. Companies don’t want to take risks and a lack of samples shouts out that you’re new to the industry. You need relevant pieces you can show potential employers on demand.
There are different ways to create the examples you need:
- Guest posting: Look for websites in your niche that allow you to write for free, or even pay you to create posts on their blog
- Samples: Imagine you’ve been commissioned to do a job and write it
- Blogging: Create a blog on your website or use a Medium account
- Swapping posts: Reach out to other writers in your industry and offer to write each other a post—remember to include links back to your website to boost your SEO
- Free work: Offering a small free project to a client within your niche is a quick way to give you samples and valuable testimonials to show potential employers
When you reach out for job opportunities, add links to examples of your recently published work. Every piece of writing must be as high quality as possible. Use ProWritingAid to help you edit efficiently for good readability, correct grammar, and writing style improvements.
5: Build a Support Network
Treat other writers as a source of support rather than your competition. Connect with them on social media, comment on their posts, and make yourself visible. There are countless online groups you can join, like the Writing Cooperative where other writers will help you improve your skills.
A good writing community will help you write pitches, negotiate prices, and celebrate your wins with you. Just remember to give back as much as you take from the group.
6: Read About Writing
Writing is a craft. Even the most experienced writers are always learning new skills and techniques. If you’re new, there’s plenty to learn. Read what industry leaders are saying, look for recently published books, and follow good-quality blogs, like this one about business writing by ProWritingAid.
Good writers are good readers. Make time to read widely. Don’t just stick to your industry or books about the craft of writing. You’ll find inspiration in texts outside your usual comfort zone.
7: Create a Swipe File
As a new writer, you’ll come across lots of ideas online that you want to keep. These are great for helping you analyze why they work and how you can incorporate these skills in your own writing.
When you find a great idea, article, or piece of information, keep hold of it. A swipe file is a simple way of bookmarking all the great things you find to use when you need them.
Create a simple system to collect and keep everything using a program like Trello, Pocket, or Evernote. Make different collections, such as a section for killer headlines, and one for great sales pieces.
You can collect everything including:
- Pricing guides
- Industry news
- Sales letters
A swipe file is not there to help you plagiarize. Instead, use it as inspiration. Don’t collect for the sake of it. Plan time to analyze what makes each piece work and use this to improve your writing.
8: Boss Face-to-Face Meetings
In-person meetings are something new writers fear. You worry about what you’ll be asked on the spot without the safety of a quick Google search before answering.
Before the meeting, prepare as much as possible with a thorough search of the company website. Get familiar with what they do and how you could help them. Prepare a set of questions you might like to ask.
The key to a successful meeting is to present yourself confidently. Your potential client will tell if you are anxious and feel the same way. Make eye contact, smile, and take notes of the key points of discussion. Don’t guess what they want. Ask questions about what they’re looking for and really listen to what they say.
They may put you on the spot about your prices and services. Make sure you have a rough idea, but prepare to modify them according to the scope of the project. There’s always room to negotiate a price down, but never up from your starting point. If you don’t wince internally when you set your price, you’re probably not charging enough. Be ready to strike a deal but never agree to something you feel uncomfortable about.
Starting a writing business is an exciting, exhilarating adventure, but it can feel terrifying too. Don’t worry about your lack of experience. Everyone starts with nothing, and there are plenty of successful writers who have no formal qualifications at all. Sell yourself as a professional writer. Believing in your own abilities is vital to your success.
Employers won’t care about your background if they can see what you’ve got to offer them. Make the conversation about them and the needs of their business. Focus on building excellent samples to showcase your skills and enjoy your journey to becoming an established writer.