how to build a copywriting portfolio from scratch

How to Build a Winning Copywriter Portfolio from Scratch

‘If you build it, they will come.’

This little mantra worked out pretty well for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. He simply built a baseball diamond (a ball field, to most) and sure enough, Shoeless Joe Jackson turned up with his baseball posse to play in Kevin’s fields and the day was saved.

The good news is: if it’s copywriting work you’re trying to conjure up and not dead baseball players, this adage still applies.

You have to give potential clients a reason to be attracted to you. You need to showcase your skills. You need to build a copywriting portfolio and show them what you’re made of.

But here comes the the tricky part…what do you do if you’re just starting out and are lacking in evidence? You have enough raw talent, passion and determination to make your vision a reality, but you barely have any work to show to entice big-time clients.

It’s the Field of Dreams equivalent of Kevin Costner building his baseball diamond in his backyard…uninspiring and doubtful.

Luckily, there are some ways around this obstacle. I’m about to reveal 5 simple ways to build a winning copywriter portfolio from scratch…

1. Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Your first port of call should be to dig deep into your little black book of contacts…it’s likely that you know at least one person, if not several, that run their own business.

It could be anything from a high-turnover commercial company, straight through to a simple market stall on a Sunday. It could be your best friend, or it could be a tenuous link of a friend of a friend of a friend.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You need to find your own starting point to kick-start your portfolio and the most important thing is you find someone to give you a chance.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. At this point, you’re going to need to offer to help them out with your services for FREE. Look at their business and its marketing set-up and consider what copy they regularly need…then put the proverbial pen to paper.

Write a brochure for them, some website copy, a press release or whatever you feel would best showcase your talent and impress potential clients.

Look at this way, you’ll be doing them a favour, while simultaneously building that all-important archive of copywriting samples for potential clients to check out.

And who knows? Best case scenario – if they love it, they may end up paying you anyway. But at the very least you’ll have written your first piece of copy for a fully-fledged company.

2. BRING OUT YOUR INNER-SHERLOCK

Creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, once said:

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Granted, he was talking about crime clues. But this little tip can come in handy for you too…you need to search high and low for companies who have an obvious benefit to market, but nobody is observing because their copy is lacklustre.

Let’s be honest, how many times have you stumbled across a website and thought ‘wow that copy is pretty shocking…and not in a good way’.

So, why not show them that you can do a better job?

Take that piece of copy that’s making you cringe. Rewrite it and make it awesome, attention-grabbing and hypnotic. But don’t ask beforehand, just do it!

You can then approach the company yourself and tell them they’re losing customers through badly-written content. You can even throw in a few facts about conversion rates to strengthen the impact.

Lastly, it’s time to reveal your brand new powerful version that will knock their socks off, and that they can have as a freebie.

(That’s right, free again. But bear with me, there’s method to the freeness).

Now, you’ve wowed them with your copy and they’ve seen how their unobserved company can now become observed, with any luck they’ll be blown away and will want to pay you to rewrite the rest of it (at a low rate that you’re offering).

TIP: It’s important at this stage to be honest about your experience. For one, people appreciate honesty, but also they can see from the high quality of your sample that you have raw talent and they’ll be enticed by the low rate that they’ll benefit from. It’s a win-win situation.

3. SHOW HOW YOU THINK

As a copywriter, the process you go through to create powerful copy is pretty much hidden from the world. The end result is visible, but those late nights tapping away at a keyboard on your fifth cup of coffee remain your secret.

That’s how it should be. However, what you should reveal to clients is why you approached a project in a certain way.

They need to understand how you think. It’s an insight into your analytical mind and the journey you go through to create concepts.

Contrary to popular belief, the words don’t always just simply appear in our minds and tumble out through our fingertips (unless you’re having one of those ‘nothing can touch me’ days).

Back up each sample of work in your portfolio with a rationale which includes:

The Job: Company X needed a conceptual ad campaign that would be rolled out across their global brand.

The Challenge: The copy needed to be dynamic and powerful, yet able to be translated into 7 other languages. I was tasked to create ad copy that would work across multiple platforms and capture the attention of customers from varied backgrounds and cultures.

The Strategy: I created concise, but powerful conceptual ad copy that steered clear of individualised cultural references and terminology. I focused on weaving a storyline for customers to follow that drew them into the concept and emotionally connected with the product.

The Results: Since the rollout of the campaign, the sales leads have increased by 12% with a 35% rise in online engagement.

For an in-depth glimpse into how this could appear visually, watch this handy video by The Business Author Edge.

4. VISUAL APPEAL

Imagine you own a company. You get an email from an unknown writer on a mission sending you a portfolio of manuscripts.

Ouch. Their head is already hurting, which is not a great start.

The potential client needs to see your work in action to see its true impact. You can’t expect a client to comprehend the power of website copy from a humble Word doc. They need to witness the final version in all its glory.

The obvious answer here is to showcase it on your copywriting website. However, if that’s still a fair way off into the future then it makes sense to get it beautifully designed by a pro.

If your design skills are lacking, then you might need to pair up with a designer on the likes of Fiverr or People per Hour, as they will be willing to do a good job for a reasonable price.

Check out this article by Copify before you start creating. They’ve have put together a collection of winning copywriting portfolio examples to inspire you.

5: THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE

Even the most talented and experienced copywriters are a work in progress. The foundations are constantly shifting, with new technologies and platforms changing the game every day.

On top of that, copywriting is not only an art form…it’s a discipline. It comes with its own set of rules (albeit, that are made to be broken), techniques and tricks.

The best thing you can do is learn them.

Enrol on a copywriting course – not only will you learn invaluable skills from amazing, experienced copywriters, but you’ll also produce a body of copywriting examples that have been fine-tuned to imperfect perfection. The best bit is, that these examples can then be added to your portfolio and showcased to future clients.

There are a ton of awesome courses out there, that can be completed in your own time and you’ll be tutored by experienced copywriters who really know their stuff.

We’ve put together the cream of the crop to choose from. Trust me, we’re a picky bunch so these really are the best in the business.

There you have it. Our top tips on creating a copywriting portfolio to put you firmly in the running for big jobs and kick starting your copywriting career.

Remember, keep your rates low, start small at the beginning and take your time to collate work that really showcases your talent. When your portfolio gets even bigger and better, you can start to reel in those big-time clients you’ve been dreaming about.

Good luck. And don’t forget to check out our very own copywriting portfolio while you’re here!

Love you,

Konrad

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About the author

Konrad Sanders
Creative Director & Copywriter at The Creative Copywriter

Hey you. I’m Konrad. An SEO and sales-savvy copywriter with a pretty darn creative noggin on my shoulders. I run a team of word-slinging cowboys who go by the name of The Creative Copywriter. Let’s connect!

Comments

  1. Some great points here and really informative thank you, I am just starting up (or trying to) in the copywriting world. I think the idea about re writing is fantastic so i think i may try this for a few sites and see the kind of response i get.

  2. I remember when I got my start and it was very close to what you describe, giving away some freebies and hoping for some word of mouth advertising. It seems like a slow way to start off, but you build trust and a reputation that is hard to knock down.

    1. Author

      Glad you agree.

      It’s pretty tough to get into most industries these days – and here in the UK, young people are doing unpaid internships willy-nilly. So if you can do a few copywriting jobs for free, it’s great experience and the perfect way to give your portfolio a kick-start!

  3. I still give away free samples to companies that I know will need much more work than what that sample provides. It’s a good way to get your foot in the door and start a business relationship that could prove fruitful for everyone involved.

  4. How important is a good portfolio if I am going to be making this a career? I have heard many different opinions on this and trust yours the most as you are the best!

  5. Do you ever find yourself rating a copywriter by the look of their website? I know they don’t always create their own content, but it still shows their creativity and style.

    1. Author

      Well, I think that if you find a copywriter with bad copy on their website – then you should probably keep on searching! Bad design is a different story – although as a huge fan of powerful branding, I think it’s important that we all get our website design looking sharp too. There’s too much competition out there for you to be slacking on your website copy or design. These are the foundations. So get them right.

  6. I’m glad I stumbled upon this site, because, for the first time, I’m applying for copy writing and/or editorial positions. Reading through your tips, I am both encouraged and a little discouraged. You see, I don’t have time to take a course at the moment, since I am in the thick applying for gigs. I’ve been forced to make a move professionally out of necessity, but, after much thought, I’ve realized that, professionally, I want to move in a different direction anyway. Hence, even if necessity didn’t demand that I move, I’d still be restless for a change. Let me briefly explain. With almost 10 yrs experience in academia as an administrative and English comp/lit instructor, the idea of branching out is downright daunting. I’m also an “on again off again” film student who is mostly into screenwriting, and I have a couple of creative blogs and oodles of teaching experience. Though daunting, I am at a point in my life where remaining in academia would, I believe, work against fostering any kind of continued growth and development as a creative professional. I just can’t get this in my current position. I’m not looking to freelance right now because I have bills to pay, haha. Ideally, I’d love to land a full time gig at an advertising and/or marketing firm. However, I’m looking to land a full time gig at a company that will pay me a living wage, at the very least. Let’s just get down to brass tacks here, haha. I have found that there are a lot of great copywriting gigs out there, but I have also found that I feel helpless. Scrambling to create a writing portfolio and hoping for the best at the moment.

    1. Author

      Hi Gemma

      Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you stumbled upon our blog too and I hope it wasn’t too discouraging 🙁

      You can also find gigs on Elance, Odesk and PeoplePerHour – but the problem there is that you’re up against a load of competition, many of whom are willing to write for peanuts! And again the problem lies that if you don’t have a portfolio already, or a good rating on those platforms, it would be hard to compete. But if you lower your prices to start with you may be able to land a few jobs – and start to build your portfolio.

      Once you have a decent portfolio under your arm, go hit up the advertising and marketing agencies! There are also a lot of companies within different industries which require content managers or in-house copywriters. You’d be writing about the same stuff all the time (so, not as exciting as an ad agency) – but it would be great experience and you’d get paid!

      The Copywriting Institute that I mentioned here runs an online course which is completely flexible. Send in work at your own pace. So if you can squeeze in some studying and writing in the evenings/at weekends – it’s the perfect way to start! Once completing the course, you’ll also get on their list of professional copywriters and can find work through them. It’s great! If you want to find out more about the course, just send me a quick email at [email protected] – as we can probably get you a discount on the course price.

      Good luck with your quest!

  7. Is creating fake copy for fake businesses looked down upon? I don’t want to trick anyone into thinking that it’s published work, but it seems like it would be a shortcut that could work. I now design students create mock-ups all the time. I’m not a student anymore, but shouldn’t copywriters be allowed to do the same thing?

    1. Author

      Hi Sam. As long as you’re not deceiving anyone, then why not!? I think it’s perfectly reasonable – and in fact smart – to cut corners like that. The course I mention in this post pretty much allows you to create a portfolio of ‘fake’ work, which you can then display to potential clients to show off your skills. So it’s essentially the same short cut you’ve suggested, except that you actually get first-class copywriting training and feedback from pro copywriters along the way.

      I say – go for it mate!

      And cheers for dropping by.

  8. Great tips and content. I do find all the purple a bit gloomy though

    1. Author

      Cheers! And we’re going through a rebranding process as we speak (the new site should be up in a month from now) – so I’m not offended by the ‘purple’ comment. Our new site is going to be shit-hot! 🙂

  9. This short lil ditty absolutely affirmed and opened my mind up to a simple way to create my portfolio and possibly make a few bucks along the way. It was also good to hear about other online course for copywriters too. Big Ups!!!

  10. Love you 😀 As I am a freelancer, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my work and to make more and more money, in the bargain. You have the knack of nailing the right topic. Keep writing so, people like me can use your tips and earn more. I am a member in market place websites like http://www.zopcodes.com, http://www.gicree.com, and http://www.envato.com. Let me tell you that these are the best places where your work gets noticed. I am making loads of money here. You can too!

  11. this is very informative. I came across your article when i needed it the most.
    thank you.
    cheers,
    Kashif

  12. Copywriting is something I’ve uhm’d and ahh’d over for a while now. I’ve always been put off as, even though I have a degree in Creative Writing, my lack of portfolio has always been the thing that ultimately stops me from pursuing it – the whole way of thinking that ‘someone who has specialised in an area like this should have more to show for it’.

    So I’m really glad I stumbled upon this as you’ve made it even a lot more accessible – given me the kick up the you-know-what that I need! I’m definitely going to look into the course you mentioned.

    Thank you!

  13. I have aspired to pursue a career in writing for a few years now. I am a senior student whose determination and feverish research has lead him to this informative website. I have considered becoming a copywriter for a while now, but I did not know how exactly to begin. With the help of this excellent post, I am more confident in my chances in making this into a career. I greatly appreciate your insightful advice; your knowledge is extremely valuable to so many, including myself.

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