Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Mandy Hougland
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But sometimes potential clients choose to rely on in-house resources to manage their writing projects because they're more comfortable trusting someone who specifically knows their business. By the same token, companies might be reluctant to try the services of a different or new writer when the one they usually work with isn't available. The prospect of catching someone else up to speed may seem exhausting to them. Or, it's simply too risky to put an important project in the hands of a contractor with whom they have no prior experience.
Here's where you, as an outsider, can dissolve those fears, get an edge, and land more assignments. Develop a professional portfolio showcasing your commercial writing experience. Fill it with the most impressive samples of your work, and share it with potential clients. Your portfolio should include a large sampling of projects and illustrate your ability to tackle subjects previously unfamiliar to you. This proves that though you may not be completely knowledgeable just yet on the client's business, you can certainly get to know it and turn out a useful product that suits its purpose.
In this article, I'll show you a few different forms your portfolio can take. In the next, I'll help you discover ways to generate material for your portfolio, even if you're a beginner and have no work samples whatsoever.
Professional writing portfolios are created using one of two basic formats -- either hard copy housed in some sort of binder, or soft copy in electronic form. Each has its benefits. As discussed below, hard copy portfolios are handy during cold calls, when there's no computer available, or when you're dealing with a client who's not technologically inclined. Yet soft copy (or electronic) portfolios are savvy, and make transmitting your work a snap.
There are several benefits associated with using a hard copy format for your portfolio. Binders are relatively simple to maintain and update. You can easily remove, reorganize or add work. Just slip your samples into sheet protectors and categorize those using labeled dividers. Selecting and copying relevant work samples to include in your proposals is a cinch with this method. You don't have to search through a stack of files or poke around on your hard drive for the material. You'll always have in front of you a collection of your work.
If you choose to present your portfolio in hard copy format, a simple 3-ring binder will do the trick. Depending on the volume of work you plan to include, you can choose binders with anywhere from 1/4-inch thickness to 2-inches or more. Starting out, a slimmer notebook should be more than enough.
In most cases, you can compile a decent binder for about $20 to $30. This includes the binder itself and the few extras you'll need to pull off an organized collection -- clear sheet protectors, dividers, labels and of course, paper and ink. Any notebook will suffice, but stay away from the flimsy ones. Choose one with hard covers, and if possible, one that has a pocket for business cards and/or a space for your business brochures. Standard black or brown looks professional, but leave the loud colors and psychedelic designs where they belong -- in your teenager's book bag.
My own writing portfolio is housed in a handsome, 3-inch thick, leather-bound three-ring binder. It has a front pocket where I keep brochures, and a slot for business cards. It's organized into the following sections: Ad Copy, Advertorials, Brochures, Newsletters, Press Releases, Proposals, Public Service Announcements, Resumes, Sales Copy and Technical Writing. I can take it with me to meetings, or simply draw from it when putting together bids for commercial writing projects.
For example, if I'm bidding to a client needing a brochure for a new service they offer, I will include with my proposal letter copies of a few brochures I've already designed. One could be the brochure for a state poetry convention I recently completed, and another might be a highly technical brochure for a land surveying service I did several years ago. I may also throw in an example of some sales copy I've written for further support of my capabilities.
If I'm cold-calling a potential client, I bring my portfolio along to show projects relevant to whatever service I'm offering. When I enter a staffing agency to discuss my ability to help them write resumes for their employees, I show off the various resumes I've written for people in different fields at all levels of their careers. For instance, I may showcase a chronological resume for a professional actor alongside functional resumes for an engineer and a teacher.
Though binders are easy to put together and take apart, the downfall to using one is obvious -- you can't email what's inside of them without first scanning the documents, or searching for them on your PC. For this reason, you might consider using soft/electronic copy to collect and present your work instead.
Electronic portfolios can be kept on disk or CD, displayed on your website, or hosted by online writer's portfolio sites. All of these allow for easy file sharing and transfer.
To produce a good electronic portfolio you'll need a scanner, and most likely a PDF (portable document format) translator that takes a variety of file types and turns them into PDFs. This way, whether it's a brochure, newsletter, or press release you're dealing with, all can be opened and viewed with the same program -- Adobe Acrobat. Several free translators are available online. Details of where to download these can be found below.
With most PDF translators, you'll have two choices -- upload and translate your file to a PDF online, which will leave a link to access your document (fine for website portfolios), or download a program to your computer. Downloading allows you to save the PDFs to your PC and use them on CDs or email them.
Either way, creating a PDF is relatively simple. Just scan your brochures, newsletters, resumes, flyers and other commercial writing documents into your computer. Initially, they will be saved as image files, such as a JPG, TIF or GIF. Then, use the PDF translator to turn them into files that can be read by Adobe Acrobat and used on your CD, website or online portfolio.
You can also display your writing samples as JPGs or other image file types, but blowing them up may cause image distortion and reduce the quality of the electronic sample. They may also take longer to load.
Electronic Portfolios on CD
You can create a beautiful multi-media presentation using PowerPoint if you choose to store your portfolio on CD. These can be completely customized and distributed en masse to potential clients via postal mail or in person. Depending on the file size, you may even be able to email your portfolio.
If you go with this method, you'll want to use a translator that allows you to save PDFs to your PC. And, you'll want to present the samples in an automated slideshow format. When users insert your CD, their computer will automatically open the file and begin the presentation of your portfolio. This can be done using PowerPoint's save as "PowerPoint Show" option, and it's rather fun to create.
If you're familiar with PowerPoint, this will get you started: First, build a standard slide show using text boxes, links, and appropriate graphics, sound bytes and transitional affects. Design a table of contents or index slide with links to other slides or PDF files containing your writing samples. Then, save the PowerPoint Show and burn it on a few CDs. (Remember that links to any outside PDF files will have to be saved to your CD along with the slideshow so users can pull them up). Investing in printable CD labels and jewel cases makes the production much more professional. You can even insert a business card inside each jewel case.
Though my CD portfolio is no longer up to date, I designed it with first an introductory slide detailing my contact information followed by a slide with my table of contents. In between were slides with each of my writing service categories and links to other slides where actual samples could be viewed. At the end, I embedded a video of myself personally thanking viewers for taking the time to review my work, and encouraging them to call me for a project consultation.
There are a few down sides to storing your portfolio on CD. For starters, they're more difficult to update. They're also more difficult to customize. Although they work well as a marketing tool to acclimate a general audience to your range of service offerings, they're rarely focused enough to use with a specific job proposal or bid.
Electronic Portfolios on the Web
If you'd rather rely on the internet to show off your work, you can display writing samples on your website. Clients may instantly view, download and print materials for review at their convenience. List your samples as files for download and when the user clicks the link to the PDF, their computer will automatically open the item in Adobe Acrobat.
If you don't yet have a website or lack web design knowledge, writer's portfolio websites are a viable option. PDF translation isn't necessary, and it's a rather quick way to get your work out there. Writers can upload and create a free portfolio at FreelancePortfolios.com. (see below).
WriterFind.com will allow you to create a biographical sort of portfolio, but you have to link to your work rather than upload it to your profile. This means you're either going to have to host it on your website or have a collection of links where your work is displayed online -- possible for article writing but not likely for brochures, resumes and other commercial type work.
iFreelance.com offers a combination of biographical information and a limited number of writing samples, but they charge a monthly hosting fee.
All things considered, putting together a portfolio takes a little extra time and patience, but it's worth it in the long run. It makes you appear professional, well-rounded and on top of your game. No matter how you present your work -- in a binder, on a CD, or over the Internet, there's no doubt that having one puts the odds in your favor for landing more assignments.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Mandy Hougland is a freelance writer living in the Northwest Arkansas metro. She has published more than 150 articles for local, regional and national publications, including River Hills Traveler, Byline Magazine, Connecting Northwest Arkansas, and Women in the Outdoors. She also handles commercial writing assignments such as marketing materials and copywriting projects for companies small and large.