A friend said to me recently that she wanted to move from her job in the public sector and become a freelance writer. Now, I know that in these days of precarious job security this may seem like a crazy idea, but I know what a talented writer she is, how driven and self-motivated she is, and how a freelancing lifestyle will give her the flexibility to spend time with her kids. In short, she has the talent, motivation and personality to make the leap to freelancing and be a huge success in her field.
But in the meantime she is faced with the problem of having no portfolio to use for pitches and no client network to draw on. So what should she do? Work for free to build up a portfolio? Possibly, although she cannot afford to do that for long. I think that with her background she does have the something to show to potential clients, and it is just a question of marketing herself.
I am not a big fan of doing something for nothing. By ‘nothing’ I don’t mean physical cash, just that you should consider what you are getting back from your work. If you want to build up a portfolio then being published somewhere for free can help you, but always bear in mind this is a bit like work experience in that you should only accept not being paid until you feel confident that you have learned what you need from your time. Similarly, you can make contacts by offering to work for free or at a reduced rate, or else gain experience if you want to move into a new niche.
I have written endlessly over at EnhancedFreelance.com about the importance of carving out a niche as a freelancer, whether it is working for a specific client set, working in a distinct field, creating specific products, or working in a particular media. Personally, I write about digital marketing because it interests me, there is plenty of work in the field, and I have good contacts in the industry. Getting started in a niche can be hard though and it is tempting to take any and all work that comes your way; it feels counter-intuitive to narrow your focus and potentially miss out on opportunities.
I have found the opposite, though. If people know you as ‘the digital marketing person’, they are more likely to refer you to others they know who need articles, blog posts or other content in that field. It is easier to market yourself in a niche and contact people you think might need your services if you have something specific to offer. Plus, your fees can reflect your expertise in a way they are unlikely to if you are a generalist.
But that still leaves the question of how you get started in a field and how you build a portfolio or start pitching.
I have put together a worksheet to help anyone else who wishes to make that first step. Apologies to the non-writers: much of this is also applicable to other professions if you want to take a look.
Click here to download Jennifer Stakes Roberts’ Guide to Getting Started as a Freelance Writer.
Image by Flicker user blinkingidiot (Creative Commons)