When you’re starting out as a freelancer (or even if you’ve been doing it for a while), at some point a potential client will request samples of your work. This is common practice, so don’t fret if you get a request like that. If anything, you should celebrate because it means they’re considering working with you and they want to see what kind of work you’ve done previously.
But what types of clips should you send to them? How many? What do you do if you don’t have many writing clips to show? Let’s start at the beginning.
Keep track of your clips.
Whether you’re starting out as a freelancer or you’ve been freelancing for a while, you should collect your clips and keep them in one place so you can quickly access them. If the article was posted on a blog or online content hub, save a copy to your hard drive, auxiliary drive, your website or online portfolio site you might belong to like Contently. To save, select the Print option, then in the drop down menu, select Save as PDF. Then you can save it wherever you want to keep all your clips. That way you know where to find them when you need them.
Wherever you keep your clips, it might help to sort them by date, publication or subject area, such as real estate or health. Again, that’s for ease in finding them quickly when you need them.
Follow the client’s instructions.
When a client requests your clips, be sure to follow their instructions. Some clients are very specific about what they want and how they want the clips delivered to them. Some may ask for PDF or Word documents sent as an email attachment. Others may want only links. Do as they ask. It’s their way of testing you to see if you can follow their instructions. If they ask for three sample clips, send them three sample clips. Don’t send them four, and don’t send them one. If they don’t specify how many they want, stick with two or three, which is enough to give them an idea of your writing ability.
Consider several factors when submitting clips:
- Send clips that are as close to the type of writing that you’d be doing for them. For example, a client looking for someone to write SEO blog posts will want to see similar types of clips from you. In that case, don’t send them research papers or marketing proposals as your samples. Your chances of getting hired improve greatly if your samples closely match the type of work they’re hiring for.
- Make sure the clips are fairly recent. Most editors want to see work you’ve done within the past couple of years, not what you wrote 10 years ago. Although, if that is the only clip you have in that particular genre, send that along and explain why you’re sending an older piece.
- Send your best work. Some writers and editors will tell you to make this the number one priority, but in my experience, your best work may not fit their genre or it may not be the most current work you’ve done. That said, if you submit three clips, designate one as your best work, even if it doesn’t fit the genre, then include two others that do fit. Make sure they’re all recently published.
- Pay attention to the tone and writing style. Does your writing style mesh with that of the publication? To answer that, you’ll need to review their publication carefully to become familiar with their style. If it’s a light-hearted, humor magazine and you tend to write more serious, research-based articles, your writing style probably won’t work for them. You need to match their tone.
- Consider the publication’s audience. If your writing experience is focused on business publications, such as magazine features, newsletters, and blog content, it may be difficult to transition to consumer-focused publications because the writing styles are different. Consumer writing is more casual, usually written at a lower grade level than a technical business publication. If you want to write for a consumer-focused publication, it’s easier to get assignments if you’ve written for consumer publications in the past.
- Make sure the clips are error-free. If they’ve been published, they’ve obviously gone through a copyediting and proofing phase beforehand. But if your sample is posted on a friend’s blog and hasn’t been proofed, it’s possible that a misspelled word or other grammar mistake has slipped through. Make sure your work is clean before submitting.
But what should you do if you’re starting out as a freelancer and you don’t have enough clips or the right type of clips, you might ask?
Sorry to be blunt about this, but realistically you’re probably not ready for a freelancing career. Freelancing is highly competitive, and editors want to hire only the best-qualified individuals that have experience writing about certain topics. To gain that experience, try taking a few writing classes where you can accrue samples. Or volunteer to write website articles for a non-profit group (which I did early in my career to gain experience), create your own samples or start a blog. Some editors do view a person’s blog as a legitimate writing sample so don’t overlook its potential.
When you do submit clips, it might help to keep a spreadsheet or note to yourself about which clips you sent in case the client asks questions about it later.
Keep your best published clips organized in one central place, and make sure they’re polished and error-free. When a potential client asks for clips, you’ll be ready to send them the best work you’ve done.