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From graduate to freelancer part 1: Developing your portfolio

12 February 2016
Desk of a freelancer

From grads to riches…

We’ve teamed up with Write My Site to bring you this four-part series on freelancing after graduation. Ben Parkinson, their staff writer, has been both a graduate and a freelance copywriter, so we think he’s more than qualified to share a word or two of wisdom.

Take it away, Ben…

Getting started as a graduate freelancer can be tricky business. 

First up, we’re going to explore how you can start building a portfolio to showcase your talents.

A portfolio of work examples is an essential tool for any freelancer, because most clients will want to see the ‘proof of the pudding’ before they pay to hire you.

How do I make my examples stand out?

Make sure you know your chosen industry inside out. Sign up to respected blogs and newswires, attend relevant events and meetups, and use social media to keep a close eye on the latest trends.

Once you’re confident about your industry, think carefully about your specific area(s) of interest. Clients rarely want to hire a Jack of all trades; they want somebody who knows their own area of interest. For example, a travel copywriter will have more value to a client in the holiday industry than a generalist copywriter.

What do you know and care about? Consider work and life experience and come up with a shortlist of ideas. Try to position your first portfolio in a clear direction, even if you haven’t settled on one specialism yet: e.g. your copywriting portfolio could clearly segment examples of travel, lifestyle and fashion work.

How should I fill my first portfolio?

You’ll need to be strategic in sourcing your first set of examples. At this stage, you’ve got three main options:

  1. Create your own fresh examples
  2. Offer to work for free or at a reduced rate
  3. Tie in a professional-looking university project

Creating fresh examples
Creating your own examples is unlikely to be profitable, but it gives you the scope to set yourself apart as a trailblazer in your area by being at the cusp of industry developments.

Offering free/ reduced rates
If you’re looking for businesses to pitch low-cost or free work, create your own opportunities by starting with your personal network of friends, local business owners or charities. Convince them of your specialism by showing an understanding of the problem that your service is able to solve.

But, don’t create a habit of working for less than you’re worth. Free or cheap labour should only be for the purposes of pulling together your first portfolio.

Including university projects
University projects can often be good fodder for portfolios, if suitably commercial. Articles you’ve written for your student newspaper are likely to slot more easily into your portfolio than your final year thesis!

How should I present my portfolio?

The best way to get your work seen is to upload it to an online portfolio site, such Coroflot, Behance or Carbonmade. Keep an eye out for industry specific portfolio sites too, as this will help you reach out directly to people that might have an interest in your services.

The look of your portfolio will depend on your industry. Graphic or web designers should go for a highly visual approach whereas journalists should focus on making their content examples clear and easy to read.

If your portfolio includes Word documents, make sure to save them as PDFs as this will ensure that the formatting and content remain consistent.

Coming up next week

Next week, we’ll explain how you can start building your professional network, so you can generate work through referrals and word of mouth.

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