Trying to find out what you need to launch your freelance copywriting business? Then you’ve definitely come across something called a “copywriting portfolio”.
But you’re probably sitting there and scratching your head, wondering… “What the hell is that? And how do I even put one together with zero experience?”
Well, wonder no more, wonder-child.
Because by the end of this article, you’re going to know exactly what you need to do to get one.
After all, every professional copywriter’s got one. And whether you’re a wonderkind or an older soul like me, you can get one too.
Let’s talk about it.
What should my writing portfolio include?
First, let me clarify something. A copywriter portfolio is simply a collection of your best samples. That’s it.
But don’t get excited just yet. Before you run off and create a portfolio, we should talk about who you’re planning to show your beautiful writing to. (And why would that person want to see it anyway?)
Yes, yes. You need “potential clients”. And you need to convince them you can write by showcasing your work to them.
But who are these people?
Answering this question beforehand guarantees that you don’t waste any time creating a copywriter portfolio no one wants to see.
Let’s look at an example.
Say Sally’s thinking about writing Facebook ads. In that case, it would be silly for Sally to write blog posts as samples, right? Instead, she should think about targeting businesses that publish that type of writing. Make sense?
The key, the one thing, you need to have an impressive copywriting portfolio is to make sure it’s relevant to your target. That’s it. So if you’re targeting a creative director at an ecomm agency, your portfolio pieces should comprise… ecomm ads.
Over the years, as a marketing director and agency creative director, I’ve hired dozens of creative professionals. And my single biggest frustration when hiring copywriters? It’s been receiving completely irrelevant samples.
Trust me when I say that I’ve been forced to read through thousands of them. (Yes, job applicants can be that inconsiderate of your time. It’s wild.)
What does this also tell me about the writer? That they lack the critical thinking skills to run a successful copywriting business.
When I look through actual writing samples, what I’m looking for isn’t limited to the writing style or copywriting skills. My primary aim is to determine whether the copywriter can produce a piece of content or copy specifically for my project. This is why relevance is so crucial.
Finally, other than presenting relevant samples, make sure you don’t present a wide range of samples.
In this case, less is more.
When I first started, I thought I’d overwhelm my potential clients with 40 to 50+ samples. I thought that’s what makes a strong portfolio. (Hey! Look at me! I’ve written so much! How can you resist all this?)
But guess what?
It showed them a lack of confidence, and forced them to think and analyze and waste the little time they had.
Show me 2 to 4 of your best samples, instead of your entire life’s work, and we’re good.
How do you write a great copywriting sample?
Before you begin writing a sample, go pick out a few copywriting examples written by experienced copywriters. (This exercise will also help you gain invaluable copywriting experience! By the way, here are my thoughts on how to practice writing copy, especially if you disagree with the hand-copying method.)
Once you’re studying these samples, note which ones you like, and which ones you don’t like.
Remember: Don’t assume something must be good simply because you found it. Only testers have the real numbers to back up their results, and you don’t have access to them.
One way to gauge whether something’s been working, though, is to check how long a piece has been running for. If it’s been running for a while, you can be pretty sure that the results have been profitable.
Now check your watch because it’s time to put your thinking cap on.
Why do you like it? Why don’t you like it? Separate them into elements. Headline. Sections. Body copy. Images. Bullets. And so on.
Take notes. Compare.
Now try to beat it.
Will I get sued if I use real brands?
In our time, billions of content pieces are published every day. This means it’s pretty much impossible for any one brand to take notice of your sample piece.
Also, it’s not illegal.
Even if you grossly misrepresent a brand in some way, as long as you note that it’s a “spec” piece, you’re good to go. (A spec piece means it isn’t for a real client copywriting project. It’s an exercise to showcase your writing chops.)
The first brand I ever wrote specs for was Chupa Chups. I really loved one of their ad campaigns. So I took those and teamed up with a designer (who also needed samples). I wrote the copy, and she created the designs.
(She became my business and life partner btw, so happy ending there.)
I got my first few ad copy clients with that ad campaign. But that’s not all I did. I also included the original ad campaign, so that my potential clients could run a comparison. And I provided context, allowing readers to easily understand what they were looking at, and how to assess the piece.
There’s a famous book by Steve Krug. It’s called, “Don’t Make Me Think!” When you force them to think, that’s when prospects shy away. Make sure to give them just enough info and context, and no more. This is your chance to impress them, sure. But not to overwhelm them.
Your ultimate aim, after all, is to convince them that you’re the right copywriter for their project.
How do you present your copywriting portfolio?
You can use Google Docs. This is the easiest way to do it when you’re just getting started. No need to look for a fancy-schmancy portfolio platform that’ll cost you a pretty penny.
But if you really want to spruce things up? If you’ve got some design skills… then try your hand at using Canva, or even Google Slides. (You can save your sample as a PDF.)
This way, when someone asks you for samples, you can just send them over, instead of linking to your Google Docs.
Mind you, I love having a copywriting website. If you’re just getting started, you don’t need one right away, but you will want to consider one further down the road.
My point is, once you have a website, presenting your portfolio and samples becomes easier. You can lay them all out in a single page. You can also give context, and include PDF links that open in a new tab.
But for now, you can use a platform like LinkedIn to showcase your PDFs on your profile page. Pretty cool, eh?
How do I know if my samples are any good?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
One of the most important things you can do is to get immediate and constructive feedback.
1. Immediate feedback allows you to action it right away.
2. Constructive feedback means that it’s actionable.
I’m sure you agree when I say this. There’s nothing worse than toxic feedback. Like when you worked super hard on a piece all night, and some jackass comes at you with a toxic comment, like, “Haha! Lame! You call yourself a copywriter?”
One other thing. You should only receive feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. This means you should check that they’re experienced freelance copywriters.
This can make a world of difference because literally anyone can post their opinion these days, and you know what they say about opinions. (They’re like noses. Everyone’s got one.)
So where can you find people who are knowledgeable and willing to give you constructive criticism? Simple! Join our Copy & Critiques group.
And if you’ve got Business-related questions, then make sure to check out our main group on Facebook here. I’m sure you’ve heard of the The Freelance Copywriter Collective. Yanno, the largest community of no-nonsense copywriters online?
All right, all right. That’s enough plugging for now.
But once you get some serious feedback and improve your portfolio, it’s tiiiiiiime!
Go find a few relevant prospective clients. (And if you don’t know where to look, check out my article here on how to become a copywriter.)
Need help getting clients?
If you enjoy copywriting but don’t know where to start, this book shows you how to:
- Identify your best niche
- Connect with your dream clients
- Land highly profitable projects