The Freelance Creative

Ask a Freelancer: How Do You Tell Clients You Have Enough Experience (Even if You Don’t)?

How do you handle the “Have you done this type of writing before?” question, especially when it’s a type of writing you haven’t done yet, but want to do? Or in a new industry or niche you want to break into? I can write many types of writing for all kinds of industries, but people seem to want the assurance that I’ve done this exact type of work before. But honestly, I don’t want to do the same type of writing over and over; that is why I seek out variety. Suggestions?

Typist Getting Typecast

Dear Typecast,

It’s funny how many questions I get about the freelance business that could be applied to most industries. You’re really asking about getting experience you need to have the right amount of experience employers want, which has popped into the head of just about every job seeker on the planet.

Luckily, freelancers have a few special ways to solve this problem.

1. Find a way to say yes

When a client asks, “Have you done this type of writing before?” your first step should be to figure out what they’re really asking.

For example: It may seem like a client wants to know if you’ve interviewed famous actors before, but they may actually be making sure you can do an interview without embarrassing the publisher.

To get the gig, figure out a way to say yes. You may want to reply, “Though I haven’t done an interview with a Hollywood actor before, I have a lot of interview experience. Here are two interviews I did with Not Famous Person 1 and Not Famous Person 2.” This answers the client’s underlying question and lets your work speak for itself.

Providing examples of adjacent writing—that is, writing in a similar style or about a similar industry—is one of the best ways to prove you’re qualified to handle the assignment.

It may turn out the client still wants a person who has already interviewed six Ryan Goslings, and that’s just how it is.

2. Write your way in

Let’s say you don’t have any experience remotely close to what the client wants. Maybe you’ve never done an interview at all. There are two options to solve this problem. If some writers have enough chutzpah, they lie. Neil Gaiman did, and now he’s famous. As he said in his 2012 commencement address to the University of the Arts:

“When I was asked by editors who I’d worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs.”

“When I was asked by editors who I’d worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs.” – Neil Gaiman

I don’t recommend this method, so we can move onto the second way of solving this problem—start writing in the genre where you need the experience.

If you want to do interviews, start doing interviews. You don’t need a client’s blessing. Find a friend doing something cool, press record, put the interview up on Medium, then clip it your portfolio.

Same goes for most other writing genres. If you want to write editorials, product reviews, political analysis, listicles, whatever—start writing. Unless you’re Neil Gaiman, there really isn’t an easy way out. Putting in the work requires patience and the awareness to work up the editorial ladder. In the beginning, you may have to self-publish your pieces for free, but you really only need a few examples to prove your worth to potential clients. And as long as you keep track of the right vanity metrics like tweets and Facebook likes, you’ll be able to show clients your pieces resonate with readers.

Two weeks ago, Nicole Dieker had never written an advice column. Now, she has experience. If you need more freelancing advice, please send your questions to

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