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I’m assuming that a lot of you reading this post want to be freelance writers. One of the most common questions I see asked is ‘how can I build a portfolio?’
It’s a great question to ask, and you will definitely need somewhere to demonstrate your abilities. I personally think that starting your own website, preferably in the same or a similar niche to the freelance writing niche you’re hoping to get into.
Why? Because it can function as one-stop shop for you.
You can write about the things you love, demonstrate all the skills you’ve learned to potential employers AND have it become an income stream independent from your freelance income.
What is content writing?
Content writing is, er, writing content. It’s a pretty broad category, and it’s recommended that you specialise in a couple of areas.
Writing blog posts is a one example of content writing, and it’s something that a lot of companies need.
The reason I think that creating your own niche website that ranks on Google is such a great idea for freelancers is that you can bulk up your resume with stats, like how many of your articles rank highly on search engines.
But you may want to specialise in something else, like white papers, writing email content, or Youtube scripts. Whatever you want to write, you can have examples on your website.
There’s nothing to stop you writing a few niche-related white papers and uploading them to your site. Evidence-led professional documents that rank highly in search engines are MASSIVELY in demand, and you’ll be able to prove that you can write them.
Similarly, work on building your email list if you want to specialise in email marketing. Send them an email, then send another asking what they thought of the first email, or you could just have a look at your stats, and a/b subject lines etc.
A lot of freelancers say that you should never work for free, and whilst I agree that you should never do work for other people for free, building your own website isn’t the same as working for free. It’s more an exercise in delayed gratification.
How content writing is different to copywriting
Copywriting is an area of content writing, and not one I’m very good at, because I hate trying to sell things. So yeah, copywriting is selling products through blog posts.
If you want to get into copywriting, I would consider either taking a course in it, or practice writing articles like product reviews. Do your research sure, but also write your own. Have a go at affiliate marketing.
Just because you’re not being paid when you’re just starting out doesn’t mean you can’t reap a long-term reward.
Why is it beneficial to practice content writing?
- All writing forms improve with practice. we all get better with time
- If you practice writing content within your niche, you’ll be more confident about your abilities
- You can practice by starting your own website and then make money
There’s a lot of noise out there that urges writers to find their own voice, and it’s important to do.
A lot of websites outsource their writing to freelancers, and you can always tell the difference between
a) people writing their own content with passion in their niche
b) cheap freelancers that don’t give a shit and
c) expensive freelancers that have been paid to do their research.
Forget b). We don’t want to either hire or be those people. They tend to be overachieving students that can type extremely quickly and don’t really care about writing, they just want the cash. Creating a lot of content for not a lot of money leads to burn out.
c) is a pretty neat place to be, but it will involve a LOT of pitching. Experience in freelancing isn’t usually an issue – experience in the niche is far more useful, especially if you’re in a very niche, er, niche.
You are already a). All you need to do is improve your writing skills and you can monetise your own site.
Once you’ve had that initial practice from writing those first couple of dozen articles, you’ll feel far more confident about pitching.
You may even have a few ideas for articles – there will be loads of topics that you’ve discarded because you couldn’t hope to rank for them.
How can I sell my content writing skills?
The easiest place to start is job boards.
Assuming you don’t need to make money next week (in which case, you’re going to just need to pitch nonstop), I would make a website before trying to sell your skills.
Set up a simple website (I use Siteground for hosting, and use WordPress.org to make my site), add an about me page, a hire me/contact page, and write a few articles.
Then Google ‘freelance writing job boards’. To be honest, I don’t know much about them, but Elna Cain does.
If there are any jobs that pertain to your niche apply! It looks super professional that you have your own self-hosted website already dedicated to a similar niche. CLEARLY you know what you’re talking about.
In the beginning, you don’t need to mention that you’ve had 67 page view in 2 months, but by the time eight months hit, you’ll be able to say that you hit 10K a month with no promotion.
By month 15 you’ll have monetised your own site successfully, and will be sick of being employed by people that insist you use premium Grammarly, and write a 1000-word article on a topic that warrants 10 articles of 3000 words apiece.
Why I think starting your own blog is the best way to practice content writing
You can experiment with different techniques
When I was researching one of my niches, I discovered that all my existing competition was very focused on the user, and there was no mention of the writer’s own experiences.
I know that I always say that you must focus on the reader, but a large part of that can be reassuring that we’ve all been in their shoes once. People like reading about how I can’t keep spider plants alive, and refuse to fertilise my plants ‘properly’.
Don’t gatekeep your niche. Be the person that understands the plight of the newbie.
This may not be pertinent to your niche, but you can try. Try presenting data in a different way, maybe try video content, or creating infographics.
The beauty of having it on your own website is there’s no one to tell you off for doing it wrong.
A lot of websites that hire freelancers have a set way of doing things, but usually because it’s quick and cheap. Even more often it’s the way things have always been done and no one can be arsed to change it.
You’ll have additional skills
Freelancers are usually pretty disposable and interchangeable, but if you’ve run your own website, you can make yourself a little more indispensable.
- Offer to make pin images to go with your article
- Pitch ideas for articles that will easily rank
- Offer to share the blog you wrote on their website on your Instagram, especially if you have an Instagram account dedicated to your niche. You don’t need to tell anyone you’ve only got 50 followers – it’s 50 more than the next guy.
You have a ready-made portfolio
A lot of people new to freelancing create a few articles in Google docs, and add links in their application.
That’s totally fine and pretty standard. But if you can add a few links to your own website, it shows a higher level of ability and dedication. It also sneakily gives you more opportunity to show your work, since whoever checks the application is likely to check a few other posts too.
You can use your writer website to host your blog
A lot of you have already started freelancing will already have a writer website. Provided you want to write in a similar niche, I would absolutely add articles to my writer website.
Hosting a website can be expensive, and if you can add a load of articles this year, by the time it’s time to renew your hosting next year, you may be in a position to add a few ads and have the website pay for itself.
You can monetise your blog in its own right
And stuff freelancing altogether.
Like I mentioned before, once you’ve started to rank on Google, and really got to grips with keywords and what it takes to write a really comprehensive article, you’ll probably start to resent the outdated guidelines other websites give you.
If you have a successful website to back you up, you have more bargaining power. You know how much money you’re worth, and you can say ‘sorry, but my way will get better results than yours’ LOOK AT MY MILLIONS OF PAGEVIEWS.
Final thoughts on how to practise content writing
Start a website and start content writing for yourself. You may not be making money quickly, but you’re you’ll learn on the job and be able to monetise that work in the future.
As you’ve probably worked out, I wouldn’t advise you write in exactly the same niche as you plan to freelance in (you don’t want to be competing for the same keywords), but certainly pick an adjacent niche.
For example, I have a website about house rabbits, and I used to write for dog websites. If your niche is tennis, then you could write for general sports sites. If you do this properly, you could even be allowed to give yourself a backlink for a site with higher authority.