This post is geared toward writers, but it’s worth a read for freelancers of every skill set to get some inspiration on getting past the portfolio hurdle.
“You need experience to get experience.” That’s the challenge that leaves so many employment-seeking new graduates frustrated. The bad news is that it exists in freelancing too — “You have to have a portfolio to get clients, but you need clients to get a portfolio” The good news is that this isn’t really true.
My very first portfolio sample was a website I’d created. It was a bunch of pieces of my own writing along with a few pieces some blogger friends had allowed me to publish (and link back) to. I used it on eByline as an example of not only my writing, but also my ability to organize content, curate, connect with a community, create readable content…all sorts of things that clients struggle with, and ya know what? Nobody had any problems with it.
When I started freelancing, I heard it all the time, “don’t use content you created for yourself.” Funny thing is, I didn’t find that clients cared much. They just wanted to see that I could do what they couldn’t. As I started aiming for bigger and higher-paying clients, yes, they wanted references and portfolios, but I think that was because they were used to asking for those things and wanted to know I had the professionalism, confidence, and understanding to put them together in the first place. (Sometimes people just want to see you go through the motions.)
Clients are heavily moved by having portfolios to skim through (it builds trust), but I don’t think it’s always for the reasons we tell ourselves.
If you don’t have a portfolio and are stressing that your freelance career will never move, I’m going to give you some advice a lot of freelancers might disagree with. Build one, just do it honestly.
This means just doing the work potential clients might want but presenting it in a way that is transparent and communicates that it’s work you’ve done for your own goals. You can do this either by adding pieces to your portfolio and clearly labeling them as personal projects or creating work for your own site.
If you want to create a plan to build out some samples, take a few weeks, research the topics your niche cares about, and create some of the following pieces…
- Curated News
- A How-To Guide
- Lists of Superstars in Your Niche
- Tip lists
- A Yearly/Quarterly/Monthly Round-up (great in fast-moving niches like tech/finance/real estate/fashion)
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out this list. Just remember to write them in a way where your clients can envision the work on their own sites/newsletters/LinkedIn pages.
If you’ve got any questions, let me know below!