I can still remember how excited I was to get my first freelance writing job. It was an essay for an alternative paper in Los Angeles that paid $200.
Over the moon! You know I ran right down to my nearest mini-mart, the hour those papers got delivered, to grab myself a few copies.
Then, I followed up on that by doing…nothing.
When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing your name in print, or getting that client check after your first freelance writing job. And to be a bit in the dark about what to do next, to keep building career momentum.
There are some key moves to make right after getting that first gig that can help you build your career faster — steps that most newbies don’t take. (I know I didn’t!)
Want to get some real mileage out of your first freelance writing jobs? Here’s what to do right after your work gets published:
Start a collection
It’s important to hang onto your published work samples. You never know which future client might be impressed by a particular piece you wrote in the past. Especially, when you’re starting out, it’s important to save them all.
I’ve still got a physical portfolio of my very first clips — and looking through those tiny articles I had in long-dead publications still brings me joy.
Now that we have the Internet, a big tip: Don’t just put up a link to the site where your work appears onto your LinkedIn, online portfolio, or writer website (or in a Word doc, if you don’t have an online presence yet).
Definitely do that, but don’t stop there. There’s more you can do to leverage your first freelance writing job.
Websites change their addresses, merge with other sites, and just plain vanish overnight. Then, your link goes dead, and poof! There goes your clip, into the ether. Speaking as someone who lost loads of great samples when Freelance Switch got folded into other Envato sites…ahem…preserve copies of your work.
How? If it’s a publication, you can contact their reprints department about getting a PDF copy. (I’ve also been known to use proof PDFs I’ve been sent during editing.) Otherwise, save a digital copy — here’s a good list of screenshot tools.
Offer visual proof
In a decade of reviewing writer websites, I’ve discovered there’s one thing that lands new clients like nothing else. It’s called a proof bar — a set of visual logos of clients you’ve worked for. With your first gig, you’re ready to start your proof bar.
As soon as you’re published, add the logo of the company or publication you wrote for to your online presence — ideal is right up in the header of your LinkedIn or writer site. Say “As seen on” or “Clients include” and then put up the logo.
Is that legal? Yes, it is. As long as it’s true that you wrote for them, that’s considered Fair Use of their logo — and trust me, companies never complain about it. That’s free publicity for them, right?
Posting company logos gives you instant credibility, that new prospects can spot in seconds. Trust me, no fascinating copy you can write on your home page will get new clients to pick up the phone like those logos will. So put ’em up!
Document the reaction
If you got published and your client is happy, your next step is to collect a testimonial.
Right away, you ask? Yes.
Do it before you forget. Before that editor leaves the magazine. Before time goes by and then you feel all awkward about asking.
The ideal place to do this is on LinkedIn. Then, you can screenshot that recommendation (which helps you get gigs off LinkedIn) and put it on your writer website, too.
Form a friendship
When you get published, it shouldn’t be a one-off situation. It should be, as they say in Casablanca, the start of a beautiful friendship.
When you turn in that invoice, turn it in with a couple of other article ideas. Or a note about the next piece of content marketing you think would help the company. Maybe it’s time to propose an ongoing retainer, to keep doing what you just did on a regular monthly basis.
Pro writers look to turn every first assignment into an ongoing relationship that provides a steady stream of assignments. That’s how the freelance life gets easier.
Keep going after your first freelance writing job
Once you’ve got a clip in hand, it’s time to ramp up your marketing. Be sure to mention your recent work whenever you write or speak to prospective clients.
You want to strike while that clip is fresh. It makes you sound professional and busy when you mention that you just completed a project.
With luck, soon you’ve got another writing job. Lather, rinse, repeat, and you’re building a freelance writing business.