Many writers get stuck in a vicious loop:
To quit your day job and live the writer’s life, you need clients. When trying to get your first client, most prospects will inevitably ask to see your portfolio. But you don’t have a portfolio, because you’re just starting out.
How do you get samples if you don’t have clients?
Here are four great ways to get clients when you don’t have a portfolio.
1. Write a spec blog post or article for your ideal client.
Research your ideal client in an industry you’re interested in. This is the intersection of where your passion lies and your experience and knowledge fall. Let’s say you’re passionate about hiking and camping, and you’re knowledgeable about the gear that hikers need to take with them. You could target retailers who sell the gear or manufacturers who make it.
Now, do a Google search for "industry name blogs" and read through a few. Using the above example, an outdoorsy person would Google "outdoor gear blogs" to get ideas. Most sites will list their most popular blog posts, which will give you a good idea of what your target audience wants to read.
Then take your newfound information and craft your best post or article. You can use this as a sample to show prospective clients what you can do. Or you can email your ideal client and share the post you’ve written with a note asking if they need freelance writing services.
Instead of providing samples of past work, you’re providing samples of what you can do for your ideal clients.
2. Join a content aggregator to get experience.
Yes, content mills are bad. We’re not suggesting this as a long-term scenario, only two or three jobs to get work samples for your portfolio. The key is to bid low on interesting jobs that will give you the experience and samples you need. Once you have those, you can leverage them to get real clients.
Besides, once you’ve had a client on one of these job sites, you’ll know what’s expected and what clients are most interested in. This information helps you find good-paying clients by knowing and offering exactly what they need. It is, after all, client experience.
3. Work for free.
We hear you gasp, but we went there. Working for free is not a practice any writer should ever consider, except when you need to get your first client. Ideally, a friend or a family member needs something written, and you can help them out while they’re helping you get experience and the important portfolio samples.
And if the project concludes on a good note, you can expect referrals to other potential clients. The best way to get clients is to consistently go over and above on each project, regardless of what you’re getting paid. Word of mouth advertising is still highly effective.
Another effective free service to offer is a test sample. When you have a hot prospect who wants to see samples of your work, offer to write them a free test of their choosing. Make sure you set boundaries first, like word count and time. You don’t want to end up spending hours on a free test and have them turn down your work. Try for two paragraphs to give them an idea of your skill level.
4. Barter your services.
Bartering is alive and well and shouldn’t be frowned upon. When two parties need each other’s services, it only makes sense to exchange these skills instead of money.
Let’s say you need accounting help with your tax return. You could barter your writing services for accounting services. This is a win-win for both parties: your tax accountant gets a high-quality blog post, article, landing page, etc.; you get your tax return handled for you.
And you can use the work as a sample for your portfolio. Double win for you.
Getting clients is less about how good a writer you are and more about how well you can sell yourself. To live the writer’s life, you need to succeed at running a business. And sales is an important part of the game. Likewise communication, the ability to solve your clients’ problems, and always meeting your deadlines.
Once you get that first client under your belt, the others will be easier to land. If you build from a strong starting point, one day you’ll have potential clients coming to you asking if you’ll write for them.