How to Build a Copywriter Portfolio (When You’re New to Copywriting)
Post updated: 03/04/2017.
It’s a catch 22. You need a copywriter portfolio to find work but you can’t build one without having the work in the first place. It’s a situation that every freelance copywriter has had to face at the start of their careers – I know I’ve been there. So how exactly do you build a copywriting portfolio when you’re just starting out? Here are a few ideas…
Ask Friends and Family That Could Use Your Services
Who better to turn to for some copywriting experience than your nearest and dearest? Approaching friends and family who run their own businesses (or know people who do) is a great way to get your foot in the door and get some real copywriting work under your belt.
Perhaps their website copy needs freshening up, or their newsletter made more engaging? Reaching out to people who know you and telling them about your new career can yield some pretty good results.
Approach Businesses You’d Like to Work With
Of all the copywriters I’ve met, I’d say that the most common hurdle everyone says they face when starting out is breaking free from that uncomfortable feeling of putting themselves out there. So I understand if the idea of cold emailing companies and asking for copywriting work makes you feel a bit queasy.
When I first started out, I was the same. I didn’t like the idea of selling myself directly (even now I prefer clients to come to me). But in the beginning, this is exactly what I did. I chose a handful of start-up companies whose brands I genuinely admired and sent them this email:
Hi [insert name].
First of all, apologies for contacting you out of the blue.
My name’s Jamie and I’m a freelance copywriter. I’ve been following [insert company name] for a while now I’m a big fan. I love [insert an observation you’ve made about their business].
I was wondering if you have any need for a copywriter to help out with your website content/blog articles/product descriptions [delete as appropriate].
I’ll be honest, this would be a bit of a passion project for me and I’d love to be able to showcase my work for your company in my portfolio.
I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.
You’d be surprised at how many companies appreciate a personalised email and an offer of help especially when it’s at a discounted rate, or for free. Which brings me to my next point….
Working for Free: Yay or Nay?
It’s a highly-debated topic in the freelance world – should you ever work for free? Personally, I’ve never given away a freebie but when I first started out, I did write for almost next to nothing for the sake of gaining experience.
However, I do see the benefits of offering a freebie when you’re new and I’d imagine that most clients would see it as a fairly risk-free arrangement. If you do take on a project for free, I’d suggest that in return, you ask that the client lets you showcase your work in your copywriting portfolio and that they agree to give you a testimonial if the work is good.
Out of Luck? Make it Up
If, despite your best efforts, you don’t manage to land any copywriting jobs (or as many as you’d like), why not create a brief for yourself?
Make up a copywriting assignment and do the work as if it were for a paying client. It could be a few pages of website copy for an imaginary company, or a series of taglines for a made-up brand in an industry you’d like to have clients in.
Not only does spec work show initiative and creativity but it gives you the chance to showcase your strengths.
Hint: set yourself an assignment that you know you’ll be good at.
When it comes to showing ‘made-up’ work in your copywriter portfolio, make sure you explain that the work is conceptual rather than commissioned.
Portfolio Etiquette: Do You Need Permission to Showcase Your Client Work?
Hmm…this can be a bit of a grey area. On the one hand, it was your work, so why should you need permission to show it off, right?
Well, I get you, but as I understand, once a project is signed off, the copyright to the work automatically transfers to the client.
So where does that leave you as the original creator?
No man’s land – that’s where (although I’d gladly update the post if anyone knows the proper legalities).
One thing you could do is add a line to your terms and conditions explaining that unless the client states otherwise beforehand, you intend to showcase their work on your website.
However, to be on the safe side, I’d always advise that you ask the client’s permission to show the work before you begin, that way you’ll know for sure whether or not they’d mind.
On a side note, if the work is available to view on the client’s website, be careful not to duplicate the content in your portfolio as Google may not index your client’s copy.
What to Show in Your Copywriter Portfolio
If the aim of having a portfolio is to win clients, then you’ll want to show your best work. When you’re just starting out, understandably, you won’t have as much work to choose from and so you’ll probably show everything you have, which is fine. As you win more work though, you can be more selective in what you show.
If you specialise in a particular type of copywriting, or write for a specific industry, you’ll want to make sure that your portfolio reflects your specialisms. At the same time however, showing your diversity can help you branch out into other areas and build up additional specialisms through time.
How to Write a Copywriting Portfolio
Surely this one doesn’t need answering. After all, we’re copywriters, right? True. But sometimes writing about our own work doesn’t come easy.
Think of your portfolio as a mini case study where you explain how you approached the project and what the outcome was.
I tend to split my own copywriting case studies into three sections:
· The brief
· The process
· The outcome
In each section, I provide some background info before adding any relevant photos, images, or links.
And don’t forget to include any client testimonials you received.
Keeping Your Copywriter Portfolio Up-to-Date
This should go without saying, but as you take on more copywriting clients, be sure to include the work you do for them in your portfolio. The more examples you have to showcase, the more impressive you’ll look to potential clients. Remember, there’s always the chance that someone might contact you looking for the same type of work thatbyou produced on a previous project.
5 Copywriter Portfolio Examples for Some Inspiration
To round things off, I thought I’d include some copywriting portfolios that have caught my eye while checking out the competition admiring the work of others.
Gari’s visual portfolio made up of print ads, videos and website screenshots perfectly showcase his talents as an advertising copywriter.
I love how Robin showcases her work in a grid-style using photographs and screenshots while her detailed explanations demonstrate her process.
One of the most creative copywriter portfolios I’ve seen. The further you scroll down the page, the more entertaining the portfolio becomes and the more of Colby’s work you get to see.
Benji’s visual approach to showing off his work has a real impact. The context he provides through his photographs does all the talking.
Kathryn’s logo approach to her portfolio landing page provides an instant snapshot of the clients she’s worked with. Refining her process into ‘Brief’ and ‘Answer’ shows she’s a real problem solver.
Just as Joe’s homepage has received many a compliment, his portfolio is equally as impressive. The visual layout perfectly showcases his work for digital and print mediums.
Need any more advice on how to build a copywriter portfolio? Ask a question in the comments section below: