When to Start Building Your Portfolio
Portfolio building is the very first step a writer's got to take before even venturing into the profession of writing. You must essentially have your things in place before you approach clients and publications with your ideas and services. For those who don't know, a portfolio is a compilation of your works that demonstrate your writing skills and talent. Put simply, it is a sample of your works. A portfolio mostly comprises of published clips from magazines and online publications (scans and links respectively) along with scans/copies of any copywriting work that you may have taken up in the past.
My Experience is Zilch. What do I do?
Fret not! While your essays from school (however well-written they may be) will not suffice as a sample of your writing, it is never too late (or difficult) to get your articles featured in a credible publication. There are thousands of ezines (online magazines) that are hungry for relevant content. With a little googling, you can find some that cover areas of your speciality. Though they usually don't offer any monetary compensation, they would publish your articles in a fraction of time it takes for print publications to do the same. The eds would be happy to post a small bio (byline) of you along with your photograph and that would make for a perfect sample should someone ask for it. For example, if you like writing about love, relationships and fashion, you could try Savvy Womens Magazine or if writing for environmental issues is your forte, you could approach Lilith: The Environmental Ezine. It might be worth mentioning that Lilith has several channels to choose from - you can take your pic. Once you have a handful of articles published online with your name and byline, you can approach paying publications and clients with confidence.
Create an Article Bank
Ezine Articles is another reputable website that enjoys a high and steady traffic. All articles that go up on the site are quality checked and having your articles there establishes your credibility as a good writer. Sending your Ezine Articles profile link to clients demonstarates your ability to produce high-quality, original content. It also gives you a lot of exposure and a wide audience to reach out to. If for some reason your articles don't make it there, try uploading them to Hubpages, a site that allows you to create an article bank which you can provide as an easy reference in all your correspondence. Write mock articles regularly - who knows you might be able to sell them someday and plus, you could use all the practice you can manage.
Start a Blog
Blogging is a great way to network with people from the same field. If you wish to write for a niche subject, center your blog around that theme. It could be anything that you know too much about - technology, gardening, horses, gadgets, fashion - anything! Whats more, if your blog kicks off (mine didn't :(), it can earn you some decent money and you could maybe turn to it full-time at a later stage. It will help you showcase your expertise in a particular area and that might give some publications an incentive to sign you up as a regular contributor or columnist.
Free Work and Cheap Work will Reap Rewards
In the beginning, it is perfectly OK to charge peanuts for writing assignments. Write content for a friend who is about to launch a website. Do you have a business tycoon uncle? Offer to make brochures and promotional copy for his products and proudly present these in your portfolio. The aim is to gather more and more experience without worrying about the moolah (atleast for the first few months). But at the same time, don't let people exploit you just because you don't have a lot of experience under your belt. Make sure that every project you take up is benefiting you in some way in terms of experience, contacts, exposure, online presence or readership if not money.
Gather Recommendation Letters and Testimonials
Once the 'proper' clients start coming in, give every assignment your best (and make it a habit!) and request them to write a short feedback about your work. Positive feedbacks and recommendations can give a huge boost to your business because they mirror much more about you than good writing skills. They effectively put across other desirable virtues like punctuality, professionalism, your ability to mould your work to the client's needs and your level of initiative and ideation. In a way, they help you market yourself as a complete package. Take care however, not to fake it because it can lead to a loss of reputation and put you out of work in no time. Make sure that all your testimonials are accompanied by the full and correct identity of your clients so they can be verified easily. Also seek permission from your clinets to make sure that they don't mind being featured on your list.
Create a Professional Website
Now this might take a little investment from your end but it will probably be the best decision you will ever take in your career as a writer. You can toy with this option once you have a considerable volume of samples to showcase and a list of clients to boot. A website is instrumental in projecting you as a serious proffesional rather than some half-assed part-timer. It also gives you a platform to list all your services, experience and achievements. I will soon write another post on how to build a good writer's website.
Revise and Improvise
A portfolio needs to be constantly updated, improvised and renewed. Make sure that your best works are highlighted and keep adding to it as you go along.