This will take you from having no experience, to helping you work with brands!
Six years ago when I started blogging it wasn’t because I wanted to become a famous blogger or make lots of money. In fact, I was looking for a place to share my thoughts and to connect with people. I was in high school struggling to make friends and I thought maybe somewhere in the world another person has this interest and can relate to me and would like to continue the conversation. As I started blogging more, I realized that I not only enjoy it, but I’m good at the business part of it and I wanted to pursue it more seriously. I started researching and honestly became overwhelmed with the plethora of information out there and all of the successful blogs. I didn’t see how I could pursue blogging seriously with these huge blogs out there. Would a brand seriously consider working with me? I have had less than 100 views per month (thanks Mom!) and these other bloggers had thousands and millions.
Know Your goal
Before you even begin to think about building your blogging portfolio it’s important to take the time to think about what kind of portfolio you’re wanting to build and what your goals are. Are you interested in photography? Writing? Digital strategies? All of the above none I mentioned? It’s up to you to decide what that “thing” is and why it’s pushing you to start a portfolio. Then, make specific goals for that. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, start researching the topic and begin to understand the subject of what you are pursuing. Don’t try to figure out or Google “how to make money blogging” or “how to build your blogging resume”. While those are great and valid questions to research, you need to have an understanding of how what your skillset is and what you can and want to pursue whereas those questions are large picture ideas and may not relate to you. Instead, refine your search and learn the basics of what makes a good blog post. If you’re pursing more writing credential and looking to build that type of portfolio, you need to be aware of search engine optimization (SEO), article/ blog post format, alt imaging, sizing, citations, etc, in addition to writing well. Writing in a professional format is where talent and technique combine. For more image based portfolio building, familiarize yourself with camera settings, popular styles, those in the industry, shooting for campaigns, etc.
By taking the big picture idea and breaking it down and evaluating it as a subject instead of something you need to do will make it easier to understand how to achieve your goal. You need to lay the foundation before you can build a house– it’s the same with blogging and portfolio building.
Put Your Offering on Paper
Now that you’ve decided what you want to do, it’s time to organize it. Personally I use digital copies more than my print ones as the majority of my contract negotiating and client on boarding happens online. For example, when I’m reaching out to a brand or a brand reaches out to me (however the connection happens- it’s usually different each time), I make sure that when we reach the point in the conversation where we agree this partnership is a good fit for both the company and myself, we talk deliverables. Deliverables are what I will be providing or “delivering” to the company upon completion of my end of the agreement/ contract. I know a lot of blogger that have minimal say in this and that is because they do not have an outline as to what they can offer and to what capacity. I have taken the time and I know what I’m capable of (never exaggerate your strengths for a job) and what my turnaround time is. I take the lead and present my offerings/ partnership packages to brands and we use this as a guide. Sometimes a brand will tell me that they have images but really need copy. Okay, I’ll make the swap and include an extra article or newsletter instead of doing a stylized photoshoot. But, they interchange items based on what I am capable of producing at a high quality level. These offerings are things I know how to do blindfolded (minus photography.. that would be a bit difficult), and I can answer technical questions they have about ROI, traffic, average click through rates, etc. for strategies and what to do if my initial analysis of our campaign isn’t where we want it to be benchmark wise. Taking the time to really get to know the subject you’re offering will help you determine what you want to offer. Maybe you only want to write social media posts and save the heavy duty SEO/SEM article writing for someone else- that’s perfectly OKAY and every bit of copywriting helps!
Be okay with gaining unpaid experience
When you are first starting out, you need to come to terms with allocating a few pro bono hours or volunteer projects to build your portfolio and learn skills. Before you even begin to present yourself to brands, you should have an understanding of what you are offering and a clear way to present it to them (a one sheet overview is typically the best). What I did when building my portfolio was practice my skills using what was accessible to me. When I first started blogging I was interested in exclusively producing beauty content. I knew back then I wanted to be paid for my work (eventually), and I started out with the things I already owned. I didn’t have money to purchase all of the new beauty products to review, so I tested out products I already owned and shared my thoughts on that. I posted this Rimmel London Lipstick Review and this Milk Makeup Eye Marker Review. They were the first I had ever done and while the image quality is horrible, I used what I had. To this day I’m so incredibly proud of this post because it was the first beauty review I published, how I learned, and what helped me get to where I am now! Fast forward, now I’ve learned how to do more technical writing with search engine friendly terms, I saved up for a professional camera (and actually know how to use it), and I do more work on the backend of my posts instead of just hitting “publish”. But, I would never have reached the point where I could publish this Antonym Cosmetics brand review if I did not practice my skills and interests. Once I maxed out my makeup collections, I reached out to friends and local businesses asking if we could team up as I was trying to build my portfolio. A local bakery my mom and I discovered let me practice learning my settings by taking photos for their team to use on social media. Once I realized there’s no need to feel embarrassed for not having experience, I started flourishing. We all have to start somewhere and having the courage to advocate for yourself and ask if another professional can help you, is one of the ways you will reach your goal. That business or person may not have a need, but they are a contact for future projects and can recommend you to others.
Once I had posts to link to and deliverables, I started emailing brands in my niche that I wanted to work with. I emailed brands that I’ve loved and explained I’m a lifestyle blogger looking to share my experience of trying out a new product and brand, and in exchange for a complimentary item I will be able to provide an in-depth article review of the product/ brand, in addition to original images and share on my social media. 9/10 times brands said yes and even asked me to send the link to my website once the article was live so they could share it on their platforms. This also helped me establish more of a following in my niche!
Start making connections
Don’t be afraid to post online that you’re looking to build your portfolio. Utilize social media, LinkedIn, etc. and put your ask out there! Most of the time people want to help or can offer suggestions and resources you may have not heard of. That’s what happened to me! My friend Courtney shared how my blog would do even better and I would reach my creative goals for learning something new by exploring photography. She taught me everything I needed to know, provided continuing education resources, and she encouraged me to start with photographing what I knew- that was the yoga world. She even offered suggestions for local
studios as well as people to connect to. Now, we’re both pretty much full time digital storytellers in the lifestyle/ fitness realm and we swap connections quite frequently. Outside of that, stopping into local businesses helped me a ton! Now, I have a good network of people who call me when they need website updates, want to boost their SEO, need a consultant on what they learned about at a conference, etc. The point is not to be afraid to introduce yourself professionally. Let people know what you do and swap information! I always carry business cards on my because I always seem to run into someone at the most random times who the turns into a client/ collaboration.
Another tip- when I’m out shopping with friends, I take business cards of the store manager, when I’m at dinner I grab the restaurant manager or owner’s card and then go home and put that in my database to introduce myself to later on- especially if I see a way to collaborate.
Use what you have
I touched on this earlier, but in order to improve, you need to first begin with what you have. There is such a misconception about needing to invest in your blog and go all out in the beginning. I disagree. I used Google’s Blogger and their built in free domain for about 2 years. Then, I purchased a $10 per year domain name from Google. I learned basic HTML to have my website (more like landing page) look the way I wanted it to. Once I felt like I learned everything I could about blogger and made all the coding upgrades, I decided I would move platforms because I wanted to expand on my design skills. I gradually began to upgrade but it was a slow process and I taught myself. I read so many books, watched videos, and read a ton about the things I was wanting to do. I also didn’t purchase a camera for quite a few years and used my phone camera. Now cellphones have a much higher quality built in camera than mine did at the time, so practice visuals and styling with that! You don’t need to go all out and expense everything in order to be a good or successful blogger. Being a good blogger happens when you are willing to learn and apply your newfound knowledge, and also with discipling yourself to stick to your goals and a blogging routine. Keep practicing what you’re learning- especially on the days you don’t want to and when you don’t understand what you need to do. I had SO many days of wanting to throw the towel in and quit. I put wrong codes in and my text no longer appeared on my screen- one time it was in French.. I had no idea why that happened but I stuck with it to get my idea on screen and developed.
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Combining all of those things, I guarantee you will build your blogging portfolio. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I hope this proves to be helpful and less overwhelming than the idea of getting to point B. If there are any specific questions or things you would like me to expand on, please comment below and I will respond promptly- I want you to succeed, and I’m rooting for you! (: