Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
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by Mandy Hougland
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I also explained the importance of maintaining such a showcase. Having a well organized collection of work samples shows the variety of documents you can produce. It also proves that you have the ability to take on complex subject matter on a variety of topics. A professional portfolio can give you the competitive edge you need to land top notch assignments.
In this article, I'll help you decide which pieces of work to include in your portfolio. And, if you haven't had your first paying assignment yet, I'll help you discover ways to generate material for your portfolio that will help you get that first paid gig.
What Goes In
First, let's talk about what kind of material to present in your portfolio. If you don't have any work samples yet, bear with me. I'll get to that.
Your portfolio should include at least three examples of each type of writing service you offer. If ad copy is part of your repertoire, display ads you've written for different businesses or different product lines.
If you write press releases, include copies on un-related subjects. One might be about an upcoming charity event, while the other two are about a new business opening and a holiday parade in your town. My portfolio contains press releases about a new writer's group that was forming, the opening of a new bridal shop, and an upcoming business conference.
If you write resumes, use three from completely different fields - a librarian, a real estate agent and an executive CEO, for example. In my own, I also showcase people at different career levels. One resume in my binder is for an administrative assistant with a great deal of data entry experience. Another is for a cosmetologist, and still another is for a retail professional.
This diversity shows your clients that you can successfully process and translate information that's otherwise foreign to you. Even if you specialize -- say, you write only for engineering firms -- you can still include a variety of the same sort of document. One might be a brochure on bridge designs, and another could cover highway projects or surveying services.
Be certain everything is well organized. This makes it easy for you to find samples to include in future job proposals. It also makes it easy for clients as they browse through your work. Depending on your style, you might want to organize based on assignment type (i.e. brochures, sales letters, flyers, advertorials), or by subject (i.e. charity, education, community, etc.).
My portfolio is organized by the writing services I provide: Ad Copy, Advertorials, Brochures, Newsletters, Press Releases, Proposals, Public Service Announcements, Resumes, Sales Copy and Technical Writing. I find that this method works well as I'm looking for examples of prior experience when I'm drawing up a proposal for a new writing job.
If you can get your hands on a few letters of recommendation, put those in your portfolio too. Have a current resume on hand, as well. I find that most proposals I respond to request this.
So what if you don't yet have any real work with which to build a portfolio?
You have two options. One is to develop some practice material. If you have a copy of Microsoft Publisher installed on your computer, open it up and pick a few new projects to design. Maybe you have a brochure or flyer lying around the house you can re-create for practice. Though you can't actually list a client, you're still displaying your talent. And potential clients are going to want to see what you can do.
Look through your pile of junk mail for advertising postcards, sales letters and special offer coupons. (In fact, it's a good idea to start collecting these items in a "swipe file". When you're fresh out of creative design ideas, use this for inspiration). Is there anything lying around that you could use as fodder for practice?
Write a few opinion pieces and submit them to your local newspaper. Do you have a pet cause or great persuasive argument to share? Why not write a letter to the editor? This will display your ability to write clean copy with a clear, concise thought pattern.
Perhaps you could design marketing materials for your own business. I once created postcard mailers targeted to staffing agencies in an effort to bring in some new resume business. The act of marketing your own business gives you samples to include in your portfolio.
If Publisher isn't available to you, you'll need to get your hands on another product -- something more sophisticated than Notepad or Paint, but nothing as technical as Adobe Photoshop or Quark. Though they can be a bit cumbersome, you can usually use PowerPoint or Word and get results that are equally as good as what specialized and costly design programs turn out. [Editor's Note: In 2014, I acquired Serif PagePlus X8 and have found this to be an excellent, inexpensive desktop publishing program. It closely emulates the interface of Adobe Pagemaker, so if you were once a Pagemaker user, you'll find this program very easy to master.]
You can also download a variety of shareware or freeware programs for document design. Browse the options on Best Software 4 Download (http://www.bestsoftware4download.com/s-squsftho-web-design-software.html) or Google "shareware" + "document design".
Option two is to engage in a little volunteer work to quickly build a portfolio. Does your church need a newsletter? Can you make a flyer for your next club meeting? Perhaps a local charity could use a brochure. Does a friend need a resume? What about your local PTA? Maybe the local animal shelter needs data sheets for an adoption drive. Is a neighbor in need of verbiage for a new babysitting or lawn care business?
I volunteer on the marketing committee for a local Women's Conference in my area. It's an annual event, and provides a wealth of opportunities to showcase my writing abilities. Early on, I wrote the mass marketing email to attract conference attendees. Later, I wrote another to help bolster ticket sales. I also designed and provided copy for the brochure, press release and public service announcement. You can bet that each one of these documents wound up in my portfolio.
The bottom line is, if you seek, you will find an abundance of opportunities for practicing the craft and developing an impressive portfolio. Keep your ear to the ground and good luck getting your portfolio off to a good start!
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.