How to build a copywriting portfolio when you have no experience at all

It’s a tricky one. In order to find work you’ll need to have a copywriting portfolio but how are you supposed to build one without the work? Most freelance copywriters will have been in this situation at some point in their careers – and there are a number of things you can do to make your life easier when it comes to pitching and landing clients.

What is a portfolio?

A portfolio is something you can use to show prospective clients your best work. Think of it as the place you keep the work you’re most proud of.

Almost all potential clients you approach will need to see your portfolio. It’s important to keep it up to date and make sure it only contains your best work, as you need to show that you’re both capable and worth hiring.

Some copywriters like a visually aesthetic portfolio housed on their websites, while others like to keep it simple on a spreadsheet that they update regularly.

How do I build a copywriting portfolio?

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re just starting out and don’t know how to find work without having a portfolio to host your work in the first place.

It’s actually quite similar to the situation most people find themselves in if they want to go straight from school into work; employers tend to favour those with experience over those without. Here are some ways you can build a copywriting portfolio without much experience:

Check old emails and speak to ex-colleagues

If you’re thinking of becoming a copywriter then you’ve probably offered to write copy in previous jobs – or at least shown some kind of interest in it.

Check any old emails to see whether you can find traces of your work and see if they are still online. This was the first thing I did when I started reaching out to businesses – and I surprised myself with the small bits of written work I’d forgotten about.

Presuming you left jobs on good terms, speak to any ex-colleagues that you still have contact with and offer your services to them. If you value experience over money for the time being, offer your services in return for a testimonial or review.

Offer your services to friends and family

I don’t advocate working for free, but as a beginner you’ll often find that a lot of business owners could do with a helping hand with their copy. Just like you could do with a helping hand gaining experience.

Reach out to any friends and family with businesses and offer them your services in return for a testimonial and permission to share the work online. You could also ask to be kept in mind for future opportunities. If you impress, it could lead to paid gigs.

I would just make sure that the time you spend on this is minimal and that you also don’t get in the habit of repeat free business, even if it is for your nearest and dearest. Use this opportunity to show them your worth so that they don’t expect ongoing unpaid work.

Contact local start-ups

We’d all love to work with the biggest brands, but this doesn’t happen overnight.

A fair chunk of my work still comes from speaking to local start-ups about their business goals and how I can help them with killer copy.

Finances are tight for local start-ups so most business owners will try to do the work themselves – but If you’re confident you can walk the walk, pitch to them with a brief idea of what you can do for them and see if they come back.

Don’t fancy working for free?

I’d always recommend offering your services in exchange for testimonials at an early stage in your copywriting career, but it’s natural to not want to work for zilch.

If you want to write about something specific like arts, music or travel, contact local websites and magazines that specialise in it. Counteract is a not-for-profit, Birmingham-based website which takes on music writers to review gigs in return for free tickets. While it’s not financial, if you go to a lot of gigs this is a great way to build up experience and go to events for free at the same time.

Websites like Upwork and Freelancer can also be great places to kick off a copywriting career and get paid at the same time, but without experience it can sometimes be difficult to get your profile approved. They’re also much better places to start than 1p a word content mills, which I won’t name…

How to write a copywriting portfolio

Some people prefer to host their work as excerpts with web links, while others prefer to write case studies for their commissions. I like to do both.

There’s no right or wrong way to host your work. I personally prefer a visually aesthetic portfolio which has images and a few words describing my work, which you can see here. There are plenty of plugins on WordPress which allow you to build a portfolio with customisable blocks.

I also like to write quick case studies so that businesses can see what I’ve been up to.

Case studies should cover:

  • The brief
  • The process
  • The outcome
  • Challenges (if any) and how you overcame them

What to do next

Trust me, I know it can be difficult working for a number of clients and finding the time to keep on top of your personal website. But once your portfolio is set up, it’s important that you keep on top of it.

Think of it like buying a new car. If your local showroom has bad reviews and is full of old bangers, would you buy from there or would you go out of your way to find another which had better reviews and a range of newer models?

Your website is like this. If businesses need to hire a copywriter but you haven’t updated your website in months, they’re likely to go elsewhere.

I hope this post helps you in your quest to create an incredible copywriting portfolio – good luck!

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