"Can You Send Me a Writing Sample?" Here’s What You Do …

Text writing My Portfolio with question mark made from crumpled papers

Ever been in this chicken-and-egg situation?

You start some dialogue with a good prospect. Or you get a response to a warm email. And somewhere in the conversation, she asks you to send her a sample of X.

Unfortunately, you’ve never written X.

You’d love to do it. But you don’t have a sample you can send the prospect. So what on earth should you do?

Should you tell her you don’t have one? Should you lie and say you have a sample but can’t find it? Or should you pull an all-nighter writing a sample of X you can send her the next day?

The answer is, none of the above! Instead, you should use my three-step reframe.

You respond to your prospect by highlighting:

  1. What you do have that’s similar to X.
  2. Why that experience will enable you to do a good job on X.
  3. What else you bring to the table that will make you a great choice for X (industry experience … great familiarity with the topic or their target audience … a personal passion or experience with the issue or topic, etc.).

Here’s an example:

"I don't have any white paper samples, Karen. However, I have written dozens of long-form articles that follow a very similar structure. I know I could put together a very powerful white paper for you. Plus, my professional experience in the water and wastewater industry [your previous career] will go a long way to creating a compelling argument for your approach to this challenge. I know the challenges your customers face. I know their business and fully understand the challenges they face. And I'd be happy to send you some samples that speak to my abilities in this area. May I email those to you?"

Notice how I've tried, in a credible way, to turn things around by shifting the focus to something else that will hopefully address this prospect's concern.

That’s because for many clients, your knowledge of their industry or the topic they’re writing about is just as important (if not more important) than having a solid set of writing samples. Reframing your value can help them see that you would be a good choice for the project.

This approach won't work every time. But it only needs to work once. Because once it does, you’ll have a sample of X.

Yay, problem solved!

Here’s the deal. If a prospect needs to see several samples of something specific to feel comfortable hiring you — and you don't have those samples — they may not be the right prospect for you today.

They might be a good fit next month or next year. But not today. And when that happens, be willing to let that go and to move on.

Trust that there will be other opportunities. That you’ll come across a prospect (eventually) who’s willing to take a chance on you based on what you DO have.

And What Happens If You Land the Project?

Let’s say you land the client using this approach … but now you’re not sure how to tackle the writing assignment. After all, this would be your first time writing a brochure. Or a case study. Or whatever the project might be.

What now?

I generally put this worry into the category of “Things that keep writers up at night but rarely materialize.”

First, clients aren’t going to hire you to do something and then throw you to the wolves. They won’t just say “Write XYZ for us” and leave it at that. They’ll let you know what they have in mind. They’ll give you background information and other resources that will help you.

And if they don’t, you can (and should) ask them for that information.

Second, there have never been as many resources available on how to write a wide variety of copy assignments. AWAI has dozens of excellent educational programs at your disposal. If you have some of these already in your virtual library, use them!

At a minimum, a quick website search such as, “how to write a brochure” or “How to organize a case study” will turn up some good ideas. You may not find a step-by-step guide or cheat sheet that way. But you might be able to cobble together a few good resources.

Either way, it won’t take you long to get the lay of the land and figure out how to tackle the assignment.

Say “Yes” … Then Figure It Out

When I was starting out as a copywriter, there were very few educational tools available on how to write and organize marketing pieces.

I remember one time a client asked me if I might be interested in writing some case studies for them. Even though I’d never written a case study before, I said, “Absolutely!”

I was so nervous! I thought they were going to ask me all kinds of questions about case studies. But they didn’t. I had already written a few marketing pieces for them, and they trusted me to figure out what I needed to do.

When they awarded me the project, I immediately got my hands on a PDF guide to writing case studies that Steve Slaunwhite was offering at the time. I pored through the guide. Highlighted key passages. Took good notes and created cheat sheets. Then I took what I learned and applied it.

It took me about 30 hours to complete what should have been a 10-hour project. But that didn’t matter. I was paying the price. Putting in the “reps.”

And guess what? The client was thrilled with my draft! In fact, over the next few years, I created several dozen case studies for them.

The lesson is clear. Don’t let a lack of samples keep you from pursuing the assignments you want to write. Because you never know what is most important to the prospect. It may not be a big set of writing samples.

And don’t lose sleep worrying that you’ll fall flat on your face if you do land the project. The client will give you some direction. And as you can write well — and assuming you’re a resourceful individual — you’ll find what you need to work your way through the assignment.

So … go get ‘em!

Do you have any questions about getting started without a lot of samples? Let us know in the comments below so we can guide you.

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Published: November 5, 2018

1 Response to “"Can You Send Me a Writing Sample?" Here’s What You Do…”

  1. I have been seriously trying to come up with a niche,but no luck. I have done all types of woodworking,wood turnings,construction furniture,cabinets.
    I also worked for a car dealership,I did mechanic work for 7 yrs,managed body shop for approx 12 yrs and did body work.
    I was shop manager for a living History museum that was a late 1800's project that illustrated all facets of agricultural abilities and repaired all of the equipment.We had 2 steam trains that we operated daily.

    mikesthoughts


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