Picture this – you’ve got a nibble from a new client. They’re happy with your rates, and you have availability to meet their demands. Just one last hurdle to clear – they want to see your writing samples.
Preparing writing samples shouldn’t be terrifying, but for some reason, it’s the thing that often sends freelance writers into hiding.
Why is this, exactly?
I think it has something to do with imposter syndrome and self-doubt. There’s nothing quite like sending writing samples to a potential client to make you feel like you have NO IDEA what you’re doing.
The good news is this: you don’t have to whip up new writing samples every time. Instead, with a little bit of preparation and a minimal amount of ongoing work, you can present the best of the best, pick n mix style.
Writing samples: the basics
First things first, has the client requested anything specific?
Do they want to see 4+ examples?
Have they asked for byline samples only?
Do they want to see a particular form of copywriting or just a selection of your best work?
Pay close attention to the client’s instructions, so they don’t have to ask twice.
How many writing samples should I provide?
I will typically share 4-5 writing samples unless the client specifies otherwise. I don’t do anything fancy with my proposals and only share links or images within an email.
Sometimes I will include a short content brief, so the client understands the work involved. It isn’t always apparent that I’ve carried out keyword research or that the page ranks at #1 for the target term, so it always helps to include a little extra context.
A note on unpaid writing assignments
If the client is asking for an unpaid writing sample specifically for them, run a mile. I cannot stress this enough. Your current work should be enough for them to get an idea of your ability and style. No one should ever be asked to work for free!
Start a bank of your best work
The easiest way to keep track of your writing samples is to start a bank of your best work. When I’ve published a piece that I’m particularly proud of, I save a clipping to Evernote. I also tag it with the industry and content type.
When the time comes to whip up some writing samples for a new dental copywriting client, I can select “dental” and “web copy” and see a list of the best links to share with them.
What if the work isn’t available online?
Sometimes I’ll work on social media content or email content that isn’t available online. To save this type of work, I’ll use a Chrome extension called GoFullPage. This allows me to screengrab a whole page and save the image to Evernote.
If a client wants to see an example of email copywriting, I can attach the image to an email or upload it to my website.
Should I only share content with a byline?
Not all of your copywriting work will include a byline. Clients expect this. It would be super weird to have a byline on a services page.
It’s OK to include this content if you still have a good relationship with the client you did the work for. There’s always the chance a client will contact the company and ask them to confirm you did the job. So if you left things on bad terms, it might not be the best content to include.
Do I need permission?
It’s always a good idea to confirm with clients that you plan to use the content you have created for them for your portfolio or as a writing sample. Many will be happy for you to do this, but some may not want to reveal that they aren’t responsible for their content. This is particularly true for any content with a ghostwriting arrangement.
Check your contracts to see how to handle this. And if in doubt, confirm with your client before sharing anything. Some clients will be happy for you to use their site as a writing sample provided you don’t share this information on your website, for example.
How often should I refresh my writing samples?
The great thing about keeping an ongoing log of your best work is that the samples you choose will always be fresh. So I think you can continue using writing samples for as long as they are relevant and accurately represent your best work.
Where else should I share my writing samples?
Your website should also include a selection of writing samples, but this should ideally be presented as a case study. First, introduce the company, share the content brief and then provide snippets of the work you’ve completed.
You will need to get permission from the client to include a case study. While you’re doing it, you can also ask for a review or quote about the work!
Can I create spec work and use this as a writing sample?
Absolutely! If you have the time and drive to do this, it can be a great way to flesh out your portfolio and let clients know what you are capable of.
Start with your dream content writing brief and then create that piece of content, just as you would for a client. You can then add this to your website or create a website mockup for your imaginary client. Just make sure it’s clearly a sample, and not work for a real company.