When I first started out as a freelance copywriter in 2002, I carried around a three-ring binder that held samples of my copywriting. I also had a basic website, but someone else maintained it, so keeping it updated was challenging. Plus, not everyone was online back in those days. Many people, especially small business owners who were my bread and butter, preferred looking at and holding paper. Think articles, print ads, marketing brochures, and direct mailer postcards.
Today, everything is digital, which makes things a lot easier. Well, easier if you have digital copywriting examples to show off. But what if you’re a new copywriter? How do you get those all-important samples if you don’t have clients yet? And how do you get clients if you don’t have samples of your work that prove you’re legit?
Chicken and egg conundrum, right?
In this blog post, I’m going to answer a bunch of questions related to copywriting portfolios, including the following . . .
- Why do I need an online copywriting portfolio anyway?
- How do I get samples for a copywriting portfolio if I’m just starting out?
- What does a copywriter portfolio look like? What type of content should it highlight?
- How should I organize my various copywriting portfolio examples
- I’m not a designer! How do I make things look good?
- Do I need to ask permission to include client content in my copywriter portfolio?
In case you don’t feel like reading, I also did a video on my YouTube channel, which I’ll embed at the end of this article.
Why do I need an online copywriter portfolio?
Three things to consider. First, your copywriter portfolio serves as “evidence” that you know what you’re doing. When someone hires a kitchen remodeler, they’ll look at pictures of the person’s work to see if they like the style, right? The same is true for other services and trades.
When someone hires a freelance copywriter, they’ll look at samples of the person’s work to see if they like the writing style. Depending on the type of writing the person is hiring for, they might also be looking at technical expertise. For example, if someone is hiring you to write optimized website copy, they might study your headlines, title tags, and meta descriptions to see if they meet SEO standards.
Second, your online copywriting portfolio also serves as a way for prospective clients to find you when they conduct Google searches. I’ve gotten a lot of business over the years from someone discovering my copywriting website. Do they always enter on the portfolio page? Nope. But if they’re looking for a writer and they come in through the home page or a blog post, they’ll likely check out the portfolio page at some point.
And finally, an online copywriting portfolio shows you’re a serious copywriter who’s getting work. I’d be suspicious of a copywriter’s website if they didn’t have a portfolio.
How do I get samples for a copywriting portfolio if I’m just starting out?
The only time I recommend doing any writing for free is at the very beginning when you need to round up some examples of your copywriting work. So how do you get these all-important pieces to put in your portfolio? Think of everyone you know and everyone they know. I can almost guarantee you know someone who owns a small business. It might be a hair salon or a pizza shop or a yoga studio. Guess what? These folks need marketing help. Offer to do some content marketing for them FOR FREE so that you can build your copywriting portfolio.
Be clear about what you’re offering and set a limit on how much you’re giving away pro bono: “I’m building my copywriting portfolio. Since I’m just starting out, I’m doing a limited number of complimentary copywriting assignments, and I’d like to do the following for you, for free, no strings attached. [OUTLINE THE DELIVERABLES.] When I’m done with this work, you won’t be under any obligation to continue using me, but, of course, if you like my work and see the value in it, I’d welcome the opportunity to continue producing content for you. But even if you decide you need to pass for now, you’d still be able to use whatever I created for you.”
Things you can offer them:
- Refresh their home page copy (or if they don’t have a website, offer to write a small site. Think home, about, services, contact. BOOM)
- Write an issue of their email newsletter (or their inaugural issue if they don’t have a newsletter)
- Draft two to three blog posts
- Draft a batch of creative social media posts for Facebook or Instagram
- Develop an “offer” that the business’s clients or prospective clients could download from the website. For example, if you’re doing work for a hair salon, maybe you develop a “Winter Hair Care Checklist” or something to that effect.
Once you have, say, 5-10 samples for an online copywriting portfolio, STOP DOING FREE WORK. With any luck, the person you did the freebies for will see how awesome your work is and offer to pay you money to continue. (For example, someone needs to draft that monthly newsletter for them. Why not you?) But even if they don’t or can’t, no worries. You’ve gotten good clips, and now it’s time to focus on landing paying clients.
What does a copywriter portfolio look like? What type of content should it highlight?
The best visual I can offer is my own copywriting portfolio. You’ll see I’ve organized it by the biggest content “buckets” I focus on in my business:
- Website copywriting
- Blogging and Article Writing
- Email Marketing
- Customer Stories/Cases Studies & Branding
- White Papers/Guides/Premium Offers
- Advertising Copy: Print, Digital, Radio
For me, that covers the bulk of what I’m doing right now. I also have a sidebar with other types of content marketing I’ve done over the years, like advertorial writing.
When you start out, you’ll likely be a generalist, so you’ll want to cover the big content marketing buckets: website copywriting, blogging, and email marketing. But as you advance in your copywriting journey, you might decide to narrow your focus. Maybe all you do is website writing. Or maybe you only focus on long-form content. You can reorganize your portfolio accordingly.
How should I organize my copywriting portfolio samples?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how to organize your online copywriter portfolio. Just make sure it’s . . .
- Easy to skim
- Clearly labeled
- Filled with links that work (you’ll want to spot-check your portfolio from time to time because links change, break, and disappear)
- Regularly updated (seriously, make sure you keep it fresh with new work)
I’m not a designer! How do I make my copywriter portfolio samples look good?
True, you’re a writer, not a designer. (Unless, of course, you are a designer, too. More on this in a moment.) Don’t worry: Most folks will be looking at the words and will forgive your portfolio if it has only simple text and no real design.
That said, if you do have any design chops, a nicely designed piece will make your content shine even more. Check out this white paper. I wrote the content, but the marketing manager on the client side did the layout. And it DOES make a difference. These days, it’s easy to use free tools like Canva to whip up a decent design. Or you can go to low-cost places like Fiverr to find an affordable graphic designer who can make your copywriting sample look great.
Do I need to ask permission to include client content in my copywriter portfolio?
Reminder, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, either. So what I’m about to say isn’t legal advice. In my case, 99.9999% of the work I do is publicly available (websites, blog posts, downloadable content, etc.), so I link to it freely since it’s already “out there.”
Obviously, if you’re working on something proprietary or where you signed an NDA, you wouldn’t link to it or discuss it. But for the most part, if you’re simply linking to a client’s website or blog–which anyone can find via Google–you should be fine.
Here’s my video that walks you through my online copywriting portfolio.
Got more questions? Ask the Copy Bitch!
That’s me, and that’s what I’m here for. 🙂 Get in touch here.