You don’t have to have traditional experience as a copywriter or even a formal education in English or writing to become a freelance writer. You can become a freelance writer with absolutely no experience and totally get a freelance writing gig on samples that you make up.
I like to joke with my husband that writing for the internet is the wild west of writing, because literally anything goes. Also, trends are constantly shifting and what worked yesterday may not work today.
If you can form a sentence and not copy and paste from other sites you’ll do just fine.
But in the meantime, you will need to provide some samples that at least provide the appearance of being a professional.
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Building a Portfolio of Freelance Writing Samples
Contena has a pretty comprehensive list of websites that will allow you to self-publish professional looking content. I published some samples on Medium and Lifehacker as I found those two platforms to be most in line with the kind of writing I wanted to do.
If you like making lists or generating memes, then a platform like Buzzfeed may be good for you.
You’ll want to incorporate basic SEO when you’re writing this samples (we’ll get into that in a hot sec) and you’ll also want to write content that has a variety of lengths to show that you can write both long form and short form.
If you’re interested in checking out Contena, I talk more about it in this post here.
How Do I Write My Samples Though?
This is the biggest thing I’m going to share with you as you begin your writing journey and it’s the thing that all the dudes (why are they all dudes tho?) who charge a shit ton of money end up telling you in some form or another: Write a sample for the job you’re applying to.
Don’t spend a lot of time creating content out of thin air. Don’t worry about “what do people want to read” or “What do I want to write?” That’s a gigantic waste of time.
Here’s an example of a job posting on Indeed at the time I published this blog:
XXX seeks an enthusiastic travel fanatic to join our team of freelance writers. We're looking for someone who has steady weekday availability to contribute articles related to a variety of travel topics. Professional writing experience not required, however, we are looking for someone with published writing samples and a lot of travel experience and knowledge.
XXX’s target audience is people age 50+ who love to travel, so an understanding of the travel interests of the over-fifty globetrotter is a huge plus. We're also looking for someone who can contribute on a regular schedule, preferably daily (weekdays) or multiple days a week.
XXX is where your adventure begins. We highlight the unique, the hidden, the overlooked possibilities you simply have to experience. Your goal is to take a life-changing trip; our goal is to deliver content that informs and inspires your journey. We’re here for lifelong travelers, those who seek the unexpected. You want to create memories you can cherish and share forever. We want to help.
I’ve never written for a travel magazine before, but if I was going to apply to this job, I’d sure as hell learn as much as I can about travel writing and try to write a sample that reflects what they want. The idea is to try to do the job that you’re hoping to get. It’s almost like a litmus test - if you can write this one article, then odds are really good you could do this job.
In fact, this was often a self litmus test. If I started to research a topic for a job posting and found it tedious or exhausting, I’d bail pretty quickly because I would know that this would be a terrible gig for me.
If you don’t get the job, at the bare minimum you have a solid sample that looks profesh as hell and could potentially land you a gig for a different job posting.
But how do you figure out what to write for a job posting, really?
Buzzsumo is a website that allows you to search topics or websites by popularity. If I were applying to the above job, I’d search the website first, and see which blogs were the most popular.
Then I’d search the topic that they’ve indicated in the post: 50+ traveler, and lifelong travelers. I’d be looking for examples of articles that have already been written in this genre and format.
Once I’ve done a little research, I’ll choose a topic that hasn’t already been covered on their site, and then research enough information about it to write about it with as much authority as I can.
Don’t be afraid to use other articles and blogs as a structured guide, or even to format some phrasing (although PLEASE do not copy paste anything from another site. That’s plagiarism and cheating and no one likes a cheater and karma is a bitch so just don’t do it, k thanks.)
Write a Simple Cover Letter
Write a simple cover letter, nothing super fancy. Something like,
“Hey! I’d love to help you create content for your travel site geared toward the 50+ globetrotter. Here’s a sample of my work (and you’d include a hyperlink to your published article via the title of your article here)
Let’s chat more about this?
If you already have a resume, go ahead and include that as well, even if they don’t ask for it.
Resumes are an entirely different blog (idk if I’ll ever write about it so do me a favor and Google copywriting resume because that shit is a rabbit hole that I can’t get into in this blog post at the moment.)
Some jobs do require a resume, so it’s worth spending some time to create one for the future.
Once you’ve sent your sample and application, don’t just sit back and wait for them to write you back. Send the email, move the fuck on.
Let it go, bro.
There’s no way to know how many applications these people have received, and how many of them are as good (if not better than your samples). Landing a gig is largely a game of numbers, and requires a certain amount of hustle and patience.
If you’re too precious about your sample, or about your work, sorry, kid, this career might not be for you. But if you can let that sample and that application go into the ether, with no expectations of ever hearing back, then you’re gonna be just fine.
There is a school of thought that suggests following up on an application. If you’re inclined, the recommended time is about a week to two weeks after you originally sent in your information for consideration.
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