Once in awhile, I’ll get an email from a writer curious about the writing life. I thought this was a particularly good one and asked if I could share it here. Here’s her question and my thoughts on how she can build her portfolio while she’s starting out and what’s really blocking her from writing success.
Q: I’m a novice writer and I found your website while I was looking for examples of good online portfolios. I have the opportunity to have a web designer make a site for me by bartering my husbands services but I have no clue how to make it look nice and I’m getting in my own way.
I also don’t know how to display my work when it lacks diversity. I’ve only written articles and blogged for one magazine and a few press releases for a non-profit.
Self promotion is not my strong suit and finding work is daunting. If I had to support myself I’d starve. I need to get unstuck. Do you have any advice to share?
A: Thank you so much for contacting me! First of all, I think you haven’t given yourself enough credit. You have more writing experience than a lot of beginning writers. Besides that, everyone needs to begin somewhere and you’re off to an impressive start.
Here’s what I think you could start focusing on. I think it’s great that you have a website. You could work with someone like Julia Stege who can help you with branding and marketing. But I think you could also work on building your portfolio by targeting local companies. Going to networking events, bringing your business card and letting your friends and family know you’re actively searching for new clients are ways you can increase your clientele. It’s much easier in the beginning to obtain work in person than online. This is the way I got started anyway. I told every new person I met that I was a writer and also cold called other writers asking if they would consider doing an informational meeting with me. Surprisingly, a lot of successful authors and journalists were happy to take the time to talk about the writing life. That’s a valuable thing to have because real connections equal better paying work, genuine contacts that will lead to more referrals and overall happier writing life.
An important thing to consider is deciding what you want to focus on. Who do you enjoy working with? I see you already have experience in the nonprofit area. Do you want to continue to build this experience or is magazine writing more your thing? Even though you can be less discerning at the beginning, this doesn’t mean you can’t target the clients you want to work with.
Lastly, it sounds like you’re hitting a block because of a common challenge all writers face-self-doubt. It’s perfectly normal when you’re first starting out to doubt your ability to make a living as a writer. In fact, it’s not uncommon to feel this way even as you get further in your career. Think about your strengths. Write it down. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. If you focus on what you’re passionate about, some of the fear will dissipate and it’ll give you a surge of confidence when approaching potential clients. To address your financial fears, know that as a freelance writer, work ebbs and flows. To protect yourself, take work when you can especially in the beginning. This will buffer against the lulls in your writing career.
I hope this helps! Good luck and please let me know how it goes. I’m excited for you and look forward to hearing about your writing journey.