Volunteer for experience, volunteer to give back

Students, fresh out of school, understand the age-old, job-searching paradox: you can't get a job without experience, but you need experience to get a job.

When I launched my writing business nearly a decade ago, a fellow freelancer advised me to seek out volunteer work to build and expand my portfolio. It worked like a charm. I approached organizations and businesses I was interested in and wrote ads, newsletters, media releases, and blogs, gaining valuable experience crafting messages for different needs and audiences.

These volunteer opportunities allowed me to cut my teeth with my craft while also helping me learn to run my new business. I'm grateful they trusted me with their brands; I owe them much thanks for my success today.

The second part of the freelancer's advice was to "know when to stop volunteering."

From a business perspective, I understood she was telling me not to be afraid to charge what I'm worth, especially as I gained more experience. But I've never given up volunteering. I have a skill that people need, and I am happy to help causes I care about communicate their messages.

At the moment, I'm volunteering with three organizations: Mount St. Mary Hospital, my alma mater Laurentian University, and Falconry An Intangible Cultural Heritage.

For Mount St. Mary, I've donated time designing visual collateral for them, a Christmas card and a brochure, a follow up to a brochure I was hired to produce a few months ago.

For Laurentian, I write feature articles for the bi-annual alumni magazine. I had been volunteering on a Board committee, when the Board decided to resurrect the alumni magazine. I've been contributing a few feature articles to every issue and was thrilled when the first assignment I received was about a man I'd gone to high school with (he's a stunt man in the movies!).

Most recently, I've begun helping Falconry An Intangible Cultural Heritage, a falconry group based in B.C., with their communications strategy. I've recommended ways to update and improve their website and use social media more effectively. Soon, I'll be editing their blog posts, too, which should be fascinating reading.

As much as I am helping these organizations, they are helping me, asking me to think in new ways, consider different approaches, and expand my skill set.

I highly recommend maintaining a few volunteer accounts, no matter what your field, no matter how successful you become. Every business moves ahead thanks to help from people here and there; certainly, I was helped along by individuals and organizations who took a chance on a new writer. I'm so glad they did and, in tribute to their graciousness, I will continue to pay it forward.

Caribou Creative