7 Reasons You Have More Writing Clips Than You Think

More samples Here’s a common lament I hear from freelance writers:

“I don’t have any writing samples! What should I do to get clips for my portfolio?”

Well, wait just a minute there. Because often, when I ask more questions, I find out you’ve got clips.

You just don’t think you have any.

 


For instance, take this writer’s question to me:

“I’ve worked full-time as a writer/editor/SEO specialist in India. Then I got married, moved to the U.S., got a second MA degree, and then stayed home as a full-time mother for 18 months.

“Now, it’s time to get back on the writing wagon again. Could you please suggest a few freelance writing websites (even free ones will do for the time being) that I could start building my portfolio with?” — Best, Medha.

Are you forgetting something?

When writers take a hiatus from writing, they sometimes get amnesia.

You forget you already have perfectly good writing samples. In your head, everything you had in your portfolio previously is no longer any good, because a little time has passed.

You’re ready to start over working for free or pennies, just to get a few clips.

But in many cases, you don’t have to do that. You have plenty of samples already, and should focus on pitching great-paying clients. Don’t start over again at the bottom rung of the freelance ladder!

What types of clips might you be overlooking? Here are seven types of overlooked clips I often turn up:

1. Staff writing

Many writers seem to believe only articles or copy written freelance can be counted in their freelance writing portfolio. Not true!

In fact, having been a staff writer is a huge plus — that conveys a lot of professionalism, if you’ve earned your living as a writer. Same if you did a lot of writing as part of your job as an analyst, administrative assistant, or anything else.

Did you write something in collaboration with a team? Use it, and simply note it was a group project you contributed to.

The one caveat here is if you have a nondisclosure agreement with your previous employer, or all their marketing materials are under virtual or real lock and key.

Note for future reference: Retain copies of everything you write, to avoid that issue.

Even if your company has a policy that they own materials you wrote during your tenure, ask them if you could link to them in your portfolio, just for purposes of seeking clients. They may well agree — after all, it’s an inbound link for them that could help their rankings on search.

2. Copywriting

Most copywriting carries no byline. There’s nowhere to put your name on brochures, annual reports, direct mail, or Web landing pages.

But it doesn’t matter. You still wrote it, and it can still be part of your portfolio.

Remember: If you can’t claim anything that lacks your byline, then no copywriters would have portfolios, ever. You can see that’s wrong.

The trick with using copywriting in your portfolio is to get a testimonial from your client, to put next to your samples. That makes the connection for prospects that you are definitely the author on these pieces.

3. Ghostwriting

If you’re ghosting a CEO’s blog or their e-book, the same rules apply as with copywriting. If you’re sworn to total secrecy with a nondisclosure agreement, maybe you can’t claim it.

Otherwise, just ask if you can link to it, and get a testimonial.

One other way to note ghostwriting is to do a chart with type of client and type of project, just to anonymously note the types of clients you use. I know a prominent ghostwriter who usually writes under NDAs, who does that.

Her clincher? Be sure to write a few things under your own byline as well, so you can daylight some writing samples and prospects can see your style.

4. Part-time writing

Some writers think freelance assignments they did on the side, while they still held a full-time job, can’t go into their portfolio.

“I have 10 years of experience,” one writer told me sadly, “but it wasn’t full time.”

Good news! The only person who cares about your job status is you. Prospects just want to read your clips, like your writing, and hire you.

I have never in 15+ years of freelancing had a prospect ask me if I wrote an article while on staff, writing part-time, or writing freelance. Like Eeyore says, “Nobody cares.”

5. Reprints & recaptures

Many mill writers I’ve mentored think they have no clips, because most of their writing appeared on a cheesy mill platform with a crummy reputation.

But sometimes, those mills resell the better pieces they get to better sites. For instance, for a while Demand Studios was placing some travel pieces with USA Today.

You may not want to put your eHow or Ezines pieces in your portfolio, because of the poor reputation of these platforms. But do a little Google searching and see if they’ve turned up elsewhere.

Another common complaint I hear is that writers have a ton of great clips with a now-defunct publication or business. If that’s you, see if you can find a copy again on Wayback Machine, which takes snapshots of the Internet constantly.

For instance, a Google search I once did for a great article I’d written for a shuttered city business magazine turned up a copy living on a local CPA association’s website.

Daily newspapers are considered part of the historical record — their ‘morgue’ of editions probably lives on somewhere. If you’ve written for a daily that ceased publication, check with the buyer if they got bought, or your local history museum.

6. Volunteer writing

For some reason, many freelance writers think if they did a gig pro bono, then it’s not a clip.

In fact, the issue of pay is entirely separate from the issue of whether you wrote it. And the next client need never know you weren’t paid on that last gig. If it’s good writing, use it. Ideally, get the client to promise they won’t tell any referrals they send you that you did them a solid.

I find volunteer gigs tend to slip writers’ minds — we forget we’ve done them. Review your good works and see if you’ve got a sample in there.

7. College writing

For some of us, college-newspaper or internship clips would be going waaaay back. For others, it’s not all that long ago. If you have nothing else, consider using your clips from this time period, especially if you wrote something you’re proud of.

I hope this list stimulates writers’ brains to think about what they might be able to include in their portfolios. I bet you’ve got more than you think.

What’s in your portfolio? Tell us about your first clips and how you got them.

 

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39 comments on “7 Reasons You Have More Writing Clips Than You Think
  1. Layla says:

    Thank you. This article was very helpful and insightful. I’m new to the freelance world. Do you have any articles on how to put together a professional writing portfolio? I don’t know where to begin format wise

    • Carol Tice says:

      Layla — I actually have four HOURS of advice on how to do your writer website, which I put into a Freelance Writers Den bootcamp, Build a Writer Website That Works. We go through many different approaches in one of the sessions. But in brief…

      There are quite a few options — one of the simplest is simply to have links to where your articles appear online, on a simple page. That’s actually still how I do it.

      You can snazz that up with magazine cover graphics or company logos for markets you’ve served.

      If it doesn’t appear online, you can serve a PDF from your site — I like Google Document Embedder for that. You don’t want prospects to have to download anything…because they won’t. They don’t know and trust you yet.

      Others get quite sophisticated with it…but that’ll get you started.

  2. Winifred Wakerfield says:

    Hello, kind spirited writer

    People paying you to write sounds like one of the most delightful concepts the working world had to offer, in all it’s drab dreariness.
    But being of the student variety, I’m marvelously uninformed upon the mysterious ways of the world of work.

    Could you possibly give any advice to someone on how to go about planting their feet on the first rung of the professional writing ladder, on which I’m sure you’re all having a great time?

    Note that I know very little about anything to do with actual employment of writing services.

    Also note that very little in my somewha liberally applied choice vocabulary may mean absolutely nothing in others’.

    Eagerly anticipating a reply πŸ™‚

  3. Fathima says:

    I love your blog, Carol. I keep coming back to see if you’ve posted anything new πŸ™‚

    I just had a bad experience with freelancer.com and made the big mistake for not requesting part of the payment upfront for the project, after which I did extra work for him. The client disappeared with my articles worth $300+. Freelancer.com closed his account for violating T&C.

    Now I’m looking to get out of the content-mills net and look for other opportunities. I was wondering if I can use these articles for my portfolio? There was no NDA either.

    Thanks!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I guess if you didn’t sign an NDA, and you can find where the articles have been published, you could link to them. Putting up drafts of articles without any link to where a client used them isn’t very compelling.

  4. Renae says:

    Carol,

    I was just revamping my freelance writing site and I was thinking about how I could make my resume look “meatier,” thinking I did not have enough clips. But I TOTALLY forgot about my near 4 years of technical writing and social media management. #vindicated

    Great post. Thanks!!!

    P.S. I purchased your package deal of freelance books a couple weeks ago. Best. Decision. Ever. I’m strongly considering establishing an legitimate business and applying for government contracts. I would not have even considered government freelance writing until I read your books. THANK YOU!
    Renae recently posted…Need Copywriter and Grant Writer Clips? VOLUNTEER!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Renae — I’m so excited to hear the 4-book deal was a great one for you! If you have a tech writing background (glad you remembered!), I’d think becoming a government contractor could be a great niche for you.

  5. danielle says:

    I’ve had three poems published recently. Years before I wrote some articles for a local paper. It’s good to know that even though it wasn’t a lot it still counts. Thanks.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have a rule — “You pitch with what ya got.” If that’s 3 poems, that’s what you have right now. Write more, get more clips, and improve your portfolio. Once, mine was about three 300-word front-of paper alternative paper clips, and a couple essays I won contests with. And I went from there.

  6. Nora King says:

    Carol,
    I enjoyed this post.
    I agree that it would be difficult for anyone to launch a career in writing without your ideas because everyone has to start somewhere.
    I have some assignments from a copywriting course I took that I would like to use for samples. I question whether I can use one of them however because a specific company and it’s products are identified throughout the sample. The sample was not submitted to the company.
    Another question has to do with confidentiality. I have over 13 years experience working with a public mental health agency. I completed Medicare and Medicaid documentation on a regular basis which would be valuable to my prospective clients in the mental health niche but I can not share this information with anyone. Any feedback?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nora, your public-health documentation isn’t shareable, and wouldn’t be of much use in freelance writing, anyway.
      You can use your other sample — just say you did it as a mock-up, it didn’t end up going to the company.

  7. “Remember: If you can’t claim anything that lacks your byline, then no copywriters would have portfolios…”

    Couldn’t agree more! I’ve been a victim of this before, especially with ghostwriting (as my name wasn’t used in any way). Now that you’ve opened my eyes, suddenly my portfolio has grown by a large margin, haha.

    Thanks Carol.
    Elvis Michael recently posted…What to Do When You Have a Bad EditorMy Profile

  8. Laurie says:

    You’re right. Good writing is good writing. It doesn’t matter how humble its origins.

  9. Donia Moore says:

    Thanks for your latest post – enjoyed it as always. Here’s an idea for those who do have clips – I keep all the links to articles that I have written on a separate word document in my clips file. When I need to send a clip, I go to this document and copy the link and include it in my email query. I’m sure there are other, better ways, but this works for me. Simple, fast, easy and I can readily see which ones I want to send. No searching through articles to find the links.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad that works for you, Donia. The more elegant solution is to organize that on a writer website, and then it’s always easy to find the links to your best stuff. πŸ˜‰

  10. Charlene Talcott says:

    The only stupid question is one not asked, so I’ll go ahead and look foolish. What exactly is a “clip?” Do you put the whole article on your website? Is it just samples? How many do you put on your website?

    • Carol Tice says:

      A clip is a previously published piece of writing, Charlene. We call them that because we used to ‘clip’ them out of the magazines and newspapers they’d appear in, and put them in a physical portfolio.

      There are several schools of thought on the best way to present your work on your writer site. I personally favor linking to where it appears online wherever possible so yes, they can read the whole article. The #1 thing prospects want to do at your site is read your work, so they can see if they like your style.

      I’m a fan of having many samples up — you can see how I’ve crammed them onto my articles and copywriting tabs here: http://www.caroltice.com. You never know what will appeal to a prospect, so having different topics and types of writing to me is a good thing.

  11. I do have a few guest blog posts that have been accepted yet have not been published yet. So when that happens, I’ll will definitely being updating my portfolio to reflect that.
    As of right now my portfolio is mostly educational pieces that I wrote during my time as a teacher. I thought these wouldn’t help, but I put them up there anyways. This is all thanks to Peter Bowerman and Sophie Lizard who simply pointed out that I did write them, they were for an audience, so why not use them? Heck, I even have a newsletter I did for an internship some seven years ago up there.

  12. I have a folder on the my desktop that has like 200 or so articles. But a lot of them were written a couple of years ago when my writing was a bit crap. The problem that I have is that I don’t have articles that are relevant to the type of work that I want. For example, recently I have been writing product reviews for various clients, but most of my clients don’t want me to use the reviews I wrote for them as samples, so it’s hard to show new clients that I wrote. When I contact a new client, who wants product reviews, I only have one or two to share, even though I wrote a bunch. What should you do in that situation?
    Timothy Torrents recently posted…The Most Amazing Places to Visit in Danshui That Will Blow Your MindMy Profile

  13. Malithi says:

    Thanks Carol, great advice.

    I’ve written quite a few reports and research proposals during my previous career as a research scientist. Never thought of them as ‘clips’ though. I’m going to revamp them a bit and add them to my portfolio.

    Thanks again.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ooh, great idea! Research proposals are like grant proposals or RFPs for government work — great related samples for those types of work.

  14. Sabita says:

    Well, when I started as a freelance writer, I went over to various self-publishing platforms to write a few articles, which helped me land gigs.

    I’ve had situations where my ghostwriting clients straight away disallow me to market myself through their projects; however, from now onward I make sure to talk to my those clients for some clips.

  15. Great post, Carol! I have pro bono clips, paid clips, old journalism feature stories, and a couple of academic papers to my name that I use. Still marketing myself to get work with them, but since I wrote them, and I’m proud of them, I’m not hesitating to make them part of my portfolio.

  16. Cherese Cobb says:

    Carol,

    Thank you for these tips. I’ve fell into the “no-clip” trap before. I wrote for free for several websites and scoured content mills.

    I had just graduated college, and I actually had a ton of clips (final papers, lesson plans, and a thesis). In fact, my thesis was published and even won an award.

    I really like Allen’s idea of requiring a client to allow you to use your work for marketing purposes only. I plan on using this from now on!

    One more tip–I take full screen shots of all my pieces online, so if a company goes belly-up, I still have proof I did the pieces.

    Thanks,

    Cherese R. Cobb

    • Carol Tice says:

      That is a *great* idea I’ve used as well, Cherese — because you know what? Sites go bust, and your work disappears. So while a link I think is convenient for your prospects and provides proof it was published online, you want to watch out that it doesn’t go ‘poof’ one day.

  17. Great post, Carol

    I’ve actually used a fair few essays from my time at university to land some writing gigs.

    Another thing I did when I was first starting out was write copy for fictional companies. I approached it the same way I would with a real client, but constructed a brand/company idea and ethos and then wrote web copy and a press release (as these were what was lacking in my portfolio at the time).

    That worked well enough to get me some gigs from actual companies!

    Thanks for sharing these tips
    Steph Simpson recently posted…How to Avoid Becoming Overwhelmed as a FreelancerMy Profile

  18. Allen Taylor says:

    Awesome post, Carol. I have a ton of stories about clips. I got a stint as a newspaper editor (while applying to be a staff writer) after not having done any professional writing for almost 10 years. I had done some volunteer agency work and that helped.

    When I started writing online, I had no digital clips and I hadn’t digitized any of my print bylines (hundreds of them). I still got work.

    And I routinely use my ghostwriting clients for samples of my work. In fact, I have a standard agreement with blog ghostwriting clients that I can use the work I do for them for marketing purposes. If they don’t agree to that, I don’t work for them.
    Allen Taylor recently posted…E-Book Publishing: It’s Time To Go Out On Your OwnMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s a great idea, Allen, to get the marketing permission up-front on ghostwriting. Too many writers plunge into projects and only later realize they’ve done themselves out of a clip. When you’re starting out, it’s super-important that you’re able to claim what your projects.

      And — write a great pitch, and you may not need clips. I’ve pitched magazines that never asked for any, and just said, “Go.”

  19. Ooh, I didn’t know you could use collaborative projects in your portfolio! I have quite a few samples where I contributed to the writing, but never used them as clips since I wasn’t solely responsible for the final product. I’m off to unearth a few of those to add to my site πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the awesome tips!

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