The beautiful thing about copywriting is it doesn’t require a degree or certification. It’s a valuable skill for sure, but to get started, you only need to prove you can do it.
Clients are not interested in your credentials. They only want to know what you can do for them. They want to see if you can get the job done.
If you don’t have a portfolio to show prospective clients, you won’t get any work. The client will choose a competing copywriter who has writing samples.
It’s as simple as that.
That’s why you need samples of your work. A portfolio quickly shows a prospective client you’re the right copywriter for the job.
Building a Portfolio.
This article walks you through creating a body of work to show prospective clients.
Take your time writing samples. Be sure it’s your best work, because more than anything else, your portfolio demonstrates your worth as a copywriter.
Also, as you polish your writing samples, your confidence will grow. The more confidence you have in your writing abilities, the more fun and lucrative it will be.
You’re in the Problem-Solving Business.
As a freelance copywriter, you’re in the problem-solving business.
A client comes to you with a writing problem. Your portfolio proves to them you can solve their problem.
Remember, your clients are busy. They’re running businesses, juggling countless priorities, and making dozens of decisions a day.
The more convenient you can make hiring you, the more successful you will be. Make it easy for the client to chose you as their go-to copywriter by creating a portfolio.
Your portfolio doesn’t need to be elaborate. A few text documents are enough to get started. Later as you get assignments, add the new projects to your portfolio.
Where Your Portfolio Lives.
A website is helpful but not essential. Keep it simple.
When you’re starting, all you need is a place to store your portfolio where prospective clients can see your work.
It’s easy for the beginning copywriter to get lost in preparation instead of doing the work. Don’t let lack of confidence or a bit perfectionism trip you up.
Trust the process and keep it simple.
A few neatly formatted and error-free Word documents are all you need to sell yourself as a copywriter.
Your Portfolio’s Online Home.
Make a home for your portfolio at DropBox or in Google Docs. Google Docs is free, and DropBox has a free option.
When your portfolio is living online at DropBox or Google Docs, you can easily include a link in your email to a prospective client.
With a click of the mouse, the client has full access to your samples. And, they can click on each sample to take a closer look.
This method saves you from attaching large files to emails. Also, you can quickly update your portfolio with new samples.
When your portfolio lives online, it becomes an ever-evolving testament to your copywriting skills.
As your copywriting business grows, you can create sub-folders in your portfolio that showcase specific writing samples.
For example, the sales letters you’ve written can be in a specific folder. When you want to show a client the sales letters you’ve done, give them the link to that folder.
When your portfolio has project-specific sub-folders, clients see only the samples that relate to their project.
LinkedIn is another place to showcase your work. You can also give your clients links to your LinkedIn page.
Use LinkedIn as a blog where you publish longer writing pieces and share more about yourself as a copywriter.
If you have writing awards and credentials, such as a college degree in English or Journalism, LinkedIn is the place to mention it.
Your Secret Weapon.
Approach every copywriting project the same way.
When you standardize your methods, you work more efficiently with less stress. Most importantly, your copy is more effective.
As you gain experience, modify the outline for your unique working style.
Each time you begin a copywriting project, complete the Project Outline below, starting with your portfolio projects.
When you use the same outline for every project, you won’t miss anything.
Also, you’ll quickly discover that bits of the project are mechanical and don’t require much thought.
Save Your Creative Juices.
Once you realize that, you can save your creative juices for where it counts for more impact.
Remember, you want as much information as possible BEFORE you sit down to write.
When you have a client, get all the information from them in one go if possible.
Get details. The more detailed the information, the more focused and compelling your writing will be.
You want to create pictures in your reader’s mind. You can only do that if you first see the images clearly, and that is only possible when you have the details.
A note of caution: In real life, when you use the Project Outline, avoid interrogating your client. Instead of just reading the questions, use the outline as a guide for a conversation with your client.
As you create samples for your portfolio, you can skip the irrelevant questions.
The Project Outline in Detail.
- Ask the client to describe their business. What do they do?
- What do they offer their customers?
- What are the key messages for your product or service you wish to convey?
- What is the objective of the copy? After someone reads the text, what do you want them to do?
- What’s unique about the client’s business or offer?
- Do you have customer testimonials, ratings, awards, magazine articles, case studies, or sales figures to support your unique claims?
- Who is the target audience? Describe your ideal customer. For example, gender, age, income, location, values, attitude, challenges, problems, desires?
- What style of copy do you prefer? Friendly, Professional, Funny?
- What would you change about your existing copy? Where does it fail to get the results you would like? Is it dull, outdated, too salesy?
- Please share examples of copy you like. It doesn’t have to be from your industry or niche.
- What is the deadline?
- What is the format for the piece?
- Where will the copy be used?
- What is the approximate word count?
Now that you know the information you need for a copywriting project, it’s time to build your portfolio. Below are three projects starting from the easiest to the more challenging.
In addition to creating a portfolio, it’s essential to gain confidence as well. In my experience, the most significant hurdle writers face is a lack of confidence.
If you write each project several times, your confidence will grow, and so will your skills.
Project #1: Start with Something You Love.
The goal of this project is to pique the interest of a potential client and show them your writing style.
This project is a short piece, just 500 words.
Choose a topic you know something about or that you want to research.
If you have a niche in mind, write a short piece about it. However, if you’re just starting and clueless about what to write, write about something you love like a hobby or sport.
Can’t think of anything? Write about evergreen topics like health, finance, fitness, relationships, and self-improvement.
The objective of this project is to highlight your writing style. Let your voice and passion shine through.
Write 500 words. Start with a headline to keep your work focused and edit it when you complete the draft.
Don’t overthink it.
The objective of Project #2 is to prove you can research an unfamiliar subject and write compelling copy for it.
The best copywriters are the best researchers. Thorough research makes the job of writing copy much easier.
As a copywriter, you can expect to get assignments that are so far from the norm; there’s no way you’ll know anything about them.
Worse, you might not like the topic or are bored to tears by it.
That’s okay. As a copywriter, you can handle it.
This project will prove to you that you can work outside your comfort zone with your eyes crossed in boredom and still win.
Here are the topics to choose from:
- A dog walking service
- A Montessori School
- A living food home-delivery service.
- A Golf Cart dealership
- A Fishing Guide service
Just pick one. Again, don’t overthink it. Below, I expand on the assignment.
Dog Walking Service Assignment Details:
The client is Andrew Shealy Dog Walking Service in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Your assignment is to write a short flyer, no more than 500 words, promoting the dog walking service. Veterinarians will offer the service and display the flyer at their reception desk.
The objective of the piece is to get dog owners to visit the company’s website to learn more about the service.
Montessori School Assignment Details:
The client is a new Montessori School in your town that caters to children ages 3 to 12. Your assignment is to write a letter to parents promoting the school.
The letter will be mailed to parents, via snail mail. The objective of the message is to get parents to call the school and register for a drop-in where they can meet the staff and learn more.
Living Foods Restaurant Assignment:
The client is a Living Foods restaurant in Boston.
Your assignment is to write for the restaurant’s home page that promotes the health and weight loss benefits of living foods.
The goal of the copy is to inspire people to visit the restaurant on Tuesday evenings for complimentary living foods sampler.
Golf Cart Dealership Assignment:
The client is a Golf Cart Dealership in Austin, Texas, that specializes in building custom golf carts.
Your assignment is to write a sales page promoting the dealership’s custom build Texas A&M golf cart.
The objective of the copy is to get people to call the dealership for more information.
Fishing Guide Service Assignment:
The client is a premier saltwater fishing guide service in Hackberry, Louisiana. Your assignment is to write the copy for a brochure promoting the service.
The brochure will be distributed to hotels, motels, and tourist information centers to attract business.
The objective of your copy is to get people to call for more information.
How to Get Started with Your Assignment.
First, complete the Project Outline, makeup what the client might say.
Research your target audience.
If you can’t figure out what the target audience wants, imagine you are them and brainstorm.
Find websites that relate to the business you’re writing for and see how they handle promotions. Borrow the bits that are good and improve on them.
Read Copywriting Basics to guide your research and writing.
Give yourself the time you need to research and write. The more deeply you research the topic, the easier the writing will be.
Building Your Copywriting Confidence.
If you’ve done the two exercises, you now have two completed projects in your portfolio. It’s time to take a step closer to the real world of copywriting.
Instead of writing for a real client, write for friends or friends of friends and do it for free. This is the only time you should work for free – EVER! Make it clear that your offer to work for free is a onetime deal.
Ideally, find someone who has or is planning to start a business you can help with your writing.
You can always write website content and emails for a business. It doesn’t matter what it is. Follow the Project Outline and create it.
The more projects you write for real people, the more confident you will become that you can write anything for anybody.
Although you are offering to write for free, be sure your client understands you’ll use the copy in your portfolio. You may also ask if they will write a testimonial for your writing services.
You can use testimonials on your LinkedIn page, social media pages, and digital portfolio, and of course, your website when you get one.
You can also add a few of your best testimonials in the emails your send to prospective clients.
Big Bucks Clients.
In a perfect world, you could now go after clients who will pay you big bucks. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
The problem is you probably aren’t mentally prepared for it. If you tried, you might freeze with self-doubt and never get any clients at all.
What you need at this point is several in-between clients so you can continue to build your confidence and add projects to your portfolio.
The place to go for in-between clients is freelance job sites, such as Upwork, Fiverr, People Per Hour, and Speedlancer.
Historically, these sites are known as content mills. They have a reputation for not paying well as most of the clients are trying to get jobs completed on the cheap.
It is possible to earn a living on these sites, but that’s not our purpose. Our purpose is for you to get experience working for real clients, completing projects, and building out your copywriting portfolio.
Don’t expect to make a lot on a freelance site but use it as a short-term strategy to launch your copywriting career.
The value you are getting is by writing for a freelance site is worth more than money.
It’s About Confidence, Experience, and Proof.
You’re gaining confidence and experience, and you’re building a professional copywriting portfolio. Also, you might find a client who pays you well and remains a client for a long time. It happens.
Complete as many assignments as you can, as quickly as you can, and then move on to clients that will pay you what you’re worth.
A Numbers Game.
Join a freelance site and begin pitching for jobs.
Check out the profiles on the freelance site you choose. Make your profile clean and professional. Be sure to add a picture of your face to your profile.
A smiling face is much more engaging than an icon or avatar. People prefer to hire a friendly face.
Here is where you can add your portfolio samples and start small. For now, leave the high paying projects to veteran writers.
Until you have more experience, it’s a waste of time to go after the big projects.
The competition is a bit intense. The key to getting projects is to apply quickly and often. Remember, it’s a numbers game.