Landing that first client: Building a portfolio and acquiring testimonials

September 22, 2019 By The Editors at Copyediting
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

As I think I’ve said in the past, I’m not a great fan of doing work for free. Your mileage may vary on this topic: certainly the venerated Mashable feels otherwise. My sense is that you weren’t an ironworker who woke up one morning and decided to do freelance editing; you’ve probably been editing for some years in a “regular” position, so have some background in the field.

It’s time to make that background work for you.

It’s all fine to tell people that you’re good at what you do; it’s another thing to be able to show them. When you’re looking for a new job, you bring references; in the freelance world, these are called testimonials, which has always had a feel of the Gospel tent about it to me. “Praise the Lord! Let me testify about this editing!” The language notwithstanding, however, testimonials are what you need to get started.

So make a list of the editing you’ve done that you feel was your best work, and make a list of the people who you know will be enthusiastic about your editing. You may find that the two lists are closely related; to your surprise, you may find that they’re completely different. No matter: you're going to approach them with an email that goes something like this:

Dear Rich,

As you probably know, I’ve decided to take my act into the freelance arena. I’m thinking about the project that we worked on together last year—that reference job that we both thought would never be finished, remember?—and I wonder if you might be willing to write up a short paragraph about my work with you on that project. It would be helpful to me in showing potential clients my skills and strengths. If you’d prefer, I’d be happy to write a sample of what I’m looking for to get you started. Thanks so much!

If the person is willing, have them do the testimonial twice: once for your website, and once for your profile on LinkedIn (you cannot add recommendations to your profile, the person offering it must do that, and they must also be a member of LinkedIn).

Now look at the work you’re most proud of. In the best of all possible worlds, you’d be able to put together a before-and-after snapshot: here’s what this chapter looked like before I edited it, here’s the final product. Unfortunately, few people or businesses want to have their “before” text shown in public—and who can blame them? Instead, once you have permission to use their project for your portfolio, show a brief excerpt of the final, and add a narrative about the tasks and skills that were involved in this particular project.

I tend to put the testimonials on my website for everyone to see, but I have a separate non-public space for the portfolio. Why? Because I want potential clients to see samples of my work only once we’ve begun communicating about a proposed project. Some of the editing I’ve featured in my portfolio may be totally irrelevant to this new prospect, and as the Mashable article points out, you want to sound like the perfect person for the job: you want to show the prospect that you can do precisely what they’re looking for. So you may be picking and choosing which portfolio pieces to share.

It’s certainly not the most exciting part of setting up your new freelance business, but getting testimonials and putting together a portfolio may be precisely how you’ll land that first client!

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website on November 12, 2014.

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